Why are tech firms buying out smaller start-ups?

Consolidation in the technology space. It’s happening. Much has been said, heard and analysed when it comes to the recent Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Valuations were being tossed around and here’s an interesting graphic on whether it was worth $19 billion to start with. That being said, i’m looking at bigger forces at play in the technology space. As textbook economics will tell you, consolidation is a phase that kicks in mature markets when the big players begin to swallow the smaller and more active ones up.

Acquisitions have been happening for quite sometime now. But some of the interesting one’s in recent times have been Google buying Motorola and then selling it off to Lenovo. Microsoft buying out Nokia and they did give in to market pressures by releasing an Android phone just yesterday at the Mobile World Congress’14. Microsoft also bought Skype nearly a year back and killed its own messenger. Software firms have been increasingly snapping up hardware companies. It’s clearly about building capabilities to have more integrated software and hardware. Apple has been doing this for decades with a very closely knit user interface that has been winning customers over for years. Pretty much like them, the other companies are also trying to tightly integrate services to have the customers locked in for longer period of time. Look at Google, that is trying to foray in to nearly every possible nook of our life as it builds its inventory for the internet of things. You’re using maps, gmail, search and docs for starters. As any marketeer will tell you, its always cheaper to retain customers than to go out and acquire new ones.

Here’s a drill-down of what i think about the entire consolidation bit:

1. Customer stickiness: Companies want customers to buy a product and integrate it so tightly that they are unable to breakout.

2. Eat the competition: As start-ups have more breathing room and flexibility for innovation, let them build great products as the big cats will swallow them up to eventually kill the competition if any.

3. M&A industry: Who else is laughing all the way to the bank? Consulting firms. In fact software acquisitions made up nearly half of the deal value in this space as per PwC.

4. Increasing usage: Big tech players are always looking for means to increase usage and as Metcalf’s law says, the value of any network lies in the number of connected users on it. Hence you see why software services have been aggressively merging or finding new ways of driving usage for their platforms.

5. Start-ups don’t always need an IPO: It’s increasingly difficult for a small company to go public and put itself under the scanner. Investors and analysts will slice and dice not only excel spreadsheets but also any single move that key people make. By cashing out and selling themselves to a larger firm, they can avoid all the pain. All of this when they might have not even achieved the vision they started out with.

6. Hide failures better: The chances of a start-up making it big are rather slim. In fact, the odds seem to be against them. Once they have generated enough buzz and got a fancy valuation. The small fish can then afford to dissolve in the system and chances are if they were going to fail, little would anyone get to know about it.

With all of this in place, we can only hope for better products and services. While some of these partnerships may have benefited the firms, what remains to be seen is how innovative they can really get. For now, the entire space has become a playground for many small firms to pitch their products and see how quickly they can go to market or gain more funding. At the end, the customer stands to benefit the most from this!

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*Image source: Flickr (labelled for reuse)

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Insight: The New Face of Marketing

I was excited to be a part of the thought leadership event organised by the ITSMA with InformationWeek as the media partner. Knowing that this one was positioned to give out insights on where marketing is headed had me more curious about what was the discussion going to be like. There was a good mix of representatives from several IT firms and its always great to be in a room full of marketeers!

The event started off with a session by Dave Munn, who elaborated on the top priorities for marketeers. Interesting stats shared indicated that only 9% of CEOs actually use marketing data. But, on the whole the perception of marketing has improved for this year as nearly 78% of the audience they survey voted in favor, 20% had the same view and only 2% had a lowered perception. Now, that is the challenge i see whenever i’m talking to any other function. Marketing always needs to emphasize on the value they are driving for other business units/functions. Some of the top priorities for marketeers this year are:

1. Building thought leadership & dissemination of the content created for this

2. Managing brand reputation

3. Aligning sales & marketing

In terms of the budget being allocated for marketing, content creation took the top spot. For digital marketing the priority of allocating monies was: Website, Search, Online Advertising, Online Communities & Social Media. Digital marketing was also one of the key marketing areas that saw an increase in budget allocation. Most of this was taken out of the cuts in sponsorship,  direct mailers, advertising or public shows. A remarkable point was that nearly 25% of the overall marketing budget goes out to external agencies as fees/payments. Dave also listed the 5 mandates for marketing this year:

1. Measure & communicate metrics: Its important for marketing to contribute to business outcomes & provide predictive insight.

2. Become data & technology frontrunners: Invest in skills, build omnichannel marketing, foster the potential of data & analytics and lastly increase awareness with the c-suite.

3. Improve relevance & personalisation for the customer: Track for insights, provide customised marketing and make use of personas. This involves rendering different treatment when you talk to CMOs/CFOs/CIOs.

4. Enable thought leadership selling: Use sales teams to provide insight about client needs, enagagements and discuss challenges with marketing. Marketing also needs to manage & train SME’s to increase the awareness of our offering.

5. Build adaptive culture in marketing: Marketing needs to be proactive & collaborate within the functions. Companies should build a reward based culture to value business contribution from marketing.

The later session by Ramkumar Ramamoorthy was also rich in terms of the takeaways from his experience with the sterling work he has done at Cognizant. The impact of investor and analyst relation teams cannot be discounted. The last session was a panel discussion with key members such as Jyoti Singh (Genpact), Lavanya Jayram (Zensar Technologies), Kulwinder Singh (Synechron) & Sujit Janardanan (Amazon Web Services). Key takeaways from this discussion was about how marketing ROI is being measured (metrics differ everywhere), value being added through marketing (engagement matters on social & business matters in place of leads), investments matter in place of cost as that can be used to justify customer retention value over time.

Overall, i think it was an excellent session as it refreshed some of my own learning to reinforce the same. On the other hand, we picked up some good examples that were good to know and i also bumped in to some people i worked with earlier! All in all the new face of marketing looks good to be worked with in the future 🙂

The New Digital Age : Book Review

The New Digital Age. The title promises precisely what the book delivers. I mean, what else would one expect when two big names unite to share their views and perspective on what digital holds for the world in the future? Eric Schmidt has been at the helm of the ever innovative Google and Jared Cohen who is a Rhodes Scholar and the director of Google Ideas. Cohen also makes it to the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list this year. Being an avid non-fiction reader, there are many times i’m let down by some books when they really don’t get me as much information i’m hoping to seek. But this book had me glued. I mean, we google stuff so often and hear a lot about the changes that keep coming up in Android / Google Products. However, this book is more of an exploration of the information explosion that has happened over the past few years. Data is clearly the glue that will be binding a lot more than plain business or social media.
The book starts off with an introduction to our future selves. This part talk about education being the base for innovation and opportunity. We are already seeing this take to full force with children using tablets in schools which are aided by an army of apps that are simplifying classes for the masses. It goes on to talk about a better quality of life enabled with the high level of customisation that can be done using smartphones these days and how this will be pathbreaking in health care support. This is followed by the future of identity, citizenship and reporting which covers authenticity of profiles, the level of social uprising triggered via social media, government surveillance etc. We have already seen how several people and corporations handle their online image (reputation). I particularly found the idea of insuring one’s online identity against theft, hacking, fraud etc. I believe the time for this has almost come to try out and agree that online identity will be the new currency. They also go on to highlight the consequences of VOIP and P2P networks that can exchange data more privately (VPN). The AADHAAR program back home has also been cited to indicate the magnanimity of the UID initiative by our ruling government. I believe we know of quite a few scams in the recent times for this as well.
In the future of states, they have covered a variety of countries in the levels of censorship that are being dictated. Starting from China’s blocking of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to Turkey’s blocking of Youtube for 2 years over a debacle for taking down videos that were derogatory to the nation’s founder. Political & cultural censorship is taken up by South Korea, Malaysia and Germany which i think is a far more effective model.
We have all heard of the Arab Spring. The duo talk about how in riots, the internet lent a way for females to express themselves without being hurt. Also when the government blacked out the internet to avoid the spreading, the setting up of @Jan25voices handle helped in letting the world know about what was happening, albeit without any policy influence. They talk about a model where successful leaders will be able to address the concerns of both virtual and physical constituencies. I reckon this is happening as we speak in the Indian context where there are twitter armies for Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) battling it out in the trends and mentions everyday. 
Terrorism is another key issue that is detailed in this book. Activists, local networks, simple start up kits for them to propagate the hate would be enough. This will be a big issue for technology firms in terms of screening content due to the sheer volume of uploads per second across the web. Since most sites work on users reporting abuse / flagging content as abusive, the process will take time for them to actually block stuff. In the future of conflict, combat and intervention they address how a single post / photo/ tweet can be the beginning of something bigger on the lines of a revolution. A scary part talks about the “human flesh search engines” in China which basically means that there are scores of people whose objective is to search and track down the individual posting specific content that could be offensive. They go on to mention combat using robots and the dilemma of machines making an error during a highly targeted mission.
Lastly in the future of reconstruction they talk about how telecom in Somalia is so cheap that people actually drop international calls to call relatives back! In terms of community service, the HAITI campaign is mentioned where “text to donate” helped Red Cross to raise USD $5 million for relief campaigns. An interesting part talks of how crowd-sourcing will enable the culture of accountability. This is the most optimistic part where they go on to hope that creativity and bandwidth will be key drivers of innovation. All in all, i feel that even if you’re not working in digital this book is a great read to know what the frontier of technology looks like.
*image source credit: standard.co.uk

Bored? How about stimulating your Brain?

This is my answer to a question asked on Quora. 
To be honest i was bored out of my wits when i stumbled upon this. The extensive amount of reading up on behavioral psychology helped me in framing this one. With 132 vote ups (as of now), i felt that i should share it here as well. So here it goes, the top 5 stimulating activities for your brain can be:
1. Learning a new language or instrument: It stimulates the artistic right brain.

2. Listening to different music: Break out of your routine playlist, listen to something new and there go your neurons in figuring it out.

3. Traveling: This one’s a no brainer. Newer experiences whether weird / good will broaden your horizon.

4. Doing something that scares you: Yes, instantly your mind starts throwing up plans of how you could get through / out of the situation

5. Debate: Take a stand, make your points and you’d be surprised how your mind races at every point your opponent makes.
 

To leave you with more food for thought:

 *Source credit mindjet

Simple Idea, Big Solution – Social Blood

I was going through some of the ideas shared in the TEDxGateway back in the month of December and one of them particularly struck me. As its mostly said, the best ideas are the simplest ones. I can’t recall any complex ideas that would have really taken off in the recent past.
The idea that intrigued me was presented by Karthik Naralasetty. He starts his talk with case of a young girl from Karnataka who needed nearly 30 units of blood every month to make it through thalassemia which is a blood disorder. The most common perception that most people have is that others would be donating blood and that they don’t really need to donate. Many times people get away with donations with arbitrary excuses which brings us to the other point that Karthik makes that “Finding donors is difficult”.
In the midst of all the noise that is created about different problems that one faces, its often difficult to reach out to the exact person who can help with the requirements. This is applicable to any real world problem wherein not only individuals but massive brands, non-government organizations and non-profits face the same challenge. However, with the growing technology landscape and shift in networking online, Karthik was able to foresee an opportunity area. Typically the early adopters for any technology would want to experiment and push the frontiers to explore what they can really do with the medium.
Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

The simplicity of Karthik’s idea was to go social with the concept of blood donation. After evaluating several platforms, he centered on Facebook and leveraged the large network he had. To be more specific he created a total of 8 groups for different blood groups. Then a website was created where all these groups were directed and friends were requested to join. Many times, we as individuals want to contribute towards certain causes but hold back thinking why put in the time or rather no one else is doing it. However, when we see a greater cause to align ourselves with for the greater good of others we are motivated to take action to believe that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Karthik’s understanding of the power of facebook and human connections in this context gave him a big lever in making this viral with requests for groups in different countries.
He’s also built on the immediacy of responding to blood requests by creating “Social Blood”. The uniqueness of this platform is that it helps in identifying which friends have a common blood group to the user and what other blood types are available in his/her network. This also makes it simpler to connect with a blood bank or hospital in times of need. I think this can be instrumental in case of crisis or instances where a rare blood type may be needed. Karthik points out that this is his effort to solve the blood crisis and cites that if 1 to 3% of the population was to donate blood, it would suffice the need for the entire country. Towards the end he makes an interesting point that there is a global compassion crisis and this would be one step towards resolving it. I think this idea is very simplistic, yet powerful in terms of taking care of an issue that is stifling many groups across the world. A scale up to this would lead to building up of a powerful network that can be banked on by several medical institutions worldwide!

Why tagging is important for Instagram?

So you’re out for a jog and can’t help but notice totally distracted photo junkies like me on the lookout for a #photooftheday scene waiting to be snapped. Yes, we #instagrammers as most people would like to hashtag their pictures to are just waiting for that dew drop to fall, kitten to purr and flower to bloom. Add to that coffee shots, stills of my shoes and just about anything thrown is in the most absurd of formats. Cover it up with a filter (my fav is Lo-Fi and at times Amaro) and you’re good to go!

Now, Instagram just recently introduced its photo tagging feature. So earlier, i could tag my friends in the description. However, if you’re likely to receive a lot of comments then heaven help the friend in sifting through!

Coming to why this is important:

1. Users: Users can now directly tag friends in pictures that will make it easier when a group of people are tagged as the photo will then appear in their photos too. (Bound to make a lot of lives simpler)

2. Business/Brands: Brands can stand to gain here as users can simply tag them in photos of themselves. In a way they would also need to be cautious and keep a hawk’s eye out for any deteriorating content being floated around.

3. Crowd sourcing: As many would know, user generated content is the way to go. In this way for a business perspective, this move by Instagram could prove to be fruitful.

4. No Advertising: Facebook acquired Instagram, so changes on simmilar lines were foreseen. However the good part is that since Instagram is free of any form of advertising, users & brands alike will have to be really quirky and innovative with content to engage.

So, there you have it. Tagging will make it easier and increase the overall shares and activity on Instagram. Now, i got to go and grab a mocha mugshot!

Why should you ‘Check-In’ on Foursquare?

Chances are, that you’ve heard of Foursquare: the location based social networking platform. Almost every social media junkie you’ve met is right now, at this very moment checking in to his/her favorite spot. I like the fact that on social, you’ve got platforms that are specific to the purpose. While i may not want to share my coordinates with everyone in my Facebook friends list, Foursquare let’s me share it with a select few.

However, there is much more to Foursquare than just being another platform to engage bleary eyed students, tech – enthusiasts or common people. Recently it raised funds through debt financing to further propel its growth plans. While all of this may show that there is value to be garnered, I have some points to ponder:

1. ROI : Yes, its the ‘word’ for anyone in social media. Foursquare in its 4 years of existence has received $110 Million in financing. Out of these venture capitalists have powered up to $70 Million. But, if you look back at the total revenue for last year, Foursquare made just $2 Million!

2. Valuation: It’s paramount to check for decent valuations and projections/forecasts for the firm you wish to invest in. According to estimates, Foursquare was valued at $600 Million. This just baffles me.

3. Growth Life-cycle: Typically any platform such as this goes through the following stages:

  • Introduction: Pitch/Launch at a influential event. The way Twitter did back in ’07, Foursquare was launched in SXSW ’09
  • Steep Growth: Backed by early adopters and influential base, there is an exponential growth that is seen
  • Monetization: Logically, the next step where you begin to reap monetary benefits out of the base you have acquired
  • Quick Exit: If there is any hint/indication of the platform not growing further, the plug is pulled out quick enough for a painless exit.

From these stages, we can see that Foursquare has crossed step 2 in a sluggish way. They are still trying to crack monetization. The main playing field they have is 50 Million data points, through which they can get marketers to put ads and target users based on their location. I guess by using this as an API they should be able to reap some benefits. Currently the total user base is estimated at 30 Million (actual active users are unknown)

4. Funding Options: Now the reason why they had to go for Debt Financing? From my basic finance course back at the B-School, entities typically tend to go for equity/VC funding. The risk of paying back is much less, plus the valuations on sheet look good. Debt is the route taken up when all other modes fade. So, does this indicate at a lower valuation or estimates being revised downwards?

5. Gamification Vs Review App: The gamification part comprises of earning points everytime you check – in. If you’re a mayor, flash around your coin and earn goodies at your favorite restaurant. Else you’re engaged by earning badges. However, Foursquare wants you to leave tips which serve a tiny reviews for the place you’re at. Be it a tourist spot, restaurant, bus stop or the daily commute train station, you can simply leave your tip to guide others around. I don’t think Foursquare should take up this route as there are several other popular apps that serve the purpose. Its important to differentiate their offering here.

So my personal take? I think Foursquare is here to stay if they crack the monetization bit. It’s also crucial that they don’t take that objective to the hilt like Facebook. While its lovingly designed in NY and SF, it will take a lot more to get the love from users all across the world!