Subba’s Serendipitous moments

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.

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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.

September 20, 2009

How to find meaning?

Last week as I was involved in a deep discussion with a good friend of mine, (I also happened to coach him in a difficult professional transition) I had an epiphany. He asked me whether I found the meaning of life.

The question was sudden without any preamble and as he looked deeply in my eyes, I discovered that I have been in a similar quest perhaps all my life. I only don’t know whether I have finished finding the meaning of my own existence.

Meaning is not something that you find as you normally try to find a location in a map. It is not something that you look for as you would for an item in a supermarket.

It is something that one has to build in one’s life. The elements to build it is already there in one’s consciousness. It is built out of one’s own past, out of one’s own talent and aspirations for oneself. It is based on the values that one has developed and what one stand for. It is based on the things that one believes in and out of the things that one cares about in a deep sense.

Now, each of us have to take the elements and combine that into a unique pattern that will resonate with oneself. The discovery of that unique pattern could take years. Once discovered, it becomes precious.

Meaning guides a person and sometimes becomes the raison d’être for one’s existence. It is nourishing and provides the dignity to one’s life.

I also discovered a strange connection between the outcomes of events and the meaning of life. A material success which doesn’t resonate with the meaning in one’s life seems hollow, superficial and doesn’t give much joy. A success that’s congruent with one’s meaning in life gives fulfillment.

Has anyone else found meaning of life? How did you all find it?

I would be curious to know.

September 3, 2009

Broadband stagnates, mobile surges in India

Filed under: Business,India — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:02 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Based on recently released data, India’s broadband penetration and growth rates are really pathetic. As per the TRAI website, the subscriber base as of July 2009 is only 6.8 million. Incidentally any connectivity of speeds at 256kbs and higher is considered broadband in India.

Now India has 5 large telecom players — Bharti, Reliance, Tata Communications, BSNL and MTNL. Yet somehow broadband doesn’t seem to figure prominently in their plans.

The mobile penetration continues to surge. India now has about 400 million subscribers though the ARPU levels are at about U.S.$ 5 or so. The mobile voice calls are the cheapest in the planet and the data market is poised to grow healthily at about 30% per annum.

Despite the low penetration of broadband activity in India, the internet activity seems vibrant as can be seen here.

September 1, 2009

Wikipedia wrestles with a growth and direction dilemma

Wikipedia has been an unqualified success of this decade. It is just not the product but the way they have created it. They spawned a new ideology, a new culture. In fact several enterprises have started to develop their content management and even the knowledge management practices around a wiki model.

However Wikipedia itself faces a deep dilemma about its growth and direction.

It started off as an encyclopedia from voluntary contributors and complete freedom to improve the content. Now, in its latest announcement it will impose an editorial review on articles. So, now the notion that everyone can change the entries is no longer true. In my view this is inevitable. A great ability to influence has to be accompanied by an equal amount of responsibility.

Currently they are doing a review about their culture and growth direction. I am particularly pleased that they are doing that because one of their commitments was to give a free encyclopedia to the world in possibly every language. They clearly seem to have lost sight of that.

The interesting thing is that Jimmy Wales — the man who created this movement and now an iconic figure is most critical about the direction itself.

Unlike corporations, Wikipedia is run by a Foundation which means that they have followers wedded to a particular cause. Changing the growth trajectory is not simply a matter of a CEO or the Board making a decision, but they would need to carry the thousands of volunteers with them — no easy task.

This would be an interesting organizational change to watch and learn from.

August 3, 2009

Be yourself

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” — Chinese proverb.

I can’t think of a more simple, yet a deep truth. I was discussing my earlier blog post with 2 of my friends. Both believed that to be successful one should adapt, which means constantly changing oneself to circumstances. And if one has to change, one has to let go one’s true self. I will write my response to their observations in a separate post, but for now, I just want to do a follow up post which hopefully should clarify my stance.

I think most of us have a tendency to sell ourselves in situations even when we faintly perceive that we are being evaluated or judged. We worry too much about who we think we should be, instead of just being who we are. We over-value what we aren’t and undervalue what we are.

Regardless of where, when, or why of any situation, we should always be ourselves. I am specifically referring to a staying true to one’s principles and faith. The challenging part of this that there will be times when we need to challenge ourselves from a personality standpoint. We cannot just say, “Well, that’s the way, I am”. We all have such opportunities to challenge ourselves in matters of ability, growth, mental models and even beliefs. I say this with a smirk because I can tell from experience that it isn’t easy, though it may sound so.

People miss the amazing leverage that can come into play when they do buy into their vision for their own life and determining what’s preventing themselves from achieving it.

Death isn’t the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside of us while we live.

July 6, 2009

Understanding competition — the Bill Gates way

I thought that I had analyzed the levels and degrees of competition fairly comprehensively. In fact, I have used that as an organizing framework to understand competitive advantage.

Recently a friend of mine sent me an excerpts of an interview with Bill Gates when he was still the CEO of Microsoft which makes interesting reading.

Flying on the Delta Shuttle with Bill Gates 12 years ago, Richard Karlgaard– the Editor of Forbes asked Bill, “What Microsoft competitor worries you most?”

“Goldman Sachs.” Richard gave Gates a startled look. Was Microsoft about to try the investment banking business? “Software,” he said, “is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future. I don’t worry about Lotus or IBM, because the smartest guys would rather come to work for Microsoft. Our competitors for IQ are investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”

Getting the brightest bulbs to work at Microsoft has always been his obsession. It’s paid off. But what about now?

The best and the brightest want to work for companies like Google and Facebook. Microsoft seems to be losing the talent war. And does that explain why Microsoft has not made any ground shifting move in recent years yielding that terrain to Google and others?

Microsoft is caught in a classic dilemma of its own making. Its major revenue and profit streams continue to be Windows and Office which needs to be defended at all costs against young new attackers. Now will the smartest guys want to work for a organization where they would have to defend legacy or want to take a crack at changing the world?

The answer is obvious.

Unless you are a Singapore government scholar who has no choice but to work in the Singapore civil service because of the scholarship bond that you sign when you are 18 years old.

May 20, 2009

Show me the money YouTube!

YouTube        200905202253.jpg          

Most of us love both Facebook and YouTube. It has become part of our daily consumption. Some are addicted to Facebook, some are to YouTube and some to both. Both of them have been category leaders with little competition. Yet, both seems to have the same problem — How to convert their traffic, the loyal visitors and their brand into actual revenues for their shareholders.

The Facebook success and the challenges have been discussed here at length. YouTube has changed the face of entertainment. It has created a complete new dimension in shared experience, made everyone a rich media content producer and consumer with just a few clicks. Yet a business model eludes YouTube.

A good 2.5 years have elapsed since Google acquired YouTube for a cool $1.65 billion. Google hasn’t taken any specific steps to monetize YouTube. It probably doesn’t need to, because its revenues (estimated at anything between $100-200 million) are insignificant . According to comscore, 100 million viewers watched over 5.9 billion videos in the U.S. alone in March 2009. It has 10 times the number of visitors as the next biggest site. Despite that, it has no advertising nor any model to charge for premium content. Yet to cater for the surging content library it has to make continuous investments in infrastructure in storage and bandwidth mainly estimated at $400 million. Well, Facebook is lucky because it has a rich daddy in Google who.

YouTube also faces new competition from Hulu — a joint venture of NBC and News Corporation which features NBC and Fox TV shows and others. Currently YouTube is also trying to get premium content and signed up deals with Sony, MGM and others. It also proposes to charge payment for premium content. Will it be successful?

The conditions at Facebook and YouTube begets an important question — They have successfully challenged tradition and created new categories. They have also been terrific success.

But when will they show us the money?

May 3, 2009

The negative side of positive thinking

A positive thinking mind is an advantage. But an intense positive thinking mind bordering on the “pathological” often has negative or even severe repercussions. I have had the occasion to witness firsthand the perils of excessive positive thinking recently as I coached someone who has been having severe performance problems at work which has spilled over to his personal life as well. He was reluctant to make the hard changes that he had to; and often believed that thinking positive can solve his problems.

Positive thinking in this case only obfuscated the issue and clouded his judgment. In his case it was getting obsessive, but I have noticed that people tend to slip into a denial mode even with less intensity of positive thinking.

I am all for positive thinking, but it has to be balanced with the repercussions of failure. I have noticed that people try to shut out their fear of failure, or have an obsessive attachment to their desired result and rationalize that by having positive thoughts, they can accomplish it. Such an overwhelming positive thinking can be disastrous.

Positive thinking has been reduced to a cliche. Things are alarming when companies are investing more training dollars on motivational speakers than improving skills and competencies.

The notion that success is often achieved by attitude than aptitude is a reproach to rational thinking. It erodes the reverence for hard work, talent, diligence and other elements which are necessary for human progress.

Sometimes such delusional optimism can be dangerous. The recent architects of the sub prime crisis and the global financial meltdown are just a case in point.

Positivity and positive thinking are about optimism, self-confidence and diligence; not about micawberism, brashness, or pulling-a-fast-one and not living in a make believe world. Positivity with disregard to cost, risk and proper planning is day-dreaming — or worse setting oneself to disappointment, shock and even trauma.

Due caution does not destroy positive thinking but tempers it as fire does steel.

Pursuing excellence

I place a premium on pursuing excellence in all things I do. I have found it to be rewarding because there’s less competition in that pursuit.

Well, when I was coaching a senior executive on the importance of using that as a rallying call for his team I was reminded of this story that I listened to when I was a student.

A foreigner once visited a temple under construction where he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he noticed a similar idol lying nearby.

Surprised, he asked the sculptor, “Do you need two statues of the same idol?”


“No,” said the sculptor without looking up, “We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage.”


The gentleman examined the idol and found no apparent damage. “Where is the damage?” he asked.


“There is a scratch on the nose of the idol.” said the sculptor, still busy with his work.


“Where are you going to install the idol?”


The sculptor replied that it would be installed on a pillar twenty feet high.


“If the idol is that far, who is going to know that there is a scratch on the nose?” the gentleman asked.


The sculptor stopped his work, looked up at the gentleman, smiled and said, “I will know it.”

The desire to excel is exclusive of the fact whether someone else appreciates it or not. “Excellence” is a drive from inside, not outside. Excellence is not for someone else to notice but for one’s own satisfaction and growth

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