Mobiles in India

I am quoted in a MercuryNews story:

The mobile phone is becoming the society-changing force that the PC was in the United States. It’s far more affordable than a computer and provides instant and constant communication links for millions of Indians, many of whom do not own desktops or even have land-line phones.

“The next Microsoft, Cisco or Google of the world is going to come out of countries like India,” said Rajesh Jain, an entrepreneur and chief executive of Netcore Solutions, a Mumbai company creating mobile Internet applications, from entertainment to social networking. “It will be built around mobile. That’s what I think Silicon Valley companies need to understand: The next battleground is not about Web 2.0. It’s about the mobile Internet. And that is happening here, not in the U.S.”

Eventually Jain and others see mobile phones becoming the preferred way Indians, and people in other developing countries, access the Internet. That will be increasingly true as, during the next 12 to 24 months, so-called third-generation networks that allow for high-speed mobile Internet access — comparable to broadband — are deployed across India, he said.

“This is the untouched opportunity,” Jain said. “You’ve got to get away from the PC-first mentality. How do you re-create the magic of the Internet for people who, for the most part, have not had access to a PC?”

India-specific VC Models

Venture Intelligence Blog has a quote from Basab Pradhan:

– Unlike in the Valley, Web 2.0 has no relevance to the Indian domestic market. Internet penetration is low (5.4%), broadband is lower (<0.5%). Even if you include use at work, account sharing and internet cafes, the consumer internet is a tiny market. It may be interesting for some compelling ideas or if someone wants to bet on growth. But in my opinion, it is not going to attract much investment unless there is a broader "global Indian" or a "click and mortar" play. - Mobile however is hugely interesting. Mobile penetration in India is twice that of the internet and is growing at rates close to 50%. There are opportunities to develop mobile applications that the developed world never needed because of high internet penetration. Booking a cinema ticket in the US is probably done 95% of the times over an internet connection and 5% on a cell phone screen. In India it may be totally different. This also holds out the opportunity that Indian startups may develop mobile applications for the Indian market and then take them to Europe and other developed markets.

Building Engineering Teams

[via Thejo] March Hedlund writes: “The best way to get developers to build something great is to make them believe your goal is worthwhile. If you do, control from the top will not only be unnecessary; it will be impossible. That’s the best situation you can hope to create, and frankly I love that so many people don’t believe that, since it makes things so much easier for those of us who do.”

Beyond Web 2.0

Technology Review writes:

To see how these ideas may evolve, and what may emerge after Web 2.0, one need only look to groups such as MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the World Wide Web Consortium, Amazon.com, and Google. All of these organizations are working for a smarter Web, and some of their prototype implementations are available on the Web for anyone to try. Many of these projects emphasize leveraging the human intelligence already embedded in the Web in the form of data, metadata, and links between data nodes. Others aim to recruit live humans and apply their intelligence to tasks computers can’t handle. But none are ready for prime time.

The first category of projects is related to the Semantic Web, a vision for a smarter Web laid out in the late 1990s by World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee. The vision calls for enriching every piece of data on the Web with metadata conveying its meaning. In theory, this added context would help Web-based software applications use the data more appropriately.

Phone of the Future

The Economist writes:

One thing that is clear is that phones will pack a lot more computing power in future, and will be able to do more and more of the things that PCs are used for todayand more besides. Mats Lindoff, the chief technology officer at Sony Ericsson, a leading handset-maker, points out that the processing power of mobile phones lags behind that of laptop computers by around five years. Furthermore, studies show that people read around ten megabytes (MB) worth of material a day; hear 400MB a day, and see one MB of information every second. In a decade’s time a typical phone will have enough storage capacity to be able to video its user’s entire life, says Mr Lindoff. Tom MacTavish, a researcher at Motorola Labs, predicts that such life recorders will be used for everything from security to settling accident claims with insurance firms.

TECH TALK: Ventures and Capital: Me as Investor

The other side of my entrepreneurial life in the past two years has been the ten-odd investments that I have done in other companies. This has given me a perspective on what it means to sit on the other side of the table. I have a few ground-rules for the investments that I do. Firstly, it should fit in with my core vision mobiles, broadband, emerging technologies, and emerging markets. Secondly, I should be able to add value I do not want to make investments purely for the sake of financial returns. In fact, in every company I invest, I mentally write off the capital the day I invest. So, if it is something I am going to lose sleep over, I’d rather not invest. Finally, I must like the founder or the founding team. The bet is on the management. While the idea is important, from my own experience I know that over time ideas evolve. The people managing the business are what can make it a success. My investment is in them.

I don’t end up discussing valuations much. They need to be reasonable but I will not bicker over specifics. I also don’t expect any special treatment there are no long-winded documents that I create. In fact, there has been no lawyer involved in the investments that I have done (and where I have been the sole investor). I sit across the table with the entrepreneur and make the call. My take on valuation is that if the company does well, all of us benefit. If not, that discussion is irrelevant anyways. So, why bother as long as there is a reasonable, fair offer.

I have done two kinds of investments so far. In three companies (Novatium, Seraja and Rajshri Media), I have helped get the companies off the ground. My day-to-day involvement after the early stage is minimal all the three companies have experienced CEOs in Alok Singh, Arun Katiyar and Rajjat Barjatya, respectively. My best value-add is in brainstorming with the CEOs once in a while on the future direction. The second type of investments have been in existing companies which I have felt are in line with my core thesis. These include Midas, n-Logue, New Horizon Media, PubSub (now defunct), Mobifusion, mchek and ValueFirst. They also help me learn about new areas. A few areas that I am looking at for the future are in energy, education and healthcare.

My one constraint which I have begun to feel now is personal bandwidth. Given that I spend most of time hands-on as CEO in Netcore, it does not give me much time with other companies. Netcore is at a critical stage now as we go to market with the platform and services that we have been developing over the past year. It requires a lot of my time. And then, there is my blog that I need to update (takes up at least 30-45 minutes daily on average) and a year-and-a-half-old baby, Abhishek, whom I need to spend time with. I have not built a separate team to oversee the investments perhaps I should. But I have felt that the value-add in most cases has to be me, and that is hard to delegate.

Tomorrow: Learnings

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