Emergic Freedom Marketing Ideas (Part 2)

Continuing with the ideas:

4. Build a low-cost Home PC

Parents want their children to grow up learning computers. But today, the computer is still unaffordable for most of them. This is what we can leverage. Think of the computer as a Magic Box which does various things for the family at home. The focus is on children, it provides educational applications and games. The cost should be Rs 10,000 or less (USD 200). We can think of doing this using recycled computers with the appropriate set of applications. This would still be a third cheaper than the new PCs which today cost Rs 15,000 or more. The key is in the applications. Even when people buy new PCs today, they dont know where to get the apps to make their PCs useful. As a result, the utility of the PC is still quit limited. What we have to do it is to create an applications portal which focuses on the functionality that people can get from their computers.

Each fortnight, we can send across a new CD to the homes, with a new set of applications. I remember as a kid waiting anxiously for the Amar Chitra Katha comics, which used to have a new title every fortnight. ACK was the window to the world, a lesson in history. The computer-CD combo needs to become that. Today, even if the applications are available on the Internet, they are hard to find, and besides, people are still scared to download them.

The one reason I am hesitant about this is that it does not leverage any major strengths of ours – our solution is not focused on the standalone desktop. So, this will mean a startup effort to get Linux work well on old PCs. Of course, we could use some of the work that has gone on in embedded Linux devices like the Zaurus. But still, its a deviation from the main focus of looking at the terminal-server applications.

5. Focus on Schools

I have been amazed by the opportunity in schools. A lot of money is being spent the focus is to provide universal elementary education and computing knowledge is seen as an important element of this. The spending is still focused on new computers and Microsoft Windows and Office. Even with the software discounts, the costs still are significant for the entire solution. We need to go in there with two key additions: support for local languages, and electronic curriculum for standards I to X. Various NGOs and governments spend a lot of money on schools we can channelise that more effectively if we can integrate low-cost computing with education.

6. Target Corporates with Virus Freedom and Security

While we have not been very successful with corporates, there are two planks where Microsoft is vulnerable besides the cost factor. (I am not emphasizing the cost factor much because piracy levels continue to be quite high in most organisations). The two planks are: fear of viruses and security. These are both Linuxs strengths. Emergic Freedom offers a virus-free environment, and security of data. These are both which should work as good selling points. We have been over-emphasising the cost part so far. That needs to change.

7. Look at International Markets

While our focus has been on getting the solution to work in India, I think the opportunities outside India are also very significant. The key is to work with organizations who have distribution into their local markets. This is where we are weak in India. Our strength is on the development side we understand Linux and open-source very well, and can integrate and build software solutions well. This value-added aggregation service is what we should provide to channels in other countries who understand their local markets well and are looking for solutions which can make a difference in their markets.

These set of ideas are why I had said when I started this series that I am more optimistic than ever. There are opportunities aplenty for Emergic Freedom. The decisions we need to make soon is which are the ones we should focus on first.

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Forbes’ 85 Business Breakthroughs

Here, in celebration of the magazine’s 85th anniversary. Always nice to once in a while go down memory lane. History never fails to teach (if we are willing to learn).

An interesting article by John Steele Gordon traces the story of pioneers who “die broke”, even as “their imitators amass fortunes”.

Inventive geniuseshave a way of coming to bad ends, while
I used to like Forbes a lot more earlier than I do now (I prefer Fortune and Business Week for their tech coverage), but its still a good magazine.

Charles Simonyi

From Forbes on Simonyi’s aim to make writing software easier: “An early pursuit at Intentional Software is so-called aspect-oriented programming, which focuses on improving those group interactions–somewhat like how basketball coaches develop individual skills and team-passing for good overall ball movement. AOP can program in one area and, using a “weaver” that moves through the program, adjust potentially thousands of relevant points in a big program.”

Simonyi left Microsoft earlier in the year to start his company “to deliver computing systems from their crisis of complexity. Intentional Software will exploit ideas developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and during Simonyi’s ten years of research at Microsoft. The promise: cutting-edge strategies for software for a coming world of multiple supercomputers, where continually swapped programs and big databases will find and exploit unseen patterns in nature and society.”

Adds the article: “The company also draws on generative programming to automate some parts of code writing and on intentional programming, which captures a programmer’s initial design plans as code, in a more natural form than binary algebra. The intentions can then be stored and reused for efficiency and refinement.”

What I’d like to see happen is how software can simplify the encoding of a company’s business processes.

Useful and Inexpensive IT Products

From Information Week comes a compilation of 10 products and services “that let you, and the employees you manage or support, do more, or better, or both”. In the list:

RADIO USERLAND 8.0
VOICE-DATA CELL SERVICE
MATADOR
INSTANT MESSENGER
WEB CONFERENCING
THUMBDRIVE STORAGE DEVICE
SECURITY SOFTWARE
GOOGLE SEARCH ENGINE
T720 VOICE-DATA CELL PHONE
REMOTE-ACCESS SERVICE

TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: My First Computer: Economics (Part 2)

So, we now have a thin client for Rs 150 per month and a thick server available to 10 users or more for Rs 150 per user per month. (There may be some additional costs for the network hub and cabling, which I have not considered here.) Add to this a per-user cost of software of Rs 100 per month, and a support and maintenance cost (paid to a channel partner who also does the marketing and installation) of Rs 100 month (including keeping a spare thin client for every 10, just in case any of the older thin clients stop working and we have a solution which costs Rs 500 per user per month.

From the enterprise point of view, another way to look at what is on offer here is a group of people need to pay Rs 5,000 per month to get a 10-user thin-client and thick server solution. This could be used by 10 users or a group of 25. In fact, I expect that as the benefits of computer literacy become clear to people, they may even contribute a part of the money from their salary there is no other way for them to get to use a computer for as little as Rs 20-25 a day.

Consider the alternatives: a single new computer even today costs Rs 25,000. Legal software to match what is available on the thin client MS-Windows and MS-Office will cost an additional Rs 25,000. Instead now, for less than 25% of the cost, the enterprise is able to get a computing solution. Or in other words, instead of buying one new computer, it can get four thin clients connected to a thick server, providing computing to three people who did not have access to computing earlier.

One of the key players in this value chain is the channel partner who also becomes the facilities manager for these enterprises. These figures by themselves may not seem large from the viewpoint of a service provider, but multiplied over 10 or more installations can provide a good financial base to offer its services and thus become a bridge for the last-mile. For supporting a 10-person organisation, the service provider gets Rs 18,000 a year.

What I have described here may seem like wishful thinking. Why would an enterprise want to give computers to the ones who dont have it as the argument goes, everyone who needs one already has it. Also, whod want to finance an old computer? What about the collection problems? How do we reach all these enterprises? The marketing costs would be just enormous. The questions are endless.

I dont have a whole lot of answers. The way I look it as that a connected computer for every employee needs to become part of the fabric of an enterprise, just like they are provided with a table and chair. This desire (or demand) needs to become a bottom-up one (by the beneficiaries the employees) and be driven top-down by the employers, who will also benefit through increased employee productivity. For the emerging markets and emerging enterprises, computing needs to be thought of not as a luxury, but as a competitive weapon which can give their people and their organisations an edge in the marketplace.

Tomorrow: Scaling Up

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