Placing bets in card games is, arguably, easier than doing the same in business. In business, there are many external factors which play a role in ultimate success or failure. It takes a long time to know whether one has won or not. And even then, success is not permanent any mistake can be the last for an entrepreneurial venture.
In the past few years, I made two bets in Netcore which did not work out. One of them was on thin client software. We created Emergic Freedom on a Linux-based platform a few years ago. My belief was that server-centric computing made a lot of sense in emerging markets like India both from an affordability and manageability perspective. I tried selling that to companies in India. I failed.
There were two key factors which I had not taken into account. I was passionate about open-source and Linux, corporate users couldnt care less. Their world revolved around Microsoft Windows and Office. They got the real thing for zero cost via piracy. I was, in their eyes, offering an inferior solution for more money. Also, at that time, because the thin clients were not cheap enough, there were no significant savings on the desktop hardware.
Out of this failure emerged Novatium, which has built network computers capable of connecting to both Linux and Windows terminal servers, and running applications faster than they would run on most desktops. We had to do the hardware from scratch to present a significant cost savings for companies. Novatium is only now starting to go to market, and early reactions are positive.
The second idea that did not work was that of Visual Biz-ic making software for small- and medium-based enterprises integrate together like Lego blocks. For this to work, we needed to be able to get reliable broadband connectivity and that is still some way off in the future in India. Also, business processes in SMEs are not all alike, and wed probably have spent a much larger portion of our time customising these blocks. In addition, the underlying computing infrastructure was missing in most Indian SMEs computers were still not used by everyone and so the need for electronic workflows was still limited.
I think the time for Visual Biz-ic will come but I was too early, and too optimistic. A year ago, we suspended the project after spending two years of development time internally. The idea of an ASP for SMEs is still something which appeals to me, and it is something that will happen soon enough.
My current bets are mostly around the mobile internet, computing as a utility, broadband services (rich content), the EventWeb as the centre of our lives rather than the document-based Web that we see, and mobiles being used for making payments. All of the companies I am involved in have a long road ahead in each case, the intent is to build the business out rather than sell it at the earliest possible opportunity. Part of the problem with big futuristic bets is that venture capital isnt easy to come by. I am willing to invest in these ventures until I believe that either the destination is unreachable or the starting assumptions were wrong. And even then, there will be learning to take ahead.
Tomorrow: Convincing Others