Best of 2008: Reinventing Indian Politics

The Mumbai Terror attacks and the inadequacy (and at times, sheer stupidity) of the politicians we have elected to power contrasts dramatically with the team that is now taking charge of America under Obama. Here are some of my writings on this theme:

Best of 2008: Entrepreneurship

A few of my better posts which entrepreneurs may like:

Blog Past: The Coming Age of ASPs

It is now called Software-as-a-Service and the more fashionable Cloud Computing. Back then, we called it Application Service Provider. I wrote this series in May 2005:

Even as globally ASPs are making a comeback and software-as-a-service seems likely to define at least a part of the industry, in emerging markets, the opportunity for both SMEs in Emerging Markets (SMEEMs) and the ASPs is significant. This is because of the lack of legacy infrastructure – enterprises have simply not invested adequately in IT over the past decade because of issues like affordability (dollar-denominated pricing), desirability (lack of relevant applications) and manageability (not enough skills to manage technology). Now, with the ASP model, all of this can change. As businesses realise that they have to automate for growth, software vendors have an opportunity to fulfill this market need.

In fact, I believe that from the perspective of emerging markets, the ASP model of software-as-a-service is a disruptive innovation. The competition, for the most part, is non-consumption, as SMEEMs use only limited software for their business. The need in these markets is for ASPs and SME Tech Utilities. ASPs build the back-end and SME Tech Utilities provide the whole solution to the customer (thin clients, LAN-Grid, broadband connectivity, and perhaps, consulting to ensure that they can make appropriate use of the software).

One way to accelerate the process would be to build Tech 7-11s in business neighbourhoods. These multi-purpose Tech 7-11s can be the last mile bridge between the ASPs and the SMEEMs. In emerging markets, businesses will need greater hand-holding as they automate their businesses – and this is where the Tech 7-11s can play a starring role. In addition, their physical presence will also reassure customers wary of dealing with faceless service providers.

Weekend Reading

This weekend’s links:

  • Cringely’s 2009 Predictions: His last column for PBS.
  • Mobile’s Tectonic Shift: by Cyriac Roeding of Kleiner Perkins
  • Time to Reboot America: Tom Friedman’s article on what the US needs – also applicable in parts to India
  • Rethinking Computers in the Classroom: from Business Week. “What’s needed, say educators and technology advocates, is a 21st-century curriculum that harnesses PCs and the Internet to equip kids with skills needed in the modern workplace, like critical thinking, analysis, and communications.”
  • Venture Capital’s Coming Collapse: from Forbes. “The venture capital industry is staring at the most vicious shakeout in its history. Returns are pathetic for most funds, the public offering pipeline on which venture depends for its exit strategy is clamped shut, and with the shares of many big publicly traded tech companies swooning, those firms are less likely to buy up promising upstarts.”

Best of 2008: Mobile VAS and Data

It is the last week of 2008, and time for some re-runs. I re-started this as a daily blog in August, so there’s only five months of material to choose from – and it may seem quite recent. Here goes — a selection of what I think were some of the better blog posts that I wrote. I have categorised the blog posts into six themes: Mobile Value-Added Services and Data, Entrepreneurship, the Mumbai Terror Attacks, Reinventing Indian Politics, my Presentations, and a few Personal commentaries. Happy Holidays. I’ll be back with new posts starting Monday, January 5.

China’s Internet Numbers

To show the huge gap that exists between China and India on the Internet front, here are the latest numbers put out by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology:

  • 290 million, as of end November
  • This is up 37 million in 5 months
  • 80% connect via broadband connections, of which half are over ADSL

India has about 55-60 million Internet users (and not the 80 million that some government stats would have us believe). Most of the consumer access is on 256 Kbps or less. We have a long way to go. And sadly, even as we think about 3G and all that in India, no one is really pushing building out India’s broadband infrastructure for mass-market consumer Internet growth.

Bus Ride on NH8

Last week, during my visit to Surat, we visited a Jain temple in Miyaganj Karjan, about 100 kms. from Surat. We went by train – the journey took 1 hour 45 mins. On our return, we decided to take the bus since the next train meant waiting for 2 hours. In the end, it didn’t make much of a difference! Due to the construction going on (widening of NH8 to 6 lanes from 4), it took us 3 hours 15 mins to traverse the 100 km.

There was plenty of traffic, but the road itself posed a big challenge for the driver – zig-zagging in and out of the construction patches. We also saw more than a handful of accidents en route. I am sure there is a better way to enhance the road travel experience even as the construction is on. And all this on Nh8 — one of India’s premier national highways.

2009 India Mobility Trends 9 and 10

9. Emergence of Mobile as a Mass and Targeted Medium: Today, the Mobile is one of four new media that ad agencies and business look at along with FM, Out-of-home and the Internet. Given the user base that is already there, the mobile is ready for breaking out of the pack. It has the attributes of a mass medium like TV and print, and can combine the targeting that the Internet offers.

10. The 2009 Elections will be an inflection point for Mobile usage: More than half of the voting Indian population will have a mobile – which is a two-way interactive device. As the Mumbai attacks showed, while TV can rouse passion, it is the mobile which gets people organised and working towards common goals. Just as the US elections of 2008 were a defining moment in the use of Internet and mobile, I believe that the 2009 general elections in India will drive innovation in how the mobile is used for building communities, citizen journalism, advertising and more.

2009 India Mobility Trends 7 and 8

7. Mobile Payments and Commerce will come into vogue: This will happen via three mechanisms. First, the mobile cash balance with an operators could be used for payments. Second, a credit card or debit card could be linked with a mobile phone or number, enabling only an instruction to be issued for making payments. Finally, independent companies could encourage the creation of cash balances to be used for off-deck services. Taken together, the mobile has the potential to emerge at the centre of micropayments.

8. Companies will start creating their Mobile Presence: A mobile presence is much more than setting up a Keyword on a shortcode for lead-generation. Early Adopters will start integrating the mobile (especially SMS and the mobile Internet) into each of their business processes. They will use permission-based channels (rather than spam) to build deeper customer relationships and drive greater engagement.

Blog Past: PIN-News

India needs more local content, something I call PIN-News. I have written about this multiple times in the past. Here is a post from Jan 2007:

Do-it-yourself publishing can create the content, while subscriptions can help deliver to the interested people in near real-time on their mobiles. In this world, events will start becoming the centrepiece of peoples lives. With mobiles, individuals can also report on what they are seeing and share it easily with others. This two-way interaction can help spur all kinds of new services from citizen journalism to Wikipedia-like search for something interesting to do on a Sunday evening.

Here is an excerpt from a post in July 2004:

PIN-News is about building a bottom-up community information system. It is built around PIN codes. Neighbourhood events can be posted on to specific pages, organised in a weblog-format. By using standardized forms to do the post, it is possible to capture the information in XML format and use a matching engine to send out alerts to people. For example, if I am interested in book exhibitions or special offers, I can set up an alert on a few PIN codes around my home and workplace. When the book shops in the area do their updates (as part of STIM), I can be immediately alerted. PIN-News thus fills the gap in communicating dynamic information to people who are most likely to benefit from it.

And this is what I had written in November 2003:

1. Provide a revenue model from the local small buyers and sellers a MicroGoogle
2. Be a utility in the lives of people used daily
3. Create a platform which can be used to discuss and solve local issues and problems
4. Build an Information Marketplace platform
5. Enable people to create their own blogs and RSS feeds (via DIY forms). People can do their own updates – publishing
6. Create a weblog/wiki/RSS for every ZIP in India. Everything goes into a backend database
7. The RSS Aggregator delivers RSS feeds to peoples mailboxes. People can subscribe for specific events – which are delivered to their computer or cellphone
8. Imagine if each physical object has a virtual presence (for example, a theatre could provide updates on movies and bookings; local shops can provide updates on whats new in terms of sales, etc.)
9. People can also create a directory of local resources and landmarks. During elections this can be used to discuss the candidates contesting.

Weekend Reading

This weekend’s links:

2009 India Mobility Trends 5 and 6

5. Flat-rate Data Plans will drive the use of Mobile Internet, Social Media and Rich Media: The US leads the way here. From being a laggard in the use of mobile data, the US is now showing the way with all operators having flat-rate data plans. In India, the right price point, according to me, is Rs 100 per month. A plan like this will encourage the use of the mobile Internet and other services, and create the necessary pull for companies to start building out mobile data services. Operators will benefit from large-scale adoption of data plans. The mobile is ideally positioned to be a window into the incremental N3 (Now-New-Near) Web). Mobile social networks will extend the communication and interaction capabilities of the device. From mail to music, from digisodes to streaming TV channels, the combination of smartphones, flat-rate data plans and 3G will be the gateway to a wide array of rich media.

6. Expect the launch of AppStores: Given the huge success of Apple’s store for mobile applications and Google following suit with its Android Market, I expect Indian operators and handset players to also create AppStores. These stores will open up the content and applications market to just about anyone, and drive both usage and innovation, and also create newer revenue streams for themselves. This will be the first steps in the opening up of operator walled gardens.

The series will continue on Monday.

2009 India Mobility Trends 3 and 4

3. Operators will focus on VAS and Data Services in the Red Market: Voice, SMS and quality of network can no longer be used for differentiation – they are now hygiene. The Red Market subscribers got a phone in the first decade of India’s wireless rollout between 1995-2005. They have been using Voice and P2P SMS for between 3 and 13 years. They now want to do much more with their phone – and their time is now coming. 3G will be a big enabler for richer services, and can actually drive higher ARPUs (Average Revenue Per User). We will also see the emergence of Data MVNOs – or mobile computing operators.

4. The Coming Era of VAS Operators: Today, 90% of operators revenues comes from Voice and Rentals. Of the balance 10%, about half comes from Person-to-Person (P2P) SMS. So, VAS accounts for only about 5% of revenue. Operators have primarily focused on voice. I see a new breed of companies emerging who will create direct-to-consumer services and focus exclusively on VAS – think of them as VAS Operators. They will have multiple revenue streams – not just from subscribers, but also from advertisers and businesses. They will be the Genies that make the mobile as magic lamps in the hands of consumers.

2009 India Mobility Trends 1 and 2

1. Subscriber Growth Continues: India is now growing at about 10 million new mobile users every month, and that pace of growth will continue. We will probably be close to 450 million subscribers by end of 2009. Four factors will drive growth of the mobile subscriber base: footprint expansion by existing operators especially in rural India, launch of operations by newer operators, issuing of 3G licences which will open up a new world of data services, and cheaper handsets which will even further lower entry barriers.

2. Incumbent Operators will face Multiple Challenges: The Indian market going ahead can be thought of us two markets: the Red Market which is the competition-filled, saturated urban battlegrounds (top 40-odd cities in India) and accounts for about 100-150 million subscribers, and the Blue Market covering the rest of India, with a potential size of upto a billion subscribers, of whom only 15-20% have actually got a mobile phone. The Red Market wants Data and Value-Added Services (VAS), while the Blue Market needs Access (Voice). A new landscape is emerging in India driven by four simultaneous disruptions — new operators entering the fray, mobile number portability rollout, 3G services, and the green signal for MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).

2009 India Mobility Trends

Mint asked me for ten key trends in the Indian mobile space for 2009. Given that I like these year-end lookahead exercises, I sent them the brief list they wanted, and also elaborated on each of them.

2008 was an exciting year in the Indian mobile space. The user base has grown by about 100 million, many new operators have got licences to launch operations, and the 3G auction is just around the corner. So, what does 2009 have in store for us?

Here is a brief summary of my pick of the ten trends that will define the mobile space in India in 2009:

  1. Subscriber growth in India will continue, driven by rural expansion, entry of newer operators, 3G and cheaper handsets.
  2. Incumbent operators will face challenges (and opportunities) on four fronts: new operators, mobile number portability, 3G and MVNOs.
  3. Focus on Value-added Services and Data will increase in saturated, urban markets.
  4. Mobile VAS operators which build direct-to-consumer relationships will start emerging.
  5. Flat-rate Data Plans will accelerate the use of the Mobile Internet, Social Media and Rich Media.
  6. Operators and/or handset players will launch AppStores to drive usage, innovation and revenues.
  7. Mobile Payments and Commerce will come into vogue for microtransactions.
  8. Companies will create multi-faceted mobile presence to deepen customer relationships and drive permission-based interaction and engagement.
  9. The Mobile will emerge as the next advertising and marketing medium – and be seen as capable of not just mass reach but also allow a high degree of targeting.
  10. The 2009 general elections will be an inflection point in the usage of mobiles in many different ways.

1. Subscriber Growth Continues: India is now growing at about 10 million new mobile users every month, and that pace of growth will continue. We will probably be close to 450 million subscribers by end of 2009. Four factors will drive growth of the mobile subscriber base: footprint expansion by existing operators especially in rural India, launch of operations by newer operators, issuing of 3G licences which will open up a new world of data services, and cheaper handsets which will even further lower entry barriers.

2. Incumbent Operators will face Multiple Challenges: The Indian market going ahead can be thought of us two markets: the Red Market which is the competition-filled, saturated urban battlegrounds (top 40-odd cities in India) and accounts for about 100-150 million subscribers, and the Blue Market covering the rest of India, with a potential size of upto a billion subscribers, of whom only 15-20% have actually got a mobile phone. The Red Market wants Data and Value-Added Services (VAS), while the Blue Market needs Access (Voice). A new landscape is emerging in India driven by four simultaneous disruptions — new operators entering the fray, mobile number portability rollout, 3G services, and the green signal for MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).

3. Operators will focus on VAS and Data Services in the Red Market: Voice, SMS and quality of network can no longer be used for differentiation – they are now hygiene. The Red Market subscribers got a phone in the first decade of India’s wireless rollout between 1995-2005. They have been using Voice and P2P SMS for between 3 and 13 years. They now want to do much more with their phone – and their time is now coming. 3G will be a big enabler for richer services, and can actually drive higher ARPUs (Average Revenue Per User). We will also see the emergence of Data MVNOs – or mobile computing operators.

4. The Coming Era of VAS Operators: Today, 90% of operators revenues comes from Voice and Rentals. Of the balance 10%, about half comes from Person-to-Person (P2P) SMS. So, VAS accounts for only about 5% of revenue. Operators have primarily focused on voice. I see a new breed of companies emerging who will create direct-to-consumer services and focus exclusively on VAS – think of them as VAS Operators. They will have multiple revenue streams – not just from subscribers, but also from advertisers and businesses. They will be the Genies that make the mobile as magic lamps in the hands of consumers.

5. Flat-rate Data Plans will drive the use of Mobile Internet, Social Media and Rich Media: The US leads the way here. From being a laggard in the use of mobile data, the US is now showing the way with all operators having flat-rate data plans. In India, the right price point, according to me, is Rs 100 per month. A plan like this will encourage the use of the mobile Internet and other services, and create the necessary pull for companies to start building out mobile data services. Operators will benefit from large-scale adoption of data plans. The mobile is ideally positioned to be a window into the incremental N3 (Now-New-Near) Web). Mobile social networks will extend the communication and interaction capabilities of the device. From mail to music, from digisodes to streaming TV channels, the combination of smartphones, flat-rate data plans and 3G will be the gateway to a wide array of rich media.

6. Expect the launch of AppStores: Given the huge success of Apple’s store for mobile applications and Google following suit with its Android Market, I expect Indian operators and handset players to also create AppStores. These stores will open up the content and applications market to just about anyone, and drive both usage and innovation, and also create newer revenue streams for themselves. This will be the first steps in the opening up of operator walled gardens.

7. Mobile Payments and Commerce will come into vogue: This will happen via three mechanisms. First, the mobile cash balance with an operators could be used for payments. Second, a credit card or debit card could be linked with a mobile phone or number, enabling only an instruction to be issued for making payments. Finally, independent companies could encourage the creation of cash balances to be used for off-deck services. Taken together, the mobile has the potential to emerge at the centre of micropayments.

8. Companies will start creating their Mobile Presence: A mobile presence is much more than setting up a Keyword on a shortcode for lead-generation. Early Adopters will start integrating the mobile (especially SMS and the mobile Internet) into each of their business processes. They will use permission-based channels (rather than spam) to build deeper customer relationships and drive greater engagement.

9. Emergence of Mobile as a Mass and Targeted Medium: Today, the Mobile is one of four new media that ad agencies and business look at along with FM, Out-of-home and the Internet. Given the user base that is already there, the mobile is ready for breaking out of the pack. It has the attributes of a mass medium like TV and print, and can combine the targeting that the Internet offers.

10. The 2009 Elections will be an inflection point for Mobile usage: More than half of the voting Indian population will have a mobile – which is a two-way interactive device. As the Mumbai attacks showed, while TV can rouse passion, it is the mobile which gets people organised and working towards common goals. Just as the US elections of 2008 were a defining moment in the use of Internet and mobile, I believe that the 2009 general elections in India will drive innovation in how the mobile is used for building communities, citizen journalism, advertising and more.

Random: TZP, Rab Ne, Cricket, Israel v LeT

Watching “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” in the multiplex and “Taazre Zameen Par” on TV over the weekend brought out the difference between the ordinary and extraordianry. RNBDJ was disappointing fare, considering that it was made by Aditya Chopra. The story just did not make sense, and even though Shah Rukh Khan did his best as Surinder Suri, the only solace came after “The End” with the photo story with the credits! TZP was a movie I had seen last year when it was released but watching it again on TV showcased what a great movieis all about.

The India-England match is beautifully poised — and that is what Test Match Cricket is all about. A T20 or a one-day international doesn’t lend itself to analysis on the possibilities the way a Test Match does. One day to go, India needing 256 to win with 9 wickets in hand, the fifth day pitch doing a little — one couldn’t ask for more. And that is why I feel it will be a mistake to overdo the shorter forms of cricket at the expense of the 5-day Test Match.

One aspect of the recent Mumbai attacks hasn’t been discussed much. It is what happened at Nariman House. Even as India ponders what to do and appears quite helpless on the action front, I think the Israelis will avenge the deaths of the Rabbi and his wife by the LeT — and do us a favour. Quietly, and sooner rather than later. They are not the ones who take any attack against their people anywhere in the world lightly. That is something India should learn. Talking only will get us so far.

Blog Past: A Train Journey

I am going to Surat next week by train, and that reminded me of this post from June 2004 when I took the train from Delhi to Dehradhun. There is that romance that trains have that no planes or automobiles can match. I still remember the train journey I took across US from New York to California in 1992. I mention it to Abhishek often and one day, look forward to doing it with him.

Here is what I wrote in the June 2004 post:

…The magic of train journeys [is that] they help us make a connection with our own country in which other transportation modes just do not. They also keep us a little removed from the world outside so as to give time to think. It is a pity that as life gets faster, the shift from train to air also takes away a little of that child and dreamer in us.

Train journeys have a unique charm of their own. For me, this particular trip helped consolidate much of my thinking over the past few years and make it contextually relevant to what we need to do in India. Perhaps, the timing as well as the duration made the difference. Whatever it was, all I will say is that each of us at different times need to undertake our own train journey, connecting our past to the future.

Favourite Restaurants

Bhavana, Abhishek and I go out to eat once a week or so. Jain food is what we need, so the choice of restaurants is quite limited. (If we can help it, we also stick to vegetarian-only restaurants.) There are plenty of options around Kemp’s Corner where we live.

Our favourite is Soam, at Babulnath. Initially, we saw it as a less crowded version of Swati Snacks (at Tardeo). But, once Abhishek started liking the free space to move and jump around, it quickly became our first choice. Another nice place near Soam is Govinda’s – right next to the ISKCON temple in the side-lane. A little ahead at Chowpatty, there are two restuarants we used to visit a lot earlier — Cream Centre and New Yorker.

Among other spots: Ansaa(formerly, Only Parathas) at Dalamal Towers in Nariman Point — my order there is usually the paneer and peas paratha. Then, there is Samrat at Churchgate. Another place we used to visit a lot earlier was Status at Nariman Point. A frequent stop is the Food Court at Atria — we normally will get the food from Kailasah Parbat or Only Parathas.

In the suburbs (close to Bhavana’s parents’ home in Santa Cruz) is my favourite: Little Italy. All their dishes are vegetarian. Which reminds me — it is probably time to visit them sometime soon. I love their Nachos and Salsa sauce!

I miss Pizza Hut. They used to have one at Chowpatty untila few years ago where they used to offer Jain Pizzas. That shut down, and the one near my house doesn’t have the Jain offerings. For that, I need to go to Surat (where Bhavana’s sister lives).  And Surat is where I am headed next weekend!