Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘web

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.

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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.

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I’m convinced that we are doing something wrong.

During a conversation with someone who has experience beyond my age, on how the product landscape in India is evolving, he smiled, took the time to coin his words (into something more politically correct) and said, “Nobody is really changing the rules of the game. Everyone is looking to make a quick buck”. When I met Subho Roy of IAMAI a few weeks back, he pretty much resonated with that and almost let out the frustration saying “This is all turning into a valuation game. Where are the days of building solid businesses?” Is there something wrong with that? Thats what I am hoping we can discuss, argue and debate about here.

It’s that time of the year for Proto.in – got barely a month to go and usually this is the time when we are finalizing all the companies and lining up the speakers for the Fastrack Sessions. We are talking about… How to sell, as a Startup? Not how to sell-out, more like how to sell your products and make revenue. There is much that seems to be obscure in the land of the startup community with so much millions and trillions discussed about – especially the size of the VC firm’s wallet.

I have been touching base with a fair slew of guys who have natively built and sold products here in India. Tally is one such company that I got in touch with and the response I got really got me thinking – because it resonates with what Mr. Experienced told me before. He wasn’t sure if he could make it to the event since he has travel plans, but left with a note saying “I wonder if people are ready to hear the heartache of building a business over 18 years. It might even depress a startup.”

Lets not make a mistake here saying that Tally just didn’t hit it right. Do you know how long it took for Bose to become a double digit million dollar making company? More than a decade. There is a joke within circles that Bose would be a bad company in a VC’s portfolio. Infosys took 25 years to attain maturity and go public. Look at Wipro. Look at Microsoft. The list is endless.

Arguably so, there is a compression in the age of the entrepreneur, the pace at which modern businesses move and grow, and it certainly has shortened, but has it also shortened the lifespans of the company?

I strongly believe that as a startup entrepreneur, the wrong person to meet is a VC. Keep in touch with him, listen to them, and get your due diligence out of them, but when it comes to business models, ignore what they have to say. They are going to want you to make revenue from day one. And the process to do that is to have an opportunistic view and that unfortunately is always short lived. Forget revenues. Forget business models. Identify the need. Understand your customers. Understand what the market is evolving towards. Then its upto you to perceive those needs and demands and formulate the solution and figure out the price discovery as to how much your customers would cough up to get that handed to them in a platter.

Instead, if you go to an investor much earlier on, on your toddler days when you should be focusing on growing, having fun and enjoying the time speaking mumbo jumbo with your peers and playing hide and seek, you’ll be wrapped in a straightjacket or in a war suit and sent to battle the mammoths of the battlefield. The end of that is not rocket science to figure out. But trust me, a kid in the middle of a battlefield will be sensational story – and trust me you will get the attention of a whole lot of folks. You just wont last long enough.

I’ll nitpick on one industry. The Travel Industry. If you go and pitch to anyone saying that you are working in the Travel Industry they are going to shun you thinking that you are the next travel portal claiming the cheapest price on the web. It has unfortunately come to that. But do you know how much inefficiencies are still there in the travel industry? The issues with checking in, tracking baggages, and even the legacy systems that they have to manage the passengers inside the terminal – the systems are really not keeping up with the explosion in traffic. Buying a cheap ticket is the least of the worries as of now. How many of you know of Sabre? They are pretty much the underlying platform behind the entire air fleet management and PNR systems worldwide. They are big, which means they are probably scared of radical change. Tell me what they are missing out on, what of that is adding to the woes of the traveller, and fix that.

I remember recently when I was talking to a publishing media about a recent magazine that they had launched. This is a magazine which is focused for entrepreneurs – and its quite well known by now. The magazine house has defined a period of five years for them to break even. I asked the man at the helm if the print industry had such a slow uptake. He responded saying “we break even in 14 months, but we’d rather make the investments in the first couple of years towards a solid start”. He made sense. Lots of sense.

How you lay the foundations for your empire matter. There is a parable in the bible about a man who build his house on the rock, and one that built it on sand. The way the house came up, obviously had a difference since the one on sand required much less work and it was all upwards, but when the rain came down, it showed which one was a much solid refuge to live in.

I think, err believe that startups should have fun. Build something people want, and build it having fun and in a way that you are passionate about. I am strongly against working 18 hours a day and racing against time to catch the wave. My most favorite teacher in school always said that it was much easier to fish in a calm ocean than in the middle of a hurricane. Ideas, concepts and the clarity of mind to execute are all luxuries that you can only enjoy in a calm ocean.

So tell me, if you were absolutely passionate about something and want to totally change the rules of the game of an industry, and would want your name to live on for years to come, what would you do? Think about it… take your time… ah, thats what you should be doing. Not living on Instant noodles. Let me tell you what, lets sit down with some candlelight, under the clear skies, and treat ourselves to gourmet – slightly tedious, painful and takes more time, but I tell ya, its totally worth it. What say ye?

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.

Attending Proto.in Delhi
From an event planning perspective, the first and foremost major milestones are the dates and the venue. We’ve just about finalized them. We had played a bit of a gamble announcing the dates first and then looking for the venue, but as luck should have it, we’ve managed within the same timelines and have tentatively finalized on it.

Dates: July 18th and 19th 2008.
Venue: IIT Delhi, Delhi.

Do keep an eye on the blog and sign up for the mailing list to stay up-to-date on whats being planned for this edition of Proto.in. We made a promise that for every edition of Proto.in, rather than coming together and group whining about what all is wrong for the startups in India, we’d make an attempt to solve them. The Startup Lunch initiative was one such effort to solve the hiring problem that Startups were facing – and its been extremely well received. We have a slew of such initiatives under wraps which we will be launching in every consecutive editions, and obviously the Proto.in companies will be given priority for each of these services – as much as they are open to all, as of now. If you wanted to know, that’s one more reason to head to the nomination page and to submit your company profile, if you are a technology product based Indian startup.

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Seems like we are not the only set of folks who are wanting to fix the problems we see around us and build a “sustainable” atmosphere around us. There is a post by Ryan who runs FOWA taking a stance against the Web Mission effort that is getting organized by the UK Government and quite a fair list of heavy weights, including Techcrunch. I think this post is important to observe for a couple of reasons.

The striking similarities that we hear from folks around us in:

1. Thinking that the Silicon valley for some reason offers more opportunities.

2. Europe just like India, in most cases, seems to think that you only get funded if you hit the valley. Atleast we aren’t that bad. We have much more easier access to capital.

3. There are folks like FOWA (Future of Web Apps) who are trying to build a vibrant community of users, developers and startups in Europe, very much like how we are working on the same – with arguments that they have “everything that they require right there”

4. There are also people, most of them, who seem to think that the UK companies should be looking into the valley for users and potential exit strategies.

I’ve been working on a post that shows a snapshot of interaction between startups, venture capitals and the markets from across the globe – the valley, Canada, Australia, Europe and India. You’d be surprised how similar most conversations are. Trust me, things are not so hard because we are in India, neither too easy because we are here. We are just facing the same harsh realities as anywhere else. Perhaps the world is flatterning. Huh! who thought I’d agree to that, so easily!

I’ll leave you with this comment by Phil Bradley in that post, which just gets the message home without any explanations:

“The equity gap between seed and series A that plagues the UK will not be resolved if we can’t demonstrate maturity and ability to build profitable businesses.”

Paul Graham has written a recent article where he is wailing and moaning on the same topic. And I think he lives in the heart of where the action lies.

To Quote Paul from his Article, “I used to think of VCs as piratical: bold but unscrupulous. On closer acquaintance they turn out to be more like bureaucrats. They’re more upstanding than I used to think (the good ones, at least), but less bold. Maybe the VC industry has changed. Maybe they used to be bolder. But I suspect it’s the startup world that has changed, not them. The low cost of starting a startup means the average good bet is a riskier one, but most existing VC firms still operate as if they were investing in hardware startups in 1985.”

That just eerily sounds like the issue we face here.

PS: I haven’t thought through this yet, but I believe this only applies to Internet/Media related startups.

There was this fabulous quote by the Executives of one of the major internet portals, must be either Rediff or Indiatimes, who mentioned that ‘E-commerce in India is nothing more than a payment gateway – as of now’. It’s a medium of payment, but the usage of the word “commerce” is a overkill for what really goes on.

All that said, there is most certainly a trend towards making more and more services available over the web – for sale and purchase by organizations and individuals, and we are yet to exploit that growing opportunity.

I have often heard this “imagination” being described when we talk about a next generation service. It goes as something like this – Imagine that you drive out and are in the middle of somewhere and do have sometime and feel like having a bite of pizza. You flip open your phone or tap the screen of your internet tablet, and search for “pizza” and the display shows you all the nearest pizza joints from where you are, along with some of the discounts that are happening, and also possibly the locations rated according to user reviews. You tap your selection and the device shows you the driving location to it, you mount it on the dashboard holder, and drive away till you reach the location.

That does sound quite magical doesn’t it? But it doesn’t work. Not yet and though there are quite a few ventures working on that space, someone is failing to see the ideation in its entirety and the system that has to be developed. I’m hoping this would help.

So lets start with what we have. There are plenty of services available today, which essentially provide lead generation tools. They are more focused on the businesses – since they are the ones who bring in the money, than the consumer who calls in and that partiality is so clearly visible. For example, lets say that I am stuck in the middle of a road with my car low on battery and I want to find a nearby store who can help charge my battery or maybe jumpstart the car engine, i flip up the mobile or internet tablet and go search for sites such as Sulekha or Justdial, or even perhaps Ask Laila, and enter the keywords battery recharge. Most of the time, the results that are given are pretty much the entire directory of every vendor out there who is a battery dealer. Should my query even mistakenly be forwarded to the vendors, I’d have a hell of a time holding on to my cellphone. My only option would be to give up the number and get another one cause thats how many calls I’d be getting from folks who are hoping that they got business. The scenario might not exactly roll out the same way, but I am sure you get the idea.

There are three key issues there.
1. Lack of Geotags which can identify where I am, and where the store is.
2. Lack of Specificity and the ability to get into further detail. It’s not just pizza, but I might be looking for pizza with a rare mix of mushroom and brinjal.
3. Lack of any information regarding availability.

What you need past this is essentially a system that can tie all of this together. Without these basic components, you still are nowhere close to having an entire system in place.

Geotags are crucial. Sridhar of Yulop is working on quite a bit of stuff related to this, and I am totally with his efforts. The ability to geotag cultural event locations, restaurants, temples, mosques, hotels, schools, colleges, hospitals and anyplace that could potentially be a “destination” is a very crucial aspect of this system. Avoiding the system from asking the question of “where are you now” is something that goes a long way. I am still amazed everytime I call the taxi company and they already know what my home and office location are, and they only ask me if the pick up is at home or at office. Now, that’s an experience that makes a difference.

Depth. And Availability. These two things are inherently connected. I want to know if something very specific that I am looking for is available. Not battery sales, but battery service would have brought down my queries significantly and that is crucial.
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