Rules For Tech Investors

Rich Karlgaard writes about George Gilder’s ten rules. Among them:

1. . No one knows less about the fast-growth tech business than the CFO. Early-stage tech is about the future. CFOs deal with past numbers. In effect, CFOs are trying to steer companies by looking in the rearview mirror. Moreover, CFOs tend to focus on internal problems, and early-stage tech companies should not try to solve problems. They instead should pursue opportunities. Solving problems sounds good, but it is a loser. You end up feeding your failures, starving your strengths and achieving costly mediocrity.

2. The elasticity of Moore’s Law. In the tech world, Moore’s Law ordains that prices routinely drop 50% every 18 months for a given rate of performance. In older businesses, price collapses would be bad. But in the tech world, users multiply when prices drop. You get positive elasticity.

3. Metcalfe’s Law. The value of a network rises by the square of the number of compatibly connected users. Obviously not literally true, yet a rough and useful guide.

Business Week Wireless Report

Business Week has a special report on the “wireless world.”

This latest phase of the mobile revolution is intimately tied to the abrupt rise of media-rich social networks such as Google Inc.’s YouTube and News Corp.’s MySpace.com. Groups of friends crave connectedness, and they achieve it by swapping photos, music, and video clips, immersing themselves in a shared, sensual chronicle of daily life.

To participate, you used to have to sit in front of a computer screen. But a host of advances, including faster network speeds, exotic new batteries, and bright, energy-efficient screens for mobile gadgets, could cut some of the last tethers to the PC. The handset, stuffed with content you purchase or create, will become your personal television network, your music studio, and your wallet for dispensing digital money. It could also become your personal location service. Today, cars with satellite-mapping software can tell you how to get to your destination. Phonemakers are now building the same kind of technology into their handsets, which, among other things, can send out an emergency beacon that summons your friends to rescue you from a bad date.

Nintendo’s Strategy

The New Yorker writes: “The point is that business is not a sporting event. Victory for one company doesnt mean defeat for everyone else. Markets today are so bigthe global video-game market is now close to thirty billion dollarsthat companies can profit even when theyre not on top, as long as they arent desperately trying to get there. The key is to play to your strengths while recognizing your limitations. Nintendo knew that it could not compete with Microsoft and Sony in the quest to build the ultimate home-entertainment device. So it decided, with the Wii, to play a different game entirely. Some pundits are now speculating, ironically, that the simplicity of the Wii may make it a huge hit. Nintendo wouldnt complain if that happened. But, in the meantime, third prize is looking a lot better than steak knives.”

Newspapers and Techies

Kevin Maney asked techies how to reinvent newspapers:

Other than getting out of paper, the techies almost universally came up with two main suggestions: turn newspapers into models of Web 2.0-style open media, and go super local, essentially becoming the town Yahoo.

Newspapers are wading into both strategies, but the techies would dive in whole hog. Early this month, Gannett — which owns USA TODAY– announced a major initiative to quickly turn its community newspapers into “Information Centers” that can deliver content to any device or medium 24/7 using multimedia information-gathering tools and more content generated by readers.

“The media brands that will be successful will open their content to the masses and participate heavily with everyone else, including their competitors,” Hot or Not’s Hong says. “I would do everything I could do to embrace the new world rather than fight tooth and nail to protect my old business models.”

Web 3.0

The Guardian writes in an article about new startups in Silicon Valley:

If Web 2.0 put users at the centre, Web 3.0 is about an infrastructure that will give them new possibilities. It would be impossible for two geeks in a coffee shop to find the immense processing power needed to create the semantic web. But not for Google, with its huge array of talent and resources. Spivack, however, believes he has stolen a march on the giant. ‘I think we’re building something equally big right under their nose. They’re too busy running Google. We’ve discovered a goldmine in their own backyard.’

The ultimate vision of Web 3.0 is of a collective ‘global mind’ which increasingly resembles the human brain. Every person on the internet will function as its consciousness, from whose chaos will emerge cohesive patterns of thought and decision, perhaps even a sense of ‘self’.

TECH TALK: Ventures and Capital: Money Challenge

One of the key challenges in the early stage of any venture is deciding how much capital is needed to get a business started and then running on a continuous basis. Capital is the oxygen for a business run out of it and its dead. Getting access to capital is one of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur. In my fifteen years as an entrepreneur, I have seen both sides of the coin as an entrepreneur seeking to raise capital, and also as an investor providing capital to ventures. (Ironically, the one thing I’ve not succeeded in is raising external capital for my own ventures!)

Capital comes in various forms. There is early stage (seed) capital, which is needed to get the venture started. This mostly comes from the entrepreneur’s savings, or friends and family, or angel investors. Then, there is the next stage where once the basic ideas are validated, capital is needed for ramping up the venture. This is where venture capital companies come in. The next need for capital is for growth this can come from private equity or from the capital markets. Capital can come in as equity or debt, or a combination of both. Banks typically provide debt financing for ventures. My understanding of capital is related only to the world of high technology. Here debt is rarely used for financing an early stage business.

In India today, there are opportunities aplenty for creating new ventures in a variety of fields. Entrepreneurs have ideas, but the challenge invariably boils down to the capital needed for the venture. I have met many entrepreneurs and companies seeking to raise capital over the past couple of years. Given that I am an entrepreneur myself and my desire to limit investments to areas which I understand and in companies where I can add value, I have come to the conclusion that we need to think of a radically different approach to fulfilling the capital needs of the growing entrepreneurial class in India.

The basic outline is as follows: we need to create a stock exchange where entrepreneurs can raise small amounts of capital. Think of this as a micro version of the BSE and NSE. Listed companies can issue new stock at will. Investors can invest small amounts of capital. There are no stringent listing requirements. Companies will need to be transparent in disclosure of their operational plans and financials. I will elaborate on this idea a little later in this series. But first let us dig a little deeper into the core issue of ventures and their capital needs. I’ll outline my experiences first.

Tomorrow: Me as Entrepreneur

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