Entrepreneurs and Age

Fred Wilson writes:

I have two meetings this week with guys in their early to mid 40s that are two of the best entrepreneurs I’ve ever worked with. Both are asking me the same thing – “what should I do next?”

There are questions of motivations, work/life balance, not needing the money, looking for a big idea, etc.

One of them asked me – do you know any 45 year old entrepreneurs?

Yes I do. But only one of the entrepreneurs in our current portfolio is older than 45. And he’ll probably be starting companies until he dies. It’s what he does.

But the facts are pretty eye opening. Nine of our eleven entrepreneurs are in their 30s. One is in his 20s, and one is in his 50s.

That says to me that prime time entrepreneurship is 30s. And its possibly getting younger as web technology meets youth culture.

Well, I will be 40 in August – and have been an entrepreneur for 15 years. Am I past my prime or does the best lie ahead? Only time will tell.

Mobile Marketing

WSJ writes: “Cellphones are an increasingly popular marketing tool for companies large and small. The world market for mobile marketing and advertising is expected to total about $3 billion this year, according to ABI Research, a New York-based market research firm. (ABI doesn’t break out numbers for the U.S.) And users aren’t just small players like Broadway Marketplace. Giant companies like Procter & Gamble Co. and News Corp. are using mobile strategies to promote Crest toothpaste, for example, and to get out the vote for reality TV shows like “American Idol.”…A lot of campaigns begin by using traditional media, like radio or television, to invite consumers to send a text message with a short numerical code for a special offer or for a chance to win sweepstakes and other contests. Other common strategies include offers of downloadable games, ring tones and wallpaper for the screen — all of which feature advertising.”

Bottom of Pyramid Thinking

WSJ has an interview with Gartner analyst Mark Raskino on CK Prahalad’s Bottom of the Pyramid theme:

What is the thinking behind the suggestion that businesses in rich Western countries should be interested in “the bottom of the pyramid?”

A couple of different ideas are connected. The first is the rate at which people of the Third World are moving from subsistence to being consumers. That means huge numbers of new people to sell new technology to, particularly in China and India, but also elsewhere.

Because you can’t spend very much money developing these products, you are challenged to create your technology innovation under serious constraints. But many of those innovations are things that would not only be useful in Third World markets, they also would come back to the First World.

There are other consequences to consider, too. Once people have, for example, mobile phones, they can exchange prepaid minutes with each other. And that can become something like a currency exchange. You might exchange minutes with the vendor in the local market, or give five minutes to your grandfather or a friend as a present.

Silverlight

TechCrunch writes about Microsoft’s newest launch:

When Silverlight was first announced two weeks ago, it was all about a platform that could run a subset of XAML to provide graphical and event-driven applications for the web – in short, a competitor to Flash. Today, only 14 days from the original announcement, Microsoft has officially announced that Silverlight will also contain a compact CLR, allowing developers to build desktop like applications on the web in a number of supported programming languages.

Silverlight is excellent technology and those asking why developers and application providers wont just stick to flash only need to look at XAML, the runtime speed and size and the flexible options with programming languages combined with very strong multimedia support to start to see the answer. Microsoft have a battle on their hands to convince the developer and designer communities that their platform is the best platform, but most of this convincing wont be a technical showdown but rather the establishment of trust between users and Microsoft as the vendor of this new platform. That being said, Microsoft do have the largest developer community and the excitement from that community at the conference here today was very evident – so the question wont be if there will be a killer Silverlight app but rather when, as Microsoft have given not just traditional Microsoft .NET developers but also many others a new playground in which to build very cool new apps.

Rosum and GPS

Business Week writes:

Rosum has developed a technology that gets GPS and TV signals to work in sync. With a receiver designed to listen for both GPS and the combined TV-GPS signal, using a set of chips tuned for both, you have a powerful positioning system that can work indoors and show your 3D position, such as what floor of a building you’re on. Already, Rosum’s technology has been tested successfully in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Northeast locations from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C.

To what avail? Since objects and people aren’t always outdoors and within sight of GPS satellites, you need more than GPS. “If you want position navigation everywhere, there is no single system that is going to accomplish that feat,” Spilker says. Unlike Rosum’s new technology, “GPS signals are transmitted with very limited power, so the system simply can’t handle going indoors or underground.”

TECH TALK: Doing Education Right: Thinking ROI

By Atanu Dey

The absence of universal basic literacy and education is a constraint on present economic performance and future growth. Doubtless, education is costly but the opportunity cost of not having an education is even higher. The old adage about a stitch in time saving nine holds with special force in the case of basic literacy. Heres the argument. At most one generation requires help in becoming literate; the children of literate parents are overwhelmingly literate; and the children of illiterate parents are more likely to be illiterate compared to those of literate parents.

Therefore, the earlier an intervention is made in ensuring universal literacy, the cheaper it is, for a growing population. At Indias independence, of the 350 million about 240 million were illiterate. If a big bang approach had been taken and the entire population were made literate within three or four years, it would have perhaps cost (in todays terms) around US$24 billion, and the problem of literacy would have been solved half a century ago. By going at it half-heartedly and piece meal, many multiples of that sum has been spent over the last half century, and yet the number of illiterates has increased to 350 million. We are forever falling behind by not putting enough resources to solve the problem.

If India had solved the basic literacy issue by the mid-50s, it would have developed more rapidly. It would have had a lower population (population of developed nations grow less rapidly), the aggregate wealth of the country would have been higher, and per capita incomes and wealth would have placed India in the running. Even now it is not too late and it is quite possible to make India fully literate within three years, provided the political will is there. The returns on that investment would have been staggering.

Both at the micro and at the macro level, return on investment (ROI) in education is positive. In other words, the net present value of the increase in the lifetime income of the person is greater than the cost incurred in educating the person. National spending on education is akin to investing in productive assets such as roads, ports, factories and power plants.

One immediate implication of the positive ROI in education is that it makes sense to borrow the money required for education as long as the ROI on education is lower than the interest rate which in most cases it is if the labor markets are not distorted and if there are no information failures.

The other implication is that higher education does not require public financing if the credit market is complete. In the case of a person whose parents can afford to pay for his college education, clearly the credit market is complete: the person implicitly borrows from the parents for the education and the returns accrue to the family. It is easy to see that the ROI must be positive, because it is universally true that people systematically educate their children.

That has an important public policy impact: public financing of higher education is not required; all that is needed is to make credit available to those who face a credit constraint. Give loans to all those who seek, and qualify for, higher education, and which loans are repayable over a suitable period upon employment. Thus, for example, IITs and IIMs can be entirely self-funded instead of being subsidized by the public. More importantly, by removing the subsidies and allowing the capital markets to provide the credit required, the market for education will efficiently provide adequate supply to meet the demand.

Which brings us to the question: if the market can solve a severely supply-constrained education system, why is the market not allowed to function in the education sector? Lets look at that the next time.

Write to atanudey at gmail.com if you have questions or comments.

Tomorrow: The Rent-Seekers

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