WiFi for Small Towns

Glenn Fleishman point to The Seattle Times, which writes about Maverick Wireless, which “builds citywide Wi-Fi networks in areas with fewer than 50,000 residents.”

How it works: Maverick partners with a utility district or a city, which pays for the infrastructure, including laying fiber and installing access points on utility poles. Maverick then handles customer support. Or Maverick can pay for the infrastructure and provide customer support.

Not free: To access the system, users subscribe at prices that start at $24.95 a month for speeds of 120 kilobits per second, or two times as fast as dial-up. For 1 megabit per second, they pay $59.95 a month.

Little-known fact: Schmelke said there is the common misconception that Wi-Fi is only accessible about 200 to 300 feet from an access point. But the right equipment, he said, can reach as far as four miles, making citywide deployments easier. Still, Maverick doesn’t deploy to every inch of a city, but rather the densest parts.

Biggest concern: Security. Schmelke said Maverick tackles the issue by installing software on each user’s computer, using 256-bit encryption and passwords.

Interesting ideas for what India needs in its towns and cities.

ID Software and Video Games

Fortune Small Business writes about one of the first companies to distribute shareware games, id software, the creators of Doom:

The videogame business has changed significantly since id launched the original version of Doom in 1994. Today id remains a maverick in an industry where most other independent game developers have been bought out by powerhouse publishers such as Microsoft and Vivendi Universal. (According to Hollenshead, id is profitable, with $20 million in sales last year.) Of the top 50 console games of 2003, only threeSOCOM, SOCOM II, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republicwere created by independent developers. Today’s games, with their complex graphics and realistic effects, have become extremely expensive to producein some cases costing as much as $30 million. That’s a hefty sum for a small firm such as id.

Moreover, most videogame companies launch multiple titles each year, hoping one will be a hitmuch as a Hollywood studio releases dozens of films in search of that one blockbuster. But id, which launched its last game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, in 2001, is betting the company on its latest version of Doom. Period. So far, that kind of faith has paid off: Over the past ten years co-founder John Carmack’s technology and the warped minds of the id creative team have run up a perfect track record. Every one of their games, from Wolfenstein 3D to Quake III, has been successful. But can a reliance on creating a nonstop stream of megahits be considered a prudent business plan?

Existential Enterprise 101

Dave Pollard writes:

Let’s take a step back and consider what an entrepreneurial business is. It is a (usually small) number of people with a shared idea and a willingness to work together to make that idea commercially viable. That means, according to what they teach you in business school, finding capital, developing your product and then going out looking for customers for it.

This is a recipe for failure. The money you borrow (which in an entrepreneurial business is always horrifically expensive) compromises your control and immediately presents the possibility of the loan being called, and the personal assets securing it being forfeited. And there are a million possible reasons why there could be few, or no, customers for your product. The #1 reason entrepreneurial businesses fold is because they simply run out of cash. The #2 reason is because the owners make one or more fatal decisions, and the most common fatal decision is to produce a product that nobody wants to buy.

Here’s an alternative model, based on what Charles Handy calls Existential Enterprise, and which I have called New Collaborative Enterprise. Its first two principles turn the business school formula upside down:

1. Marketing: Don’t sell or market anything — identify and produce something for which there is a substantial unmet need.
2. Financing: Don’t borrow money or sell part ownership in your business — only spend your own cash or cash you’ve earned.

AskJeeves’ Strategy

[via Search Engine Lowdown] SF Gate writes about how a smaller player intends to compete against Google, Yahoo and Microsoft:

It has emerged from the brink of extinction during the dot-com downturn to become consistently profitable. Unconstrained by financial worries, Ask Jeeves has initiated its most aggressive phase yet. Over the past few months, the company has made two major acquisitions and introduced new features that signal its intent to grab a bigger piece of a search market pie.

The most notable event for Ask Jeeves recently was its $501 million acquisition of Interactive Search Holdings, a private Irvington, N.Y., company with several Web sites. They include IWon, a search portal that attracts users with millions of dollars in cash prizes; Excite, a traditional portal; and MyWay, a bare-bones search engine.

Berkowitz describes the acquisition, which was finalized in May, as part of a strategy to own multiple brands with distinct personalities. Users, he said, want to access information differently, not necessarily in a one-size- fits-all model like Google and Yahoo.

Bob Davis, a venture capitalist who is the former chief executive of Terra Lycos, owner of the Lycos Web portal, compared the plan to television companies owning several channels in an effort to appeal to different demographics.

TECH TALK: Black Swans: Expect the Unexpected

Close your eyes. Imagine a swan. White in colour. Imagine another swan. White in colour. Imagine one more swan. It is also white in colour. Go on. Imagine more swans. There is no colour other than white that we can think of. Now, paint one of the swans black. Something doesnt seem right. A black swan? Hard to imagine. Hard to contemplate. Its almost unreal. Whoever in the world has seen a black swan? This column is about the unthinkable and the unimaginable. It is also about the possible. It is about black swans. Well get to talking about them soon.

The other day, I was expounding my vision to one of my colleagues and mentioned to him that I wanted to build the next Google. Not in the context of a search engine, but a company which has transformed thinking and created a dramatic, almost unbelievable impact on the competition. For the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, Google came out of nowhere or rather, Googles influence has almost stunned them. Because if it had not, they would have taken action a long time ago to stunt the growth of Google.

So, I was saying, I want to build the next Google. It is a dream I share with a million entrepreneurs around the world. Some want to build the next Microsoft, or the next eBay, or the next BiggestCompanyYouCanThinkOf. Thats the dream which keeps every entrepreneur running day after day. We want to build the next Google or Microsoft because a company like that gets built only once in a long time. A very long time.

More importantly, it is almost impossible to predict before hand that such a company will at some point of time in the future occupy a position of great power and influence over not just across its vertical but across the industry. Because, if we knew, we would do something about it. Competitors would seek to put roadblocks and hurdles, or failing that, try and possibly acquire it. Even otherwise helpful partners may think carefully if they realise they are going to help in building the next big behemoth. In other words, events and circumstances which lead to the creation of the once-in-a-lifetime companies are rare and almost unpredictable.

As I was talking starry-eyed about my Google-of-the-future dream to my colleague, two words suddenly flashed. Black Swan. That was it! I wanted to create a black swan (not that black swans are really created, as we shall soon see). But semantics aside, I realised that these two words capture the essence of the dream of every entrepreneur. So, I decided to dig deeper to understand about black swan events. This column shares my learning and discusses the possible opportunity for a black swan in the technology industry in the coming years. After all, somewhere the next Google is being born even as we speak. We dont know where, and we dont know who. So, why cannot it be us? Why cannot one of us spark the next black swan event?

Tomorrow: Nassim Taleb