Li Ka-Shing and 3G

Writes WSJ:

Mr. Li has placed a $17.5 billion bet on third-generation, or 3G, mobile-phone services. They let users make video calls, take pictures and browse the Internet. He has already spent $7.6 billion on 3G licenses in nine countries around the world. His Hutchison 3G unit has budgeted an additional $10 billion for rolling out commercial service, starting this year in Italy and Britain.

Mr. Li remains committed to rolling out the service — dubbed “3” — in Britain and Italy first, followed by Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Austria and Sweden. At a meeting in August at Hutchison’s Hong Kong headquarters, reporters were shown a model of the palm-sized phones to be offered with the service. “This is the smallest video camera, the smallest TV and the smallest computer,” gushed Mr. Fok, who heads Hutchison 3G. “The damn thing can talk, too.” A Hutchison spokesman compared the arrival of 3G with the arrival of color TV.

Hutchison hopes to persuade executives to use their mobile phones to tap into video-conference calls. It also sees a big market for sending video clips of sports highlights to phone subscribers. For example, the company thinks people watching games in stadiums will call up instant replays, which would include advertising. Hutchison 3G’s British unit plans to offer subscribers footage of selected goals in English Premier League soccer matches seconds after they have been scored. The company also hopes to provide users with clips of matches, match commentaries, archival material, still photographs and match results.

The marketing has been split between business clients and consumers in other ways. The pricing of “3” handsets between about $600 and $900 in Italy seems to aim for a business user. In Britain, though, Hutchison plans to market the costly handsets partly through a chain of discount pharmacies, Superdrug, recently acquired by Hutchison. “It’s like trying to sell a Rolex in a corner store,” says Richard Hyman of branding consultancy Verdict in London.

Apple’s New Net-based Apps

From Webmonkey: “In the age of Web services with servers receiving and distributing SOAP packets and text files we don’t need to rely on Microsoft IE, Mozilla, Opera, OmniWeb, and the others as the only viable clients for applications that pull data from sources on the Internet. Other, I think better, clients are on their way….Apple’s latest Operating System, Mac OS X 10.2 (a.k.a. Jaguar), offers a pretty compelling example of what Internet-assisted applications are likely to look like in the next generation. Some of the applications in Jaguar iCal, iSync, and Sherlock use the Internet to produce highly useable and useful applications in very clever ways. Apple has also developed a low-level set of APIs that allow developers to tap into Web services from whichever development environment they use in Mac OS X, whether it be AppleScript, Cocoa, Carbon, or Java.”

Have just been thinking: it may be a good idea for us to get an Apple machine in-house: there’s been a lot of innovative work happening there, and we just aren’t exposed to it.

VCs and Entrepreneurs

Writes Fortune:

VCs have $252 billion in capital under management today.

Now consider the pickle in which the industry finds itself. Venture funds run ten years. To earn 18% annual returns for their investors–the low end of historical venture capital returns–the funds would have to create $1.3 trillion in market value by selling or taking public their portfolio companies over the remainder of the decade.

Think about it this way. eBay is one of the few successes to emerge from the dot-com boom. At its peak, eBay had a $16 billion market value, and its venture backer, Benchmark Capital, made more than $4 billion on its investment. So how many eBays would have to be taken public by the end of a decade for venture investors to achieve 18% returns? More than 325. That’s roughly one eBay every 10 days between now and 2010.

A side-effect: “The biggest losers could be the entrepreneurs who depend on venture capital to fund their startups. If new, innovative companies have a tough time raising funds, economic growth will be hard to come by.”

One of the reasons that there aren’t enough companies getting funding is that the entrepreneurs are stuck running companies they founded during 1997-2000, and from which they don’t have an easy exit. In other words, there is a very limited supply of “serial entrepreneurs”, whom VCs are most likely to fund.

Earlier, there would be liquidity events for startups every 3-5 years (either IPO or acquisition). But in the past two-and-a-half years, there’s been very little of either. The result: most entrepreneurs are stuck running the companies they founded, waiting for the market to improve or their cash to run out. Only then can they move on the next new thing.

So, I don’t see the venture capital investment scenario improving dramatically until the current set of companies gets purged or the US economy improves dramatically and tech starts booming again. Neither is likely in the near-term.

Sony

Two stories on Sony in the business press. The first one is from Fortune and it looks at the new ideas and products Sony is building for the broadband future.

For the past two years, Ando and Sony’s chairman and CEO, Nobuyuki Idei, have been trying to fast-forward the company into a broadband entertainment future, one in which nearly every Sony consumer product–mobile phones, digital cameras, televisions, multimedia computers, game consoles, portable stereos, video recorders, set-top boxes, handheld PDAs, even robots–will be connected to the Internet or an Internet gateway device.

Once all these products are so joined, Sony will be able to deliver its music, movies, television, games, and data services to customers wherever they may be, in the office, at home, in the car, or wandering down the street. The customers will be able to instantly share their own digital pictures, videoclips, and text and voice messages–put another way, their ideas and emotions–at the touch of a button. Sony executives say, with a sincerity that disarms even cynical observers, that a core design criterion for all Sony products is to touch the heart.

But this new vision has wrenching implications for the $57-billion-a-year company. Before Sony can touch the hearts of customers (and reach into their wallets), it has to win their minds. That means selling the broadband vision to consumers who have been slow to embrace high-speed networks. It also means selling the vision to dealers, who may actually have to reconceive and reconfigure their stores to accommodate the new Sony products.

The second story is from the Wall Street Journal and it looks at the possibility of Ken Kutaragi emerging as the new CEO of Sony. Kutaragi is the brain behind the PlayStation.

Mr. Kutaragi would fit Sony’s pattern. Sony venerates its mavericks, a culture inspired by late co-founder Masaru Ibuka, a puckish inventor who bet the franchise on long shots that turned into hits, such as the transistor radio and the Trinitron television. A maverick is traditionally tapped to lead the company, with the expectation that he’ll shake things up. Mr. Idei, a marketing whiz, leaped more than 10 places in the executive rankings in 1995 when he was named president by Norio Ohga, who moved up from president to chairman. Mr. Ohga himself was a former opera singer whose hard-nosed ways irked colleagues but launched him to the top ranks in the early 1980s.

It was Mr. Kutaragi who pushed Sony into the risky videogame business with the original PlayStation game machine in the early 1990s. Later, he made a $2.5 billion bet on the PlayStation 2 console, a gamble that initially pummeled Sony’s profits. Along the way, he spurned a partnership with Bill Gates , insulted colleagues and once sought to settle a strategy dispute by offering to arm-wrestle a fellow executive.

But he delivers. The unit he created and now runs as president, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., had sales of nearly $10 billion in the year ended March 31, second only to the electronics division and larger than Sony’s movie or music units. The games business posted a huge loss in 2000 but has bounced back, contributing 60% of Sony’s operating profit of 135 billion yen ($1.12 billion) in the last fiscal year.

TECH TALK: India Post: Ideas for Tomorrow: The Story of Nayapur (Part 4)

As Ganga makes her way to the Post Office, she thinks about how her school too has undergone a change. As part of a joint initiative by India Post and the government’s Vidya Vahini project, her school now has 5 computers, which connect to the India Post office. It is now mandatory for every student to learn computers. From an early age, they learn how to send and receive email, how to search for information on the Web, and how to use a word processor and spreadsheet. India Post has been working with various content providers to make available education-related content on the local servers at the post office. What surprised Ganga was the great proactiveness shown by the students in using computers. All the students (and their parents) now saw knowledge of computers as a passport to a better and brighter future.

At the Post Office, Ganga updates Mataji’s production details into the Intranet website. She takes a printout of the accounts statement for Mataji. She also takes a printout of the recipe which she had seen earlier in the day. She also uses the Post Office’s IP Telephony network to do a voice chat with her friend who is away in the city.

As Pitaji and his family is relaxing after dinner, Vijay comes in. Vijay is a good friend of Gautam. He is from the neighbouring village. He has become an insurance agent for LIC. He has rented a Simputer (a hand-held computer) from India Post, and is going door-to-door selling insurance policies. He sits with Pitaji and Ganga and enters all their information for the new policy he has sold them on his PDA. He will then take the PDA to the India Post Office the next day and upload the information to the LIC website.

At night, Gauri logs in to the computer to see her next assignment. Seeing her, Pitaji tells Mataji how the students of their village are becoming smarter. Mataji agrees, saying that these computers, which used to be once just thrown away by the world, along with India Post have given new hope for the next generation, and for India. Pitaji tells Mataji that just today morning he was reading in the newspaper that India Post is now planning to introduce basic computer education classes at the local Post Offices, and Mataji should get some of her friends in the village to register. Each one of us should be not just literate, but computer-literate, says Pitaji. All this is happening thanks to the initiatives taken by the Post Office. For Nayapur, the Post Office has been the equaliser providing better quality of life, eliminating the barrier of distance, offering a wider set of opportunities and connecting it to the world. The best part of what is happening is that there is a momentum which will ensure that tomorrow is going to be even better than today, thinks Pitaji, as he closes his eyes.

This dream can become a reality with today’s technologies. All the components to create 150,000 Nayapurs exist. Imagination and determined execution can make India Post the e-business utility in the lives of Indians everywhere.

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