The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

MyArtPlot.com – A Social, Commercial and Professional Art Network

Minh Nguyen connected with me on LinkedIn and shared this website MyArtPlot.com, which he is involved with.

myartplot_ss1Minh informed that the project started out originally as a business plan competition at Brown College, and which after funding, got converted to a proper business that we see now. In fact, the official beta of the site is now hardly one month old, although the site has been in preparation for longer.

What is it about?

MyArtPlot.com is bringing together Artists, Crafters and Supporters. Artists are the main “members”. Artists get space for themselves, referred to as their “plot”, and where they are able to do a lot of things. Showcase their works, give updates, statuses, etc.

myartplot_ss2

The art works are also on offer for sale.

In addition to artists, MyArtPlot is also open to buyers, who can come and purchase art works, offered by the various artists. In fact, there is a separate direct access to all the items on sale, and a buyer does not need to look up individual art plots, if she does not want to:

myartplot_ss3Broad Observations:

The site has good positioning and can become a destination for art lovers. There is clear potential for this network to zero into a perfect social network for the community concerned. And since it has factored in commerce along with, it makes for a great win-win opportunity.

In a lot of ways then, the model points to quite an ideal social network, which can be really effective, during the times of existing social networks struggling to find monetization models!

The “plot” offered to artists is quite complete. Lots of features possible, leaving it to the artists to promote themselves as best as they can and want to.

Few other things that Minh conveyed to me:

– That outside of the bet, they have 3000 members at this time, but where they wish to take it, is 100K by summer and 500K by Dec of this year
– That, having provided the artists with the various tools, they would like and expect the artists to do their own promotions mainly,
– That he sees mutiple opportunities to generate revenues, but he expects that once the usage increases, those things will come into place on their own.

Wisdom Nuggets:

Since the site is not very old, some of what I may say now, might be a work-in-progress, and should fall in place soon. But still, I will point it out anyway, just in case, its escaped Minh’s and others’ attentions.

1. The site obviously needs SEO to happen. Something simple like page titles are absent at this time. This needs to get in place quickly.

2. It is one thing to say that the promotion has to be done by the individual artists. However MyArtPlot.com must also do its part in the promotion aspect. In fact, I see the site as similar to a mall, where lot of stores are pitching their tents. While the stores have to promote themselves, the mall ALSO has a duty to perform, to get word out, and generate the footfalls. So MyArtPlot must try and drive traffic into the site.

3. Minh informed me that commission on the sale of products, was one out of several revenue sources for MyArtPlot. That may of course be fine, for MyArtPlot. But the fact is that, if there are sales, then the interest of the artists will sustain. And that being the case, if MyArtPlot also aligns itself to this goal, then the goals of the artist and those of MyArtPlot will be aligned. And nothing can drive the company to greater heights, other than such total goal alignment amongst the main stakeholders.

4. How will the site go from 3000 to 100,000 in a few months? If this is the main metric being chased, it is essential also to, constantly monitor and set targets and have a clear accountability for the same!

5. I am okay with a fundamental idea of ‘you build a good product, and users will come, and if they come is large numbers, then advertising also follows’. However on the web it is dangerous to let things be, assuming they will take this natural course. We are seeing a lot of excellent products (Twitter, Facebook, for example) with excellent user traction, but struggling for monetization. So taking the revenue side for granted may not be the wisest thing to do.

6. Minh also informs that there are mutiple revenue opportunities that they perceive as possible. Which is great. The biggest danger then, in such cases, for a startup, are that one keeps looking at the ‘next revenue source’ to make up the deficit. If there are 5 revenue sources, there must be a study done, to estimate potential revenue numbers for each of those 5, and then set targets on that basis. And have each of those numbers chased, irrespective of how the other numbers are running. That is the only way to shirk off possible complacency on the revenues front. This is especially true when you have a great product. There is a tendency amongst the founders to fall in love with the product, at the cost of not addressing the revenue challenge enough. There needs to be a good balance between the product and the core objective of any commercial entity, viz. to make money!!

All in all, I believe that MyArtPlot.com is a great opportunity, has immense potential, and executed well from hereon, it can become a very interesting niche play, and make good money for it’s stakeholders.

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February 28, 2009 Posted by | Arts, Ecommerce, Social Networking, Startup | , , | Leave a comment

LayoffSupportNetwork.com – Support System for Laid off workers

Javed Ikbal has founded this support site for laid off employees, LayoffSupportNetwork.com.

LayoffSupportNetwork.com

LayoffSupportNetwork.com

What is it about?

LayoffSupportNetwork.com is a not-for-profit support group website, for people who have been laid off. The cause is very noble and very timely, considering such support will be a big need at this point in time.

What more?

The site uses a combination of subject matter experts (about 10% content) and user generated content (balance 90% content) for the information presented on the site. Key areas of interest including concerns on money, living (changes in lifestyle), health and of course, job resources to enable reemployment at earliest, are separately addressed.

There is a donate button of significant size on home page, but Javed informs that the button does not generate serious donations, and the amount collected does not even cover the hosting costs for the site. Any other means of collecting revenues, such as advertising etc. are not visible at this time.

Other Observations:

It does appear to be a new site that has come up soon, and is likely to undergo more changes over time. The design is minimalistic and will probably go through some changes. The membership numbers so far, are quite small. Even from the content point of view, the design will suddenly become unmanageable, if the articles and users increase.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. There is an urgent need to raise the membership. Given the benefit of doubt that it is a new site, the focus has to be on growing the numbers rapidly. Social networks, especially online ones of this type, need numbers to be useful and productive. Also in times like these when we read about tens of thousands of people on laid off list, it should be possible to get into far higher numbers quickly.

2. Of course, in order to raise the numbers, the key value proposition for the members must come out clean and strong. I would suggest highlighting that on the home page, rather than the big space taken by members’ photos, login area and the donate button. The login and donate areas must shrink to small size, and space must be given to clearly zero in on the benefits offered to members. And a few pictures of new members could still be accommodated to show the increasing acceptance of the model.

3. During layoffs and times of economic recession, there are many government bodies which offer some assistance to people. Javed confirms the same to me. It should be possible to integrate that help with the site strongly, as that could become one key advantage offered here.

4. Inter-member interactions are not very apparently visible here. A support group of this kind needs to enable this and promote this. Support group members look to each other to provide the necessary first shoulder to lean on. This should be enabled and shared link for the same.

5. Besides a few SME articles, what is the key differentiator for people to use this site? It may be worthwhile to analyze deeper and figure out what could be 1 or 2 biggest concerns of this demography. And if those are addressed quickly, clearly and proactively, then the user acceptance will be faster.

6. If sponsorship is to be solicited online, then a good pitch for the same, may be made and kept ready.

All in all, if there is a genuine value addition offered to the users, and which is apparent, then the concept and the need is strong enough, to make it a big success. If, due to the lack of revenues and being non-profit, Javed finds it challenging to devote time and work on this, he must enlist more volunteers from his early group, and ensure growth – with the design, content, layout etc. to be perfect.

Rest of course, this is a niche segment, and how fast and how far this business goes ahead, will need to be seen in future.

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February 23, 2009 Posted by | Recruitment, Social Networking, Startup | , , , | 2 Comments

InkFruit.com – Design your own T-shirt

Kashyap Dalal presented the story of InkFruit.com, at the Startup Saturday event.

InkFruit.com

InkFruit.com

What is it about?

Inkfruit.com enables the design community, or even amateur designers, to design their own T-shirt designs and submit. Based on user votes on the designs submitted, the best ones are chosen as winners. The designers win prizes, and the designs also become available to inkfruit.com to make into T-shirts and sell via their website.

What more?

The site is really about “design”. The main pitch is to get good designs on T-shirts. All logistics are managed by the company. Printing of T-shirts is done with high quality screen printing or by transfer printing process. This is to ensure good quality and longer life of the printed T-shirt. The business of about 1.5 years old, has reached a healthy run rate of Rs. 2 crores gross merchandise sales annually, and there is significant room for growth, considering the T-shirts market.

New initiatives include affiliate marketing options, selling it via offline stores and also branching into other custom design products.

Competitive pressures do exist with few good, well established offline brands, and other personalized T-shirt offers online.

Other Observations:

Inkfruit is not necessarily printing on the fly, once orders are received. In fact, they print and keep a small lot of each T-shirt design ready. When a product is offered on sale, it is already ready duly printed. The large inventory exposure however, is only in the plain T-shirts.

In recent days, they have had foreign designers also put their designs on the site, and as a consequence of these being featured on the site, some sales of such T-shirts are also trickling in from foreign customers. Retail level orders are shipped from India, to execute these orders, by Inkfruit.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. As I see the proposed growth paths of offline retail, new products, affiliates, etc., I have a specific question to pose. What is the real business? Are you about T-shirts, about all designer products, about distribution, about online retail, etc.? Based on that, the suitable growth steps need to be taken. If enough thought is not given to this fact, there is a risk of creating a lot of activities, but which do not necessarily add up to cohesive value creation.

2. The e-commerce market in India has not really grown to seriously large numbers. While e-commerce is theoretically assumed to be a lower costing option for retail, it is only so after crossing a certain minimum level of volumes. Until that happens, the economies of purchase are nowhere compared to offline players. And also the additional cost burdens of cross-border shipments (as against in-store local sales) such as shipping costs, taxation like sales tax, octroi, etc. make the proposition not very attractive economically. Designer T-shirts fall into a clear niche segment of business. Even if designer stationery or other similar products are added, these are still not high volume sales products. How does the business scale up in revenues rapidly?

3. Offline business opens up a different challenge. In reality, it is almost a different business. Or of course, its a different channel of distribution – whichever way one sees it. Undoubtedly though, the challenges are of a very different nature. From extending credit, from inventory replinishments, from returns of sales, sharing a healthy commission, etc., there are a set of issues that come up. Doe Inkfruit really want to go that way? And if it does, then that offline sales initiative should be taken with all vigour, and in fact, in that case, the online sales will become trivial compared to the offline one!

4. New products bring a different set of challenges. From the production aspects, to begin with. There is a clear repeatable process of printing T-shirts, and there is, numbers wise, a reasonably predictable market. And also if there is inventory stuck up, if a sale is done periodically, at lower cost, the T-shirts may move off. But say, there is a designer calendar, or a designer pen set, or something like that, even at low cost, it may not move at times. Then, inventory management and dead stocks may open up newer challenges. Put another way, if T-shirts are doing say, business worth 100, would you add 10 new products and take business to 120, or focus on pushing T-shirt sales and take it to 110, if not 120? Also what is the right size when expansion of products should be attempted? When T-shirts have reached a fairly mature market size.

5. There is an opportunity worth exploring, which Inkfruit has just accidentally touched. Which is of delivering the T-shirts to customers outside India. In a designer T-shirt, there is a cost of design. Which in western countries, might equate to a number even higher than the cost of the shirt itself. Indian amateur designers will be cheaper. Further the T-shirts itself come cheap from sources like Tirupur, which are anyway, one of the manufacturing hubs for global supplies. Finally the other overheads of business are also cheaper in India. If these are appreciated and Inkfruit chooses to thrust itself full blast into the international space, it could well generate far higher growth rates than what it gets from Indian market. Yes, the logitics cost and its challenge will need to be factored in. There are ways to work on those. But this could well be a useful and highly productive move for Inkfruit.

    In conclusion, while a top line of Rs. 2 crores looks interesting, since it is a semi-trading, semi-manufacturing, plus service (retail + CRM etc.) business, it may not be leaving enough room at the bottom line. To make serious money from the venture, the top line needs to go to at least Rs. 10 crores level or so. That means, selling 5 times the number of T-shirts, on an average, from what they are doing now. How confident is InkFruit of getting there in the next 2-3 years at most? And after doing that also, the business will be Rs. 10 crores, which for a trading or retail business, still looks small. There is a clear need to examine the business model at that base level, and see what they need to do, to expand and grow very rapidly from this point.

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    February 22, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup | , , , , | 4 Comments

    oCricket.com – A Social Network for the cricket addicts

    Brajeshwar presented his new venture, oCricket.com, at the Startup Saturday event.

    oCricket.com

    oCricket.com

    What is it about?

    oCricket is supposed to be a Social Network, specifically dedicated to cricket fans. With the typical features of social networks, including friends, sharing, commenting, etc. A genuine Web 2.0 product.

    What more?

    One of the key features that Brajeshwar showcased was a way to link any media content from anywhere on the net, quickly to one’s account on oCricket. The ease of this linking, and then the content showing up on oCricket, along with the necessary copyright disclaimers, is a neat feature. Using this, the property can get a lot of good images, videos very quickly, once the users start using these features.

    Other obervations:

    The site is strong on technical aspect. Features appear to be quite rugged and well coded. The site also presents a very professional, international look and feel. The site is hosted on Amazon cloud computing, enabling cost efficiency on hosting costs. As Brajeshwar mentioned, many other useful tools are also bought on a small monthly fee basis, keeping the overall running costs low. At this time, there were no revenue options visible, and Brajeshwar mentioned that several plans were there, but these would be coming up in time, once usage traction is found.

    Wisdom Nuggets:

    1. It appeared that the entire content was user generated. Which is perfectly fine. But which means that the key input from the site owners is the technology input, which allows the social network to flourish. Then, in reality, there is not a lot of investment done by the team, on the vertical per se. Cricket has been chosen for its popularity, but beyond that, it is incidental. Then, it could very well make sense to quickly scale up the project by creating a whole bunch of similar properties, and port the same features there as well. Be it say, for all sports (oFootball, oTennis, oF1Racing, etc. etc.) to carry the sports theme through, or say, pick India’s biggest engagement verticals, other than cricket, viz. oBollywood and oPolitics. In doing so, there is enough traction that could come, without additional costs, and for a user, there may be multiple interests, and a higher level of engagement, after having acquired him.

    2. If this is not done, there needs to be a very serious compelling reason for a user to come to this site, specially for cricket alone. Would one not expect such neat groups to be found on one’s own existing social network, be it Facebook or Orkut or whatever? oCricket will be well served then, to quickly come up with Facebook apps for their offering.

    3. There are no apparent entry barriers. Having said that, I buy Brajeshwar’s point on the same. No one has done it before, and they can grab the piece, if there is one. Others will have to fight and catch up, once oCricket gets some critical mass.

    4. There is a serious doubt about the copyright factor. At least in my mind. Is it right to pick up content from FlickR or other sites, and just put it up here, and acknowledge the source? I am not sure how other content owners will feel about this?

    5. There is also the Google search engine factor, with respect to the same point. Will it not be duplicate content, when it is showing up at the multiple locations? Google does not really like that from a search engine positioning point of view. This could work against oCricket.

    6. The revenue model is again a challenge. How long can the site continue to work without revenues? There is a hope to be able to raise venture funding. In today’s investment climate, if it does not happen soon, where does that put oCricket? Without some brand building budgets, growing registered users may become a challenge. And lack of revenue options will put pressures on the finances, I suspect.

    7. There is also the challenge of easily differentiating in a congested space. There are tons of cricket sites on the Internet. Is oCricket very different? Will it appeal to users significantly more than others? Why? And does that ‘why’ get answered intuitively when you reach the site?

    8. Cricket has not been a vertical to draw a lot of advertising. The demography of a cricket lover is quite diverse, and not a highly targeted one, from an advertiser’s point of view. So will there be money to be made on a cricket vertical? That is a challenge.

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      February 22, 2009 Posted by | cricket, Social Networking, Startup | , , | 2 Comments

      Zopte.com – The Web 2.0 Factory

      It is interesting that I start this new blog, with a review of a website that starts from the last letter of the alphabet. Maybe I will end up going from Z to A!
      Harsh Jain, the founder of the website, Zopte.com, presented his product at the Bar Camp5, in Mumbai.

      Zopte.com

      Zopte.com

      What is it about?

      Zopte.com enables anyone to start a Social Networking site, with many of the standard features that such sites need. Getting started with a base level social networking site of your own is very simple. You can select the applications that you need there, and enable them for your own site.

      What more?

      Your site can be hosted by Zopte and can have your own domain name. With simple markup language like steps that Zopte suggests, you can make your own applications. And add those to your site as well. That in fact, is the clear advantage that zopte offers. Not having to depend on widgets and such, you could potentially create features on your site, by yourself, with simple steps.

      The entire service is free at this time.

      My observations:

      At this time, clearly there are no revenue channels, and clearly there are costs.

      At this time, I am seeing challenges in SEO work done on the site’s own pages. If you see the screen shot above, it does not even have a page title. How will the service grow?

      Although the site has been “launched”, many of the links on home page itself, appear to be ‘coming soon’.

      Wisdom Nuggets:

      1. At first view, the service appeared a lot like WordPress.com. Harsh explained the differences, especially with regards to the markup language that enables any kind of new applications to be made and integrated. Fair enough. But then the difference needs to be something that a LOT of people need, something that is easily communicated across the site (at this time, it does not come out so obvious). And after all that, you still m have to face the brand equity factor, in favor of your larger competitor.

      2. There has to be a real estimate of the market size for this. If there is so-called markup language, even if it is simple enough, the application is not exactly the kind that a common non-techie user can quickly adapt to! Then when you see the techie space, would they like to use a ready tool, or they would also want to make a tool themselves? Who indeed, would be the regular users of a service like this one? Or put it in another way, the application is a little complicated for common usage, and a little too simple for a flexible techie user.

      3. Then there is always the revenue challenge. How will revenue be made? Also once you figure out a revenue channel, you have to see the potential projected value of money that could be made there. Overall viability of the project is determined by summing up these different revenue options.

        In conclusion, there is a clear need to figure out the revenue lines and then do a dispassionate working of the larger business plan that could emerge.

        If there is an acknowledged challenge to the business model, I may even recommend checking if it is possible to adapt the service for WordPress. Or in other words, offer this platform from within the WordPress pages, and give these value additions to all WordPress users. There would be quick, large scale adaption, and the viability will no longer be your problem alone, but also that of WordPress!!

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        February 21, 2009 Posted by | Startup, Technology | , , , | Leave a comment