December is a good time to look back over the year and then look ahead. We will do the same in the coming Tech Talk columns. (These are also a little easier to put together considering that I am travelling quite a bit over the next couple weeks limiting the time for original thinking. I did try and make up for that with the past two Tech Talk series on my fifteen years as an entrepreneur, and on ventures and capital.)
In a nutshell, for me 2006 was about mobility (the work we are doing in Netcore), the Emergic ecosystem (which has grown to 11 companies which I have either helped co-found or invested in), and Abhishek (now 19 months old and needing more and more of my time). In fact, on Abhishek, I shared a thought with a friend the other day earlier, I would spend time with him because my wife insisted that I needed to. Now, I spend time because I want to. [This is reminiscent of the scene in the recently released movie, Vivah, where Prem invites Poonam on to the terrace shortly after they are engaged. When she comes, he asks her if she came because he called her. She replies that she came because she wanted to.] It is amazing how children endear themselves to us, and how as they grow up, they need us less but we start wanting to be with them more.
Back to the 2006 writings. If I had to pick the Tech Talks which were for me the most important, they would be the ones I wrote in August and September on the Mobile Internet and the Now-New-Near Web. Together, they capture the essence of how I see the future around the mobile web for emerging markets like India. The Knowledge@Wharton interview also distilled some of my thoughts on the same topic. I have excerpted here a few relevant selections from these Tech Talks, starting with an outline of how I like to think of the Indian market.
I think of the device-using India as being split into three. The top of the pyramid has about 10 million users for whom the desktop computer with a reasonably good Internet connection is the link to the connected world. Their access is from home or work, or both. Their digital life is built around their computer. They all have mobile phones but usage is somewhat limited to its use as a phone and texting device. At times, the mobile serves as a modem on the go to be connected with the laptop. This segment is akin to most users in the developed markets. Think of this as a PC First segment.
The middle of the pyramid has about 30 million users for whom Internet access is primarily via cybercafes. Access is, on average, limited to a few minutes a day. Because of the lack of continuity in access, usage of the Internet is limited email, chat, jobs, matrimonial sites being the primary destinations. This audience is much younger than the top of the pyramid. They all have mobile phones. The consumption of mobile content (ringtones, wallpapers, games, ringback tones) is high in this segment. For this segment, the mobile is the key to the digital life. The buddy list resides not on Yahoo or Microsofts IM services, but on their phone. SMS, rather than email, is the preferred way to interact with buddies. Think of this as a Mobiles First segment.
The bottom of the pyramid is about 60 million in India. For this segment, there is no access to a computer in some cases by choice (like my parents), but in most cases, because of economic reasons. They cannot afford to own or access a computer. For them, voice communications via the mobile is their primary way to connect to the world. SMS usage is still limited because of language barriers. This is the segment which is now growing rapidly in India as the mobile user base grows. This segment is almost entirely pre-paid. Think of this as a Mobiles Only segment.
Tomorrow: Mobile Internet