The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

LifeMojo.com – a very useful diet and fitness resource

Himanshu Khurana, co-founder, asked me to review his startup, LifeMojo.com.

LifeMojo.com

LifeMojo.com

Category: B2C -> Healthcare -> Diet and Fitness

What does it do?
LifeMojo.com is an excellent destination for those conscious of diet and fitness. It provides ample information about dieting, different fitness regimes, lifestyle based information, and also has nutritionists on call, for personal assistance.

What more?
The site is very well designed, and although it caters to an Indian audience, it has a very international appeal, and an excellent look-and-feel. In addition to one-way information about diet and fitness, the site also enables interactivity, in the form of a user being able to track his efforts and target certain fitness goals, and see the progress in form of charts and graphs. Lifemojo also offers tracking and updates via mobile, and engages its users via social media through Facebook, Twitter etc.

My quick two cents:
LifeMojo.com is positioned very well. It is doing an excellent job in terms of its presentation, its focus, the detailing, the value that it provides to its users. Subject to getting the revenue puzzle right, LifeMojo is destined to go places.

Wisdom Nuggets in more detail:
1. At the outset, I am very impressed by the business. So I would suggest to the management, to continue to maintain a very high class of service, in all respects, and establish excellent brand equity for its service. It is a service idea that will appeal to the better class of society. After all, it is the more privileged section of society who have problems of weight and diabetes, usually. A classy feel will be appreciated by this demography, and LifeMojo must ensure that it does not sacrifice this appeal.

2. The “about us” section of the site mentions numbers in few millions, as people in India, referring to dieticians and fitness programs, and also those suffering from diabetes. These numbers become a kind of market size that LifeMojo can address. So the potential market size is large. How many of them make LifeMojo their online destination will be the question.

3. The challenge with diet programs or fitness regimes is that people do not stay disciplined long enough. There is a tendency to “go back to the old ways”. If LifeMojo can become a close companion of sorts, to these people, and somehow manage to keep people on track, then LifeMojo will become an integral part of the person’s life. And in that, could be the major breakthrough for LifeMojo’s sustenance.

4. Even after paying fees, there are statistics of very high drop out rates from fitness programs and gymnasiums. With an impersonal and free service, there is a bigger risk of drop outs from LifeMojo. Simply having an ability to track the progress is not enough to ensure a member’s continuity with LifeMojo. The challenge for LifeMojo will be to understand at a psychological level, the reasons why people drop off fitness regimes, and to find a way to address this issue well.

5. Community can be one of the critical pieces of the puzzle. People tend to remain members of a group yoga or aerobics class longer than sustaining an independent diet program. Groups matter. If there is a community, and it is active and buzzing, and it involves large participation, that could be one of the reasons for members continuing with LifeMojo.

6. The revenue puzzle is definitely there. Himanshu informs that revenues are expected from nutrionist and fitness consultations online, and on phone. This appears to be very “iffy”. People are comfortable to visit such consultants personally, so what percentage of the potential market will be happy to seek online or telephonic consultation, is something to be seen.

7. There could possibly be a freemium model introduced to generate some revenues from the users. Provided there is real value offered, and which can be appreciated by users. A personalized consultation, with the presence of an individual nutriotionist or a dietician, is not a great online model. It is also not scaleable easily. For an online model to be exciting, each subsequent transaction should be at marginal cost. And which points to an automated self-help situation, rather than having a personalized consultation. Alternate ways will need to be found.

8. Are there pockets in the country, say in semi-urban centers, where good quality dieticians or nutritionists are not available? Can the service specifically target such pockets? Or if there are sports related recommendations or other specific conditions related recommendations (e.g. pregnant women, seniors, recuperating patients, etc.) that can be addressed, then again, there is potential to create a good niche for those. There could be diet and nutrition recommendations for growing children. As soon as a high level of knowledge is created in the niche segment, there is also opportunity to go and tie up with large groups, e.g. private schools or hospitals etc.

9. The other option to scale is to go global. However then, the knowledge of global challenges, diseases, lifestyles, food habits, etc. all have to be incorporated in the knowledge base.

In summary, I would conclude that LifeMojo is an excellent proposition. It offers good value, which is presented well, it is interactive and engaging. However due to the nature of vertical that it is in, there is an inherent high drop out rate. Even when there is personal engagement offline. It can be worse in an online situation. LifeMojo will need to figure this out, and also ensure that revenues are generated. Otherwise, there is a risk of an excellent idea, not reaching high scales, simply on account of low adaption and lack of consistent traction from users.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 4.0 / 5.0

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March 18, 2009 Posted by | Healthcare, Startup | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

MnemonicDictionary.com – an excellent destination for vocabulary improvement

Amit Aggarwal, the founder, asked me to review his startup, MnemonicDictionary.com.

Mnemonic Dictionary

Mnemonic Dictionary

Category: B2C -> Education -> Vocabulary

What does it do?
MnemonicDictionary.com is an excellent source for all kinds of fun and learning, with and around words. It is a destination to expand your vocabulary, play word games, take quizzes, etc. In short, MnemonicDictionary.com is quite a complete, one place destination for any word lover and words learner!

What more?
MnemonicDictionary.com features a word of the day, for those who want to enhance their vocabulary gradually. It also has word lists for people working towards competitive exams like GRE, GMAT etc. The site exploits the various features of community by having an active forum, chat rooms, via email and also an active presence on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc.
For revenues, there are advertisements and affiliate relationships across the site.

*** Addendum ***

Amit pointed out to me a very interesting USP that MnemonicDictionary offers, in regards to remembering new words, viz. the concept of mnemonics.

For example:

  • Onus (meaning: burden)
    Mnemonic — ON-US you are ON US ie. you are burden to me,

Similarly,

  • Caulk , which means ‘to make watertight’ can be broken as follows:
    Mnemonic — caulk sounds like cork which makes bottles watertight

*** End of addendum ***

My quick two cents:
MnemonicDictionary.com is positioned very well in its area, and does most things right. In terms of exploiting the various options to an ideal web business, the site is doing nearly all that it can do. The challenge may just come in creating larger revenue base. If currently, the business is running at a low cost with a small team, they are probably well poised to make money. Some out-of-the-box thinking will be necessary however, to aim for large revenues.

Wisdom Nuggets in more detail:
1. There is genuinely not a lot to fix at a fundamental level, in MnemonicDictionary.com. Indeed, I am very pleased with the entire execution of the business. So the first thing that I would simply suggest is to hold it nice and tight, and keep up the good work.

2. Vocabulary building, for a common person, is a fun thing to do, for a few minutes a day, at most. So for the large user base, this is where the engagement with MnemonicDictionary will saturate. Can MD find a way to engage with such users beyond the few minutes a day, that they take, to learn a new word? This is where the thought juices must flow.

3. Of course, there are those who are working their way towards some competitive tests. For them, there is indeed a larger engagement possible at MD. And they will spend more time doing word lists or taking small tests. In these cases, MD still does not deliver a complete solution for these students. Thus the student may be still using other training forums / classes and will be coming here, only for additional support or tests. If MD can offer full fledged and complete training and testing environments for tests like GRE, TOEFL, GMAT etc., then they can secure a larger lock-in over this user base.

4. Due to the briefer engagement with the larger mass user base, and an inadequate lock-in with the students working on competitive exams, the revenues may not be large or consistent. Since they are restricted to advertising models only. An opportunity exists in introducing (as mentioned above) full fledged training and testing models, and convert the service into a freemium model, rather than keeping it totally free for the users.

5. If there is an opportunity to become a value-added-partner or even a white-labeled partner with established testing service providers like Princeton Review and Kaplan, involved in competitive tests, that may generate good additional traction, in terms of revenues.

6. The other time that a lot of language skills are learned by people, are during immigration to western countries. Here again, the opportunity could be, to develop training and testing modules for immigration related language skills, and increase earning potential for the site.

7. Overall, there is indeed, a huge demand, at least in countries like India, for English language skills. Notwithstanding current downturn, there is a basic irony – of large scale unemployment in tier 2, tier 3 towns, on the one hand, and a large demand of good English language skilled persons, amongst BPOs, call centers and the like. This gap points to a single and simple factor – English language skills. Due to lack of good teachers, who can travel to these small centers and teach English there, this gap remains. Can MD create a remote delivery model, for teaching English? This may be an ambitious leap from where they are, but can then create a significant opportunity for jumping the scale of the business.

8. The other option for jumping scale would also be, to create a proper English learning platform for people of other native mother tongues. Be it the many Indian language native speakers or even say, Chinese persons. Having covered the one side of the puzzle, namely the English language part of it, if MD can invest in the native language side, one language at a time, then they can present “learning English for Hindi speaking people” or offerings of that kind.

9. Lastly, there is a big opportunity also in learning how to SPEAK the language. With audio-video becoming common place on the Internet, if MD can find ways to deliver language skills, also via audio and video media, then the users can also learn pronounciation and spoken English.

In summary, I can state that MnemonicDictionary.com is on a good foundation, and if they decide their larger focus well, and work towards it, they can become a sizeable and very successful business.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 4.0 / 5.0

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March 18, 2009 Posted by | Education - Vocabulary, Social Networking, Startup | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kreeo.com – Collaborative Knowledge Management and Research Tool

Sumeet Anand, founder and CEO, asked me to review his startup, Kreeo.com.

Kreeo.com

Kreeo.com

Category: B2C -> Web research tool; Enterprise -> Collaboration and Knowledge Management tool

What does it do?
Kreeo.com is an interesting mashup of a Wikipedia and social bookmarking sites. It is a tool for collaboration and knowledge management, and offered free on open web for individual users, and planned to be offered also on web based SaaS as well as in enterprise versions.

What more?
There is obviously a significant software effort that has gone into the making of Kreeo.com. For example, there is virtually a concept of a browser within the browser. You do not really need to use the back button at all, as you navigate through the various pages in Kreeo. The navigation, layout, presentation have all been done with thought, and are good.

My quick two cents:
You can’t help but think Wikipedia as you see Kreeo. Yes, there are differences. But to an average user looking for information, does he notice the various subtle differences. Also most importantly, content is the key. For a site of this nature, we are talking of tons and tons of content. Without that, it leaves me with a feeling of a great idea, but being unable to appreciate the nuances, without adequate data. Moreover, without data, it does not compel me to return soon!

Wisdom Nuggets in more detail:
1. I have a suspicion – and I could be wrong – that Kreeo was created by fundamentally, a technology person! There is a huge emphasis on the application, perhaps to an extent, at the cost of the larger business model.

2. Sumeet informed me the beta was launched in Jan 2009, after a year of alpha. That being the case, it would have been great to have used a part of that one year, also for creating some content for Kreeo. At this time, without the content, it creates interest, but then disappointment.

3. There will be questions about why Kreeo, and why not Wikipedia? Even on the SaaS or Enterprise versions, there are enough Wiki implementations available to serve the purpose. With all the technology bits, the core reason to look at Kreeo as against a Wiki, does not come out that clearly. If it takes an effort to understand that difference, it may not quite be good enough.

4. On a content driven aggregation, we have also seen in recent days, Guy Kawasaki’s venture, Alltop.com. The strategy that Alltop has used has enabled it to grow significant content quickly and it keeps growing. As a pure web reference tool, it may today offer better value than Kreeo does. So yes, I am getting repetitive on the content front, rather the lack of it, on Kreeo. But that unforutnately, is a big issue on Kreeo, at this time.

5. So where does Kreeo go from here? If Enterprise and SaaS is the way to go, and to offer Kreeo as a platform for enterprises to manage their knowledge, then it is important to focus only on that. And present these solutions with all the differentiation and the benefits coming out strong and clear. If enterprise content and knowledge is what Kreeo will drive, let it not dilute the brand and the offering by also being in the larger B2C / Social Media space.

6. On the other hand, if the larger B2C is what beckons, it must be appreciated that creating an encyclopedia of sorts takes a toll. Even in a collaborative mode. Either there has to be a clear strategy to energize the masses to contribute and create, OR Kreeo could think of focusing on a few verticals, instead of the entire universe. And at least for those few verticals, ensure that real depth of information exists.

Overall, I must repeat that the technology is promising, but I am concerned about the business model, at this time.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 2.5 / 5.0

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Knowledge Management, Startup, Technology, Web Research | , , , , , | 3 Comments

EasyOrganicProducts.com – Online Store for Organic Products

Priyanka Baya asked me to do a reivew of EasyOrganicProducts.com.

Easy Organic Products

Easy Organic Products

Category: B2C -> E-commerce -> Organic Products

What does it do?
EasyOrganicProducts.com is a regular online store selling a wide range of Organic products.

What more?
Shipping is from Singapore. Default currency is also SGD. However products are offered to be shipped all over the world. There is a store delivery mentioned, but I could not locate any reference to a store address.

My quick two cents:
The store probably runs okay because of the product range and a working operation. However there is ample room for improvement. The store comes out looking quite amateurish in all respects, by normal e-commerce standards. Simply getting best e-commerce practises in place, and combing the site to fix the various errors, will lead to significant improvement.

Wisdom Nuggets in more details:
1. On the home page, the fonts and layout is all over the place. Using too many bold tags, and also a lot of ampersand signs “&” is a quick indication of an amateurish effort. Add to that, the vast open spaces in the center whereas the left and right columns run longer. Obviously opportunities have been lost to position then, some large sized images of best sellers.

2. Speaking of best sellers, in that list, there is repeat mention of Gift Vouchers. It is clear that this list comes out of a database, and there isn’t an easy manual fix to it. A customer would like to know that Gift Vouchers are popular, you are wasting an opportunity by listing 3 denominations of Gift Vouchers as best sellers, on your home page.

3. The testimonial link from the home page goes to an inside page where there is only one testimonial. Looks embarrassing.

4. Product images can be improved. There could be larger sized ones, multiple views and in some cases, videos too. All of these are quite par for the course, these days.

5. The SEO effort is not present. Almost all pages return the same page titles, for example. For a small e-commerce site, this can make a big difference to the overall sales.

6. Links don’t work right once you are in the wholesale area of the site.

To repeat, due to the interesting product range, the site probably does decent sales. However, clearly there is huge room for improvement and it can scale newer heights, if it can fix many trivial misses.

At this time, the site looks like a good “organic growth” (pardon the pun!) business, but does not show the potential to become a huge winner, which it has potential to become.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 1.5 / 5.0

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup | , , , , | 2 Comments

HelloIntern.com – a destination for Internships

Abhishek Sharma, co-founder, requested for a review of his startup, HelloIntern.com.

HelloIntern.com

HelloIntern.com

Category: B2C -> Recruitment -> Interns

What does it do?
HelloIntern.com offers prospective interns a one-stop destination to find good internships. Recruiters looking to recruit interns are asked to register and post their requirements of interns.

What more?

  • Compact little site with few links that get everything done.
  • All services offered free at this time.
  • The revenue earners that I see, are the Google AdSense links on many of the pages.

My quick two cents:
Interesting niche identified. But is the niche too small to make for a sizeable business?
HelloIntern may need to either significantly invest in popularizing the internship culture in India (create a larger market) or go global (assuming there are no established leaders globally) to generate scale in the business.

Wisdom Nuggets in more detail:
1.”Where is the money?”. If it takes time to earn it, that is fine. But is there a large enough pie out there, to cut a slice out of? Otherwise, all the hard work will not pay rich dividends.
2. Abhishek conveyed an ambition to reach 10,000 companies and 1 million students in 2-3 years. Is there a market at least 4-5 times that number? On the face of it, if restricted to India alone, the numbers do appear to be large. But there needs to be validation of the numbers through some research on the subject.
3. Internships happen via college placement cells too. Is there a room for a strong alliance of HelloInterns with college placement cells? That must be explored. Especially for tier II, tier III towns where many recruiting companies may not be visiting for internship recruitments.
4. Can HelloIntern show a real difference to students and companies, as compared to established recruitment portals like Naukri, Monster, etc.? If the niche is interesting enough, it is easy for them to spin it within their portals. After all, they already have the recruitment relationships with organizations. This may be one of the toughest hurdles. On the other hand, if HelloIntern can attract independently, the niche Interns segment, and become a destination with volumes, then they also become an attractive acquisition target for a larger recruitment portal.
5. How does HelloIntern seriously scale up?
a. By increasing the market size. This may be most challenging, but done well, it can also be the most rewarding, in terms of an added benefit of brand building. By creating collaterals on how internship can be offered, what kind of jobs can be interned, why should they be interned, etc., they need to create the pipe from the recruiter’s end.
b. By launching globally: There is nothing to prevent HelloIntern to be a global play. Where there are established market leaders, HelloIntern can leave the space. But there may be ample number of countries where the opportunity may be present, but no one has tapped it well so far.
c. By going beyond pure interns and looking at all kind of short term / temporary positions: of course, the domain name may restrict such a foray, and I would also recommend this only as a last option.

One or the other way, attaining size will be the critical key!

From this review onwards, I am also including a Gray Scale rating. This is an indication, based on current business and potential, about the likely success of the startup. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the one most likely to succeed.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 3.0 / 5.0

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | Recruitment, Startup | 1 Comment

Yoplr.com – a personalized travel planner

Deepankar Biswas, co-founder and CEO, asked me to review his startup, Yoplr.com.

Yoplr.com

Yoplr.com

What is it about?

Yoplr.com is a personalized travel planner. It assists users to make their travel plans, by suggesting places of suitable interest, then allowing the user to select the places, give information on travel time from one place to another, recommend the time required to be spent at a place, and in doing all that, enable a traveler to plan her travel itinerary.

What more?

At this time, Yoplr.com is equipped with data and information of destinations in Karnataka and Goa only. They mention that more states are coming up soon, on the site. Destinations have been classified well with lot of details. So you can find places, for example, with temples, monuments, waterfalls, theme parks, zoos, national parks, forts, jungle camps, etc. Likewise, while planning a holiday, you could potentially give information like whether you wish to go on a romantic holiday or an adventure trip or a picnic or a pilgrimage or a corporate holiday. In other words, a variety of different options for making travel choices, are offered.

yoplr_ss2

Other Observations:

You can’t do much, nor can you get a feel of what you are getting into, without registering. That is a big problem. Not everyone wants to divulge her information, without knowing first, if the site / service is what she is looking for. So a free tour or a more elaborate service detail can be useful. I ended up searching for other links before registering, and found an ‘about us’ at the bottom of the page.

Unfortunately, like many other links on the site (which you get even after registering), the ‘about us’ link opened in a new window. Once in a while, if some specific link opens in another window, it is fine. However having a host of links opening in new windows, is actually quite an irritant.

The other challenge with the ‘about us’ link was that it opened with a different brand name and a different look-and-feel. If Yoplr is the business, a critical link like ‘about us’ for Yoplr, cannot suddenly bring up a new name. That adds to the confusion for a user. Moreover, the fancy software implemented in the ‘about us’ sections, is actually not smooth flowing. The links open up slow, and the navigation is not smooth. If I was not in the process of reviewing the site, I would have lost my patience and exited long before.

My final observation in the ‘about us’ sections is with regards to the key team. While there is a lot of technology and management experience, and also consumer Internet experience that is visible, for a critical vertical play, I did not see strong industry experience in travel. I would have been happier to see that.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. As a type of business, this falls into an interesting segment that can be ported well, to the Internet. Where, ordinarily, a high quotient of personalized service is required, where putting that entire cost of personalized service on to the customer’s plate is not possible, and yet, ideally, that service is necessary. Personal financial planning falls into this segment. Personal travel planning also falls into this segment, and which is where Yople is focused.

In such services, it is definitely a good option, to convert all the intelligence into a self-serving algorithm, and enable people to help themselves, via an online interface. However converting a service that would normally require a lot of personalized responses, into a pre-emptive self-service model is not an easy task.

Although Yoplr has tried to cover many variants that are likely to get encountered, unfortunately, personalized travel planning really calls for a far higher number of permutations and combinations! And the distance required to be covered by Yoplr, then, is still significant.

2. A self-service model of this type will have a user navigating across the site, on her own, and based on her choices, for a long time. The user interface, then, becomes very critical. Every single word used on the screens, the location of each message, the colors used, the options offered at each stage – everything has to be well “designed”. And it is important to recognize here that this “design” is not graphics, it is not visualization, but it is PRODUCT DESIGN. Something that may require a detailed customer understanding, understanding of the travel planning process, understanding what colors invoke what emotions, understand where the eyes go on the screen, etc. In short, I would recommend a good NID designer working with a travel specialist to significantly improve the interface. I was lost several times, as I tried out the service.

3. Yoplr needs to figure out who its market is. Very clearly. And then understand that market’s characteristics. Of all the people who travel, many prefer to take a no-effort package tour, still others have a destination and number of days in mind and would just hand over those boundaries to a travel agent, and let the travel agent work out the tour details for them. That leaves a small number of true enthusiasts, who want to do their own planning. Perhaps Yoplr can assist them and take some of their pain off. But then the travel enthusiasts are also familiar with other Internet resources, and for them to use Yoplr, they need to see the clear value addition. Yoplr’s intelligence should be higher than what they can reach on their own, for the enthusiast to be convinced. Moreover, for the enthusiast, part of the fund of travel, is this planning effort. To see a host of choices, to compare and then pick one, etc. They do not really want spoon feeding. Can they get the same kind of “high” while using Yoplr’s services? That needs to be seen.

4. In this context, it may also be noted that focusing on the ‘enthusiast’ (a natural fit for what Yoplr is offering) restricts the market size. Also because ultimately, money is to be made by making the user also ‘buy’ the travel services from Yoplr, it may be noted that the enthusiast will also have access to travel services and will research to get a best deal, on his own. So conversion rates could be lower, with enthusiasts, unless Yoplr offers best deals each time. Then, with those constraints, is it right for Yoplr to target the enthusiasts only or even make the enthusiasts, their primary market?

5. If not the enthusiast, then who? Perhaps the middle category of travelers, who are clear about their constraints, and who are otherwise willing to leave the job to a travel agent. They do not spend a lot of time, in the intricate travel planning. Once they see a tour “made” for them, and they broadly like it, they go ahead and book. Can this market be addressed by Yoplr? What does it take to address that?

a) In addition to the elaborate personalized travel planning, several “ready” packages to offer. Creating many options of ready packages, but being able to take inputs from busy travelers, and then pushing back to them, packages, that are likely to be close to what the travelers concerned, may like, and could work out well. Either keep these as ready packages, or have software intelligence that pieces together a few tour packages on-the-fly, once the traveler has given his set of constraints.

b) The other option is to be manually involved. Not the best of options, but like many other services which mix automated self-help with some manual effort, if travel constraints are taken, and then a manual tour package is worked out and offered, that may also be worthwhile. This busy traveler, who still wants some personalization (does not like package tours, say), may in fact, be a high-conversion business opportunity for Yoplr. Because the traveler is busy, if he sees a good personalized package, and also sees travel costs that are close to his ballpark budget, he will not necessarily shop around for a better deal, and may transact quickly.

It may help Yoplr to identify this target base, and focus interface and services towards this demography.

6. Between the above two points, if there is a clear understanding that the overall market is large, and there is good money to be made ultimately (from the transactions), Yoplr will need a lot of funding to get there, I suspect. It is a typical Silicon Valley type of venture, where there is potentially, high value being created, but which demands a lot of effort / resources. Until it reaches a certain threshold point, the service does not offer adequate compelling value. And there is no money being made till then. And maybe even after. People are not only planning travel in Karnataka and Goa. So more destinations, more states need to come in quickly. And I am sure that to do a comprehensive job, there is massive effort that needs to be put in, for each state that has to be added. And there is need to continuously invest in the interface design, in updating travel destinations, in updating road and travel time information, etc. And there is really no serious money to make in between. So whether it is funding from other businesses that the same company is into, or external one, it is clear that the project needs funding to create a great product. As the key to success is the quality of information, it may not be workable to leave it to user generated content in Web 2.0 terms. Moreover, a Wiki kind of public content building can only work when the user base is very large, and can collaborate and correct quickly. That not being the case, a user generated content approach is not a suitable alternative here.

7. After helping a user plan her itinerary, Yoplr offers to give them an offer for the actual travel bookings. And I guess, the actual travel bookings are where the money is being made. That being the ultimate revenue opportunity, it will hinge completely on the fact that Yoplr can offer good options and great deals on the actual travel requirements. It is easily possible that a user uses Yoplr’s great tips, to plan out the itinerary, and then takes the plan to some other travel agent, who can offer better deals! Then, for Yoplr, it would become only a labor of love. So back-end effort to ensure travel tie-ups that generate best value for money for users, also need to be put in place, so that most travel planners also become travel customers, for Yoplr.

8. Lastly, a small point. Like many other startups that I have seen for this blog, Yoplr has also not paid enough attention to Search Engine Optimization. When a new hotel is being built and they want some trees and vegetation, as a part of their ultimate look, they plant trees, even as the rest of the hotel building construction is happening. Because it is a fact that trees take time to come up, and they cannot sow the seeds, once the hotel is ready to start. Similar is the case with SEO. It is imperative to get the fundamentals right on day one. So that the crawling and the search engine linkages start building up, at an early stage. Especially for a content rich product like Yoplr.com.

In conclusion, I would say that assuming an adequate market size for Yoplr’s offerings, Yoplr is in the right business, and can be a great success. It is a long haul though. Patience will need to be high, focused development with commitment and dedicated resources will be necessary. That is the IP that Yoplr could build for itself, and which will also be a huge entry barrier. If a thing is tough to do, and you do it, that becomes the reason for your success. Easier things may get you started soon, but will enable competition to pass you by, also quickly.

Focus on good content creation, pre-emptive interface building, having quality travel specialists on board, and clear understanding of target customer profile, are the key requirements for Yoplr to address.

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March 9, 2009 Posted by | Startup, Travel | , , , , | 6 Comments

JobeeHive.com – useful company research for job seekers

Vishwas Mudgal, CEO and Founder, requested me to review his website, JobeeHive.com.

JobeeHive.com

JobeeHive.com

What is it about?
JobeeHive.com is a value added service in the online recruitment sector. Specifically, the value that it provides is in the form of company reviews and salary reports, which would be of interest to any person looking for a job.

What more?
The company reviews and salary reports are largely user content. In other words, the site depends on users to come and give the feedback, and which is organized suitably, company wise, with graphs and charts, giving a good visual feel to the data present. One can view companies sectorally and also directly using search. There is a clear community participation angle and a Web 2.0 business here.

Other Observations:
The key to a site of this nature is volume. If I can depend on relative ratings of companies or even a stand-alone review summary for a company, it would need to be based on a large enough quantity of reviews and responses. With few reviews, one cannot base a conclusion about the company. Since the few reviews can just be isolated opinions, or worse, these could be manipulated ones. For JobeeHive to be taken seriously, volumes become the absolute necessity, then.

Having said that, the core components that have been incorporated for the project, are quite good. It would indeed be valuable, if we can get at one place, the employer’s views and data, and employee as well as ex-employee feedback, besides having a shared professional network and salary data, in the same place.

Wisdom Nuggets:
1. The most critical thought that I can give is to find ways to increase the usage. In other words, to get more data for reviews of companies. If money needs to be spent and budgets are available, so be it. Incentivize people to participate in the feedback mechanism. Otherwise, find ways to partner other sites, or social networks and ensure that numbers pick up, and larger number of reviews are present on the site. I mean, for IT companies employing 30-40,000 employees, if I see only 15-30 reviews, it does not help me much.
2. There are a lot of business models that make perfect sense, but which may just have a long gestation period before they start making money. And in this interim, for the business to attract users and grow, it does not have a choice, but to keep investing and improving the service. I am afraid that JobeeHive might fall in that space. Ultimately, when there is a lot of data, and when it can be integrated in individual transactions itself, then it will make money. At least serious money. The management needs to be prepared for that long haul.

3. In the few verticals where online businesses have taken off in India, the recruitment vertical has been the most interesting one. Matrimonial, recruitment, real estate, etc. are all about match making. But it is in recruitment that one side of the match, viz. the employers, are willing to spend good money, they are willing to spend it continuously, and due to which reason, that vertical is most profitable. But if that revenue option is taken off, then what remains is a tough call on business viability.

4. JobeeHive will need to grow usage. Can that be done creatively? Why should an employee take the effort to put a survey in? Is there an incentive? If JobeeHive cannot part with money, can it find non-conflict partner sites, who may value the user, and give them some “in-kind” incentives, e.g. filling in a review on JobeeHive could get a user, a free registration on BharatMatrimony, say. Or similar other services / sites.

5. Once usage has grown, JobeeHive has to explore out-of-the-box opportunities to generate revenues. Can it become the ultimate annual HR survey of best companies in India? There are other media houses that already do these. But if JobeeHive can improve the process significantly, and in so doing, claim to have the most relevant survey, that could give huge branding and stature.

6. JobeeHive could create a concept of a JobeeHive rank of a company. Which is partly based on the facts and figures, and partly on user feedback. There could be an overall rank, and an industry / sector rank. And these numbers can be dynamic as user feedback keeps coming. Can this number become a prestigious number that companies will strive to work towards? Like an Alexa rank or a Quantcast rank, can companies work to improve their JobeeHive rank?

7. If that is done, in lines akin to Alexa in fact, can JobeeHive create content that can be put on affiliate sites or create widgets to show company ranks, and which can be made popular, for users to put on their own sites / blogs??

8. Advertising is the main revenue channel at this time. Is JobeeHive creating enough data and IP to convert its information into HR publications that can be sold?

In conclusion, JobeeHive is a very interesting business proposition. In order to keep making money, till they make the big pot of gold (they could be acquired), they will need to keep reinventing themselves in different ways, to earn money. And in doing so, the question that they need to ask of themselves is simply about what they are? Are they an online job related value added service, or do they perceive themselves as an HR research company, who happen to have an online presence? Clarity on this will decide how their business pans out!!

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March 6, 2009 Posted by | Recruitment, Social Networking, Startup | , , | 5 Comments

90di.com – an interesting travel portal

Khushnood Naqvi suggested me to review his startup venture, 90di.com, a travel portal.

90di.com

90di.com

What is it about?
In the rather congested space of travel booking sites, 90di.com aims to be different. Some of the key differentiators include combining air and train travel bookings in a single search instant, more human language search ability and a feature to plan an elaborate trip as well.

What more?
The interface is very clean and uncluttered. Which is really nice. There are options to use a standard interface or go for a simpler interface which can work with a slower connection also. This is a useful feature considering especially that train bookings can be happening from anywhere in the country, and where high speed connections may not be that common. Likewise, while searching for travel options also, there are options, viz. an English language style statement where you can use descriptive language (e.g. ‘Mumbai to Delhi by plane tomorrow’), or a more conventional form based tool, or finally, where you actually build up to an entire, elaborate trip booking.

Other Observations:
While doing air booking, the site sends you apparently, to the direct airline booking site. Unlike most other travel booking portals then, 90di.com does not attempt to close the transaction on its own site. It could be a matter of awaiting the approvals from the sites, or it might be a conscious choice made by 90di.com, for some commercial reasons. There is a map interface which shows a chosen route on the map. It is an interesting feature.

Wisdom Nuggets:
1. Ordinarily, I would have hesitated to review “one more travel portal”, as there is already much congestion in the space, and the jury is really out, on who amongst those will survive the heat, and remain around to make money. With several funded startups in the space, what does 90di.com expect to achieve? Well, I do see them making a difference with their offering, having focused on specific customer needs, like the air+train bookings. I would recommend them to continue focusing on few but well directed features.
2. There is a speed challenge across the site. Specially the Ajax functionalities are slow and can be frustrating at times. These need to be fixed.
3. There are interesting features that can be useful to users. However there is the big question of revenues. How is money going to be made? It does not seem apparent.
4. As it is, travel bookings are a low margin business. The only hope for travel portals is to generate high volumes of business. I am not sure how 90di.com will manage to do that, in terms of brand building efforts, etc. There may be an opportunity to provide their set of services to another funded travel portal, by being their backend.

On the whole, while I appreciate the simplicity, the specific focus on few value-additions that 90di.com has taken, it is not clear to me, as to how revenues will come, and especially, serious, large revenues. So that remains a big question as far as I can see, with regards to 90di.com.

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March 5, 2009 Posted by | Startup, Travel | , , , | 5 Comments

EveningFlavors.com – for your wining, dining and partying needs

Akash Shrivastava sent me a request to review his startup, EveningFlavors.com.

EveningFlavors.com

EveningFlavors.com

What is it about?

EveningFlavors.com is a directory of restaurants, pubs, party places, longe bars, etc.  It gives good details of these places, and offers reservations, reviews and promotions as well.

What more?

Specific searches are offered for restaurants (you can search on basis of location, type of cuisine and budget), pubs (area) and parties (date). There is room for users to add their own reviews. Several promotions run as hot deals, and could spell good value to the users. At this time, Bangalore properties are well populated and other cities’ data must be getting ready. The data appears to be quite comprehensive as far as the heads of information go. User reviews would become the driving force of the site, and in time, these should also build up.

The layout is neat, with easy navigation and pre-emptive linking.

Other Observations:

The site clearly has the right ideas and the right structure. It is looking at the user needs clearly, and site layout, content, navigation are all focused towards the user’s needs. There are some Google Adsense ads that are visible, but in a non-interfering way. So these might be used only for purpose of creating some supplemental income, and they do not seem to be the main revenue line. In a venture like this, lot of revenue opportunities can be created, so Adsense may only be a marginal income.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. When you remove the frills and the laces, you see this business as a niche segment yellow pages. For the wining, dining and partying vertical. In that respect, the competition for EveningFlavors could come from the likes of Sulekha.com, JustDial.com and others in that space. Sure, EveningFlavors will portray itself as a specialist and offer value addition, including table reservations, party event information, etc. But over time, it will need to build clear brand equity in the space, to generate usage volumes, and thereby have a lock-in, into the segment. Both for users, as well as for the “merchants” , viz. the restaurateurs etc.

2. One of the key revenue drivers for businesses of this type is advertising income from the merchants. JustDial, Sulekha and other specialists have created large sales netorks on the ground, and who are creating sign-ins and advertising income. I am not sure where EveningFlavors stands on this, but they will need to have their field sales teams too. There, the challenge is that since yellow pages companies are working on any and every vertical, their sales costs can be kept lower, as salemen’s visit location can cover large number of calls. Whereas, with niche vertical of EveningFlavors, their unit cost of sales could be higher. Also whenever they add new cities, they will also need to shore up a field sales team, for that city. And only to nurture a single niche vertical, as against multi-vertical yellow pages’ companies.

3. A value proposition to users will be in getting good information, regularly updated. Maybe information about the menu offered (scanned copy of the menus of the restaurants would be wonderful), table locations (”near window”, etc.), the day’s specials, etc. would be useful. Also regular updation of details, will be a good way to get a lockin, on the users. However in implementing these strategies, they will not get pro-active cooperation from the restaurants. Due to various reasons, including not being very excited by the medium, not getting adequate results on the investment, etc. And yet, for EveningFlavors, giving good quality information is the one big way to lockin the users. Then, EveningFlavors has no choice but to update its information. And for which purpose, they will need to take the onus of collecting this data on a regular basis, from the restaurants!!

4. Mobile integration (can’t see if its done or yet to happen) is almost mandatory. Another interesting feature that could be added, along with a mobile integration, is to enable restaurants and pubs to put short term, live promotions, e.g. “Happy Hours for the next two hours” etc. On the other side, users can enable their own opt-ins when they require (like when they are planning for an evening out), and also specify area and cuisine type if you wish, and they could get SMSes from corresponding live promotions that have been put by the merchants. This could also spell additional revenue for EveningFlavors, as a higher lead generation commission.

5. Likewise, Social Media integration is nearly mandatory. To have a loyal users group on Facebook, or to tweet promotions to loyal follower lists, will be a must-have integration to the proposition of EveningFlavors.

6. The business proposition is per se, not a rocket science. One has heard of and seen others working on similar models. The winning brand will then be, not necessarily someone with better technical capabilities, but a team that “breathes” the business better. A team that understands the pains of users, as they plan their wining, dining and partying needs. If EveningFlavors is that team, then they will execute the tasks better, and could emerge the winners, after all.

7. Speaking of branding then, also brings up the fact that to differentiate in the market place, there will be some specific brand building effort required. Some of it could mean money spend, and some could be just clinching smart deals with partners, hotels, taxi services, travel guides, college campuses, credit card companies, etc. One or the other way, users should come across the EveningFlavors brand frequently, so that ultimately, they choose to make it a habit.

8. Again, from the point of view that there are others pursuing similar strategies, it is also essential for EveningFlavors to add many cities as quickly as possible. They need to become a national brand for this service at the earliest, and occupy the slot, and keep servicing it, with excellent offerings for the users. Otherwise, someone else will take the slot, or it will become a fragmented market, helping no one brand.

9. Community and Reviews are going to be very critical. I would urge the management of EveningFlavors to take up community building and getting more and more user reviews, as a top priority. If traction is got on those fronts, there is no reason why EveningFlavors cannot become to the wining and dining space, what TripAdvisor is to the travel space!

10. A useful win-win-win proposition can be to issue exclusive promotions or discount codes (on SMS or emails) from EveningFlavors to users. When users take these to restaurants, the restaurant validates the value of their presence on EveningFlavors. Also for EveningFlavors, besides the validation for its paying clients, namely the restaurants, leads generated like these could be negotiated for higher commissions. And finally, for the user, a promotion / discount is always good, and she will be glad to have got it from EveningFlavors, generating user loyalty.

There are at least two other ideas that I can share, and which would both work with the current EveningFlavors infrastructure, but which would be extensions to the current business. I can share these with the founders, in case they are interested, but I will not put them up on an open forum here.

Other than that, I can conclude that EveningFlavors is sitting on an excellent idea with tremendous potential, and if they can execute it quickly and well, they could be a very exciting and profitable business.

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March 5, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Hospitality, Social Networking, Startup | , , | Leave a comment

SwappinZips.com – a low cost, self help real estate sale tool

Geoff Yunker wrote to me on LinkedIn, to check out the new startup that he is associated with, namely SwappinZips.com.

SwappinZips.com

SwappinZips.com

What is it about?

SwappinZips.com offers a low cost online option, for selling a home. Via its few different packages, SwappinZips covers nearly all kinds of services that any home seller is expected to need. And the entire product is an online product, offered at a low fixed cost.

What more?

In addition to text that you can read, there are audio messages narrated using a site avataar that convey the key information needed by any user. The site enables a user to give details of her house once, and with that information, the house gets listed into many sites suitable for real estate deals, including realtor.com. In addition to the listing package of services, they also offer Marketing Package, Closing Package or an overall Bundled Package. Then there is one buy-as-you-need a la carte package on offer too. As demonstrated on the site, they have priced the services to look like a steal as compared to the fees charged by a typical realtor.

Other Observations:

This is a very typical and very workable model of business. Where in the traditional space, there are human service providers who are always going to be expensive, if the service is converted into an online self-help offering, it can be a tremendous value proposition. Similar service offerings have been seen in personal finance, insurance and other areas. In that respect, SwappinZips.com is in a good slot. The game clearly, in such models, is put all the learning and the intelligence in the online product, and then ensure that a lot of people use the service, offered at a low cost. While I am unable to try out and comment on the actual service offering, if this is what SwappinZips has achieved, then they are certainly on the right track.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. At the outset, a simple and small step is to improve the SEO friendliness of the site. Page titles, URLs, metas can all be improved to make the pages more search friendls.

2. In services of such kinds, where human service providers are undoubtedly expensive and online versions should be adapted as a no-brainer decision, why do people still go and spend the money with the human service providers? It is a question of the credibility factor. So if that has to be addressed, various communications on the site need to focus on this factor and address it strongly. There is room for improving communication in this aspect.

3. The home page has too much text, with a variety of fonts and colors. This does not give it a professional look. Moreover too much congested text does not make for easy reading, in any case. The text can be lesser and be very clearly focused on the one strong message – that of being a low cost option! Instead of trying to get multiple messages out.

4. The header is very valuable real estate on the page. There is an empty space in the middle and images of houses on the right. I am not an advocate for filling up that space completely, by any chance. However with some empty space and rotating images of houses, the space is being under utilized. Maybe a smart banner with an image of a house, a person and a blurb with the tagline or something of that kind, may be better value of usage of that space.

5. The audio messages are good, and convey the desired communication well. However as I go back and forth over the pages, the audio repeats when I return to a page. That is quite an irritant. If there is a way to ensure that an audio auto-starts only once per session, it would be nicer.

6. A clear “About Us” page and link is always useful. Especially in sites where money is being asked for, to provide services, customers often want to know who is behind the site, and to whom the money is being paid. Such an ‘about us’ page is missing here.

Other than these few points, the site is well positioned in terms of the service offering, and given a good shot of promotion, it should be able to create an excellent niche for itself.

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March 1, 2009 Posted by | Real Estate, Startup | , , , | 1 Comment