The Enterprise Trifecta: Data, Security, and Mobility

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How to Build the Next Huge Mobile App

The advent and growth of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and, now, Pinterest has heralded a new era in the Internet where people are connected to one another to share, discover, curate, and collaborate. The mobile applications are fast becoming the primary vehicle to access what I call “connected services” to discover people, information and entertainment. However unlike the intent oriented desktop Internet search, the mobile platform is about discovery. Thus the application developers would have to think differently about getting user attention and engagement.

User Time Slices

I view smart phones as bite-size infotainment consumption devices. Users launch different applications for short spurts during the day to interact live, get updates, transact, share experiences, and generally play. I call these 2-5 minute spurts “time slices” and examples of these time slices include waiting for a coffee, a short break from work, waiting for everyone to gather for a meeting etc. Users typically don’t have any fixed plans for these time slices and they like to discover infotainment through their applications. To build a mass market application, developers should consider two core factors: a unique discovery oriented infotainment experience and a bite-size time slice filler. An application that fits this paradigm would get huge user attention and engagement. Pulse News* is a great example of such an application. It allows users to discover news and information in a bite-size consumption format – you launch your Pulse when you have a few minutes and would like to be in the know.

How do you think about building the next large scale mobile app? I’m all ears.

* Lightspeed Portfolio Company

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Mobile, Social | 2 Comments

Nutanix Mad Men Spoof: Build Your Private Cloud

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Commerce in the Time of Social

The fabric that underlies the social Internet is essentially a new web where people are the nodes, connected through a social graph. This ubiquitous people to people connection with real identities has significant implications for commerce and how we transact in the real world. The reduction in information asymmetry in the marketplace and the ability to mobilize people, through the social graph messaging and data, have the potential to unleash peer to peer commerce in a way we have never seen before.

The Rediscovery of Direct Selling Businesses

Everyone has heard stories of Tupperware parties where a group of people gathered in someone’s home for product demonstration, buying and socializing. The social media is giving a new boost to this old business model by enabling the entrepreneurial hosts to invite friends and friends of friends, and gather offline to socialize and transact, using online tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The online and offline recommendation, feedback and validation reduce the social approval anxiety and the friction in the buying decision.

The social graph-enabled direct selling business model is especially interesting for highly demonstrable products such as handbags, jewelries, shoes, home accessories, etc. These products tend to be discretionary and highly correlated with emotions, impulsive buying and discovery orientation. The innovators in this space would foster entrepreneurship by enabling individuals to participate in the value creation and get the rewards.

The Overcapacity Marketplaces

The social Internet is enabling new kinds of peer to peer marketplaces where people can transact on overcapacity. The overcapacity can be in their belongings or skills. Since the articles involved in transactions tend  to be personal in nature, the social graph acts as a

lubricant to reduce the friction and cost of transaction. The living space sharing marketplaces such as Airbnb, personal car sharing marketplaces such as RelayRides, meals marketplaces from local chefs such as Gobble, etc. are some of the examples of the overcapacity marketplaces. In each of these, participants are leveraging overcapacity, be it in their homes, cars or skills utilization to create value. These marketplaces empower individuals to run their own business models and make profits accordingly. We will witness the rise of the overcapacity marketplaces as the peer to peer commerce takes off on the back of the social Internet. The unleashing of entrepreneurial imagination and the resulting innovations would help usher in an era of collaborative consumption.

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Nutanix Heralds a New Era in Enterprise Infrastructure

Nutanix, Inc. officially launched today announcing Nutanix Complete Cluster, a disruptive solution for enterprise virtualization. The Nutanix Complete Cluster eliminates the need for SAN by converging compute and storage on a single appliance while delivering the enterprise-class performance, scalability and data management benefits.

The Nutanix team has delivered a game-changing enterprise product in record time. The channel partners would love the economics behind collapsed compute and storage. Congratulations to Dheeraj Pandey, Ajeet Singh, Mohit Aron and the rest of Nutanix team for an amazing execution. Well done!

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The Anatomy of a Social Product

The social Internet is fundamentally a game changer. Unlike the web-link driven Internet, the social Internet connects people directly to one another and the resulting social graph essentially provides for a brand new, highly scalable distribution mechanism. The early adopters of the Facebook platform such as Zynga leveraged the platform’s social distribution to reach scale relatively quickly. However as the platform is restricting notifications to the users, a number of newer applications are finding it hard to get user traction and sustain engagement. In the competitive world of Facebook and other social platform applications, applications have to be fundamentally social to survive and get user attention. My acid test for an application leveraging social graph – “is the application useless in the absence of the social graph”. A “No” answer indicates a mere social layering on top which is not sufficient.

The Hierarchy of Social Interactions

A social application’s user interaction model should be around discovery and handholding users from “lookers” to “doers”. The discovery is essentially bringing together emotional, impulsive, curiosity, and other inherent psychological needs, and delighting users every time they engage with the application. The discovery aspect of a social application is what brings users back into the application and sustains engagement levels.

The hierarchy of interactions from lookers to doers is core to the discovery mechanism. A well designed social application must provide value to users who are just lookers and make no input. Such users make the majority of an application audience. The next up in the hierarchy is “one click” interactions. With this mechanism a user can vote up or down on any object created by other users. This kind of low-touch interactions help users get over the hurdle by reducing the cognitive dissonance arising out of “what to write or comment”. The next step up is “responding” to a question or comment from other users. This, again, is low hurdle activity since users have the needed context to respond with. Users who ask or comment in the first place are still next level up in the interaction hierarchy because they are dealing with low to no context resulting in higher level of cognitive dissonance. At the top of the hierarchy are users who upload or generate content. The effort needed to generate/upload content and the social approval anxiety make this step the hardest for the users. A successful social application essentially handholds users up the social interaction hierarchy and creates stickiness and high level of user engagement. As a general rule of thumb, the distribution of users in different position on the hierarchy are 80% lookers, 10% clickers, 5% responders, 3% askers and 2% creators.

A social application by its very definition involves social approval, recognition, and emotional fulfillment, and application developers should focus on reducing social approval anxiety and cognitive dissonance by creating an easier path for users to convert from lookers into doers.

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Democratization of Entrepreneurship

The first decade of the new century witnessed a fundamental change in the nature of the technology entrepreneurship. The dramatic reduction in the cost of starting a technology business combined with readily available risk capital has created a near perfect market for anyone with an idea and some risk tolerance to become an entrepreneur. This democratization of entrepreneurship has profound implications not only for the venture capital industry but also for the economic growth and prosperity.

The maturity of the Internet as a platform and the growth of open source projects have given rise to infrastructure-as-a-service providers that allow companies to almost completely eliminate the upfront capital expenditure and pay based on usage of the infrastructure. The entrepreneurs are leveraging the outsourced infrastructure along with Internet based low cost distribution to test and refine business models. The so called “Super Angels” who are a new class of risk capital providers have emerged to support such early stage Internet business model experimentation. In most cases the outcomes of such experiments are determined with less than $1M in invested capital. The successful models then go ahead and raise substantial venture capital to scale the business. What is the most interesting is, unlike the previous generation of technology entrepreneurs who were building infrastructure components of the so called technology stack, this new generation of entrepreneurs don’t need deep domain experience to start web based businesses as vast majority of the new companies are business model innovations with some technology pieces layered in. Further fueling this phenomenon is plenty of early exit opportunities for these companies even if the business model turns out to be not very scalable.

The democratization of entrepreneurship is net positive for the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The reduced barrier to entry and cost of failure have encouraged hordes of new college grads and corporate professionals to start companies. The traditional venture capital market is more efficient than ever because only somewhat proven ideas get further funding to scale the business. The venture firm brand name is not the most significant determinant of deal access especially in early stages due to serendipity factor in the identification of teams and business models. The market is much more of a level playing field for all.

Some people argue that easy access to capital and plenty of early technology/talent exit opportunities would create a culture of “fast flippers” where entrepreneurs would avoid long and hard slog of building large, standalone businesses that made Silicon Valley. Surely, there are well funded startups that look more like lifestyle businesses with no real potential to scale. However, we are early in this cycle and I believe market forces would eventually bring equilibrium.

I am more excited than ever about the pace of innovation and the resulting economic growth and prosperity. The unleashing of communication revolution combined with ubiquitous computing is creating level playing fields for consumer and entrepreneurs alike around the globe. We are indeed living through an age of acceleration where erstwhile temporal distances are getting squeezed. I will write more about it in my future blog.

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