Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Head to the Workosaur blog

I quit my job back in August and have moved back to Mumbai since then. As of now, I have started 2 sites - workosaur.com and resignr.com. All my thoughts around this new phase of my professional life can now be read at the Workosaur blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

R.I.P. Indian Tech Blogosphere

Have I missed something?

I mean.. I have been reading Alootechie.net, ContentSutra.comMedianama.comPluggd.in, StartupDunia.com, WATBlog.com, Webyantra.net every single day on my feed reader. All of them claim to cover the Startup / Online Media / Internet / Web 2.0 space.

And yet, not one of them has blogged about the TechCrunch 50 event (Sept 8-10, '08) or the Demo '08 Conference (Sep 8-10 '08). These are the Sundance and Cannes for Internet / Dot Com Startups. You had some of the best startups demoing at these events - more than 100 of them. These startups showcased products and technologies that will be shaping the future of the Internet. But no f#$%ing coverage in the Indian tech blogs?

The best part is that TechCrunch 50 (the better of the above 2 events) was streamed live over all three days. Anyone who saw it would have been inspired. The startups demo'd in front of a 1500+ audience and were judged by top executives from Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, Youtube, MySpace, Thomson Reuters, Charles River Ventures, Clearstone Venture Partners, Fenwick, Founders Fund, Mayfield Fund, Sequoia Capital, and more. I still don't get it... how could anyone in the Internet / Tech space be completely ignorant of something as big as this?

Merely publishing Press Releases and writing about where their friends in the Industry have moved would be an accurate job description for the guys writing at the Indian tech/online media blogs I have mentioned above. I can't help but declare that the Indian technology blogosphere is dead. R.I.P. They would do well to create a memorial of their blog at Footnote - Facebook for the deceased (BTW, that was one of the many interesting startups that demo'd at the event).

P.S.: Even the Apple conference (during the same time) announcing the launch of the new iPod was not covered anywhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TechCrunch 50 - Session 12: Research and Recommendations

Good Guide: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50

What's it about: GoodGuide.com provides free and easy access to the world's largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental and social impacts of products and companies.
What's cool: The most detailed scientific data about every product out there. This is going to be the definitive product search engine.
What's the model: Sales commissions from online stores for the products. While this may go on to be a product search engine, the advertising model may not work on it.
What's the challenge: Handling the repercussions of a disruptive model. Eliminating the conflict with corporates and working with them to improve products.
Hot or Not: HOT*
*From what I've seen, GoodGuide is my winner of TC50. By far the most disruptive business out there. And addresses a huge need. Fantastic execution. Great team. Extremely difficult to replicate.

Go Planit: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: The most convenient online travel planner.
What's cool: You can now plan your travel itinerary in less than 30 seconds.
What's the model: Just go to the site, enter dates and the location to which you are traveling. And your tour is planned. They further allow you to enter more preferences to customize the itinerary. Revenue model - Travel is a fairly evolved advertising vertical; White labeling their product for airlines, tourism boards, etc; Affiliate commissions from travel e-commerce sites.
What's the challenge: Scalability across geographies.
Hot or Not: HOT

What's it about: The ultimate new car price guide that can save thousands of dollars for car buyers.
What's cool: Solid monetary benefit to consumers.
What's the model: Automotive advertising accounts for close to 15-20% of all online spends in US. If this works, every car buyer is going to be visiting true car.
What's the challenge: Handling the repercussions of a disruptive model. What happens when the US auto industry (downstream) adopts a fixed pricing system (as is bound to happen with the introduction of a service like TrueCar)? Naturally, TrueCar must learn to leverage their tech across other products/segments with a similar challenge.
Hot or Not: HOT

GoodRec: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: An extremely simple social recommendation system that fully leverages the mobile platform.
What's cool: Fantastic UI.
What's the model: Short, simple and meaningful recommendations from your social network.
What's the challenge: Needs the network effect going for it.
Hot or Not: NOT

iamnews: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: An open newsroom platform which enables publishers to collaborate in the creation of news i.e. an alternative news syndication service built through users.
What's cool: Could be a great news agency for small publishers. A potential disruptive model.
What's the model: iamnews aggregates users (who are experts in certain subjects) and gives them the opportunity to be journalists. So content publishers can create news assignments and get news through the user-turned-journalists instead of taking feeds from Reuters or Associated Press.
What's the challenge: Building a good incentive system to ensure a large pool which can ensure great service/delivery levels.
Hot or Not: HOT

TechCrunch 50 - Session 11: Vertical Social Networking

Birdpost: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Birdpost.com is a social network on which birdwatchers will be able to record, share and map their birdwatching experiences.
What's cool: The change-the-world concept behind Birdpost. Watch the demo.
What's the model: Freemium subscription model. Free for a month and then USD 50 per annum. Birdpost claims that birdwatchers are rich and spent USD 35 billion on birdwatching in 2001. So subscription would work. They also wish to build this out for other nature lover interests - insects, fish, plants.
What's the challenge: Tinkering the business model to ensure that while they make money, it also becomes the nature search engine.
Hot or Not: HOT

Closet Couture: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A fashion social network for women with expert consultation wardrobe management.
What's cool: Ability to dig deeper into your email
What's the model: Its a desktop email application and its free. Revenue model non-existent. I doubt if they'd get an exit considering the fact that the technology being worked is specifically for their desktop client rather than a plugin like Xobni.
What's the challenge: Getting online email users to use a desktop app. Getting desktop email users to shift from existing desktop clients. Long-term relevance. What happens when these features get built into Gmail or Yahoo!?
Hot or Not: HOT

What's it about: Facebook for the deceased. Actually, more of a genealogy site than as a social network.
What's cool: Already has 80 million records that were avialble publicly. Also has digitized a huge amount of old newspaper photos, magazine photos, etc that was previously unavailable.
What's the model: Subscription. But that is just not taking off.
What's the challenge: Transforming this into a wiki because that what it actually must be.
Hot or Not: NOT

What's it about: Social network for not-for-profit organizations.
What's cool: The cause its been built for.
What's the model: Two entities. One deals with the contributions, 100% of which are passed on. The other entity deals with brands being charged to associate themselves with cause marketing.
What's the challenge: Adoption at the individual level. Maybe I am missing something but I just don't see the product adding any great value over the FB causes app.
Hot or Not: NOT

Shattered Reality Interactive: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A social network (rather a community) which can go on to guide and contribute towards SRI's MMO game development (Kaos War).
What's cool: The game screens looked great.
What's the model: SRI has built parts of their game which would be given out free. This would be used to build a community who'll contribute with their ideas to build the remainder 80%. SRI thus lowers their cost of game development.
What's the challenge: Adoption. Participation.
Hot or Not: NOT

TechCrunch 50 - Session 8: Language & Communication Tools

Alfabetic: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: They translate, localize and distribue content for websites in the 10 most popular languages and so it reaches an international audience.
What's cool: The Vertical Machine Translation System (i.e. Politics, Sports, etc)
What's the model: Alfabetic monetizes the additional ad inventory on the additional pages. This is shared with the content provider. They should consider charging additionally for the manual content editing bit and make it a part of their premium solution.
What's the challenge: Competes against Google's translation service. Scalability could be an issue in case of heavy manual editing.
Hot or Not: NOT

Postbox: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A desktop email application with some great new search and organization capabilities that help you find, organize and act upon emails.
What's cool: Ability to dig deeper into your email
What's the model: Its a desktop email application and its free. Revenue model non-existent. I doubt if they'd get an exit considering the fact that the technology being worked is specifically for their desktop client rather than a plugin like Xobni.
What's the challenge: Getting online email users to use a desktop app. Getting desktop email users to shift from existing desktop clients. Long-term relevance. What happens when these features get built into Gmail or Yahoo!?
Hot or Not: NOT

Swype: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A superior text input method that works across different devices.
What's cool: Increases your typing speed to 40-60 words per minute even on mobile devices.
What's the model: Just like T9 has become the standard pattern recognition technology for mobile inputs, Swype aims to the new standard for text input. And make tons of money from licensing deals once they find adoption.
What's the challenge: Adoption by mobile phone manufacturers and mobile operating systems.
Hot or Not: HOT

Dropbox: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Sync, store and share files in the cloud.
What's cool: Almost real-time collaboration in the cloud.
What's the model: Free 2GB account. Pay USD 9-10 per month and get a 50GB storage account. I foresee a high level of interest from Microsoft as this helps the longevity of Desktop Apps.
What's the challenge: Adoption levels at 2GB FREE. And then the infrastructure with scale.
Hot or Not: HOT

TechCrunch 50 - Session 10: Games

Grockit: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Massively Multi-player Online Learning. Traditional study groups taken online.
What's cool: The Conversation System for Collaboratove Learning.
What's the model: Collaborations with traditional players in the competitive examination space.
What's the challenge: Content. How do you scale the system for user-generated content?
Hot or Not: NOT

Akoha: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Mission cards. Buy a card and accomplish the mission and then pass on this mission card to your friend online for him/her to complete the mission.
What's cool: The attempt of make charity fun.
What's the model: The money generated through the mission card is donated to a charity of your choice. You get a simple mission like READ A BOOK or FEED A BLOGGER. You accomplish the mission and pass on the mission to your friend. And then they pass it around. It makes everyone feel like they are part of a mission originating from a charitable cause.
What's the challenge: This thing could see some traction amongst corporates as a CSR initiative. But they need to make it more compelling. It's just not there.
Hot or Not: NOT

Atmosphir: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A Collaborative Game-making and Deployment Platform. The Lego of Video Games.
What's cool: Democratization of game-making is here. This can completely change the market. Everybody could be making great games with this.
What's the model: Users create their own game and deploy and distribute it using the Atmosphir desktop client. Paid elements could be introduced such as characters and environments and levels.
What's the challenge: Making it simple enough for you and me to build games.
Hot or Not: HOT

Playce: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: High-end online social gaming destination.
What's cool: Great graphics in online gaming.
What's the model: Playce is an online destination for gaming. They provide game developers with the gaming infrastructure to develop engaging games with great graphics at 30-50% of the current cost. Game is monetized through in-game ad placement and sale of virtual goods. The revenue is split with the game developer.
What's the challenge: Getting validation from the game developer community. I doubt the revenue share from virtual goods and in-game ad placement is incentive enough.
Hot or Not: NOT

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TechCrunch 50 - Session 2: Meme & News

DotSpots: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Annotating the Content on the Web. Or converting every content-based page into a Wikipedia.
What's cool: The technology really leverages the power of the Internet to enrich news content. Also, the Server and Browser-based extensions are a great way of catalyzing the network effect.
What's the model: I don't think they can make content publishers pay for this service since they also want to make it into a browser extension. But from the look of it, they could build in ads into this. I foresee a lot of interest in this product from the Internet Goliaths. In all probability, they'll sell the intellectual property for a huge sum if the product sees adoption.
What's the challenge: Making the network effect happen. Filtering the junk.
Hot or Not: HOT

Angstro Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: News alerts about people and companies in your social network.
What's cool: The filtering algorithm in case of people sharing the same name. The algorithm matches the resume/profile with the piece of news.
What's the model: Useful feature in the High Net-worth Individuals (HNI) segment who could spend some money to subscribe to this service. However, it makes more sense for a LinkedIn or even a Monster. Executive search firms using these sites would love it. (I'd love to have this on workosaur.)
What's the challenge: Scaling this from a feature to something more significant. Also, Google Alerts is a great service. Am sure they'd soon figure out an algorithm to make it work better than Angstro.
Hot or Not: NOT

LiveHit: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Social News Discovery based on Concurrent Consumption of Content.
What's cool: The social discovery technology in itself is cool. We all know about StumbleUpon.
What's the model: This seems to work like Sphere in terms of recommendations albeit with a social spin to it. The recommended plug then leads to customizable pages of LiveHit with Ad Inventory and the recommended newspiece in an iframe. So the sites using LiveHit make money and LiveHit makes money off them or as a percentage of this ad revenue.
What's the challenge: Technology and Distribution. Social discovery is going to be big but the technology and monetization models will evolve with time. I really think that one of the bigger players is going to be doing this better than LiveHit (Hint: Google already does it in case of YouTube.)
Hot or Not: NOT

Quant The News: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: A product called StockMood.com. An AI system that that analyzes news stories about stocks, identifying their sentiment, and then measuring their potential impact on a stock's price direction.
What's cool: The potential applications of a sentiment identification technology. (I had seen something similar year or so ago at a company called SpotEazy. They have then changed their biz model but the technology has that WOW effect on you.)
What's the model: Subscriptions to the sentiment analysis by investors. Also, they could license their technology to the online trading systems or look at building a trading system themselves.
What's the challenge: Technology. I am not too sure if it's advanced enough to be relied upon as guidance. Also, as this scales and if it works and people depend on it, more people will find ways of gaming the sentiment. So, the technology needs to hold especially in a system where people have an incentive to game it. I see it more as a fun feature that gauges sentiments during elections or before the launch of a movie or an album.
Hot or Not: NOT

TechCrunch 50 - Session 1: Youth & Culture

TC50 (September 8-10, 2008) is turning out to be the event to watch out in the Web 2.0/Startup space. The event is being streamed live and the videos are also archived on ustream.tv.

Here's my take on the startups featured in the Youth & Culture segment of the event. I'd recommend all readers to check the pitch video first, then to check the individual sites and then post their feedback in the comments section of this post.

BlahGirls (Katalyst Media): Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Interactive Online Episodes from Katalyst Media (Blah Girls is their first show - Celebrity Gossip News using Animations)
What's cool: Ashton Kutcher & the animations
What's the model: Production house for the Internet. This is all about the content. Katalyst Media has understood its audience well and going by the first episode, seem to be good at the content. Revenue model is proven. They make money through advertisers - product placements in the episodes and traditional advertising on the site.
What's the challenge: The same challenges that a production house faces i.e. Scalability.
Hot or Not: HOT

Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Online Destination/Social Network for Kids
What's cool: A kid-friendly UI. Proprietary 'Word Up!' safety.
What's the model:
I really don't know if they can make money out of this except for advertising kids' wear/chocolates/games/toys. even that I doubt. I do not buy the 'we got the kids hooked and can then port them to other products when they grow up' pitch.
What's the challenge: Lack of a revenue model. No real WOW tech.
Hot or Not: NOT

Shryk: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Educational Money Management App called iThryv for Kids.
What's cool: Shyrk has smartly decided to ally with schools to educate kids rather than trying to reach the kids directly.
What's the model: They want to catch 'em young and build "customers for life" for partner banks.
What's the challenge: I have my doubts about the need for such an app. Assuming there is, I don't think its simple enough to make it useful enough. Adoption is going to be a major challenge. Even, if it's useful enough and is adopted, I don't see banks treating this as a starting point for customer acquisition. It could at best be a CSR initiative for the bank rather than a business in itself.
Hot or Not:NOT

Hangout Industries
: Click to watch their Demo Video at TC50
What's it about: Facebook/MySpace + Second Life for Kids & Young Adults
What's cool: Awesome 3D Immersive Experience. Especially, the posters & pictures on the walls.
What's the model: Revenue sharing arrangements with partners such as AllPosters.com and apparel/clothing companies. I guess similar transactional layers would come in for music/games/videos.
What's the challenge: Lack of depth in the revenue model. Commissions would never amount to significant revenue. They seem to have a WOW technology though and probably could sell-out to an offline brand wishing to establish a connect in the Young Adults segment or to one of the larger Internet companies.
Hot or Not: NOT

Friday, February 15, 2008

chittR... but why should I?

Well, I started micro-blogging today with twitter. Also read about an Indian clone of the same that goes by the name chittR. And so the questions visit my mind again:

  • What makes the guys at chittR think that being Indian is a source of competitive advantage for their micro-blogging platform over a non-Indian but far better twitter?
  • What makes the guys at BigAdda and DesiMartini think that being Indian is a source of competitive advantage for their social networking platform over a non-Indian but far better Orkut or Facebook?
  • What makes the guys at Indiatimes Mail and Zapakmail think that being Indian is a source of competitive advantage over a non-Indian but far better Gmail or Yahoo! Mail?
  • What makes the guys at Fropper think that being Indian is a source of competitive advantage for their blogging platform over a non-Indian but far better Blogger or Wordpress?
Is it that difficult to decipher that being a me-too Web 2.0 product with the Indian tag can not cut ice?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scrabulous is fabulous!

For the uninitiated, Scrabulous is an online version of popular board game Scrabble. Scrabulous gained immense popularity through its Facebook App. There are nearly 600,000 daily active users for Scrabulous and it rakes in USD 25,000 per month in advertising revenue through banner inventory. The Facebook version of Scrabulous raised the ire of toy-makers Hasbro and Mattel, which jointly own the rights to the game. They asked Facebook to pull down Scrabulous and behind the scenes negotiations have been going on between Hasbro, Scrabulous, and Electronic Arts, which has the license in the U.S. to the online version of the game. Hasbro is trying to get Scrabulous to sell itself to Electronic Arts, or else shut down completely.

Interestingly, Scrabulous has been built independently by two brothers from Kolkata - Rahul (26) and Jayant Agarwalla (21). And while they have simply taken the board game online, they have done a fabulous job of it. I am a Scrabble fan myself - and own a Scrabble Deluxe board from Mattel as well as the Scrabble Game CD from Electronics Arts. Without a doubt, the Scrabulous Facebook experience beats both the official formats. Firstly, one gets to play with members across the social network at any time they desire to do so. That apart, the Scrabulous duo have continuously improved the UI/UXP and launched some great features based on inputs from users.

While Hasbro/Electronic Arts may force the Kolkata brothers to shut down Scrabulous, I am hopeful that they'd go on to build some fabulous new apps/games/products.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Auto-rickshaws - The ideal advertising medium for Internet start-ups

By now, most of us would have seen a lot of dot com ads on the back of auto-rickshaws and cabs/taxis. IMHO, this form of advertising is ideal for Internet start-ups/ventures - it's economical and effective.

The ability to burn a fortune on fancy TV/Print/Radio/Billboards advertisements is not a viable option for most Internet companies given the scale of their operations and the low monetization opportunities in the industry. Instead, if one is able to put up their brand on 500-1000 autos in each of the major cities (@Rs. 100 per auto per month), their brand is sure to be seen by a majority audience at a fraction of the cost that it would otherwise require to reach the same audience.

All the people I have spoken to in Mumbai have seen ads by MouthShut, Khichdee & MapMyIndia on Autos.
All of the people I have spoken to in Chennai have seen ads by TestingJobz on Autos here.
All of the people I have spoken to in Delhi have seen ads by PropertySensex and BuySellOldBooks on Autos and SeventyMM on Cabs.
Also, since people follow the traffic, you tend to see the ad for a prolonged period. From whatever I have read, these dot coms have employed close to 200-500 autos in the respective cities. And it sure is being noticed.

Brand Association
I have had several discussions with those in the marketing industry about this form of advertising. More often than not, marketers would tell you that the associations resulting from such advertising would affect the brand adversely. They'll add adjectives like 'cheap,' 'shabby,' and 'shady' to get their point across. I couldn't agree less. MouthShut, which pioneered the concept, has been exploiting this economical and effective method since 2001 and I don't know anyone who thinks of MouthShut as a 'cheap,' shabby' or 'shady' site - even after 6 years of advertising on auto-rickshaws. MapMyIndia, Kijiji, and SeventyMM are some of the other dot coms that have also warmed up to this form of advertising - all of them being dot coms that provide great value to online consumers.

Anyways, those who accept and adopt this innovative form of advertising stand to gain customers without spending much. The cynics can continue to burn their precious funds on traditional media and feel good about the sophistication of their brand.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Skin business on Facebook

Yup! After completely taking over the Classifieds sections of major print publications (Times of India and Hindustan Times), escort services are now using Social Networks to promote their services.

First, escort services create a series of fake profiles on Orkut with revealing pictures of pretty looking girls. They then kick off conversations with other Orkut members and add them as friends. Those with an inclination to use escort services get hooked, numbers are exchanged and the business gets rolling.

Well, a friend of mine recently pointed out how these guys have even started tapping users on the more-secure Facebook network. Here, a fake profile is created and the same is used to create 'compelling' Marketplace listings (Screenshot attched). The listing reads "I am an airhostess to meet me visit http://www.mallikaairhostess.com/.

And when you visit the site mentioned, you are taken to a site which was earlier hosted under the domain http://www.chamadi.com/(Screenshot attached). Note: Chamadi in Hindi means Skin. Here, you have details of the escort services like fees and contact numbers, gallery, etc.

I don't know whether this would be considered by Facebook as an abuse of their services. Or whether they'd take it off after one has reported the same. The print industry in India definitely doesn't have a problem with such ads and seem to make copious amounts of money from the advertisers. I only hope that the online industry doesn't follow suit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The boy-next-desk turns CEO

When I joined my current organization in Feb 2006, I met up with an extremely smart 21-year old techie named Murli who worked on SEO/SEM initiatives for one of our portals. He was always scouting for freelance projects to leverage his geekiness and make some additional money. Sometime in Jul/Aug 2006, one of his clients invited him for a permanent position at a substantially higher pay. Or so he told all of us. And he moved on.

I pretty much lost touch with Murli after that and only recently did I chance to visit his Orkut/LinkedIn profile on seeing his New Year wishes. And I was pleasantly surprised that Murli has gone on to found a company of his own called Horizon InfoVentures. And Horizon has already seen some fame and success. They have a property listings portal called RealAcres, and the portal was amongst the 13 winners from India at the Red Herring 100 Asia 2007 Awards.

I was also able to dig up a video of Murli being interviewed by Joel Dreyfuss, the Editor-in-Chief at Red Herring magazine. It's quite refreshing, but strange, to see Murli in a formal suit giving spiel. He'd always come to office in a t-shirt and denims. Never thought I'd see him like this.

Rock on Murli! All of us who have worked with you are proud of your achievements and it surely has inspired many of us to take the plunge.