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Hotel Bonanza

Posted on Friday, Dec 15th 2006

With the growth in India, the hotel business, of course, is booming as well. Sequoia has validated this opportunity with its investment in Royal Orchid Hotels, a Bangalore chain.

royal orchid

I am, however, also intrigued by the opportunity in smaller hotels in the non-major-metro destinations that are becoming key for business travelers because of the steel and infrastructure boom.

On my way over, I sat next to French woman. She was traveling to meet her English boyfriend in Durgapur, who is working on an infrastructure project. I asked her where she would stay. She didn’t have a good answer.

From my own knowledge of traveling through India over the years, the offerings in smaller towns are generally a lot weaker than in the metros. I see, therefore, an opportunity for a business hotel chain of, say, 15-30 rooms each, strategically placed in the towns that are beneficiaries of the steel boom, for example. There may be similar opportunities around power plants, ports, textile towns, etc.

In our relentless focus on IT, we often forget other sectors that also offer eco-systems that represent great opportunities for entrepreneurship.

Featured Videos

Sports Portals & Social Networking

Posted on Friday, Dec 15th 2006

Being in India these past few days, I am reminded how much of the content that is marketed in India (and the world) is related to Sports. The newspapers devote a lot of front page real estate to Sourav Ganguly’s ups and downs, as India plays South Africa. The IFA Shield soccer tournament is on, and not only my father, but many relatives dropping in, are glued to the television. Of course, our family happens to be really into sports, like many (most?) Indian families.

So are any of you thinking about the immense entrepreneurial opportunity around sports related content, social networking, and advertising?

I have watched closely how certain sports got marketed over the last two decades because of family involvement. My father has been a mastermind behind Indian Table Tennis, and one of my uncles happens to be Jagu Dalmiya, the mastermind behind the blockbuster marketing of Indian cricket, or rather, world cricket, at this point. One thing to note – both men are entrepreneurs, with business success in other disciplines. They have applied their business and leadership skills to the games they have championed, as have many international entrepreneurs. Cricket has now become a blockbuster game, with big money flowing all around, in the same league as Tennis, Baseball, Soccer, American Football, Basketball, except, that the number of countries that play cricket is smaller than those who play soccer.

Yesterday, I asked my father, how many Table Tennis players does India have? The answer is a meagre 100,000. These are registered players, of course. “People who play” and “Players” are not necessarily synonymous here. Do you know how many “Players” China has? 3 Million. I would extrapolate that the “People who play” number is closer to 30 Million. Even the smaller European countries like Sweden and France have 300,000+ players. India, probably, has at least a Million “People who play”, if not more like 3 Million.

Why do I quote these numbers? Because they are big. And someone should pay attention to what they’re telling us.

What they’re telling ME is that these are big, sticky segments, perfect for the kind of Content Portal + Social Networking platforms that tend to become successful around a niche theme that a large group of people are passionate about. And the potential for marketing the under-marketed Sports is tremendous from an internet content opportunity point-of-view. With the discontinuity in television, and with internet and mobile TV becoming mainstream, I would start thinking about how to leverage them.

In parallel, of course, for India, an important exercise is to continue to raise the standard of the games and the players. For a country with a Billion+ population, it is quite pathetic that the only game in which the country has world class performance, is Cricket. However, it is a bit of a chicken and egg, and once a game is marketed properly, prize money – especially big money – starts to flow in abundantly, and the media builds “star” players, it automatically draws more players into the game. Training infrastructure becomes more readily available, and the players start climbing the rungs of international rankings.

It is a virtuous cycle that is awaiting the magic touch of some high calibre entrepreneurs, rather than corrupt politicians and power hungry administrators who rule today’s maidan culture. I hope, some of you will clinch this.

From Calcutta, With A Frown

Posted on Wednesday, Dec 13th 2006

Apologies to my readers for not writing for a week. In India at the moment for the annual visit. As usual, taking stock, scouting opportunities, and assessing progress …

Today is a Bandh (strike) in Kolkata, in protest of the Tata Motors small car factory in Singur. Besides the fact that this small car is a bad idea (traffic and energy are both problems), the Bandh of course is a VERY bad idea. A fat, well-nourished politician called Mamata Banerji is on hunger strike. Good for her. Losing some weight may just be what the doctor ordered. Gandhi’s tools are used and abused rampantly in today’s India, needless to say. No progress there.

Yesterday, I sat drinking coffee with an old high-school friend at Crosswords, a Borders-style bookstore and cafe on Elgin Road. Such places did not exist when we were growing up, and thus, there was nowhere to meet, sit and chat. The cafe culture is now a few years old, and booming. They are not Starbucks-style wireless hotspots yet. I am sure that too is coming. Probably, Starbucks itself is coming soon, at the heels of Walmart!

The lack of a CitySearch equivalent service for Calcutta is irritating me endlessly. Hello entrepreneurs – is someone listening?

We had an evening of music, dance and poetry on Sunday with family and friends. One of my childhood friends is a super-talented singer. Yet, she knows nothing about digital recording, selling her music on iTunes, etc. What’s goin’ on with the long tail of ethnic Indian music? Please, someone, tell me you are working on it!

My father is in shipping and on the Board of the Calcutta Port Trust. From him, I am gathering updates on the status of infrastructure development – ports, airports, roads. Of course, the steel industry is booming, with coal and iron ore trading at its peak. Eastern India is limited only by transportation logistics on this front. Backwards states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa should fly soon, with the enormous influx of investment.

Retail and Real Estate, of course, are not just booming but zooming. The only problem with Real Estate as an investment vehicle is an archaic rental law that denies rights to owners, making it difficult to vacate tenant occupied properties readily. This needs to change, because it is a major headache for owners, and I know this first hand dealing with our family properties.

My father needs a private tutor to up his computer skills. I suspect, a lot of older Indian executives are in the same boat. Haven’t seen any offering for this segment so far, but then it is quite possible that it exists. Does it?

Will publish more of my notes later, especially the “open problems”. Ciao for now!

Video FAQs

Om Malik’s New TV

Posted on Tuesday, Dec 5th 2006

Aligning with a clear trend on the internet, Om Malik has launched a site called NewTeeVee.com to cover everything under the sun on online video.

Unquestionably, the next decade will be about online video gaining popularity and broad adoption, so having a central clearinghouse to check on related news is a great idea.

My 2c: Om, please provide a regular update on the advertising and monetization side of online video. Too much content out there is going unmonetized today, and as we know, ultimately, capitalism and profit are the only economic models that make anything sustainable.

LinkedIn Has Found Its Groove?

Posted on Monday, Dec 4th 2006

Here’s a good article on LinkedIn. I have written about them before, a year or more ago, and at the time, they hadn’t yet quite hit their stride.

Since then, the social networking craze has become a mainstream phenomenon. LinkedIn’s positioning seems to have become a “see and be seen” place for professionals, with recruiters – including corporate recruiters – pounding its pavements to find suitable candidates for their open positions.

For this privelege, recruiters pay close to $4,000 / year. And there are about 60,000 of these recruiters. Hmmm … that sounds like a $250M serviceable market, so their stated goal of hitting $100M by 2008 suddenly doesn’t seem impossible. (Assuming that these numbers they are quoting have been validated and some recruiters are already paying such amounts.)

It has taken much longer than the meteoric MySpace or FaceBook, but it doesn’t matter a 5-year ramp to a $100 Million business seems very respectable to me, and it absolutely serves a very relevant need in both professionals and recruiters, so the business value proposition is finally resonating.

Some Musings on the Future of Broadband

Posted on Wednesday, Nov 29th 2006

[Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we had dinner with Frank Levinson and his wife, Monika. As we got into all sorts of interesting conversation threads, I invited Frank to write a Guest Column. Below is Frank’s piece on Broadband, which he calls somewhat whimsical. Enjoy!]

By Frank Levinson

In a series of web essays (1), (2), (3), I have written about how delivered bandwidth is growing at a rate that exceeds Moore’s law – basically the rate at which bandwidth (measured in terms of delivered Mb/s per person on earth per month) is deployed grows about 10x every 5 years!

It is easy to think of this only in terms of being driven by that master drummer, Moore. But this really is a bit too simplistic. What really drives innovation everywhere are opportunities and needs, markets that can be fully empowered by that next breakthrough. We see this in the fact that there are so many technologies that are common in the average person’s life that simply did not exist 20 years ago – cell phones, DVD players, MP3 players, thumb drives. Honestly, I laugh every time I remember floppy drives and compare them to today’s thumb drive. 1000x the capacity at less than 10% of the physical size, universally compatible and so easy to carry.

So what drives bandwidth growth today? Video on demand. Soon NetFlix, Blockbuster and all video distribution channels will feel the pressure of this more flexible delivery. And we will be able to store and replay and archive 100s of videos in a console if we wish … it will only be a few TBs of data, it will fit on a single hard drive.

But what will drive the next wave of storage, computing and bandwidth? We have delivered text, audio and video to the edge of the network down to individual users. Each of these had their predecessors in newspapers, radio and television. This pretty much fills up the human senses that are used for rich communications, except for touch. (Taste and smell are related and both are relatively low bandwidth in terms of what they communicate.)

Communicating a tactile experience will require the invention of tactile read in and read out devices like those that already were invented for hearing and site. I wonder at the general value of this. [Yes it has been done for some forms of remote surgery and work in hazardous environments.]

Perhaps this comes next but I suspect not. We technologists have been midwifing now for probably 70 years hoping that something we create will be cleverly designed enough to just say “hello” and mean it. Our brains do this with the ability to compute at a much lower level than today’s computers. But with an ability to communicate that is far greater than today’s networks. It seems likely that the drive for ever more broadband is a critical element of success for this birthing process.

Content Packaging

Posted on Tuesday, Nov 28th 2006

Rafat Ali reports on a Bear Stearns report suggesting that content packaging is the key opportunity going forward, with the following image of the content foodchain:

content foodchain

Om also has his 2c to add about the fatbelly, saying that the MyYahoo or NetVibes kind of personalized content aggregation plays are the most important going forward.

There is one point I want to highlight: Context. I believe, people look for things in Context, and Context-driven aggregation of high quality content is going to be key to sifting through the immense amount of trash that is increasingly crowding the web.

Bazaar Buster

Posted on Monday, Nov 27th 2006

Amidst huge concerns about Walmart’s numbers, the giant announced its entry into India.

I have said before, that Real Estate and Retail are better investment opportunities in India right now than technology, and it is not a surprise that the big retail companies are going to flock to take advantage of this situation.

I’d rather shop at the bazaar though, when I’m in India, than in some cookie-cutter Walmart store …