It wasn’t a smirk

It was exasperation.

This article on Niti Central, an online publication that claims that it is “Bold and right”, has focused an inordinate amount of its attention on my facial expressions during a debate on NDTV’s show “The Social Network”. Instead of focusing on the points I was making on the show, the writer appears to have attempted to discredit my views by focusing on how I was smiling by saying that I was smirking. I find that rather petty, and symptomatic of the discourse that we currently see on Twitter today.

Shifting the focus doesn’t change the fact that those (apparently) representing the left (Congress) and the right (BJP) on the show were constantly attacking each other, and in the process, drowning out the others point of view on the show.

I was smiling because that’s exactly the point I was trying to make, and it was being proven on the show: both parties, the Congress and the BJP, have been constantly attacking each other on Twitter, and reacting to criticism by attacking the person criticizing them. In the process, they’re drowning out all legitimate debate.

*

I support neither party. I’m neutral, and undecided, and equally critical of both sides. The Congress lost me long long ago with its ruinous policies, and the BJP is losing me with its vitriol, and lack of focus on what it plans to do for the economy. I hate it that what should be a debate on who has better ideas to improve things for citizens has turned into a shouting match, with each trying to prove the other is worse.

The trolls are obnoxious. By being vicious, vindictive and crass, they’re losing me as a voter. Things have been tough the last few months, and Twitter was once a place one could turn to, for friends and some banter – that five minute break (multiple times a day) that could brighten up things for you. Now it has people spewing hate and vitriol. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people in the past week – some for tweeting, some just for retweeting.

That was the point I was making on the show – don’t feed the trolls, and unfollow with a vengeance.

The discussion on NDTV was on mobs taking over Social Media, in the context of a satirical page criticising one party being shut down, alleging that he was being harassed. It was about mobs. Instead both sides tried to appropriate the discussion by blaming the other, hijacking the debate on whether the mobs are stifling free speech (which I feel strongly about), and focusing on a micro issue of one satirical page being (allegedly) forced to shut down by mobs, instead of the macro issue of this stupid, relentless and immature blame game.

You can abuse the other person all that you want, but that never really makes you look good. This morning, I was critical of the Congress for having shut down Aditi Restaurant in Mumbai, because it printed a snarky message on its bills, criticising the UPA government. A Congress supporter started attacking me because I agreed with a point an alleged BJP supporter was making. How does that help their cause? It just shifts the debate away from the policy being discussed.

As a neutral, if you support one sides point of view, the other side labels you and attacks you.

I don’t remember where I read this, but this stuck: be a gentleman not because the other person deserves it, but because you are one. There aren’t enough gentlemen around, unfortunately.

*

I smiled because I’m Indian, and there are times when we’re fatalistic. I was amused by the helpless situation I am in: Look at these two parties, or the Niti Central article which tries to divert attention from the issue: do we have any choice? They’re both giving me reasons to not vote for the other. Arvind Kejriwal is doing much the same with the Aam Aadmi Party.

Here’s an idea for the Congress or the BJP: Assume that the other party doesn’t exist. I’m a neutral, undecided voter. Now tell me, the voter, why I should vote for you.

*

Hint: I’m socially liberal, believe in a small government, light-touch regulation (unless cartels need to be broken), open markets, empowerment of small businesses, a low fiscal deficit and low government spending, and transparency and accountability in governance. I’m also almost a freedom-of-expression absolutist (minus defamation), so…oops.

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And we are back

Things to do:

  • Set up photo gallery
  • Change WP theme
  • Integrate twitter account
  • Write about last year
  • Upload photos from travel last year
  • Change the world*

* – optional

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Introducing MEDIANAMA: News & Analysis of Digital Media in India

Last Friday, my new digital media site – Medianama.com – went live with an interview with S. Sivakumar, the CEO designate for Times Private Treaties, the ads-for-equity investment arm of Bennett & Coleman Co Ltd (BCCL), which owns some of India’s largest media properties – the Times of India, Times Now, The Economic Times, Mumbai Mirror, Times OOH, Zoom TV, Femina, among others.

We raised a few contentious issues, focusing on what exactly Private Treaties brings to the table for startups, about investing in competitive businesses, whether editorial content is a part of the deal, and and whether they offer any strategic support at all. It was a long and consuming interview, and you can probably tell by the audio how involved both the interviewee and the interviewer (me) were.

For Medianama, it was an explosive large start – the kind I wasn’t expecting – and I think we’re now settling into the rhythm of analysing developments in the digital media business. A few things will emerge with time – we’ll try to offer significant perspective on the Digital Media industry, while also covering news, and we’ll offer an increased focus on certain domains that are still emerging. The reasoning behind an emerging segments focus: the deeper we dig, the more knowledge we’re able to share about these domains. In effect, we hope to help decision makers – entrepreneurs, investors, consultants and observers – understand the domain better.

It’s not been much of a break for me – Medianama has taken around 3 weeks of work. I worked till 9:30pm on my last day at CS, and finished off with a Yahoo vs T-Series story and the Sify earnings report. I don’t think I wanted a break anyway – I love this domain and love my work…staying away for these three weeks alone was difficult, as you probably gauged by a few posts that I did in the interim.

Medianama will continue to evolve as we go along, and if you have any suggestions, please do share at nikhil AT medianama DOT com.

For now, it’s back to work.

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An update…and another soon.

May 31st was my last day with ContentNext Media (and at contentSutra), and I’ve been on something of a sabbatical since. Expect an announcement from me soon. Have done a few posts on this blog – which just goes to show how difficult it is for me to take a break from blogging. contentSutra was an incredible experience for me – something of a roller coaster, and left me completely consumed by the digital media business. Love the space and am committed to being there. All credit to Rafat and Staci for giving an untried rookie so much freedom and responsibility. Rafat gave me the confidence to fight for stories that were deservedly mine, and Staci guided me through many-a-tricky situation. Still remember one of the first few mails from Rafat, where he ended with “Let’s blow this up big.” To some extent, I think we did.

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Funky Reva

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TenCent To Invest $7.5M In MIH India Over 3 Years; Can Acquire Upto 50 Pc Stake

MIH India Global Internet, the holding company for Indian Internet properties like ibibo.com, dwaar.com, onefamily.com, Newscola.com and bixee.com, and ad network AdWinks, has entered into an agreement to divest as much as 50 percent stake (less one share) to China based Tencent Holdings. Tencent, in turn, will invest at least $7.5 Million in MIH India over a period of three years, though it has the option of increasing that investment if needed. There are some conditions (of assuming certain loans) under which Tencent can increase its holding to 50 percent shareholding (minus one share).

Burn Rate: Take a look at the losses that MIH has suffered since launch:

Assuming that MIH started operations around August 2006, they’ve suffered a net loss of $18.947 Million in 23 months – an average loss of $1.114 Million (Rs. 4.76 Crores) per month. Some of that money has been spent on acquiring a 30 percent stake in ACL Wireless for $12.3 Million in July 2007, acquiring Bixee and Pixrat (for websites and a team of developers in Bangalore), developing products, allowing users to call each other for free, payouts to users as prizes, sponsoring TV shows like ibibo MTV Superstar and ibibo FTV Fashion Photographer.

Internal company transaction? This may be considered to be an internal company transaction, since the parent company of MIH India – Naspers, owns a 35.5 percent stake in TenCent. Interestingly, I’d heard murmurs of TenCent being in talks with MIH India around a year ago, but wasn’t able to verify. The deal didn’t appear to mean much then, since both are a part of Naspers portfolio.

More on valuation, Tencent’s agenda, and probable launches – Continue reading

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Motorola Launches MOTOMUSIC In India With MOTOROKR E8

So almost six months after struggling handset manufacturer Motorola acquired online and mobile music distribution company Soundbuzz, Motorola has launched music distribution service MotoMusic in India. MotoMusic powers the MOTOROKR E8, two versions of which are priced at Rs. 15.455 and Rs. 13,999 respectively. The launch of MotoMusic is significant, since it comes before the launch of Nokia’s content service Ovi.

Value Chain: This is what the value chain looks like, with a handset manufacturer also becoming a content aggregator. This should, ideally, result in increasing efficiencies, and hence offer a greater margin to Motorola:

Pricing, Distribution and content partners: Continue reading

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SatNav Raises $7 Million From Sequoia Capital India

SatNav Technologies has raised $7 million in a first round of funding from Sequoia Capital India. The amount of stake diluted has not been disclosed, though Mohit Bhatnagar, Operating Partner with Sequoia says that it’s a significant minority stake, and two members have joined the board. SatNav was incubated at Satyam Computers, under the Satyam Entrepreneur Incubation Program. Here’s a brief on the various players in the consumer GIS space (in no particular order):

ARPU and Projections: SatNav claims that it had revenues of around $1 million last fiscal, and 22000 users. That’s an ARPU of $45.5. They’re now targeting 2 lakh users by the end of this fiscal, and assuming an ARPU of $35, they should have revenues of $7 million by then; at least a 7x increase in revenues. Of course, this calculation depends on whether the numbers they’ve mentioned in the press are correct or not.

Burn Rate: FE reports that the funds should see SatNav through the next 12-18 months. That’s a burn rate of between $389,000 – $583,000 per month, or between Rs. 1.6 – 2.5 crores per month. Where will that money go?

For Products, Targets and BCCLs Private Treaty Legacy click Continue reading

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Are Horizontal Portals Losing Out To Verticals In India? Not Yet…

There’s something amiss in this article in the Mint: it creates the incorrect impression that all Internet conglomerates like Info Edge, Times Business Solutions (TBSL), Consim Info and Web18 are drawing advertising away from horizontals like Indiatimes and Rediff. The article infers that this might be to blame for Rediff’s “declining growth in revenues” – down from just 8 percent up in FY08, compared to 90 percent up in FY07).

The fact is that for sites in the Info Edge, Consim Info and TBSL portfolio, advertising remains a fairly small percentage of revenues: for Info Edge, two quarters ago, it was less than 5 percent of overall revenues. Even assuming that it is now 6 percent of total revenues for the Q4 2008, that’s a maximum of Rs. 4.14 crores. Compare this to Rediff’s online advertising revenues (pdf)of around Rs. 22 crores in the quarter. Frankly, a 42 percent increase in Info Edge’s ad revenues, or a 200 percent increase in Consim Info’s ad revenues doesn’t mean much if the base is low.

For classifieds businesses, there’s better ROI in advertising some of their own services to increase usage. For example, a TimesJobs is more likely to prefer advertising a special package of jobs in, say, Hewlett Packard, as a relationship building exercise with a client, because the returns are greater in the long term, instead of putting up an advert for Sunsilk or BigAdda. Classifieds businesses mostly use Adsense. Horizontals have an ad-sales team, and also use adsense for extra inventory; ergo Classifieds and horizontals aren’t a like-for-like comparison.

The bigger competition is from other content-based Internet conglomerates like Web18, though their collection of sites can well be likened to a horizontal. Then there are other horizontal portals like Yahoo, AOL and MSN. Bear in mind that these sites have a significant online marketing budget, and are able to draw in traffic using search marketing. Then they sell advertising based on these numbers, and make the margin. Since Yahoo India’s revenues have grown 100 percent y-o-y for the last five years, there clearly isn’t a case for verticals taking away advertising from horizontals.

P.s.: The story also quotes Comscore numbers, which I have debunked here. Talk to any of the Internet co’s and they’ll tell you that Comscore numbers are not in line with their internal stats. Also, the term Internet Conglomerates was coined by Outlook Business.

Disclosure: I own an inconsequential number of shares in Info Edge and Network18

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PayMate Closes $9 million Round Of Funding From Mayfield, KPCB And Sherpalo Ventures

Mobile payments company Paymate announced (BS, ET) today that they had raised a second round of funding of $9 million. The funding has been led by Mayfield Fund, and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers (KPCB) and Ram Shriram’s Sherpalo Ventures have also returned as investors. Coruscant Tec co-founders Ajay Adiseshann and Probir Roy will retain majority stake. There are a couple of things to note here:

The timing of the announcement: There have been reports that the RBI will release guidelines for mobile payments on the 15th of June, and I’m told that there was a seminar in Mumbai last week focused on the implications of these yet-to-be released guidelines. KPCB and Sherpalo have a history of investing in companies, and announcing the funding the time is right, so it’s possible that Paymate received funding a while back, but with all the expected buzz around mobile payments, it’s a timely press release.
Where’s Citibank? Paymate had launched initially with Citibank on board, but if you go through their redesigned website, you’ll notice that Citibank isn’t a partner bank anymore. So while they added ABN Amro last month, and are in talks with SBI (India’s largest public sector bank), Paymate appears to have lost their first big banking partner. 11 banking partners are still on board, including Standard Chartered, Canara Bank, Cosmos Bank, HDFC (among India’s largest private sector banks), South Indian Bank, etc. Paymate also has operations in Sri Lanka, and a tie-up with Bank of Ceylon.
The Burn Rate: KPCB had put in $5 million in July 2006. Assuming that Paymate closed the second round of funding in May 2008 and would have finished off the first round by August 2008, that’s an approximate burn rate of $200,000 (around Rs. 80,00,000) per month. This appears to be set to go up – this round, says co-founder Probir Roy, is going to last them 18-24 months. That’s serious money – a burn rate of $375,000-$500,000 (1.5 crores – 2crores) per month. I wonder where Paymate intends to deploy it.

There has been talk before of mobile payments as means of banking the unbanked, but concerns have been raised about KYC (Know Your Customer) norms, since the scrutiny on mobile subscription is not as stringent as in case of banks. But mobile operators have not been keen on working independently of financial institutions because then the money would be shown in their accounts as revenue. Since operators pay a share of their revenue to the government as license fees – 10 to 12 percent – these transactions would lead to a significant increase in their payments. Hence, financial institutions need to be a part of the deal.

Paymate primarily focuses on SMS based payments, which is accessible to a larger number of users. Others in this space include Obopay, MChek, NGPay (from Jigrahak). Earlier this year Tyfone was funded by Ojas Venture Partners. What interests me more right now is the role that cash card companys will play in the mobile space, since they’re not connected with banks – Itz Cash is funded Matrix Partners and Intel Capital.

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