It’s the beginning of summer. The mercury is beginning to inch closer to the 40s. Huddled around the kerosene lamp, Ramcharan’s children beats the heat from the lamp and mud oven that cooks their dinner, to prepare for school the next day. The noxious kerosene fumes and the oppressive heat takes a toll on the children everyday. But they don’t have an option. Ramcharan spent a fortune buying the cheap Chinese LED lights.But they let him down within months. No service, no spares available. Worse it took eight hours to charge. In this remote village, eight hours of electricity is a pipe dream. The kerosene lamp was a far safer bet, the heat and fumes not withstanding. At least the children get uninterrupted light to put in four hours of study.The re-chargeable Chinese lantern provided less than 2 hours of light.
Vijaykumar took his team to the villages to experience what these hapless children went through everyday. We don’t realize how bad the power situation is in rural India. We don’t appreciate the human suffering because we have the money for alternatives. We don’t understand their needs from their life context.
People in rural areas need light for two things: to cook and for children to study. Not unlike urban people.They manage the cooking part. But try studying under a kerosene lamp or a hurricane in hot summer next to a home fire. The fumes and heat are oppressive. No amount of presentations, research findings or opinionated observations are any match for the telling experience that the team got living with the villagers.
The emergency light business in semi urban and rural India is completely commoditized. From Indian brands to cheap Chinese imports. The market is completely driven by price. (What’s new). The technology and capability required to make one of these is democratic. Yet the market is humongous.
Vijay figured that technological and manufacturing ability was not the problem. Since the time he took over BTVL, the BPL division that manufactures the portable lighting solutions, he had streamlined the organization, enhanced the manufacturing and marketing capability. The real problem was the mind-set of the BPL team. They are trained to look ‘inside-out’. As we had done with the Studylite project, he started outside-in. Assumed nothing, started with exploring the context, understood the needs within the context and then determined the possible solutions.
The team travelled across villages meeting villagers, living with them and experiencing their life without power. They saw who gets affected and how. Began to understand their pain, needs and priorities. It was interesting to see the impact it had on Vijay and his team. They were beginning to realize that they could do something that could change lives!
There was a powerful context. Education is their way out of poverty and they are willing to invest whatever they can. So parents spend money buying emergency lights for children so that they can study.
Beyond the priorities of their jobs, Vijay and the team wanted to do something that would ease the human suffering that the children endure every day. They were on a mission.
We call it the ‘Inspirational Dream’. To make studying easier for children in villages. This is the context for the brand.
No emergency light available in these markets can be fully charged in less than 8 hours. None of these can provide adequate light for studying. More importantly they don’t hold charge beyond 3 hours after two or three months of use. And they all cost nearly a thousand bucks. The cheaper ones are worse.
This was the non-negotiable product specification: it must charge in 4 hours and give 5 hours of light.
The search for the batteries started. R&D scoured all global sources: charging time, charge holding and charging cycles had to be met. We found a fantastic battery manufactured in China. Fe-lithium-ion. It is good for almost 2000 charging cycles. Fully charges in 4 hours and holds effective charge for 5 hours.
Since life after dusk is centered around the lamp, the dispersion of light has to be 360 degrees. It also has to be portable. That determined the form factor. Interestingly villagers believe that naked light is more powerful than fancy shrouded ones with internal reflectors for uniform light dispersion. They have grown up with naked lights. This was a must have. So any protective cover had to be transparent. A revelation for BPL engineers! To improve dispersion the LEDs are arranged in vertical geometric arrays.
It was decided to use the same LEDs we had used in Studylite. BPL had got them certified by Shankar Nethralaya as safe for eyes.
Vijay got a top design team to work with the group. They were part of the ‘exploration’ too. It is just amazing to see how people work when they know that they have the opportunity to contribute a bit that makes someone’s life better. You can see spiritual energy at work. Nothing seems impossible. So after months of development, rigorous testing, accelerated charging and discharging the proto-type was ready. It had to go back to the villages. Ramcharan had to be convinced. So too the distributors and retailers. Would they pay Rs 849? Vijay made a presentation to the villagers, the distributors and retailers. Even the skeptics could not hide their smile.
Chirag is designed to help children study. It addresses the reality of power availability: charges in 4 hours.It delivers against the need: 5 hours of light. The specifications and quality standards are world class.The battery will last for 4 years.
With such a sharply focused strategy, communication was easy. The real challenge was to deliver it in an engaging way, minimalistic and simple.
Does it work? The launch order was 10,000. Next month production is being ramped to 40,000 units.
We are doing more to own the context of education. Chirag is offering scholarships to children in the villages. 100 scholarships of Rs 1000/- to meritorious children to start with. To qualify they also have to write an essay about their dreams. We are trying to convince some publications to publish these ‘Dreams’ as a regular column. Let the country read about the dreams of our children in villages.
We Learnt. Seemingly ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they are given an inspirational dream to chase, led by someone like Vijay and completely focused on delivering a single benefit in a powerful context.
We call this brand purposing.