Sharing Business Ideas

Steve Neiderhauser points to a comment by Guy Kawasaki: “The only thing worse than a paranoid entrepreneur is a paranoid entrepreneur who talks to his dog. There is much more to gain, feedback, connections, opened doors by freely discussing your idea than there is to lose. If simply discussing your idea makes it indefensible, you don’t have much of an idea in the first place.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Google and Software-as-a-Service

Steve Gillmor looks ahead to what we can we expect from the likes of Google and Microsoft:

One way to handicap Google is to deconstruct the notion that Googles intellectual property is bound solely to search. In fact, its bound to the emerging platform known as software-as-a-service. Fellow IPO offers a hosted software service, which can easily plug into legacy enterprise systems. The underlying fabric for enabling software-as-a-service is XML Web services, which are commoditizing the cost of integrating disparate hardware and software systems, and enabling a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

A new browser-based services fabric such as Googles not only makes it possible for companies to avoid the big-ticket costs of deploying applications inside the firewall, but could allow supply-chain partners to take advantage of a common architecture across enterprise domains. Security and application updates are centralized without the need to touch multiple clients, and companies can shift from managing IT as a cost center to developing revenue sources from packaging and syndicating corporate data along the supply chain.

Googles home-grown infrastructurea powerful, highly scalable server farm built on standards-based, open code, the virtualized extension of Scott McNealys famous big honking Webtone switch–also gives the company a strategic advantage. Google is the very personification of software as a service, with huge brand recognition and a vibrant business model that is rapidly sucking plenty of the oxygen out of traditional media advertising revenue models.

In moving toward this software-as-a-service platform, Google has some interesting partners-in-waiting-the carriers and their partners (Sun, Motorola, Nokia), the increasingly Web-focused broadband players (TiVo, SBC, Dish Network) who are circumventing cable and record companies with direct-from-Web downloads to personal video recorders, and micro-content creators (exercise left to the reader.)

The Indian PC

Vivek Ravindran has an interesting perspective:

If you start to profile the average Indian PC buyer what stands out notably is he is more often than not a he. If we regard women as the central figure of an average middle class Indian family, what are we specifically doing today to ensure that the PC addresses some common scenarios around Indian housewives? How do we motivate a housewife to want a PC for her home badly? Move from nice-to-have to must-have?

For the PC to be treated like a household appliance few things have to happen

The PC has to become an Appliance. (Long term and oft repeated but worth keeping in mind) What if the PC is re-branded and re-tooled from a generic computing, word-processing device into a specific scenario-addressing tool?
Internet/Email PC, Gaming PC, Entertainment PC are terms which are very used in a limited sense today we need to re-think on how intuitive the interface is for an end user when he/she turns one of these devices on and how quickly he/she is able to start using it effectively without getting mired in esoteric terms and concepts. Think TV/Food Processor/Microwave when thinking about intuitivity.

2. More importantly, the PC has to evolve (by way of content, services) to address scenarios around Indian housewives. Take some scenarios as listed below

1. With telecom costs still on the higher side, can the PC help the smart housewife, separated as she is from her parents/brother/sister/cousin/ etc, re-connect with her family everyday by helping her chat, email and speak to her loved ones without impacting her household budget?

2. Childrens education is probably the highest priority for her what if there was a service which in agreement with schools and faculty help the housewife track her childrens academic and behavioral progress, review teacher comments/notes, interact with faculty, help her help them with their homework, art, crafts and so on?

3. How about content around local residential communities, online ladies clubs and so on? (A little far out but hey this is “women” we are talking about here! 🙂 )

Consequently should we be selling to the Indian wallet (price) or should we be selling to the Indian psyche (nature of use) so that the size of the wallet becomes moot?

Videophoning goes Mass Market

WSJ writes that videocalling is finally hitting the mainstream:

Video chatting is one of a slew of Internet-calling services that are becoming more attractive in large part because of the cost savings over traditional landline phone calls. As of the end of last year, only about 100,000 people were making their phone calls over the Internet, also known as voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP. But that number will balloon to about 10 million by the end of 2007, according to Yankee Group, a consulting firm, as more people are enticed by calling costs that can be 30% cheaper than normal local and long-distance rates.

Seizing on this burgeoning trend, some companies are hitting the market with new videophones and service options. The small Internet phone company 8X8 Inc. is, for now, the furthest along in that effort. It makes a videophone that sells in electronics stores for $299, or $499 for a pair. Unlike some of its competitors, it also offers a service package: $29.95 a month for unlimited local and long-distance calls. That means consumers can use the phone both for videocalls and regular voice calls, which isn’t the case with some of the other videophones.

Motorola, meanwhile, plans to come out with a $700 videophone called Ojo later this year. The upside is that owners can make videocalls to any other Ojo user, anywhere in the world, for free. But it can only be used for videocalls, because the company has yet to reach an agreement with a service provider. (The Ojo was developed by a startup company, not by Motorola.)

A middle of the road option is the VisiFone, from Viseon Inc., which sells for $599. It has less “latency” — the lag time that can occur between when a person says something or moves and when that action shows up on the screen — than some other videophones.

The videocalls, instead of using a regular phone line, are routed through the Internet. Users connect their videophones to a cable or DSL modem and then dial a phone number, just as they would with a traditional phone. For the service to work, both parties have to have fast Internet connections and, in most cases, the same type of videophones.

In a related story, NYTimes writes: “Linksys and Netgear plan to announce that they are selling equipment designed specifically for use by Vonage, a start-up company that has become a pioneer in providing so-called Internet telephony. The announcements underscore the continued growth of Vonage, which is based in Edison, N.J. More generally, the development underscores the idea that Internet calling is slowly beginning to creep out of the fringes and into the mainstream, according to Michael Wolf, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, a market research firm. Mr. Wolf noted that Internet calling was used by only a small fraction of people in the United States, compared with the hundreds of millions who rely on traditional phone service. But he expects the number of users to grow from around 600,000 at the end of this year to 1.5 million at the end of 2005.”

Internet2 offers a glimpse into the applications of tomorrow by looking at the next-generation network that connects many US universities:

Internet2 was developed by a consortium of universities and technology companies in 1996 to provide vast improvements in connection speeds. The goal of the project has always been to stay three to four years ahead of what is commercially available through the public Internet. The network itself is in its third generation of design. Earlier this year, the backbone was upgraded to 10gbps (gigabits per second).

More than 227 universities, libraries, public schools and research institutions are connected to Internet2. The network connects to more than 57 international high-capacity networks. It provides a test bed for new technologies such as IP version 6.

Peer-to-peer applications, high-definition videoconferencing, remote manipulation of lab equipment, and distributed computing are all applications that are enabled by Internet2.

TECH TALK: From Employee to Entrepreneur: Two Good Books

The Power of Impossible Thinking by Yoram (Jerry) Wind and Colin Crook is subtitled Transform the business of your life and the life of your business. As it turns out, entrepreneurship involves both! The authors explain how your mental models stand between you and reality, distorting all your perceptions … and how they create both limits and opportunities. Here is what the authors have to say:

We use the phrase mental models (or mindsets) to describe the brain processes we use to make sense of our world…The ways we make sense of our world are determined to a large extent by our internal mind and to a lesser extent by the external world. The model inside our brain is our representation of our world and ourselves.

Mental models are broader than technological innovations or business models…[They] represent the way we look at the world…Our mental models are often so deep that they are invisible.

Constant training shapes and refines our models. A number of forces of nurture shape and reshape our mental models, including education, training, influence of others, rewards and incentives, and personal experience. We also develop capabilities for learning how to learn that help us make sense of our experiences.

At any given point, we have a choice in how we view the world. But we are not aware of these choices…In a changing environment, we can either transform ourselves or we transformed. Every day individuals in their work and personal lives prove that it is possible to change before life itself gives them a painful wakeup call. Our mental models determine what we are able to see and do.

More than specific ideas, it is mental models that we need to develop. Another book, Seeing What’s Next by Clay Christensen, Scott Anthony and Erik Roth, provides insights on using theories of innovation to predict industry change. The books builds on Christensen’s previous two books ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. Using case studies from telecom, education, aviation, semiconductors and healthcare, the authors argue that even those without proprietary information can use these theories to develop powerful insights into how the future will unfold in a given industry and to make wiser choices based on those insights.

The authors write about the importance of theory: The only way to look into the future is to use [the right] theories, because conclusive data is only available about the past…The best way to make accurate sense of the present, and the best way to look into the future, is through the lens of theory. Good theory provides a robust way to understand important developments, even when data is limited. And theory is even more helpful when there is an abundance of data. This is the critical challenge of the Information Age. With more information, it is harder to discern what information really matters. Theory helps block out the noise to amplify the signal…Using theory allows us to see the future more clearly and act more confidently to shape our destiny.

Read the two books together. Answer the questions that the authors ask. Start building models and maps about the industry in which we want to operate in. And then follow Alan Kay’s advice: The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Tomorrow: Next Steps