Bharti’s Sunil Mittal

The Economist has a profile of Sunil Mittal, who “has built India’s sixth-largest company by market capitalisation, with 15m customers and $2 billion in annual revenues.”

Mr Mittal sees himself as part of a new entrepreneurial class, for whom the kick of doing something transformational is bigger than the money. So he is looking for new areas of expansion. These include insurance, through a joint-venture with AXA, a big French insurer, and infrastructure, where he suffered a setback when Changi, a Singaporean airport operator, withdrew from a consortium planning to bid for the modernisation and privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports.

Mahesh Uppal, a telecoms consultant, says that Mr Mittal’s particular talent is combining entrepreneurship with political skill. Mr Deol praises his combination of visionhe’s a big-picture manwith the ability to delegate. The big picture, for now, is another disruptive business model that would give a would-be serial entrepreneur the next big fix. As yet, however, it is only a vivid sketch, waiting for the detail.


David Berlind writes:

picture a world where, instead of carrying a notebook computer with you everywhere you go, and instead of having power-drinking desktops in every corner of your house, all you have is a USB key that you take from one dirt cheap thin client to another. On that key is not just all of your personal data (that is stored in the cloud but replicated to your USB key for offline usage), but perhaps a small Web server and some applications, both of which are thin-client friendly. Some stuff for authentication too. Everything’s encrypted.

There are implications in terms of what thin client technology you’ll find in the seatbacks of planes and trains or where ever you may find yourself cut off from the cloud. They’ll need USB ports and they’ll have to know what to do when a USB key is inserted into them. Perhaps these terminals will all have runtimes for Java and Flash and all you’ll need on your USB key are applications word processing or otherwise that are written for those runtimes. Or maybe the runtimes are on the USB key itself in the same way that there’s a tiny Java Virtual Machine on JavaCards. And maybe the USB key has an SD slot and it’s the SD card that has everything on it. If you want, you can pop that SD card out of the USB key and into the SD I/O slot on your PDA.

We’re closer than you think to a world where a lot of this gets worked out.


The creator of VisiCalc is creating a new product. Dan Bricklin: “[It] a web authoring tool that creates web pages. It is for creating and maintaining web pages that include data this is more than just unformatted prose, such as schedules, lists, and tables. It combines some of the ease of authoring and multi-person edit ability of a wiki with the familiar formatting and data organizing metaphor of a spreadsheet. While you edit using a browser-based UI in a spreadsheet, with the A-B-C 1-2-3 grid showing, the final output, like printout from the productivity product, is static and only shows cell borders where you explicitly set them. It handles freeform text in a wiki-like manner and works well with large blocks of text.”

No Laptop; only Cellphone and iPod

Walter Mossberg went on vacation without a laptop:

Increasingly, it’s possible to leave a laptop home on some types of trips and rely on a combination of a high-end cellphone and an iPod, devices many people carry anyway for their core functions — making phone calls and listening to music. The added capabilities in these gadgets are, in effect, bonuses.

To test this theory, my wife, Edie, and I recently went on vacation to Ireland and Scotland without a laptop. I carried only a digital camera, a new video-capable iPod and a new, enhanced BlackBerry phone I was testing, the 8700c, which will soon be sold in the U.S. by Cingular.

His conclusion: “To my surprise, the no-laptop vacation worked really well. The experience convinced me that even some short, light-duty business trips could be conducted without a laptop.”

Bigger Bets by VCs

WSJ writes that venture capitalists are thinking bigger:

Overall, the portion of money invested in bigger, later-stage companies like Visto rose to account for half of all venture financings in the third quarter of this year, according to data from the National Venture Capital Association, an Arlington, Va., trade group. That’s up from 33% in the year-earlier period and 15.5% five years ago. Meanwhile, the percentage of venture money invested in seed- and early-stage companies fell: Such funds accounted for just under 19% of all venture investments in the third quarter, down from 22.4% in the year-earlier period and 27.4% at the end of 2000.

The average investment in a later-stage company, which a trade group defines as one with a widely available product that is generating continuing revenue, was about $10.6 million in the quarter ended Sept. 30, up from the $10.1 million average investment a year ago. Start-up and “seed” stage companies drew an average of just under $2 million, while slightly more developed “early-stage” firms took in an average $5.4 million each, according to the venture trade group’s data.

Such trends are a sign that many venture-funded companies, particularly those in industries like wireless and pharmaceuticals, still need significant cash to ramp up operations. But it also indicates a problem for venture firms: Their funds, which raised tens of billions of dollars during the dot-com boom and never spent it all, are now scrambling to find places to put their remaining cash before the fund’s life, usually 10 years, runs out.

TECH TALK: Microsoft Live: Emerging Markets Opportunity

Perhaps the most relevant comment in the context of emerging markets came from Tom Foremski who wrote:

The best strategy for Microsoft (and others) to fight off the innovation powerhouse of Google is to wrap metal and plastic around its software and online content/services.

Hardware is now cheap enough that the cell phone approach to the PC industry makes sense. Microsoft has the hardware experience and capabilities to create a MSFT PC that is tied into its “Live” platform for the consumer market.

This creates the walled garden–fusing hardware with software with services–that resists competition no matter how innovative. That’s what Apple Computer did with the marriage of iPod/iTunes, and it created a position of dominance in a market that has many “innovative” MP3 players and online music stores.

Add to that a walled garden of pipes–from one or more of the telcos–and you have a very defensible fortress position.

A MSFT PC could be based on its Xbox platform, and it doesn’t necessarily need a big, expensive Intel microprocessor, it can be put together with a combination of specialist hardware and commodity parts. It would be aimed at the consumer and small business and schools markets.

I see the live era that Microsofts offerings herald as yet another step in the direction of centralised computing. The early adopters for this will not come from the developed world but from the emerging markets. Microsoft, like Sun in the past, is focusing on the wrong set of users. They should look at todays non-consumers the next billion in the worlds emerging markets. They need computing but cannot afford the computers or the software. Many have chosen the piracy route to getting around the high perceived cost of software. But the issue of the access device still remains a bottleneck.

This is where there is a need to combine network computers (what Tom Foremski calls the MSFT PC) with a centralised grid which offers computing and storage. As broadband networks proliferate, this is how computing needs to be reinvented. This is what Microsoft should be focusing on with Windows and Office Live.

Another important factor in emerging markets is the mobile phone. As the processing power on these phones increases and the networks become faster, the phone morphs into a mobile network computer. It will also need to access the information and services from the centralised grid.

Microsoft needs to recognize that there is a platform shift that is taking place from the desktop to the network. Just as it won the desktop era, Google is on its way to winning the network era. What Microsoft (or any other company) needs to do is to focus on the next era. That is an era of mobile network computers with the users coming from the worlds emerging markets. This is where computing has still not penetrated deeply. This is the world that companies need to target. This is where the Future Lives.

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