Monday, 31 August 2015

Internet Real Estate Brokers: Reputation of Your Digital Name

Times of India reports that there's a downside to the relative freedom and lack of gatekeepers on the Internet, including that anyone can buy a web address that ends in ".com." Online scammers can pay $10 for an address that looks like that of your bank, your favourite clothier, or your auto dealer and create a site that looks like the original to trick you into buying phoney merchandise or revealing your login and password. Every day, almost 1,000 Americans file some kind of identity-theft complaint, and about 750 report being scammed by an impostor.

That's why hundreds of businesses, from Google to Wal-Mart, have paid $185,000 to apply for the rights to web domains that read, say, .google or .walmart. Companies buying these eponymous top level domains from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) - the non-profit that runs distribution of domain names under the oversight of the US department of commerce - will in theory be able to strictly limit who creates pages on them. Of the 1,930 applications for the new Internet real estate, 534 came from companies buying up their trademarks, said Icann.

Companies such as Chanel and Hermes say self-branded domains will help them combat the sale of counterfeit goods from imitation websites. "These criminal activities cause reputational damage to businesses as Internet users lose consumer confidence and trust," Chanel said. Companies filed applications in 2012, but contracts weren't due until this July, so most not-coms aren't expected to roll out their new domains until later this year or next.

Unsurprisingly , banks too have joined in the bandwagon.JPMorgan Chase is awaiting Icann approval for .jpmorgan, .chase and .jpmorganchase, joining 5,500 firms in applying for .bank addresses through fTLD Registry Services, an organization backed by American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable that works to secure generic domain names for banks and insurers.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Will the Real Gujarat Please Stand Up

The recent turmoil in Gujarat state in India shows that the myth of Modi's Gujarat is not what it seems. Caste, reservation, votebank politics are simmering below the surface.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Currency of Disruption: Digital Currency

Economic Times reports that regulators are wary of it, calling it a crypto currency, but the Winkelvoss twins believe it's the future. It was the favourite mode of payment on the notorious Silk Road, whose founder got thrown in jail, and a big cache of it did get stolen from the Mt Gox currency exchange. But Bitcoin is gaining converts — even in India, where there are many regular users.

"In the present situation, when there is so much of volatility in the equity and real estate markets, Bitcoins have become one of my most reliable investment destinations," said Ahmedabad based Himanshu Sisodia, who's chief operating officer at hospitality company Greenleaves Management. "Moreover, with the Digital India initiative, money is bound to become virtual." He loves the ease with which it can be moved around. Bitcoins can be bought and sold online and remitted abroad with a single click on a smartphone. And there's no need to pay any fees to a bank or other over-charging financial intermediaries.

"I have family in New Zealand and I can send money immediately to them using my Bitcoin wallet, which they can encash there, making the transaction hassle free," he said. With market estimates of 30,000 users in India and transactions of about Rs 200 crore a year, the digital currency is being used for purchases and long-term investments. The digital currency came into existence in 2009, having been created by a developer (or developers) going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. It gained in value steadily, peaking at about $1,100 per Bitcoin in November 2013, then sliding - to about $227 now. A virtual currency, there are no transaction fees and it's not regulated by any government. Bitcoins are created by 'mining,' or churning data through computers to verify transactions. In countries that are going through financial turmoil, such as Greece, Bitcoin offers a stable alternative, say its backers.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Who Needs Enemies in Mumbai - Mumbai Photos

The Indians are Coming: Indian Tech in the Valley

A bunch of young, second-generation Indian immigrants is building some of the hottest tech companies in Silicon Valley reports the Times of India. While first generation immigrants tended to focus on enterprise tech, this new set of founders, given their longer and closer connect with the market, is creating consumer-facing ventures.

Over the years, India-born executives have snagged the top most tech jobs in the US, the latest being Sundar Pichai, who became CEO of Google. The Chennai-born Pichai and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are among at least a dozen such talented Indians who left their home country as students in the 80s and 90s and today helm some of tech's most powerful companies. There's however another influential group emerging in Silicon Valley with a strong India connection. These are not executives but young entrepreneurs behind some of the most talked about tech startups globally.

Data analytics firm Mixpanel, food delivery startup Sprig, express delivery venture Instacart, among others, have one thread binding them. All of these off-the-chart ventures are being steered by a bunch of mostly under 30, well networked, second-generation Indian immigrants, a cohort which is rapidly establishing its impact in the Valley. While some of these founders were born in the US, others moved to the country at an early age with their parents, who were typically academicians, doctors or engineers.

Diamonds are India's Best Friend

Times of India reports that India is still the world's largest rough diamond importing country as per the statistics published by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). In 2014, a staggering 153.609 million carats of rough diamonds were imported into the country worth $17.21 billion. 

The European Union (EU), which is counted as the KP member state and includes Belgium among other countries, was the world's top exporter of rough diamonds to India. The EU shipped out 116 million carats of precious stones with a value of $15.71 billion during the period, a 10 per cent decline from 2013. 

India's imports are particularly high because it is the world leader in diamond processing. In terms of value, Antwerp importations totalled $16 billion to India's $17.2 billion. Dubai and Israel, AWDC's main competitors (AWDC - Antwerp World Diamond Center), imported diamonds to the value of only about a third of Antwerp's figures, although Israeli diamonds are worth substantially more than those passing through Antwerp ($333.11 /carat compared to $133.08). 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Banking Sector Down in Valley of Disruption

Times of India reports that in his annual letter to shareholders in April, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon warned of a wave of disruption in the traditional banking sector originating from startup hubs such as Silicon Valley. "Silicon Valley is coming," he warned. Thinking alike, SBI made a trip to Bengaluru and sat in the front rows of a startup session listening to how disruptive technologies and fledgling ventures are making their presence felt in the financial services industry. 

"We were surprised to see how these people are developing/working on technologies to solve some of the problems we didn't even know existed," SBI CIO Mrutyunjay Mahapatra told ET. Traditional, stodgy lenders for long have dominated the financial services space and controlled most aspects of lending, payments and investments. With the emergence of new-age fintech startups and the advent of mobile and Internet banking, tech-savvy consumers have been presented with alternatives for financial solutions that have the potential to significantly disrupt traditional banking. Which is why they are actively engaging with startups to avoid disruption from payment banks, mobile wallets, new-age financial technology startups and crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin. 

Onion Mania in India: E-commerce to the Rescue

There is onion mania in India as onion prices go through the roof. Onion prices are causing grave concern at the highest levels of government in India. Onion prices have become a sort of barometer of the Indian economy. Commodity brokers are now checking the onion rate as well as the gold rate :)

Indian e-commerce firms have come to the rescue by allowing consumers to buy at least small quantities of onions at reasonable prices online.

Just as the Dutch had Tulip Mania, will India have Onion Mania?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Private Equity Getting More Private in India

For some time there has been talk that Indian e-commerce firms are over-valued and that the bubble will burst. Perhaps a squeeze in later stage funding may be a signs that the Indian startup ecosystem is cooling slightly.

Times of India reports that even as Indian e-commerce Unicorns like Flipkart and Snapdeal have struggled to shore up their valuations this year, the euphoria around early-stage investing has remained intact -- so far.

As many as 85 early-stage startups have already raised series A rounds, up from 50 last year, according to Tracxn, which collects data on private companies. But that doesn't necessarily bode well for these companies as signs of a squeeze in follow-on rounds are already starting to surface. This may even pave the way for early consolidation in over-funded categories like food tech, online services marketplace, budget hotel aggregators and hyperlocal businesses.

In the past year, young Indian startups, some of which are not even incorporated as companies, have raked in $3-5 million in funds as investors laid very early bets in search of the next Unicorn -- those billion-dollar companies which are not so mythical anymore.

Overnight doubling of valuations, competitive bids and the use of funds to lock out rivals became the new normal for the fledgling Indian startup ecosystem, which has attracted unprecedented capital of late. But now warning signs are coming in thick and fast on the back of a tumbling stock market which has seen US tech stocks plummet.

Investors say they want to prize profit over scale and growth -- a rare ask just a few months ago. "Founders need to focus on building a long-term business with their $5-million cheques and plan to use it over 12-18 months instead of chasing a quick series B round. Series A or large seed rounds have been easy to raise because a lot of VC funds have money for that stage.

However, on the flip side, most of these larger funds just don't want to do series B rounds unless it's their own deal. I'm hoping that this will change," said Anand Lunia, co-founder of early-stage fund India Quotient. As many as 26 companies have racked up $50-100 million so far this year said the Tracxn data, which shows that not too many larger rounds are being done. Flipkart's last three rounds have been led by its existing investor Tiger Global, while Snapdeal's latest $500-million financing took more than six months to close.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Indian Digital Dump: India a Dumping Ground for Smartphones?

It's India versus China on the 4G battleground reports Times of India. Chinese phone makers have taken a substantial lead in the Indian smartphone market for the high-speed devices, leaving homegrown brands muttering darkly about how their rivals are dumping the handsets in the country ahead of networks being rolled out. An executive at one of these rapidly growing Chinese companies rejected the accusation.

Local sellers are "having a tough time as the companies they have been sourcing from in China have themselves entered India," the person said. "They are having to look for new sources and thus have failed to catch the 4G bus so far." Indian companies say these devices may not even be properly enabled for the kind of 4G services being rolled out in the country. Chinese companies are treating India as a "dumping ground" for 4G phones that may not have Band 3 or the 1800MHz band, said Vikas Jain, co-founder of Micromax, India's No. 2 phone seller. This is one of two bands on which India has allowed 4G LTE services, the other being 2300Mhz.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Delete Tweet: Digital History Altered

Digital history of politicians on social media becomes new battle ground.

Times of India reports that the Politwoops website that saves tweets deleted by politicians said Monday its operations have been closed down in the 30 countries where it was active after Twitter blocked its access to the social media site. "On Friday night, August 21, the Open State Foundation was informed by Twitter that it suspended... access to Diplotwoops and all remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries," said the Open Foundation, which started Politwoops in the Netherlands in 2010.

Twitter switched off Politwoops in the United States in May and the Open Foundation voiced fears it may happen elsewhere. Twitter ended the US website's access to its API (application programme interface) which allowed it to see when a politician deleted a tweet, often an indicator they have changed their mind or realised a mistake. Since being formed at a so-called hackathon five years ago, the website that is a useful tool for journalists and a frequent source of embarrassment for politicians, has spread to 30 countries from Egypt to the Vatican, as well as the European Parliament.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Digital Front-end and Logistics Backend: Uber Disruption

The digital marketplace is disrupting industries and labour practices. Take Uber for example. Uber could offer customers the music they wanted to be downloaded and played in taxis - they could even offer food  to passengers in the taxis which customers could order on their App - they could allow taxi drivers to transport goods or documents and not just people which customers could arrange via their App - customers could arrange their travel insurance through the App - and all these services could be paid for via a mobile payment system. 

Uber could get into so many different industries - music and entertainment, food and beverages, delivery services and financial services - competing with the likes of iTunes, Domino's Pizzas, DHL, Visa, etc - disrupting all these industries. You just need the digital, consumer-facing front-end and the logistics back-end which is what the digital marketplace is all about. 

In this respect Uber is no different from Amazon or Flipkart. These digital e-commerce businesses seem to be converging and becoming similar.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Kerala Solar: Kochi Airport runs on Solar Power

Kochi Airport in Kerala, India becomes the world's first to be operated solely by solar power. Modi states that his government's goal is to increase solar in India more than 10 fold.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Global Talent Moving to Startups in India

Startups in India are attracting global talent. Global talent is leaving well paid, high-flying careers to join startups. Startups are fashionable.

Economic Times reports that It is not just the Unicorns (startups with billion-dollar-plus valuations), but a fair sprinkling of younger and smaller ventures are also attracting top global talent back to India. A bunch of senior executives is quitting high-flying careers abroad to join smaller startups such as Edureka, OYO Rooms, Urban Ladder, Faaso's and in India. In June this year, Durgesh Kaushik quit as head of online marketing (Asia-Pacific) at Facebook and left Singapore to join Bangalore based startup Edureka as chief marketing officer. In the same month, Ajit Pandey, earlier with IBM in the UK, relocated to India to join Mumbai-based Loanstreet as chief technology officer.

In mid-August, Supriyo Roy, previously the lead, design and experience, at New York-based startup Spangle came on board at foodtech startup Faaso's as head of design, user experience and interface. And at real estate listing portal, UPenn graduate Jason Kothari, earlier the co-founder and CEO of Valiant Entertainment, was brought in as chief business officer in August to drive overall strategy and growth. Since last November, Housing has also hired Rachel Steinberg as vice-president (product) and Paul Meinshausen as vice-president (data sciences).

Digital Technologies Juggernaut Unstoppable

Financial figures for Uber show that digital technologies are changing consumer habits. This digital juggernaut cannot be stopped. No matter how many protests there are against Uber or other digital firms, consumer will habits will change and industries will be disrupted, for good or bad.

Times of India reports that Uber Technologies' global bookings are projected to rise nearly threefold to $10.8 billion this year and reach $26.1 billion the next, according to a recent presentation for potential investors. The ride-hailing service, which operates in over 50 countries, keeps 20% of booking revenue, showed a confidential slideshow prepared by Chinese bankers with input from Uber, aimed at soliciting investment in a fund participating in Uber's Series F financing. Based on those figures, 2015 revenue would be roughly $2 billion, according to a calculation.

E-commerce Portals Giving Brand New Lease of Life

The e-commerce marketplaces are giving a brand new lease of life to old brands and to e-tailers. Unlike their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, such as Wal-Mart and Tesco, who make it very difficult to get your goods into their stores, these digital marketplaces are currently going out of their way to attract sellers online.

Times of India reports that for the past eight years, Sanjay Kumar has run his online lifestyle product store out of Gurgaon. Every day, his team packs and ships apparel, jewellery, home decorations, and games -- but his products reach customers sitting not out of Tier 1 or Tier 2 cities, but in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Canada. "Our products are Indian products, but those that attract western audiences. There are many Indians now who have set up the same business," said Kumar, who now ships 500-600 orders a day during off-season, 85% outside India's borders. 

For merchants like Kumar, selling Indian products in less competitive markets bring higher sales volumes and margins, which outweigh the logistical hassles and challenges. Such globally-minded, business-savvy sellers are now becoming more common, and e-commerce portals have risen to their desire to reach wider audiences. Since Amazon India launched its Global Selling programme in June, "thousands" of sellers now sell in the US and UK via the platform, with main categories being home and kitchen, apparel, health and personal care, jewellery and toys. 

Also, e-commerce portals have become rehab homes for some once-popular consumer electronics brands that are trying to stage a comeback. BPL, Kenstar, Kelvinator, Sansui, Onida and Maharaja Whiteline are attempting a resurrection by offering their products online at lower prices than their global counterparts, attracting the eyeballs of bargain hunters. 

BPL has entered into a three-year exclusive sales deal with Flipkart to relaunch its brand after almost a decade, senior industry executives said. Videocon's three brands — Sansui, Kelvinator and Kenstar — are selling air-conditioners exclusively online for lack of pull in retail stores. Onida first launched its washing machines online, getting a huge response, which encouraged the company to take televisions and air-conditioners online since their presence in physical stores had become marginal. Amazon, Snapdeal and Paytm, too, are emerging as critical online marketplaces for these comeback brands. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

See You Later, Aggregator: Aggravated by Aggregators

Aggregator e-commerce firms are proliferating. From flights, hotels, taxis, insurance etc., so many products and services can be aggregated. It’s become a common business idea now. Aggregating may lower the money earned by those offering the products or services such as taxi drivers. Consumers may benefit. There has been a lot of opposition to companies like Uber. Aggregators are commoditising services and labour.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Idea Disruption: Indians in the Valley

Disruptive ideas usually become billion dollar firms. In India also, disruptive ideas are needed that disrupt vested interests, for start-ups to succeed and India to transform into a more progressive economy. Idea disruption is what India needs.

Times of India reports that in current Silicon Valley parlance, Nutanix is a Unicorn. This term refers not to the mythical beast but a private company that has a valuation of more than $1 billion. Nutanix, set up in 2009, looked so promising to investors that it was valued at $1 billion in January 2014 and again at $2 billion in August 2014, as it raised $241 million in two successive rounds. It is now seen as one of Silicon Valley's most promising companies, and is reportedly preparing for an IPO. 

Nutanix is a data centre company, seeking to converge servers, storage and virtualization into a single platform. Dheeraj Pandey, one of its founders, likens its business model to that of Apple. "Apple focused on a few killer apps," says Pandey.

"In the data centre, storage is the killer app." Nutanix took just four years to reach $1 billion in valuation, and has offices in 36 countries and supposedly good revenues. In January this year, it announced bookings of $300 million. A few years ago, such rapid growth for a startup was not common even in the Silicon Valley, and even rarer for an Indian immigrant entrepreneur. But these are special times for the region, and Indians are now getting more than their normal share of the good times.

For the last two decades, Indian success in Silicon Valley was a mixed bag. Many succeeded as entrepreneurs beginning in the 1990s, starting and selling companies with good returns. In recent times, some first-generation Indians have moved up the corporate ladder and made it to the top in three large IT companies (Microsoft, Adobe and now Google). But no Indian entrepreneur has scaled a startup company the way Larry Page, Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg has done. Indians are conspicuously absent at the top in two of the most significant industries in the San Francisco Bay Area: Consumer tech and biotech. 

The Indian entrepreneurial community in the Bay Area thinks that time is ripe for a change. There are at least two billion-dollar startups now by first generation Indian immigrants: Nutanix and the renewable power generation company Bloom Energy. Indians in the Bay Area are starting companies so often that they expect some of them to scale all the way with the founders remaining at the top. 

Their entry into consumer tech is also imminent, according to some observers there, leaving biotech as the last bastion for them in the region. "The future industries need more hard sciences and computational knowledge," says academic and entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, "They are playing to the strength of the Indians." 

The Indian story in the Silicon Valley began in the 1980s, largely through software engineers who started going there for programming work. By the 1990s their entrepreneurial urge was evident, and several Indians — Vinod Khosla, Kanwal Rekhi, Romesh Wadhwani — made significant amounts of money. They became venture capitalists and angel investors who funded another generation of companies led by Indians through the first decade of the millennium.

No one knows how long the current tech boom will last. The world has no end to problems to be solved, and technology is often the way to solve some of the most serious problems. The Silicon Valley has the world's greatest innovators in at least four areas: enterprise technology, consumer technology, renewable energy and biotechnology.

SJP @DigitalAsian