Subba’s Serendipitous moments

July 6, 2010

Google goes vertical to thwart Bing

 

In a very typical low key move Google acquired ITA Software, a 14-year-old company that makes software that organizes flight and pricing information, for $700 million in cash.

The significance of this acquisition is far reaching. With this, Google now becomes the critical intermediary between the provider of flight and pricing information and all their users including all the travel websites, airline websites and travel search engines. With this acquisition, Google now does not want to just send the search to another website, but also want to process the information for you in a meaningful and relevant way by organizing results (by giving flight options, price options etc.) As it goes into the “deeper search” and organizing information, it inevitably marginalizes the value being created by other travel web sites and travel search engines.

From here, Google could pursue 2 clear directions:

  1. It could become a travel portal itself, which is unlikely since it could attract regulatory action because ITA Software is being used by airlines and travel portals. It may not want to be seen as a “Big Bully”.
  2. It could add a new revenue stream to its well known advertising business – moving from cost per click (CPC) to cost per action (CPA) which definitely will be premium priced.

One thing is certain though: Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) which was headed in the area of vertical search will face more competition.

I believe that this acquisition is merely the beginning. Google can easily replicate the vertical search model in many areas including real estate, automobiles and other areas where the current Google search doesn’t give relevant results and where the potential for CPA exists.

Heard of Kin? Microsoft’s phone launch and quick withdrawal

Filed under: Business,Competition,Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 9:48 am
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Has anyone heard about Kin? Microsoft launched 2 mobile phones Kin One and Kin Two in an uncharacteristic low key manner and before even the word got out, it quickly withdrew the product barely 6 weeks after launch.

In the 6 weeks that the product existed, it sold 500 phones. Has anyone seen Microsoft do this with any of their products? Never !

The Kin failure is yet again one additional piece of evidence that Microsoft just doesn’t get it when it comes to consumer products other than the XBox. At least with Vista and Zune, Microsoft made some marketing efforts, but Kin got a quick burial.The courier PC which has been in development didn’t even make it to the store stupefied by iPad’s success.

Kin has an interesting past: In 2008, Microsoft had acquired a startup Danger  who has built a mobile phone software business. Around the same time, Google also acquired another mobile phone startup called Android. Incidentally both Danger and Android was founded by the same founder – Andy Rubin. While Microsoft floundered, Google’s Android sells more than 130,000 units per day.

This should lead Microsoft to make do some deep soul searching.

It is time that Microsoft wakes up to a new era. It continues to comfortably extract rent from the Windows/office franchise. I think the successes of the past is proving to be the brimstone around its neck. It also seems to have lost the war for talent and developers.

February 10, 2010

Google puts Buzz in the Gmail

Filed under: Business,Competition,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:47 am
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Google woke up to the Facebook and the Twitter challenge. Finally.

Google Buzz is the latest product from the Google family and its best attempt to build a social network after the early attempts like Orkut and Open Social saw marginal success.

To me Google Buzz looks like FriendFeed 2.0 (Facebook acquired FriendFeed last year) with its stream of updates, pictures, links from one’s friends. The biggest advantage that Google has in launching Buzz is that this is built into the Gmail application which already has over 175 million users. And Buzz is available on the iPhone and the Android as well.

Google is giving a lot of granular controls but the default social graph is based on the Gmail settings (mail recipients and senders of mail). Whether they indeed are actually the desired social graph for someone is something that I am not sure. For me, it surely is not!

Will Google win against Twitter with the Buzz? Twitter is simple and the tweets go to all the people who follow the tweet sender. “Buzzing” is not. There is a public and private buzz and this could make it complicated.

At first glance Google Buzz has a few advantages: It combines the best from Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook Connect, Flickr and a few others. It has nice email integration as they show up in the Inbox and as a tab within Gmail. It highlights items that friends like and share. You can read about the functionality here

The key challenge is how will Google square off against Facebook when Facebook introduces email. And whether Google Buzz will integrate with Facebook connect.

That will be interesting to watch!

October 21, 2009

The Apple juggernaut rolls on

Filed under: Business,Competition,Leadership,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 1:23 pm
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Apple’s juggernaut continues unabated going by the latest results. Thanks to the iPhone’s game changing play that’s elaborated here. A blow out quarter.

Record shipments:Apple sold 7.4 million iPhones this quarter (ending Sept 2009)which is a 7% growth from last year. It sold 3.05 million Macs in this quarter up 17% a year ago. Both of these are milestones in Apple’s history. Sales of iPod touch were up 100% year over year. iTunes store is now in 23 countries and has become the world’s largest retailer.

Cash: Apple has $34 billion in cash this quarter compared to $31 billion last quarter. There’s a hint that there could be a share buyback soon. No debt. And to put this in context, this cash hoard is greater than that of Microsoft and more than the market cap of Dell.

Profit: A quarterly profit of $1.67 billion on revenues of $9.87 billion. It is the most profitable quarter ever in Apple’s history.

Future outlook: The future outlook seems still better with iPhone making an entry in on of the largest markets in the world — China, followed by Korea and a few other additional countries.

New accounting rules: Apple can recognize revenues from its subscription devices immediately rather than spreading it over a 2 year period.

Competition: Apple’s competition is actually languishing. Nokia the largest mobile device vendor reported a $834 million loss — the first in a decade due to falling mobile sales. Its smart phone sales saw a huge decline in market share as well. Sony Ericsson also suffered losses.

I am wondering whether Nokia or Sony Ericsson will make a bid to acquire Palm.

October 16, 2009

Will India ever emulate Finland?

I moaned about the state of broadband in India here. Based on some more research I found that the performance of broadband even in metros are poor. Reliability is an issue, committed performance are not delivered, and getting premium performance to test high bandwidth applications is impossible.

Let’s see Finland which has a small population, but has always had a strong, liberal telecom sector.

Finland introduced laws which guarantee broadband to every resident living in the country. This is the first such guarantee anywhere in the world. Starting July 2010, every person in Finland will have the right to a one-megabit broadband connection as an intermediate step, says the Ministry of Transport and Communications. By the end of 2015, the legal right will be extended to an impressive 100 Mb broadband connection for everyone.

Will India ever introduce such a guarantee? It would be mind boggling to see what the innovative entrepreneurial Indians will do with powerful broadband access!

We could just catapult to world stage as Korea did in this decade and the way China is poised to do in the next decade. And honestly, I don’t understand what’s holding them back!

October 3, 2009

Salesforce.com into financial applications

Unit 4 Agresso has now teamed up Salesforce.com — the poster boy of SaaS to create FinancialForce.com that will produce SaaS based accounting, and financial management applications.

Well SaaS has been growing, but CFOs are mostly conservative and would not want to the data to be in the cloud. Hence the success of Financialforce.com will be keenly watched.

Now there are several interesting issues that come about with this joint venture.

For a start, it seems that Salesforce.com is a minority investor. Salesforce.com’s presence will undoubtedly create higher visibility for SaaS based financial applications. Hence other vendors will follow suit giving the SaaS proposition a greater momentum. Enterrpise software vendors who offer products in the mid market space like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP will have to respond quickly to this trend.

But with this association, Salesforce.com also seem to be sending mixed signals to its App Exchange partners who use the Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to build new applications. Well, they could build an application only to realize that Salesforce.com might one day compete with them. Recent acquisitions by Salesforce.com in many of the App Exchange parnters’ businesses have not made Salesforce.com popular with many of the partners. Yet, there’s no compelling SaaS platform currently.

It looks like Salesforce.com needs to clearly clarify its positioning, strategic goals and its partnering model.

October 2, 2009

Cisco’s brilliant acquisition of Tandberg

Recent acquisitions by Dell and Xerox have something in common. Both acquired companies which are far away from their core competencies in an effort to find stable growth. They acquired predominantly U.S. centric IT services firms. I explained my disappointment with Dell’s acquisition of Perot Systems here. Xerox recent acquisition of ACS also evoked a similar thinking in me. It is very difficult for a pure play product / technology organization to blend well with a pure play services organization. The organizational DNA are too different, growth trajectories are quite different, organizational processes lend itself to little synergy. In short, I am not very high on such acquisition moves.

Cisco is different.

Cisco announced an all- cash offer to acquire Tandberg for $ 3 billion. Tandberg — a Norwegian company sells smaller and less priced video conferencing systems. This is a perfect fit for Cisco’s more expensive TelePresence systems which has been a great success. I think this is a brilliant acquisition since Tandberg’s gross margins is 66% and has clients in US and Europe. This acquisition would enable Cisco to sell the Tandberg products to companies which cannot afford the TelePresence. With this acquisition, Cisco would dominate the video conferencing systems for some time. More importantly the acquisition came in quite cheap since Cisco just paid 11% premium over Tandberg’s closing price.

Cisco has always acquired companies that in some way or the other generated more Internet traffic creating in turn demand for its core business — the networking hardware business. The way it is going to unleash its Unified Computing strategy will of course be interesting and one has to wait and see how it provides the synergy to the networking hardware business. Cisco’s ability to shake off entrenched players in fairly established market segments will also be evident in a couple of years.

Over the last 5 years Cisco has acquired 40 companies — both big and small and they have helped Cisco plug the gaps in the technology and product roadmaps admirably well. They also have had little problems integrating them into the Cisco model.

Cisco has $35 billion in cash which means further acquisitions are on the way. I only hope they don’t go with the flavor of the month and acquire another U.S. based IT services firms !

September 30, 2009

Vodafone takes the battle to the mobile phone vendors

A few months back one of analyst friends asked me whether it is possible for the mobile service provider to create their own App Stores and be successful. My opinion to him was they can do it or rather they should do it, else they have not even joined the battle for customer loyalty. The talk turned to Singtel which is one of the largest operator based out of Singapore and it has a global presence due to its joint ventures and acquisitions in many countries. I remember telling him that it should be one of the large operators who will have the reason to do it.

Now Vodafone has done it. Vodafone 360 is a mobile web service that provides music downloads, integration with Facebook and Twitter, and supports several handsets. In a way it is competing with Apple’s App Store, Nokia’s Ovi and other App Stores created by the mobile phone vendors.

Now Vodafone’s Telco 2.0 model (called efficient pipes) is nothing new. A lot of mobile service providers thought about that but shied away from taking the plunge. Now Vodaphone which has over 300 million consumers in over 30 countries has taken the challenge.

As Apple and Nokia increase their emphasis on the App Store and have made a success of it (Apple’s App Store’s success is chronicled here), the mobile service providers can’t afford to be silent spectators.

But whether the service providers with their current competencies would have the ability to build an App store and an application eco-system is a big question.

BlackBerry’s opportunity is now.

I was taken aback when I saw the RIM’s stock suddenly drop 17% last week. By all accounts, it had a strong Q2 results: Q2 revenue was up 37% y-o-y and 2% q-o-q to $3.53 billion on shipment of 8.3 million units. Net income was $475.6 million or $0.83 per share versus $495.5 million, or $0.86 per share last year and $643.0 million, or $1.12 per share in the prior quarter. Gross margin improved to 44.1% from 43.6% last quarter due to reductions in raw material costs and shifts in the product mix. The company ended the quarter with $2.5 billion in cash, up by $78.5 million over last quarter.

It gave a conservative forecast for the quarter ahead. I think the analysts were expecting bigger revenue growth. And this explains why the stock got beaten.

Looking beyond the immediate quarters, RIM faces several strategic challenges and threats — iPhone getting entrenched within the corporate enterprise which was RIM’s sweet spot, imminent price wars with Apple and Palm and the emerging Android phones likely to hit the market anytime.

Unlike Apple, RIM hasn’t made much strides with the App Store. Apple’s success is highlighted here. RIM’s App Store was launched only in April and has seen about 20 million downloads compared to Apple’s 2 billion downloads. It needs some serious work here and may be a cutting edge application. It also needs to pay serious attention to building an application eco system for business applications.

I think their deal with Verizon will be watched with interest as Verizon already has deals with Palm and Motorola’s Android. RIM is apparently coming up with several new models, but the competition is hotting up.

I think the next 2 quarters would be key for RIM to regain the momentum it seems to have lost. The opportunity is now.

Nokia’s decline — indicative of a bigger upheaval?

Just as Apple announced stellar results, Nokia the leading player is showing signs of decline. It has the company of another marquee player in Sony Ericcson. I already described the impact that Apple and RIM are having on other players here. The latest market data just reinforces the view.

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The Western Europe market in Nokia’s backyard and hence the trends here are important. The reason for the significant drop is Nokia doesn’t have the zing of the iPhone or the Blackberry and doesn’t have a great smartphone yet.

Now while the overall market has declined by 6% the smartphone sales were up 25% and about 1.7 millions were shipped. Of the 1.7 million, Apple sold 1.4 million and RIM sold 1.3. phones.

Now to add to Nokia’s troubles, it doesn’t have a significant presence in the U.S. though it has a strong presence in Asia , especially in the large markets like China and India. But with iPhone’s imminent launch in China and RIM’s increased efforts, Nokia has some tough challenges ahead.

The mobile device market is clearly headed for a major upheaval. With Andriod based phones to hit the market (18 models) and several service providers launching their own App Store, we will see interesting things happen.

Disclosure: I am a Nokia user and have admired their management style. One of my early blog posts was about Nokia’s amazing success in India here.

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