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I think there is a lot of potential and hope, especially now, for founders to start online (only) services businesses. Indian consumers seem to be opening up to paying for online B2C services, where purchase and most fulfillment is online. This trend is a natural outcome of India’s increasing online population (>125M now) and familiarity with online as a channel (20M bought online in last 12 months, 7M of which were non-travel). Barring a few exceptions noted below, this space has historically been challenging but I hope to see that changing in future.
Successful examples of existing online services in India include matrimony (Shaadi and Bharat Matrimony) and also aggregators across categories like travel (rail, air, bus), movies and mobile phone recharge. While the aggregator segment has been more successful because of direct linkage to offline services, it is relatively less interesting (and more capital intensive) because of low absolute margin per transaction and dependence on offline delivery for scaling versus a service which is purely digital in nature.
Subject to a large potential paying consumer base being available, pure online services are fundamentally very attractive to entrepreneurs and investors because of:
- High capital efficiency (high gross margins).
- Become disproportionately valuable (given B2C/branded nature).
- Ability to grow quickly, since they are not constrained by offline buildout (not applicable everywhere).
Here are a few examples below in categories where we are anecdotaly seeing early growth in new online consumer services:
- Education: Online higher education, Online certification and Test prep (very nascent) are showing that consumers are willing to pay and consume online.
- Jobs: Linkedin’s Premium Membership, ABC’s Head Honchos and Naukri’s premium services are showing early signs of monetizing through consumers.
- Apps: Evernote, Apple iTunes/App store and Google Play are monetizing on an Indian user base – this could be a massive trend given the rate at which smartphones and mobile data users are growing.
- Financial Services: Previously, the web was used primarily for lead generation. Now, certain types of insurance (Auto, Life, Travel) that are delivered end-to-end online are gaining traction.
- Auto: Classifieds for used cars
It is still early days for these trends – but I hope that the growth continues. If you know of other online categories or businesses which are getting traction, I would love to learn about them – please add to the comments section below.
PS: While mobile operator value-added services (MVAS) is a great example of online services, in my opinion, these services have not really been B2C. As a result, I am not including MVAS in the list above. My list also does not include businesses which collect revenue from offline vendors (e.g. Zomato) or have large offline delivery responsibility (e.g. goods ecommerce).
[Also published on Nextwala]
The approach to mobile design and information architecture here in India has been haphazard at best and atrocious at worst. Perhaps this is caused by consumers just being happy getting economic value out of digital services, far outweighing their need for great design. Perhaps the backend-oriented outsourcing culture has made developers less savvy about creating world-class UI/UX. Perhaps the featurephone- and carrier-orientation of mobile services hasn’t required good design. Who knows.
I don’t see this as the future of design in India. There is an early but growing sense of good design and information architecture emanating from India-based mobile application developers. Many of these are competing either on a global level or are targeting smartphone users who expect well designed apps, such as they see from Facebook, Whatsapp, Flipboard, Kindle, Spotify and Youtube.
I like to see a solid design orientation in consumer-facing companies that I look at. This is an absolute imperative for Web and mobile. At Lightspeed, we have some companies that are focusing on delivering great experiences, including Fashionara, LimeRoad and Dhingana. Users are responding well to their designs.
As a benchmark, I think India-based Cleartrip, Zomato, Hike and CloudMagic really deliver on superb design and value. Kudos to the developers at these companies. I have included some screenshots below – hopefully the developers won’t mind me making use of their app images.
Yesterday, we formally announced that Lightspeed and Sequoia invested in OneAssist, a company that creates and markets assistance and protection-oriented membership plans for consumers. OneAssist was incubated and founded in the Lightspeed offices during 2011 by Gagan Maini and Subrat Pani. We’ve known Gagan for almost five years and frequently traded views on business ideas and opportunities in the payments, loyalty and concierge space. Gagan and Subrat have known each other since the late-90s, when they worked together at the SBI-GE cards joint venture. They have each built new businesses from scratch inside larger companies – Gagan most recently started the Indian operations for CPP and Subrat built the credit cards business at Kotak – and we’re excited to back them in building a new company in this white space.
The thesis behind OneAssist is that consumers increasingly value peace of mind, convenience and assistance with respect to certain events that can disrupt or interrupt our everyday lives (such as the loss of a phone or wallet, health emergencies etc.). This is driven by: (i) increasing time scarcity – especially in double income households, (ii) a cultural preference for ‘assistance’ (witness services such as Naukri’s ‘assisted’ online job postings, where sales reps hand-hold employers through the job posting process, JustDial’s assisted directory service, IRCTC’s agent channel for booking online tickets etc), and (iii) an emerging orientation towards protecting oneself from unforeseen future events (health insurance didn’t meaningfully exist 10 years ago and is a 13,000 Cr industry now). And perhaps more anecdotally, a growing sense of taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family.
We believe there is a large opportunity to create a branded, consumer-oriented assistance and protection platform across multiple segments. The initial use cases OneAssist will support are the loss (or theft) of a wallet (including cards, driving license, PAN card etc) and the loss (or theft) of a mobile phone. In each case, the company takes on the chore of cancelling credit/debit cards (or remotely wiping and locking a phone), protecting against misuse of cards and/or data, providing emergency assistance (such as providing a replacement handset with data fully backed-up), and replacing essential identity documents such as a driving license or PAN card. Each product also offers certain group insurance benefits to protect against financial loss. Plans are priced at Rs 1,000 to 2000 per annum depending on the chosen package plan, which equates to just about Rupees 3-5 a day.
In addition to marketing directly to consumers, the company would also market their products through affinity partners (such as banks, telcos, retail, etc) and corporates who have large customer or employee bases and can offer such products as very relevant value added service or benefits for a fee.
This business model is notoriously difficult to execute against given the importance of delivering against the promise in ‘moments of truth’, the myriad of supply-chain partnerships and capabilities that must be developed and coordinated, the direct and partner-driven sales and marketing capabilities that must be built to achieve scale and the customer engagement strategies that must be deployed to ensure high customer satisfaction and loyalty. We believe that Gagan and Subrat are the best entrepreneurs to take on this challenge and wish them and their team the very best as they embark upon this adventure.
(Source: Andrew Bolin)
[Published in Medianama]
I attended the Founders Forum event in Mumbai, organized by Rajesh Sawhney, Brent Hoberman and Jonathan Goodwin, as well as the Nokia Growth Partners Mobile Internet event.
Jonathan Bill of Vodafone spoke at both these events about upcoming changes in Vodafone’s offdeck rev-share regime in India. This change, along with a potential broadband data plan price war and growth in smartphone users could result in a real transition in mobile data usage over the remainder of this year, charting a way out of the slump that I discussed in my last post.
Vodafone will start to offer more favorable rev-share deals to those direct-to-consumer mobile apps/services companies that will not rely on Vodafone for promotion and customer acquistion. In other words, developers will keep 70% of the revenue from their applications (at a scale of Rs 1 cr+ in billings; 60% below that), as opposed to the 25-30% currently prevalent here. 70% is more in line with what Apple and Google offer to developers for iOS and Android apps respectively as well as what operators are offering in the US, Europe, China and Japan.
The bet here is that the smaller operators like Aircel and Tata DoCoMo follow relatively quickly and then the larger ones like Airtel and Reliance may be compelled to follow suit – in aggregate, these greater offdeck rev-shares will drive more innovation and more revenue for developers. Nokia, among others, is citing a 3-5x jump in conversation rates when operator billing is enabled for paid apps and in-app purchases.
I don’t think mobile operators are risking much in the short- to medium-term by tring this since this change in rev-share would only apply to offdeck billing and not to the majority of revenue that these operators get through whitelabeled services, data plans and p2p SMS that they already offer. In the long-term, though, whitelabel services will suffer from competition from D2C apps/services – also, ARPU from data plans will come down in price wars although overall data plan revenue should go up with significantly higher numbers of data subscriptions.
I don’t expect these changes to break open the eco-system overnight. 70% rev-share to developers was offered in the US for several years prior to the iPhone being introduced in 2007, yet the eco-system there did not break-out. Why? Because there is lots of other friction in the eco-system as well, including multi-step transaction flows for consumers, 4-6 month payout periods for developers, reconciliation issues, no standard app discovery methodology (although app stores are starting to be offered by most operators today), no offdeck billing aggregator in India, fragmented platforms, lack of customer trust, and limited success/availability of multiple business models like paid apps, in-app billing, in-app advertising etc.
However, assuming this change from Vodafone comes through in the next couple of months, here’s some of what could ensue:
- In anticipation of other operators following through with the same model, I expect to see the formation of many new teams with strong consumer acquisition, engagement and retention DNA. Hopefully, with funds freed up for product and marketing, there should be a greater focus on building brand and acquiring customers directly on what will be the leading platforms in India in the next few years: mobile Web and Android (in my opinion, not SMS, USSD, J2ME or iOS). I am bullish about the prospects of some of these D2C categories, especially related to entertainment.
- Mobile ad networks (e.g. Google, InMobi, Appia, Getjar) will benefit from some increased performance-based ad spend from developers. As we have seen in other countries, mobile content providers (music, ringtones, apps) with direct revenue models have been the earliest adopters of mobile advertising because they have been able to tie marketing spend directly to revenue.
- Existing whitelabel MVAS vendors will launch consumer brands or start pushing their nascent consumer brands more aggressively. In other geographies where the D2C eco-system opened up, whitelabel vendors have struggled tremendously with building consumer brands and have mostly failed. Impediments include trying to maintain relationships with their mobile operator customers while competing with them in their D2C business and not having the consumer DNA in the team for user acquisition and retention.
- Other mobile operators might slowly start offering similar rev-shares although I think they will wait to see the results of Vodafone’s new initiative before risking their arguably miniscule offdeck billing revenue streams.
- We may see a carrier payments aggregator emerge once enough operators have changed their offdeck rev-share percentages. InMobi (with Smartpay) and Opera are already moving this way in India as announced at MWC. Boku, Zong, Paypal may come this way over time. There should be a space for a standalone Indian carrier payments aggregator, along the lines of what Qpass did in the US a decade ago.
So, I see a much more vibrant and larger MVAS eco-system emerging over the next few years. Now is a right time to start direct-to-consumer companies in mobile – we are seeing a ton of founders with exciting new ideas. Bring it on!
I find myself simultaneously excited by the future prospects of India’s mobile value-added services (MVAS) industry and depressed by the current friction in the eco-system. Overall though, I am cautiously optimistic – there is some hope on the horizon in the form of upcoming offdeck rev-share changes, smartphone growth, and the (rumored) Reliance 4G launch.
So, what is the problem?
Mobile operator ARPU in India has collapsed from roughly $10 in 2005 to $3 currently, compared to a steady $11 in China and $70 in the US. There is over-competition in the market – good news for consumers in terms of voice prices but bad news for consumers in terms of slower rollout of broadband and high wireless data prices.
Wireless data in India is relatively early – it accounts for ~$4.8 billion in revenue (according to IAMAI and Analysys Mason) or 16% of overall wireless revenue of ~$30 billion. MVAS (excluding data plans and p2p SMS) accounts for approximately half of wireless data revenue in India. Contrast this to US data revenue of ~$70 billion in 2011 (approximately 35-40% of overall wireless revenue of $200 billion) and China data revenue of $32 billion (approximately 27% of overall wireless revenue of $120 billion). There are approximately 50 million mobile Internet users in India out of ~800 million mobile users.
MVAS companies in India are not growing fast (or at all). Since they have traditionally focused on building businesses inside the operator walled garden, they have been governed by the 25-30% cap on the rev-share that they get. Recent TRAI regulation changes have not helped the vendors (although I think consumers have benefited from the elimination of spam and seamy billing practices). Due to their whitelabel nature and lack of consumer branding, most MVAS companies are being increasingly commoditized. They also have a high cost base given the rev-share constraint, content licensing costs and the fixed cost of managing operator relationships.
The leading MVAS companies like OnMobile, IMIMobile, Comviva and One97 have now refocused their attention outside India. Beyond that, there is a long-tail of MVAS companies, none of which seem to have truly punched through $5-10M per year in revenue and many of which have now optimized for cash-flow at the expense of growth.
No alternative payments platform in place. Operator billing is the most pervasive payment mechanism in the world, and in India (apart from cash and checks). Some sort of alternative mechanism needs to come along, whether cash load networks or mobile wallets with integration to net banking/ETF/credit cards/cash load networks or operator billing aggregators. 18 million credit cards is a miniscule number relative to 800 million+ mobile users.
But I think there is some hope on the horizon. Here’s what to look out for in the next 12-24 months:
1) offdeck rev-shares could be poised to increase dramatically from 30% to developers going up to 70% in the next 12 months, with Vodafone leading the charge (more on this in the next post).
2) over the next 2-3 years, as true smartphones (Android/iOS) grow to ~100 million installed base, from the current 10-15 million, consumers will have access to a global applications database and regular payment options.
3) Reliance 4G may disrupt on pricing and rev-shares to break open the market. This might drive a data plan price war.
(republished from Nextwala blog)