Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘markets

Social Networks are the way to the future. Ah, I can see people getting ready with pitchforks to nail me to the wall, but lets hear this out.

There is this basic ideology. The paradox of the masses. Whenever at any given network the number of members become too huge, the system starts to break down. It happened with all other social networks, it happened with the internet before that, it happened with ICQ, it happened with Orkut, and it will happen with Facebook. Lets take the case of Orkut, and with a much more real life example to follow it. Orkut was great till it was reference based, and then case the day when it was opened up to everyone and then the masses came in and so did the “frandship” requests. Long story short, I deleted my account in Orkut and am hiding in Facebook till that eventual doom also arrives at the door step of Facebook.

I think this is the logical thing that is going to happen to facebook. Imagine that you are part of an elite club such as the Lion’s club (if it is elite enough) or lets take the Madras Club (known for its elitism) and you were part of the elite 50 and you knew everyone who was part of the club. Most of the members in that club enjoy that lifestyle and keep it closed for the very nature that they dont want to democratize it. Lets say that they do, what is going to happen is that there will be 300+ people flowing in, soon you realize that you dont very much “belong”.

In the first order of things of all creatures, the necessity to belong is a crucial one. When that starts to erode, everything starts to fall apart. In my visual imagination, its like a tower that rises and rises, till it eventually starts to crumble under its own weight and falls apart, that smaller networks start to arise out of the ashes of the parent.

All this is to state one thing. The future of social networks is one where there will be niche verticals that will get created for various things. Imagine meetups with a social networking aspect and that is what will happen. Now this is happening in some level with Ning . But the issue with Ning is two fold. One it cant get out of the domain name of Ning.com (which can be easily fixed), and the other is the fact that I need to recreate the membership everytime. What if I create a new “community” pretty much like what we do inside orkut or Facebook, but outside of the walled garden?

So the future is pretty much a case where there will be skeleton frameworks available so that one can give it the look, and theme it to what they want, all the way from Mac Cultists, to Cricket Fans to whatever one fancies, and the social linkages will be drawn out of Opensocial. Using the linkages one can easily pass on how one’s friend is part of a new network and can draw out a larger easily accessible audience for each of these interest groups.

Now comes the fancy bit. Each of the these verticals will need to be monetized to be sustainable. And just as facebook has Beacon, there is a need for a Unplugged beacon which can power these networks and make these initiatives sustainable. Given that they will be such a niche target area, getting an audience of say 40,000 – 60,000 for each genre would be fairly simple and would make for a very focused approach for these marketers and advertisers. There will be new ways and means of delivering the content, message and engaging those audiences.

There is most certainly an opportunity to tap here, especially as we start to see eCommerce on the rise in emerging markets with such staggering numbers.

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You could be this crazy economist turned entrepreneur, and can have a gazillion keywords and phrases to explain every phenomenon under the sun, but the funny thing about economics is that they usually explain everything that has happened, and can even explain what is happening, but could never quite explain whats going to happen. You cannot, with a set of symptoms predict what the next step is going to be like – It could be a boom, inflation, a market correction or just another dull boring day, any of which might be just around the corner.

If you want to understand timing, economics is the wrong subject to pick. Intuition, and your own observation of the markets is what will save you. Nothing else usually helps.

After you have laid out your financial planning and operations chart for your company, and God forbid taken investor money (read more accountability), you could cook up a million reasons during the board meeting as to why you did not or were not able to meet the project sales plan. None of them will stick. The only valid reason that you could ever get away with an acceptance, is if the market changes.

When a market flips, its boom time for a startup which is looking to ride that wave, and usually spells death for every company out there which was riding the previous wave – unless you anticipated the second wave and were prepared with your next line of products and surfers to ride that one as well. Or if you were a big enough corporation, you could just with sheer muscle power create a wave (Apple does it all the time).

There’s also the other unfortunate incident where you take your hand-carved board into the waters, and sit on it for days, years and decades and realize that thanks to Global warming, you are no longer in the shore, but in the middle of the ocean and there are no tides there, just still waters.

Timing, is a very crucial issue for Startups. Most of them do ride the waves to gain that momentum and catch that hockey stick growth. There are some who just focus on everyday problems, everyday solutions and don’t care for the tides, the waves nor the water at all, and go on living. Know where you stand, and if you are in the water with your surf board ready, be sure you get your timing right, and better well be sure about it with all the stats. The markets, when they change, are never forgiving and take no prisoners.

Everyone, and Just about anyone with a background in Economics and can understand the market will tell you that a healthy market is supposed to be somewhat close to what C.K.Prahalad defined and popularized as – atleast here in India – a Pyramid. But is our economy, atleast when it comes to the Industrial sector anywhere close to it? Hmmm… One has to really think about that one.

I am not even for a second going to even go near the point of saying that I am enlightened here with this revelation that our economy is not a pyramid. Infact, this conversation has been initiated, argued, debated, chewed and spat on in most economic forums in the country and everyone is very well aware that we don’t have a healthy Pyramid. I am just thinking through, what it means in terms of repercussions to the industry as a whole and to the entrepreneurial community.

Let’s start from the basics: The pyramid usually has about three segments. The 20% of the huge corporations and conglomerates, and the rest 80% which are pretty much the SME segment and the Startups. Now, do the numbers really add up? I’d have to think about that one, yet again.

During a conversation with a friend recently, the conversation revolved around which city provides a better atmosphere for a startup, from a perspective of providing that initial feedback, customer insights and etc, so that there is clarity past the ideation stage before the prototype is built. I had this perplexed look on my face trying to figure out if there is yet a city which provides that here in India. While most do cry out “Bangalore”, if you ask me, that city is the most startup-unfriendly territory that I am observing.* Whilst there is a very active group of people, and some with disposable incomes, who have started an entire community of unconference events and discussions that surround that, very little is happening past that. Bangalore, as per the count that we have on the number of startups, measures quite low. Salaries are high, infrastructure is expensive, branding is a very costly affair, attracting talent is a dance on the pole – let alone quality talent, and there a dozen startups fighting for the starving number of resources who are available and will actually provide that high caliber value for a startup. On the number of new startups that are emerging, the city ranks quite low. But at the sametime there is quite an active number of “startups” in the city which have been lurking around for a while – and when I say a while, it means for roughly around a decade. They have neither joined the SME alliance, nor are they really a newborn child. And this is essentially the company of alliance that is available in most places to get “that initial feedback” that we were discussing about. When these companies themselves are struggling to make that jump after a decade, I am not sure what sort of real feedback they can provide their new wave, that is coming up. I do hope that you understand the conundrum that we are facing here.

So that roughly puts things in perspective. If you break down an industry vertical, lets say the internet space, we have the likes of the public sector companies, and then we have companies such as Rediff and Indiatimes which form the bottom hemisphere of the lollipop, and then there is this ultrafine line of companies which are not more than a handful, which are to be the SME and startup companies put together. Lo! and behold, not the pyramid, but the lollipop.And in this Lollipop economy, the upper circle is competition and fiercely guards anything, anyone from the bottom is trying to pull. Feedback, and initial discussions are absolutely out of the question in most cases.

This is a concern, cause in an efficient ecosystem, I strongly believe that Incubators will have much less of a role to play. If knowledge was freely available, and people could catch up over a cup of coffee to vet out an idea, and that validation process could happen over conversations in a much more fluid manner – eventually leading to mindshare, market traction, talent referral, intial client base and even funding, then there is absolutely no need for a third element to facilitate this. Today, Incubators become an essential part of this conversation, since they are the only ones who can moderate and manage the intellectual property talks that are carried out and have any say with these bigger guys, who if they wish could squish these startups in as much time as it takes to blink.

It is quite beautifully put: Markets are inherently conversational. The more conversations we have, the faster we mature, and we need to have them in a much more open manner with all our cards on the table and as early as possible – if you are building a startup, or contributing towards the ecosystem. But unless the economic bifurcation by quantity and numbers is a pyramid, and not a lollipop, it is going to be a tough stroll up that mountain as we grow.

*While it is my opinion that, if a valley-type of ecosystem comes together in India it will be in a tier 2 city such as Pune or Hyderabad, that’s a conversation separate for another day.


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