Startup

Everybody Does Everything

Posted in Startup on July 7th, 2012 by Abhishek Balaria – 2 Comments

There is news coming in that Amazon will start marketing a Smartphone soon. If you connect the dots from past it will seem an obvious course for them. They already have most ingredients in place: customized Android UI, App Store, hardware in Tablet form factor and operator relationships as part of the Kindle franchise. The only question is: will it be a me-too offering or a different take on Smartphones with mobile voice and data bundled. I think it will be the latter. Most likely digital content and Amazon prime will also be somehow involved.

But Amazon’s Smartphone is not the topic of this post. Over last decade, we have seen the classic ways in which we structured the industry as hardware manufacturers, consumer and enterprise software companies, Internet web services, retailers and so on fade away. Google does everything, so do Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. I will leave HP, Oracle, IBM and SAP out of this discussion for now.

Everybody does everything

Image Credit: Daniel Adel, New York Times

How did we get to this new world and why it’s important to understand it? I am of the opinion that it was, in fact, Microsoft that started this “trend”. They went from a Basic interpreter to become the most valuable company in the world in the 90′s by executing well on many fronts and being ruthless with competition. The innovator’s dilemma didn’t seem to apply to them and they clearly understood that they will not be “killed” by direct competition with a better operating system or office suite. They already had very strong network effect and OEM relationships to protect that. The threat will come from new players which will originate during a paradigm shift. And the first shift to really test them came from the Internet and their response to Netscape, the Internet pioneer, is well documented. I believe Netscape didn’t die because of Microsoft but poor execution. You can build a successful applications business on Windows platform even when Microsoft is in your direct competition. Intuit vs Microsoft Money is a case in point, but let’s leave this for other discussion and get back to our main topic.

So, when you combine paranoia of the innovator’s dilemma, ability to execute well in multiple areas and history of winner takes all in Software and Internet businesses, it becomes more clear why everyone is fighting on every front. The modern tech giants are remarkable companies. They can put together new HW, SW or services within a matter of months. The incentives to control the whole ecosystem are immense and the downside to leave any loose ends catastrophic.

The important IT opportunities for next couple of years are Mobility, Cloud Computing, Social Networking, Big Data and E-commerce. E-commerce here includes both digital and physical goods. The companies to thrive will be the ones with successful ecosystems and strong consumer lock-in. Today’s Tech giants know this very well and therefore everybody does everything.

So, where does this leave you as a Tech Entrepreneur? It should not make much difference to you in terms of what’s important. You won’t succeed unless you are world-class in whatever it is that you do and have determination to go past the tough first few years. You should, however, understand the trends and ecosystems you operate in and pick your battles wisely. Do not align yourselves too tightly with one ecosystem or vendor. And lastly, focus on the ability to execute fast and turn the ship when tides shift.

The vision thing

Posted in Startup on August 26th, 2011 by Abhishek Balaria – Comments Off

“We are committed to demonstrating unquestionable dynamic metamorphosis by quality products and improved returns from the top down.”

“Our value proposition is to recontextualize modular capabilities to capture market share while exceeding expectations”

OK, those are not our vision or mission statements. In fact, those are generated by a computer (on a side note, the Dilbert mission statement generator is gone with the new redesigned site). There is even an app for that: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mission-statement-generator/id319708231?mt=8. But I can totally imagine some large corporate paying top dollars for a mission statement like that.

Every so often I am asked about our vision or mission. Growing up in India, one thing we were told from childhood was to not chase fame or fortune. Just add value and the success will follow. How does this tie into a vision statement? Does a company even need a vision statement? I think it’s Guy Kawasaki who suggests having a mantra. And things like Apple’s “Think Different” or Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” or “We Want To Organize World’s Information And Make It Universally Accessible” qualify as mantra.

So what do we care about at ZENTITY? Do we want to be next Apple/Google/IBM? Are we building a Zynga/ngmoco/Chillingo of Europe or the Czech Republic? No, the answer is rather simple: we are building ZENTITY. Just as Google was not next Yahoo. We are not next anything. And what do we care about at ZENTITY? It all started with a basic idea, way before we even had the name for the company: human potential is a terrible thing to waste. And that’s what we care about. Let every one, every single one become the best they can be. Great results come automagically (and it does seem like magic to some :-)). We combine that mantra with our belief and focus on mobility, which in our perspective is the most important phenomenon of our times. We put that together and let great people run with their ideas. That’s pretty much it. We have applied this successfully to areas as diverse as Gaming to Media to Financial Services. The common thread being: mobile solutions.

I think it’s Mark Pincus who suggested that everyone in your company should be a CEO of something. That makes total sense. And as Steve Jobs says: “when you’re the janitor, reasons matter. Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.”

So, there, we have our vision and mission on record. :-)

An update

Posted in Startup on July 25th, 2011 by Abhishek Balaria – Comments Off

Even though I love blogging, for one reason or the other I simply can’t find time to keep our blog up to date. A lot has happened since my last blog post. We launched three more apps: Hyundai on Galaxy Tab, DuoFax on Android and REAL-CITY on Blackberry. In fact, calling them apps doesn’t do them much justice. I personally prefer to call them mobile solutions. The apps are created as solution to a need and a lot more than the native client component is involved.

In other tech news, Google+ was launched to great fanfare. I barely realized when I became +Abhishek, and it’s no wonder 20 million users were reached within days. The products packaging is fantastic and Larry Page is already making an impact (as if, PageRank was a small feat :-)). The sign of great companies is their ability to evolve. It’s pure darwinism. Evolving creatures can’t afford to have innovators dilemma. Eventually, Search will trump pure play Social Networking. The idea of circles not being symmetric is a genius. In one fell swoop, Google has challenged both Twitter and Facebook. For some reason, the most active person on my wall is Sergey Brin and I know all about his trip to Egypt. This would not be possible on Twitter or Facebook. Of course, whether anyone cares is not a question which technology can answer.

On pricing and paywalls

Posted in iphone, Startup on April 19th, 2011 by Abhishek Balaria – Comments Off

The price of books published by indie authors on Amazon kindle store is slowly falling to $0.99. This is very similar to the iTunes App Store pricing. If I remember well, SEGA was the first major publisher to drop the price of it’s hit game Super Monkey Ball to $0.99 and all hell broke lose. Now we had a quality title selling for the lowest price point and it set the standard for most gaming titles to follow. Super Monkey Ball was one of the early success in the app store and in some part due to its “innovative” pricing. The same seems to be going on in the eBook space and the idea of $0.99 eBooks dominating the store is not too far fetched.

What does this teach us? And what does this have to do with paywalls?

The lesson to be drawn here is that in a competitive market with a relatively low barrier to entry the equilibrium price will be near the bottom of the pricing tier. That in itself is not a bad thing. As the saying goes: we will make it in volume. And indeed some have. SMB paved way for Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the rope et al. Having said that, it’s also clear that this price point will not suite every player in the market and force more pricing innovation.

Enter in-app payments. Apple realizes and works hard to make sure that the apps (or more importantly the developer) ecosystem is healthy. They create the conditions for developers to succeed and in-app payments was their another attempt at helping devs monetize their wares. The developers can now charge for additional content and an increasing number do. IAP were followed by iAds. There will be more pricing innovation and we can expect more from Apple.

Both apps and eBooks are content types where paying for content is the norm. This is made possible by controlling the distribution, delivery and consumption medium (iOS devices and Kindles/Nooks). It helps that the payment infrastructure is built into the platform. The price will not go to free because the economics don’t work (yes, there are zero dollar apps, but they are not a significant money maker for most devs on iOS). I will not touch on Android side of the story in this article so let’s keep ad-supported Angry Birds out of discussion for now.

These developments somehow seem to coincide with the rise of paywalls for content on the web. Of the major publications, WSJ has always had a paywall and arguably it works because they provide time sensitive information (Bloomberg has built a vast empire that way), but last month NYT raised it’s paywall as well. It’s too early to say how successful NYT is going to be with it, but I am not counting on it being a significant contributor to their revenue. A long time ago I remember reading somewhere that you can’t charge for news for a simple reason that as soon as you raise a paywall someone else will make it available for free. This happened pretty fast as The Atlantic found a way to link to NYT articles by skipping the paywall. As TechDirt pointed out earlier – Did The NYTimes Just Offload Its Front Page To The Atlantic?
(http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110404/00434713761/did-nytimes-just-offload-its-front-page-to-atlantic.shtml).

Where does this leave us?

The conclusion so far seems obvious: if you don’t control the discovery, distribution and preferably end user experience, you won’t succeed with charging for content.

Book Review: Inbound Marketing

Posted in Startup on December 21st, 2009 by Abhishek Balaria – 3 Comments

Inbound marketing by Halligan and Shah is as practical as you can get about SEO and Social Media without actually describing the installation of blogging software, HTML code and HTTP server configuration files. The book starts by explaining what is inbound marketing and how it is different from outbound marketing (the current interruption based advertising model). Inbound marketing is all about driving leads towards your business, when they are seeking information or reading on a topic relevant to your business. The authors then build a case for why inbound marketing is important in today’s world and why it’s much more effective than outbound marketing.

The book is divided among four sections:

  • INBOUND MARKETING
  • GET FOUND BY PROSPECTS
  • CONVERTING CUSTOMERS
  • MAKE BETTER DECISIONS

The structure is quite logical having first explained you the basic concepts, it then moves on to increasing your reach within Google and Social Media, converting prospects into customers and eventually measure how well your inbound marketing efforts are doing.

The interesting thing about the book is that most of the advice is common sense and probably not new to anyone who has been following last 6-7 years of Web 2.0 and Social Networking boom (yes, I used the dreaded word). After convincing you, that inbound marketing is the most effective lead generation tool you have online, the authors then explain how to use modern social networking sites and Google to get found and build a following. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon – it’s all covered. There is some practical advice on SEO, but this is not an SEO primer. The book contains basic and most important (and legit) SEO advice and doesn’t go overboard in telling you tricks to exploit current bugs and loopholes in search engine algorithms. The whole promise is to build long term assets which would keep on giving after you have long stopped attending to them (however, if you want to keep maintaining and growing your leads quantity/quality you are never really done with SEO and content creation).

The last few chapters contain good pointers on how to effectively measure everything you do online from lead quantity/quality to internal staff efficiency. This is good enough for a start, but I believe every company would like to build their own matrices and measures. As Jack Welch said in his famous “Straight from the Gut“ book: what you measure is what you get.

I try to keep up to date on online trends and read most new books on the subject. Some of my recent good reads include The Long Tail, Everything is Miscellenous, Groundswell and Free along with whatever Gladwell and Godin write :-). This is a different sort of book and a comparison is not Apples to Apples, but this book stands tall even in such distinguished company. And that’s saying something about the first book by the authors.

Having said all that, there is one caveat, the era of outbound marketing is not over yet. You have to explore both inbound and outbound marketing approaches to make sure you attract the right segment for your product/services. The authors say this much even in the book that outbound marketing can be useful especially in the beginning when you are just starting to build your inbound assets.

Grab it at http://bit.ly/inboundbook, it will enrich you in every sense of the word.

The CrunchPad Story: 3 Startup Lessons

Posted in Startup on December 5th, 2009 by Abhishek Balaria – 1 Comment

A lot going on around the CrunchPad story. Michael today announced that the lawsuits are now imminent. I also remember reading somewhere a conspiracy theory that this whole thing might just be a promotion gimmick and the involved parties will miraculously come to an agreement and do a join launch. Whatever the case, there are some lessons which startups can draw from this story:

  • Have foolproof contracts: my lawyer tells me, if it’s not on paper, it doesn’t exist.
  • Never get into a deal unless your goals are aligned.
  • IP is the single most important asset in today’s high-tech world. Shared IP is mostly trouble and not worth it.

Here is a bonus lesson :-), and not just for startups, most people are not inherently good or bad. It’s mostly a matter of their motivations and circumstances. Which goes back to lesson two above, in a common venture there should be no deal unless all parties have their goals aligned.

Lean Startup

Posted in Startup on October 18th, 2009 by Abhishek Balaria – Comments Off

I just finished listening to this great talk (stanford ecorner podcast) by Eric Reis titled “Evangelizing for the Lean Startup”. The whole podcast is full of great advice for the startups but two of the major points I found really important were:

  • Startup Dollhouse Fallacy: startups are not miniature large corporations and therefore the startup internal structure should not mimic a large corps structure. The ideal structure for a startup is to split it along the two cross-functional lines – Customer and Solution. Those are the only things you should care about as a Startup.
  • Minimum Viable Product: build the product which has just enough features as to be barely usable and allows you to get feedback on the product. This is also what 37signals has been preaching forever.

Rest of the technical advice like continuous deployment, release early release often etc. are quite well known in IT circles. It’s amazing that all of what Eric says is common sense, but how often we end up following the wrong models, and run the companies right into a wall.