Over the past month or so, we’ve been brainstorming on how we (as a company) grow, and what areas we focus on. Two things have been very clear: first, the messaging business (which accounts for all our revenues currently) has become increasingly commoditised and while our customers are increasing (we have 180+ corporates), revenues per customers are falling. So we cannot necessarily rely on messaging to provide our entire bread-and-butter business.
Second, Emergic Freedom (the thin client-thick server solution) business will take time to build. This is our bet on a big upside in the years to come, but given that we have to build out new markets and target nonconsumption (of computing), the gestation period is not going to be small. We know the segments we need to focus on: schools, colleges, government, bank branches, telecentres (cybercafes), SMEs and homes. The long-term future of the solution is great, but I cannot tell which will be the near-term market successes. In the coming months, we need to get reference installations in as many of these verticals as possible.
So, given this dichotomy, we need to create a revenue stream which can ensure we are breakeven/profitable in the coming months, until the time that Emergic Freedom starts kicking in with the revenues. I hate losing money and have always believed that both making profits and losses can be habit-forming. Better to develop some good habits!
The area we have identified is what I call “Information Work and Collaboration”. Its about providing our existing (and growing) corporate base with cost-effective knowledge management solutions based around blogging. We’ve been doing a lot of work around this (Digital Dashboard, for example) over the past many months. We now have a set of products which can help enterprises better manage their knowledge base – the unstructured information not in databases. This also builds on the messaging base, and works as a bridge on what we want to do in the future – offer an integrated eBusiness suite for SMEs.
The set of products that we will be marketing in India (and then to other emerging markets) are:
– Traction. We’ve been using Traction internally for the past few months and its been a great platform for managing tacit knowledge. We will also set up a hosted service for community blogs.
– News Aggregator, Reader and Digital Dashboard. This suite, which we have developed internally, lets users in the enterprise subscribe to RSS feeds, and get alerts on their Dashboard in a browser. I believe RSS is a “disruptive” force in getting information delivered to you. The same concept can be extended later to enterprise events. As users get these feeds, they can post items to their blog using Traction.
– Events Builder. This too has been developed internally. It lets users define event streams from any ODBC-complait development, and generates an RSS feed which can be picked up by a News Aggregator.
So, all the three ideas are built around RSS and events. The Events Builder helps generate RSS from existing databases, the News Aggregator-Reader and Dashboard takes the RSS feeds and delivers them to the user, and Traction helps the users add comments and post the items (along with emails, etc.) to a personal, group or project blog within the enterprise. The hosted Traction service lets users work in ad hoc groups across locations or enterprises.
I think the set of ideas make sense. They can be used independently or together. They leverage on the base of messaging which is now existent in enterprises. Knowledge management systems today are very expensive. What we have is something which can get them started quickly and intuitively, without making large investments or changing user behaviour.
The News Aggregator also leverages the work we have been doing in BlogStreet. Besides identifying the top blogs and neighbourhoods of blogs (and we have now information on over 50,000 blogs), we also know about 5,000 RSS feeds from these blogs. Taken together, BlogStreet’s base can be a good starting point to expose enterprises to blogs and getting them started on blogging, as the first step en route to building a knowledge base internally.
So, the two themes that we will focus on in the coming months are Accessibility and Affordability. Messaging, the Knowledge Management suite and BlogStreet focus on Accessibility to information and people. Emergic Freedom emphasises on Affordability of computing.
They are two different tracks with different market segments. One will help us take care of our near-term growth, while the other is our long-term bet. As I’ve said often, small companies have to ensure both long-term growth and short-term survival. We need to ensure cash comes in every month, even as we make bets on some big future opportunities.
The past few months have been exciting. We’ve opened up many fronts for Emergic Freedom and a clearer and realistic picture of where the opportunities lie, and at the same time came up with a plan leveraging all the R&D we have been doing in the past to get our customers on the path to becoming “real-time enterprises” with a set of cutting-edge ideas and software.