The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

Rediff.com does it again: wants to ape the next new shiny thing.. !

Why do they do this??

I have said this before and I say it again.

Because I have seen this before and I see this YET AGAIN!

Rediff.com always wants to be LIKE someone else.

And mostly like the best new thing that has happened out there, and is already established and famous.

And THEN, Rediff.com will come with its version of the same thing!

I have seen ALL of these transformations at Rediff.com:

1. Early on, they went and replicated virtually, the complete Yahoo.com look. Directory and news and email and everything. They wanted to be India’s Yahoo…

2. Ebay became big and Rediff invested in their own auction business, an Ebay look alike.  Rediff wanted to be India’s Ebay then..

3. The Rediff.com interface was clustered like Yahoo’s or Indiatimes’. And then Google came along and showed what a clean, uncluttered interface can be like. And yes, we saw Rediff turning over into a clean and simple interface. No matter the fact that, where Google was fundamentally ONE big thing, viz. search, and it could offer that in a clean and simple screen, Rediff in fact, was a portal. And a portal needs to show more of its links and cater to users with different kinds of needs.

But then, Rediff wanted to be a Google that time!

4. Then came Facebook time. And after Facebook had probably gone past 300 mn user base or so, and was already the default, Rediff came up with their look-alike social network. Again Rediff now wanted to be a Facebook..

Once more, too little, too late.

5. And now they have done it one more time. In the space of daily deals and group buying, where perhaps, there are 32 players already, and the big daddy of the world, Groupon having come into India too, Rediff now wants people to do their deals on Rediff.

So Rediff now wants to be a Groupon!!

More than anything else, I feel sad.

Rediff.com really had a great opportunity, it was first off the blocks in India, it had a great start, it got the Nasdaq IPO (that’s the only reason its been able to hang on, by the way – the cash in the bank!) in time. It could have been India’s most prolific and default dot com address.

And yet, it chose to be a Yahoo, an Ebay, an Amazon, a Google, a Facebook and now a Groupon..

It NEVER tried to be a Rediff.com of its own!!

What do you think? Any alternate views??

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April 27, 2011 Posted by | Business Model, Ecommerce, Social Networking | , , | 2 Comments

The Social Network: My Learnings from the movie

Yes, this is kind of a movie review, of ‘The Social Network’. And ordinarily, I post my movie reviews on my other blog, but I am writing this one here. This blog here, is more focused to budding and fellow entrepreneurs, and I usually review startups here. So what is a movie review doing here?

Well, the movie ‘The Social Network’ is an entrepreneur’s movie, if anything! And there are many learnings to pick up, for entrepreneurs, and hence, I felt that this was the right place for this movie review.

The story is supposed to be of Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in the world, and the founder of Facebook. Well, there have been some liberties taken, and hence I state that this is ‘supposed to be’ Mark’s story. Be that as it ma be, even if it is close to being Mark’s story, it is fascinating to learn about the man behind the name. Biographies of successful people are always interesting from that point of view. Usually of course, these are written (or made into movies) when the person concerned, is of advanced age. But in this case, the person has achieved success – stupendous at that – at a very early age, and so you see a movie about him, while he is still very young.

And perhaps there will be room to add a sequel. For there is no mention in this one, about the Microsoft investment. Or for that matter, about the move to take Facebook beyond the schools and colleges, and out into the public. And of course, I am sure bigger things are in store. Be it his battles with Google, or building pieces to take on the likes of Twitter, Foursquare or Paypal, there are interesting new things happening in Mark’s life, and in his business, and a sequel few years down the line, could well be in order!

For now, lets look at this first film on him, The Social Network.

The story is engrossing, for understanding the drive and the passion that it took to make Facebook. Like my daughter remarked after she saw the movie, “he was coding non-stop for 36 hours”. Well, that was just a part of it. But a crucial part, where there was amazing conviction, and which was supported by the commitment to ‘make it happen’.

I was not aware of the Sean Parker connection, so it was good to see that part. About how his biggest contribution was about dropping the ‘the’ from ‘thefacebook.com’ and making it to what it is today, viz. simply facebook.com. Or how he showed Mark, the path to California, and how it was a crucial shift for Mark and for Facebook.

The conviction that he saw, where he realized that reaching 75,000 users, or even a million for that matter, was just about taking smaller steps to the very big goal that he had in his mind. Many, including his co-founder, could have got satisfied, felt that they had already achieved a lot, and tried to monetize early. And which would not only have meant the lack of further growth, but would have stunted what was already there, due to drop-outs on account of the monetization drive!

These, however, are the most crucial three moments that I picked in the movie, and which are my key questions to fellow and budding entrepreneurs. Whether you have got these moments for your business yet, or not?

1. After the short-lived success of Facemesh, when Mark is working towards the new project (what became Facebook), he learns from the Facemesh experience, that people jumped on to Facemesh, not to see hot girls (which can be seen at many other places), but to see girls whom they knew.

It is a very crucial observation, and a very critical one too. Do you pick these nuances, naturally, in your business too??

2. The second Eureka moment is what lead Mark to put the ‘relationship’ field in the Facebook profile. Where he was trying to replicate the physical Harvard experience on a social network, and he could have simply put all the physical activities and efforts into the virtual world, the important thing was about identifying the key driver. Sensing that ‘relationship status’ will be one such factor, was an excellent breakthrough.

Other Social Networks have replicated many of the standard features that work on social networks. Say,Orkut for example, has done that. But they have not picked those crucial driving moments. And due to which they have not struck the serious growth levels that Facebook has managed.

So have you got those defining aspects that can be the game changers, in your business??

3. The third crucial dialog is what Mark has with Eduardo, after he has blocked the account. That money is required, to ensure that business flows without slightest interruption, to ensure the servers keep chugging away. As he says, “Facebook cannot stop. These are friends who know friends and so on. Even a few moving out, can be like a domino effect!”.

Well, against this obsession, we also have Twitter where fail-whale is a regular occurrence. And yet, it has managed to hang in there, as a business. But I would call it the exception!

The obsession of Mark to do all he can, to ensure that users get an uninterrupted, perfect experience, is what all businesses should strive for. It is more crucial perhaps for Facebook, where people are friends, and as Mark says, few guys moving, could cause a domino effect. But in today’s connected world, this is true for ANY business or service. If you do not do everything in your means to keep your existing customers, and few start leaving, you do not know when you could have a domino exodus away from you!

Are you as obsessed as Mark is about keeping each and every customer of yours??

All in all, it is a fascinating story to learn about a successful person. And it is clear that he is brilliant, but also extremely focused on what can work, how he wants to provide clear value, and how he has a bigger picture in mind, to take Facebook to newer and newer highs!

Looking forward to see where the business goes further, and to a possible sequel to this.

And looking forward to entrepreneurs being inspired by the story!

Have you seen ‘The Social Network’? What did you think of it? Do share your thoughts in comments below..

November 15, 2010 Posted by | Social Networking, Startup | , , , , | 11 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

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

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

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

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