VCs in India

MercuryNews has a series of articles on India 2.0. John Boudreau writes:

Known as the tech back-office for the West, India’s economy is growing at a sizzling rate and VCs are now funding and nurturing Indian start-ups at a record pace — from Internet travel sites to gaming companies to a plan for the country’s first chip maker.

But the path to success is as precarious as a journey along potholed Indian roads. Is it possible to outsource Silicon Valley’s risk-taking culture, one that embraces failure, to a country and culture that value stability and family? Will Silicon Valley VCs usher in an era of tech innovation, or just lose a lot of money creating an Indian tech bubble?

“It took the valley 30, 35 years to get where we are today,” observed Ash Lilani, head of Silicon Valley Bank Global, which has an office in Bangalore and assists VCs looking for overseas investments. “We are trying to replicate that in India in two years.”

$100 Laptop Project

Technology Review has a multi-part essay by James Surowiecki:

The $100 laptop sprang from the fertile, utopian mind of tech guru Nicholas Negroponte, who is the cofounder and chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab, a successful venture capitalist, and the author of Being Digital, the 1995 paean to the digital economy. The concept behind the project, which Negroponte unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, less than two years ago, is as simple as its name: give all children in the developing world laptop computers of their own. If we achieved that, he believes, we could bridge what’s usually termed the “digital divide.” The laptops would offer children everywhere the opportunity to benefit from the Internet and would enable them to work with and learn from each other in new ways. OLPC, the nonprofit organization that Negroponte set up to manage the project, has taken responsibility for designing the computer and engaging an outside manufacturer to produce it. But the nonprofit is not going to buy the computers. That, at least for now, is the responsibility of governments, and Negroponte has said that the $100 laptop will not go into production until he has firm commitments from governments to buy at least five million units. Would (or should) any government be willing to lay out the cash? Negroponte answers that question with characteristic bluntness. “Look at the math: even the poorest country spends about $200 per year per child. We’ve estimated what a connected, unlimited-Internet-access $100 laptop will cost to own and run: $30 per year. That has got to be the very best investment you can make. Period.”

Seamless Mobility

Daniel Taylor writes:

If we assume that users are inherently mobile and that the best way to deliver services to these users is to make mobility “easy,” then we need to make mobility “seamless.”

By seamless, we mean:

* True integration of voice and data traffic at an application and network level.
* Integration between enterprise and carrier services. (e.g. voice mail, PBX, call routing, authentication, and billing)
* Single sign-on and seamless user roaming across all networks for all applications.

Or — in other words — breaking down the artificial “walls” between traffic types and networks. Voice and data. Fixed to mobile. Enterprise and carrier.

Pageviews are Back

seamonkeyrodeo writes:

Over the last couple of days, PaidContent has noted that both MTV and Yahoo have announced oddly similar-sounding projects. MTV plans to release at least 20 hyper-programmed experiences (thats small, themed, targeted Web sites to you and me), and Yahoo will be building about 100 brand universes around specific products or properties (thats small, themed, targeted Web sites to you and me).

In the Yahoo post Rafat Ali made the insightful observation that small, themed, targeted Web sites could also be read as new inventory for targeted ad serving.

Local Media

[via Vinu] Mark Cuban writes:

Whether you are a standalone newspaper, or a local media conglomerate with Paper, TV and more, the one thing you have without question is a salesforce. A salesforce that goes out into the business community and sells them on the benefits of advertising on your properties. The job of each salesrep, when done well, is to create a return to the customer that exceeds their investment. Of course its not always easy to define that return, but the salesrep hopefully has a close enough connection to the customer that they can evolve the strategy to fit their needs.

The “touch” methods of selling for local media, as opposed to the “self service purchase” of Google Adwords and its competition have been viewed by some in the Web2.0 world as a disadvantage. I think it creates an amazing opportunity to pull one from the Google Playbook.

TECH TALK: Ventures and Capital: Me as Entrepreneur

When I started my first venture, my business partner and I invested our savings (about $30,000 in 1992) from our time working in the US. A couple of years later, most of that investment was gone and we were nowhere close to profitability. There was ‘cash burn’ every month. We were in a downward spiral. That was when we decided to shut that business down. With some seed capital from my family, I re-started and that was how IndiaWorld was born. The starting capital was small less than Rs 10 lakhs.

In IndiaWorld, I realised that I needed to get a revenue stream going rapidly. The starting capital would last a short time. So, while building the portal, we started doing website development in India to ensure some regular revenues. Advertising was still a little way off in the future. As a result, we turned cash positive on a month-on-month basis in less than two years. We also made sure we kept costs low. Since it was hard to earn the cash, we were very careful in how we spent it!

I also realised that at some point of time we would have to raise external capital if we had to grow much more rapidly. I spoke with a number of venture capitalists but somehow the deal never closed. At times, they rejected me. At other times, I didn’t like the terms on offer. The pressure on me to accept terms that I deemed unfavourable was a lot less since we were profitable and I did not have to worry about meeting payroll every month. In fact, as time went on and advertising revenues started coming in, we had a healthy surplus every month which we reinvested back in the business for growth. And so it was that when I sold IndiaWorld, we had not raised any external capital.

This time around in Netcore, I have invested my own capital in the company. We have two businesses a revenue-generating messaging business, and an investment-hungry mobility business. The cash the mobility business needs is much more than the revenues being generated. So, we end up with a net deficit each month. Over the past few months, the messaging business has shown good growth. The mobility business has great promise in the future. But I still expect that we are at least 18-24 months away from cash breakeven for the company as a whole. And during this period, we will continue needing capital.

I have had offers from venture capitalists for an investment. But I have not accepted for a number of reasons. First, I want to ensure that we can prove the business model in the mobility business. We have many new ideas, and while I am optimistic that these will generate accelerating revenues over time, we are still not there yet. So, till I perceive that there is risk in the venture, I feel much better putting the risk capital. I don’t want someone else to say that they lost money because of me. Secondly, Netcore is at times a testbed for different ideas that I get. Not having external investors (excluding our own staff we have an ESOP plan that covers all staff) lets me try out ideas without having to justify potential future benefits.

So, in my case, in IndiaWorld, I ended up unable to raise venture capital. In Netcore, I have decided not to raise capital for the time being. IndiaWorld was seeded with capital from the family, and in a way, so was Netcore. The difference between the two ventures is that Netcore’s ambitions are much bigger and so are the cash requirements. I am less tense about generating immediate profits in Netcore than I was in IndiaWorld. Two ventures many years apart, two different stories.

Tomorrow: Me as Investor

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