For most people, the defining moment of a tech product launch presentation is when the price of a product is revealed. But at the launch of the Yunicorn, the latest device from YU, Micromax’s sister brand, the moment came just a few minutes before the announcement of the price.
Micromax co-founder Rahul Sharma, asked for a microphone for the Flipkart spokesperson on stage. A slightly flustered assistant handed him a large hammer (which was supposed to be used to break a box and later reveal the final price later) instead.
Rahul stared at the hammer for a second. The world seemed to stand still. Would we see a display of temper or a flustered attempt to cover matters up? We saw neither. The Micromax and YU co-founder just laughed and said:
“Abe, ye microphone hai?”
(“Oi, is this a microphone?“)
The laughter that followed was a rather surprising hallmark of the launch event. Surprising because, although he is the co-founder of arguably two of the most talked about Indian phone brands in recent times – Micromax and YU – Rahul Sharma is not known for making his audiences laugh. The man has made his share of presentations, some of them very high profile ones, but has generally shown a tendency to steer clear of the crowds and the spotlight. If anything, his presentations have tended to be rather linear in nature. Not for him the spontaneous flair of a Hugo Barra or the on-stage aggression of his own former colleague, Vineet Taneja (it is very difficult to think of Rahul chewing an Apple on stage to make a point about the competition!).
No, when it comes to the spotlight, Rahul Sharma has always tended to stick to the straight and narrow, preferring the well-trod path to charting new courses. The presentations seemed to follow a template – talk a bit of vision, talk of the product itself, take a few jabs at the competition and then announce the pricing, sticking to marketing terminology and carefully enunciated English. Yes, there was the one occasion when he arrived on the stage behind a cardboard mask for the launch of the Yunique but even on that occasion, the humor seemed a little forced rather than spontaneous. He is not a person who opens up easily to others – when we asked him for an interview on one year of the YU brand, we had to be content with an e-mail interaction.
The launch of the Yunicorn was a very different matter.
The days leading up to the event saw Sharma interacting with the media extensively. And not just briefing them about the product but even indulging in mild banter – something that he was not known for. He teased our colleague at 91Mobiles, Deepak Dhingra, about being too absorbed with his handset, playfully telling him: “Arre Dhingra sahab, kabhi hamaari baat bhi sun liya kijiye” (“Dear Mr Dhingra, do listen to what I say sometimes“), and was remarkably open about past “mistakes” – “we tried to do too much with Cyanogen, and they could not quite cope” he conceded when asked about Yutopia, the company’s former flagship whose excellent hardware got tripped up by royally buggy software.
And on the day of the event too, he seemed surprisingly relaxed. He mingled with the media and fans before proceedings got underway and then pulled a few rabbits out the hat when the presentation got underway. He started matters off by revealing the price and device right away. Now, this actually was not the real price, but that did not stop a number of sites and publications from not just quoting it in violation of an embargo but even running comparisons based on it even before the presentation had ended, but that is surely another story for another time.
That, he stepped away from the normal, steady (and let’s be brutally honest – predictable) presentation template, and for the first time in quite a while, seemed to be following his own script, often using well-known Hindi idioms and phrases (something many tech presentations tend to avoid – presentations are a very puccah English affair for most). From telling the crowd about how an airline official’s accent in the US so confused him that he answered the “window or aisle” question by saying “Windows 2000” to how the phone he was launching was the second most beautiful thing in his life (he recently married one of the most beautiful women in the country) to the laugh about being given a hammer instead of a microphone, Rahul Sharma did something he had seldom done at a product launch in the past.
He tried to entertain. And more often than not, succeeded. It has been a while since we have heard so many giggles and gales of laughter at a tech launch, as the YU founder peppered his presentation with anecdotes. Some seemed a tad out of context, but no one complained because after all, no one minds laughing. And just as he had at the briefings leading up to the launch, he seemed ready to concede that the brand had made mistakes – “Everything was great about the Yutopia,” he said, as he referred to the phone on of the slides, and then added ruefully, “except the software!” And when it was time to disclose the real price, he called out mediapersons by name in the audience, asking if the price was fine, rolling his eyes comically at their responses.
No, it was not perfect. He seemed very rushed in the middle when he was discussing the specs and features of the device (did he have the embargo time in mind?), a video call with a doctor was undone by poor bandwidth, many felt he prolonged the revealing of the true price a tad too long (it culminated with children hitting a box with hammers – a bit far fetched, really), and at the very end, he made a blooper unworthy of a founder of a brand when he said that the price of the Yunicorn after the first month would be Rs 14,999 – it would actually be Rs 13,499. The error would lead to a flurry of PR activity after the event and a number of derisory tweets from several people.
But all said and done, if the Yunicorn reflected a new approach from YU when it came to product design and UI, then Rahul Sharma’s performance on stage reflected a new approach from the company’s founder. One which was essentially closer to the man himself. In some ways, it was a coming out party, with the YU founder finally deciding to be himself rather than a tech CEO on stage. The best indication of this came immediately after the presentation ended. At the previous launch of a YU product – the Yutopia – Rahul had seemed like a person relieved after having done a strenuous task – he would tell us that he felt as if he had released an ‘art film’ and was hoping it would succeed at the box office.
This time, he hung around, talking to mediapersons, a smile never too far from his face. And when we got a chance to speak to him, his first reaction on being asked how he felt was:
“This was fun, man.”
No, it had not been perfect. And he did not seem aware that he had got the price of his own product wrong. But when Rahul Sharma says “man,” you can be sure he is happy. Actually, YU can also be sure he is happy.