The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

Can India have it’s own Instagram? A Perspective on the Numbers game..

Like everyone else on social media, I was fascinated and stunned by the story of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram.  The fact that Instagram had recently launched it’s Android app and which was doing well, and that only about a week ago, Instagram had raised a good $50 mn of funding, made this acquisition look very surprising and sudden!

Be that as it may be, it is an amazing story.

One of the side stories that went around last night was whether India can at all have it’s own Instagram. And this post that I read suggested an emphatic “no”.

I also see the challenge of building an Instagram like idea in India. For various reasons. And I will come to those in a bit.

But one of the most important, relevant and significant reasons is the number story. We need a perspective and a strong drive towards numbers.

Let me share with you three very independent stories, all about “numbers in 24 hours”.

1. The Android app of Instagram clocked 1 million downloads in 24 hours of it’s launch.

2. I met this person whose company sets up Internet kiosks in villages of West Bengal, on a franchising model, and hence, has to create income opportunities for the franchisees, on these kiosks. They have put many paid services on offer. He mentioned that he clocks 20 air tickets in a day – yes, 20 air ticket bookings in 24 hours – via those village kiosks!

3. A personal experience. I spoke at the India Social Summit on April 3. I put up my presentation on slideshare on April 4, and put out exactly one tweet and one Facebook update about this, and in a matter of 24 hours, the presentation got close to 450 views.

Yes, three disparate facts. And a matter of numbers!

I was impressed by all three of these. What it showed me clearly was that:

– we live in a small and connected world

– and hence, we can reach a large, far flung consumer base, for products and services that we can offer

You’d say that these facts are true from the time that the Internet came into being.

True. And I should know. Having been in the space since the time Internet came into India! Since 1997-98.

What impresses me today is the natural, organic viral growth opportunity. And the possibility then, of clocking significant numbers rapidly!

What made the three cases mentioned above, to happen?

1. Instagram was already a hugely popular app, on the iPhone platform. Widely talked about. The Android app was way overdue. It was announced and people had to sign up in advance. With all that pre-release build up, it was not surprising that when they actually released it, Android users were rushing to go and grab it. Quite like the queue you see at an Apple store when they release a new iPhone or an iPad. Yes, it is going to be available the next day too, but one wants to be amongst the earliest ones to get it!

2. The case of the air ticket bookings in the village kiosks is akin to the success of IRCTC for rail bookings. Irrespective of the quality of the website, since it met a dire need, and the alternate way to get that service had a lot more pain, this one was lapped up. What was true of IRCTC for many years was now true for the air ticket purchases in villages!

3. As for my deck on slideshare, I guess it was a series of factors. On April 4 when I uploaded the deck, the event was still on, and many were following it on Twitter. The hashtag #IndiaSocial12 was popular that day. And I tagged my post with the same hashtag. Where other speaker presentations of the event would go up later, post-event, mine was up that day, even as people were following the live proceedings. And it generated interest for people to click and view. And hopefully the content gave it a little organic push, and it hit those 400-odd views that it did.

So in all three cases, there was a reason – be it content or a needed service – which got across to the target audience, and a viral push happened. And numbers followed.

That is the beauty of our times! You could be sitting in any corner of the country, but if you can get this content or service mix right, hit the specific target audience pockets, it CAN fly!

So with that scenario, can India have it’s own Instagram? And if not, what are the challenges?

Note the facts first:

Instagram has run for about two years now. Has almost no serious revenues. Has had a small team of a dozen or so now (for a long time they were even smaller), but they probably work with some outsourced partners too, I reckon. That said, the costs to support are the small team and large servers and bandwidth capacities, mainly.

So first of all, if you have a product of this kind, with a potential upside of this nature, will an Indian VC buy?

I don’t think so. The Indian VC will put his money on the 27th daily deal site and the 45th e-commerce site, because it is the flavor of the day, but rarely if at all, will he bet on a new concept, unproven, something that could potentially be a global winner. So you are stuck if you are dependent on VC financing.

But say, you had inherited wealth or you begged, borrowed or even stole money to support your venture. Where is the next pitfall?

From my experience with startups in India – and I have met several over various interactions at various fora – the one trait that I often see, is that they get excited about the initial numbers and get somewhat complacent.

How often have I heard stories like “we just started few months back, and I have already got 40 orders” or “we get 3-4 email enquiries daily” or things like that. There are ventures that clock up a few thousand subscribers / users and get pumped up. Most of the time, these are free registrations, and so people have not really spent money on the platform. But there is excitement and a feeling of achievement.

While I have nothing against this excitement, the reality is that a few hundred or a few thousands are NOT GETTING YOU ANYWHERE. If you are looking to do a big one, the world is your market potentially, and you need to think in millions of users.

So the two biggest reasons holding us back, from creating our own Instagrams or what have you, are potentially a lack of funding for such business models, and secondly, a tendency to not see the very large picture. For the latter part, obviously there have been the exceptions and which have succeeded big time, like Naukri, Shaadi, BharatMatrimony, Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, Carwale, Games2Win, IndiaGames and a handful others.

But the typical startup that I encounter at TiE or at some Startup event, is somehow not seeing the big, big picture. And which is where we don’t have our potential Instagrams!

But I hope to see change. As I am the eternal optimist.. next one, hopefully from India. Happening in some lab somewhere in Mumbai or Gurgaon or Bangalore, even as I am posting this.. 🙂

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 3 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