Netcore Plans

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.

Lindows does DVD and Music

From News.com: “Idot, a small PC maker specializing in direct online sales, will sell a Lindows Media Computer model that incorporates some home entertainment functions such as DVD and digital music playback. The company plans to begin selling the PCs early next month, with prices starting at $330 without a monitor…The Idot PCs are based on budget processors from Via Technologies and are similar to low-cost Lindows PCs sold by Wal-Mart, with the addition of a DVD drive and accompanying software. Lindows uses software maker Elegent’s etDVD program to enable DVD playback.”

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It’s an Analog World

Excerpts from an interview with National Semiconductor CEO Brian Halla:

It’s fine to do zeros and ones for spreadsheets, and that’s why the PC uses the least amount of analog. But we’re not doing spreadsheets anymore. We’re doing digital photography. We’re downloading images and graphics from the Internet, and we’re doing more and more stuff wirelessly. All of that is analog.

At Berkeley they are looking at a 10 gigabit-per-second radio with an onboard variable length inductor that can change its personality. You walk into the red carpet room at the airport and your PDA or your personal computer starts sniffing the air to see if there is a 2G, or a 2.5G, or 802.11b network. It covers the spectrum and it picks the cheapest path to the IP backbone and configures itself to be that radio. Let’s say you’re doing something that’s voice intensive. It will still keep sniffing to see if another protocol gets introduced that is even cheaper.

Web Services for Software Integration

From News.com, which says that web services is “work in progress”:

Today, Web services has begun to find a home as a much-needed technology that allows systems from different companies to communicate and work together, regardless of age or origin. This software “integration,” as it is known in the industry, has become especially valuable for the many businesses that need to connect internal systems. Now, many of those same firms see Web services as an easy way to link systems between companies, in the area of business-to-business e-commerce.

The routine business of exchanging data between partners and corporate departments may not sound as interesting as the consumer applications originally touted for Web services, but it’s a business nonetheless.

Most initial Web services projects focus on exchanging information between internal systems.

TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The Markets

The Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) is the anchor for taking computing to the next 500 million users. These are markets which are as yet invisible. The technology vendors have not tapped these users in the past two decades, because, among other things, the price-points have been too high. The existing value chain created by the likes of Intel and Microsoft is not geared to tap these next users and make a profit. Whether they will do so in the future is a matter of conjecture. But what this does do is open up an opportunity for the creating of a new value chain, a new ecosystem built around the 5KPC.

Which are these markets? Think of the worlds emerging markets countries like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia. Then think of the schools and colleges, the government offices, the small- and medium-enterprises, the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) sector branches, the homes, and the telecentres in these countries. These are what constitute the bottom of the pyramid. The limited adoption of technology has hampered their integration into the worlds economic system. This is where access to computing can make a big difference by making them more productive, their work and businesses more efficient, the children and students smarter and much more aware of the wide world outside. In essence, computing can be the passport to a better quality of life in the coming years for these nonconsumers.

These markets are what Vijay Mahajan, Marcos V. Pratini De Moraes and Jerry Wind call the Invisible Global Markets. They state that developed markets with a GDP of more than USD 10,000 constitute only 14% of the worlds population. Companies focusing on these markets do not see the other 86%. Among the strategies that they outline in their paper (Marketing Management, Winter 2000) are:

1. Build products to compete against bullock carts rather than automobiles
2. Create product and service revolutions that can be exported
3. Pay attention to the informal economy
4. Use global family networks
5. Understand that customers dont know how to be customers
6. Recognise that low income doesnt mean low quality expectations
7. Use demand pooling to reach critical mass
8. Bring your own infrastructure
9. Rethink the entire marketing and business strategy
10. Bridge the digital divide

(The most recent issue of The Smart Manager has an adapted version of the same set of ideas by Vijay Mahajan.)

In tomorrows column, well take a look at each of these ten ideas and apply them in our context to see what we can learn. And we can contemplate how to target this next (or rest) 86% of the world, it would be useful to keep the following comments by the authors in mind:

Customers in these invisible markets stretch out like countless grains of sand on the beach. Individually, they may represent a very small opportunity. Because of their sheer number, however, this forgottem 86% of the world represents a huge opportunity. Companies that see these opportunities will find creative ways to gather these grains together to build castles.

You cannot wait for these customers to appear on your radar screen. You have to go and find them. You need to move off the beaten path both in the products you develop and the creative strategies you use to turn these invisible markets into visible returns.

Tomorrow: 10 Ideas to Tap Invisible Markets

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