Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

This world is supposed to be full of systems, and systems that carry inefficiencies. Entrepreneurs are in my dictionary, those that can look at those systems – ticking and clicking, and notice where and how the systems can be improved. Some are driven by their hearts and start NGOs, and others get all logical and while at it, also make some money.

In my book, entrepreneurs are those unsung heroes who get set to transform the way – hopefully for the better.

That’s quite a long topic, if we step into that world, and let me narrow it down to the aspect of understanding your end users. Time and time again, we hear phrases such as “Understand your customer” “The Customer is always right” “User-centric design” which in most cases is defined as keeping the customer, and his demands at the centre of the equation and coming up with solutions around them. Do Customers, and users… and most of all humans know of what they really need?

I think this is a crucial question to ask, because analyzing needs and the capacity for a user to pay for a service defines sustainability and in some cases survival for companies – and in this economic situation, for a whole lot of them. So what do users want? Men or Women, as they might be.

I think we have kind of oversimplified the equation at most times asking direct questions about a product. If you get into the details of a product asking questions such as “Imagine if you had an ipod, but better and cheaper, would you get it?”, the obvious answer would be a yes. What one needs to understand, especially an innovator or an entrepreneur is to understand the intangibles. How would buying that product do in terms of the pride, and show-off calibre of that person. A lot usually tends to matter. Long story short, I’d strongly recommend not to ask direct questions. The answers are always in-between the lines. If you interpret it right, you win, otherwise not. But you get better at it over time. Thats the good part.

There is a reason why I am writing this. There was a recent study that I came across that was asked to a group of single men and women as to what is it that they look for in potential spouses. The answers were all tabulated, and then they were observed over a couple of sessions of speed dates. Most of the time, the kind of people that we are “attracted” to, arent the ones that we define as our perfect spouses. And the eerie thing is that, when they did the same survey right after a date, depending of whether a candidate liked a person who didnt match their previous opinion, the answers would sway totally on the other direction. Come back to them after four more weeks and you’d get their old answers back – as the infactuation wears off.

In Summary, we arent capable of knowing what we want. Thats why B2C businesses have such a hard time understanding what their customers are looking for, what ticks, what doesnt, and what makes it all worse.

B2B businesses in that sense are slightly easier, since businesses do tend to have measured and analyzed every process in terms of metrics – either as costs, expenditures, manpower, transactions, or revenue and its all about making a number rise and one go down, and thats easier to measure and deal with.

Do keep that in the back of your head, if you are ideating. As much as customers are king, and their word is final, in most times they also don’t know what they want. You would have to do a little match-making on their behalf. And with time, you’ll get really good at it, if you like doing such things – and that’s the thrill of building a product that clicks.

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I grew up with a poster in my room saying “The size of your world is as big as your dreams”. It was always there when you woke up to remind you to think beyond the box. It still hangs there in my room at my parents place. It’s the thought that came into my mind when I was browsing through the net, listening to some of the folk’s interpretation of Entrepreneurship.

It seems  to me as if there are a couple of theories floating around these past few weeks.

a) Entrepreneurship is overrated. Entrepreneurship is romanticized, and the often tweeted and retweeted phrase seems to be “My son is without a job, ah! he is an entrepreneur”. Well, That’s probably pushing it far, and yep, perhaps we are breaking the elitism that was once associated with being an “entrepreneur”, but isn’t this what we wanted with all the publicizing that we did and urging one another to chase their dreams? I do see that this could dampen the ones that pride in elitism, but as far as things go, there will always be a gulf between those who can dream, ideate and implement, and those who just wear the badge and do nothing. And really, the more the merrier in this party.

b) There is also this other camp, that seems to think that, Entrepreneurship is too Web 2.0-ised. I can emphatize with this camp.  I dont think entrepreneurship in India is equated with a venture in the web 2.0 world, but most of us derive our first impression from the media that we consume and web 2.0 is essentially Media and new age consumption of those content. You get hit by it in the face over and over again, till you find something interesting. That doesn’t mean that there arent other sort of ventures going on out there. Manufacturing is still one of our strongest sectors and there are plenty of neat things cooking up in that camp. So for those of you freaking out with the thought of drowning in Web 2.0 Gyaan, take heeed, there is a bigger world out there – you just need to step out more.

c) There is a third theory out there that there are a lot of NRIs returning home. And Rajiv Gandhi is rightly quoted that whatever happened a few decades ago was not brain drain, but brain banking. Along with those returning is returning a renewed sense of nationalism, pride, and a whole lot of global interaction practices, that really help us get our quality of work a notch higher to match global capabilities. The complaint is that, along with them comes the baggage to convert the cities of India, into New York and Boston, or London. They do have a point. But sooner or later as these fresh entrepreneurs hit the Registrar of Companies to get their incorporation work done, they will know that things work slightly in a different order in this country.

So, really gentlemen (and ladies), there is not much to fret. You can relax and enjoy the process as our landscape changes before our eyes.

We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough.

What I want to talk about really is not the concerns, but my own concern as to how we aren’t dreaming big Read the rest of this entry »

3G. WiMAX. There is an inevitable showdown waiting on that camp. That’s probably also the reason why the deployments of WiMAX hasnt picked up by much. If you ask me, there is credit to deploying the 3G – or a network that is based on the telecom network. Why? Reliability. Ever picked up a landline and missed the dialtone? Thats what I am talking about.

With the economy slowing down a little, I guess the 3G talk is going to be dampened a bit here in India. But I dont think it should be. The consumerist trend hasnt slowed down and Indians have woken up to enjoying the usage of digital media, devices and services, that 3G as a service could very much consolidate and bank on. This post is partly written with the knowledge I’ve gathered being on both sides of the camp, as part of the Telecom group (and the plans that they are making with IMS – IP Multimedia Subsystem) and where the web, and industry have evolved.

Lets start with a Picture.

Future Living

Ubiquitous Computing, will not be just a term anymore. Centralized, easily accessible, and convergence. I think that’s the three keywords which are almost mantras in the new lifestyle that is emerging.

Trends:

Follow the numbers on the diagram with the explanations below.

1. Your mobile phone is not just a phone. Ask Nokia and they will tell you that. If we start with the way of 3G, its also the means to a broadband pipe, and 3G is just the beginning. HSDPA, LTE, and all the planned roadmap of the GSM Data Network, seems to be only getting faster and faster. Now, why would I advocate relying on my mobile’s data network as the crucial pipe for everything?

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a continuation to a Post that I had written Earlier.

“Yahoo could emerge with an edge, if they leapfrog into other verticals following the same web-based advertisement network.”

For a company which has entrenched itself in the media space, managing advertisements networks i probably the holy grail. I wouldnt recommend that Yahoo give up that leverage. Instead of going head on with Google and losing out on that battle, all they need to do is leverage that asset in a different vertical.

I wrote about perhaps using advertising networks, especially multimedia (audio/video) ads in Radio and television networks. One could argue that the ad server requirements, the infrastructure requirement and cost of operations would significantly vary because of the medium. I’d agree to some extent. But there is also a way to deploy the already existing asset, as-is, into different verticals. Read on.

Read the rest of this entry »

This is a wonderful time to be starting up. You will come across very few people who will give comparisons to all the benefits they get working for big corporates. Its one such time. Hiring will be slightly easier, and retaining them will be even more easier.

Even in the midst of all that, it does seem that a lot of the Startup Companies are hardpressed for resources here in India. Here’s a solution.

A few of us have been talking about putting together a centre that trains people (as blank slated as freshers) on the common technologies that people use while building products – the usual PHP, Python, AJAX, MySQL, etc etc and getting them upto speed on mashups, APIs, documentation, and moving forward. That is the level of skill that most of the startup community folks are looking for it seems. Or am I wrong here?

If I am right, then there is a simple way around it. Every chapter of OCC in the country is doing quite well. I heard from Santhosh that Pune is a 300 people group now (though I do suspect that the turn out ratio would be still less), but who knew Pune had 300 people who would be open to being part of a community right? And the same case has gone on with Bangalore, Kolkatta, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, and even now and then with Mumbai.

Here’s the thought. What if in one of the OCCs a dozen of the startup companies, especially the folks who can code and code really well, commit that they will run a two month training program for people in these languages? It is going to take a bit of time and commitment, but there are a lot of resources already on the web, and with a couple of screencasts, and proper documentation, you could essentially also use it as training material for the next batch of people that you hire in your company later on.

What I am proposing is that a batch of technology entrepreneurs, each taking a week to cover different aspects of the course, could put their hands together to collaboratively solve an issue which is haunting a great many of them. Read the rest of this entry »

So I know that there are a gazillion guys out there in the whole wide world, who have given “open” advise to Yahoo as to what they should do. I am neither an expert, nor am vested into the company to have such generosity towards them 🙂

A friend of mine and I, over some conversations were discussing about some of the bigger brands that we see around us and something along the topics of Return on Equity. Not sure if you are aware of, but Microsoft has a 52% return on equity. Yahoo has roughly about 7% and falling drastically and Google has one which stands at around 26% – and growing steadily. Whatever you may say, Microsoft has played this game with a whole new set of balls and one most people simply won’t understand. And if you ask me, they are a much better company in terms of strategy and products compared to Google, anyday.

Yahoo could emerge with an edge, if they leapfrog into other verticals following the same web-based advertisement network.

Yahoo could emerge with an edge, if they leapfrog into other verticals following the same web-based advertisement network.

But that’s not the focus of this post.

The conversation was that, if a company has Advertisement as its core strength and has built a competence in it, then its going to be very hard for the company to drop that and adapt the advertising network of its partner/rival. Well, for the case of survival they might, but since they do have the core competence, the resources and the minds that can think in that direction, what could they possibly do, was the question.

Fact: Yahoo makes most of its money via advertisement, and that too on banner ads.

This becomes an issue when you have so much internet portals and properties, but just simply have to fill them with advertisements in order to make them viable. And in this day and age of APIs, nobody might even come visit the site to get hit by the advertisement. You are forced to rethink in terms of strategically placing the advertisement within the content, but thats a very very hard thing.

My Take: I think this is probably the same route as making fiber out of rocks. There might be some way to do it, but whatever it is, its one rare, long process.

I’d say, flip the coin, and lets look out to the horizon. Go after other streams, television and Radio… to be precise.

Read the rest of this entry »

There was sometime back when was doing a rough math on how many live camera streams there are. There are some that are pointed towards the “habitat” of the Loch Ness Monster, there are enough live traffic camera, and plenty of them pointed towards a birds nest or so. And if you take the example of Justin.tv (which seems to be inspired by The Truman Show), even people are willing to play their part in all this.

Ofcourse all of this is a one way broadcast. Apart from adult sites which are apparently making their niche through two way interaction, there is not much that is happening in this space.

Is there any of that, that can be adapted into the “green” scenario? A couple of light bulbs went on and off and here’s the thought (or Idea):

MMORPG
The forest department today plans thousands of saplings every year on barren lands to convert them into lush green forests, but the biggest problem with it has been the case of watering them. There is not enough manpower to do those menial tasks – at the salary that the govt is providing – and there is also the issue of accountability where all the saplings near the roadside stand straight and well watered, but the ones in the interior die away because laziness kicks in for most of these workers. They are not to be blamed either when the scorching sun is merciless on them and they are poorly prepped for all that.

The idea is to basically plant all the saplings as the forest department does and then have water drums which can be filled periodically with water from trucks (much simpler task). The pipes to the saplings will be set on drip irrigation and there will be a soil moisture sensor in the soil which measures if there is water or not. Set a Camera that overlooks this area, connect it to the Internet and create a frontend to a MMORPG (Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Game). If that’s too much of an acronym, think Second Life. People can “adopt” grids of these fields and take care of them. All they have to do is, once the soil moisture turns a bit low, hit the buttons that will start the drip irrigation and stop them when the moisture level is optimal.

There are already countless number of such “events” that happen in Second Life, where if one plants a sapling in the virtual world, an organization instead plants one in the real world somewhere. This would just be an extension of that.

Now, technically you can take this to the next level. Think of all the Wild Life Sanctuaries. The biggest problem today is Poachers (I am still worried if I have to show stuffed toys of Tigers as our National Animal to my kids someday), and the forest officers are not nearly paid enough to scout the areas – and they are very ill armed to protect themselves from these animals as well. What if we could setup a range of Wifi cameras, stream the videos and let people monitor them. I’m sure there are enough animal activists around the world that some might even take it up while we sleep. All they would have to do is to hit a button which will alert the officer if a Poacher is spotted. And give the front end the control to click a snap if they want to document something and we might capture poachers and exotic wildlife as souvenirs.

I think finally, and its about time that the conscious of having to go green is kicking in. And we are gonna have to do everything – not just to sustain – but positively influence this planet to make it sustainable and even stay on the existential path. Maybe entrepreneurship, technology and the enthusiasm of the global audience can create a network of Global Watchers, to take care of the assets around us – All this while getting to “play” their roles.


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