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Dhingana founder & COO Swapnil Shinde was interviewed by VCCircle in July 2012. Here’s the video!

[Published in Pluggd.in]

I was looking at some stats on growth of consumer social and mobile platforms between 2008 and now. Even though it’s an obvious point, the contrast is quite stark and shows how much the world has changed in a short time.  It’s almost hard to imagine a world where Facebook was a startup, LinkedIn and Twitter had very small user bases and iOS and Android each had less than 10M users. But this was the case in early 2008.

The numbers above are based on Crunchbase, SEC filings and news reports – I think they’re directionally correct although there may be some numbers that are not exactly right.

While all these above-mentioned platforms or quasi-platforms (and others I have not mentioned) have impacted startups in the US and Europe, I think Facebook and Android are the real game-changers in India as opposed to LinkedIn, Twitter or iOS.

Why Facebook and Android in India?  Here’s why: When I think of consumer platforms (a much abused term), I think of a few criteria:

  1. a large, engaged and fast-growing audience (100M+ users)
  2. a developer friendly culture and technology base
  3. a monetization vehicle that is providing enough return to developers for their time

In my opinion, three platforms stand out today and meet this criteria – Facebook, iOS and Android – in many parts of the world.  However, they all fall down in India when it comes to #3 (monetization) and (for now) #1 (audience size).  I have no doubt these platforms will get to the right audience sizes in India in the next 12-24 months – Facebook claims ~50M users and Android has <10M in India. In the meantime, Google reigns supreme for reaching users.

So, the upshot is that now is the time to start companies leveraging these platforms in India.

[previously published on Nextwala blog]

(Source: Marttj)

[Published in VCCircle]

I have worked with the Slideshare team, as a user, investor and board member at different times, from 2008 till late last year.  After the Slideshare + LinkedIn announcement last week, I have been reflecting on how much has changed and how much (or little, depending on your perspective) I have learnt from this experience since starting out in the venture business several years ago, as well being a founder myself in the late 1990′s.

Here’s what I learnt from Rashmi, Jon and Amit about best practices of founders.  I appreciated their willingness to work with me and be patient.

Passion & Focus

  • Passion about your userbase is contagious. It impacts the employees and their retention, it impacts your core user base and their retention, it impacts customers and their retention.
  • Focus, focus, focus on honing the product – UX, scalability, security, data, analytics and more – but keep trying new product angles quickly to iterate toward high engagement and clear value.
  • Focus on crystallizing value to paying customers – make it easy for customers to understand value (packaging, positioning, messaging), connect value to price, and make it easy to pay as customers receive value. To do this, understand who your super-user segments are and why.

Growth and (or versus) Monetization

  • Be frugal (if possible) but keep innovating, so you are around when lightning strikes in terms of user growth, revenue or outcomes.
  • It’s tough to balance growth versus monetization versus profitability. There is definitely a trade-off. Get lots of input on this from people who have made these trade-off successfully.
  • Understand path from user acquisition to engagement to retention to monetization early on and track associated actionable metrics (a la Dave McClure’s AARRR). Especially for user-generated content, there’s no automatic connection between usage and revenue.

The Outside World

  • Acquisitions and successful partnerships take time to develop.  They generally come from engaging over long periods of time. At the end of the day, it’s about people getting to know people.
  • Keep tabs on competition, don’t obsess about them though – most companies die of self-inflicted wounds, not because of competition.
  • Investors are people. Sometimes your investors and board members know what they are talking about, sometimes they don’t, hopefully more of the former.

Becoming a Better Board Member

Through hit (and miss), I also learnt some lessons on how to become a better board member over time:

  • Be respectful w.r.t. founders – they known their business better than you do.
  • Be patient – there’s no such thing as an overnight success – don’t get too impatient but still hold management’s feet to the fire
  • Be thoughtful and have a high bar when suggesting workstreams for the company – their time is precious, don’t waste it.
  • Focus on strategic impact – as an investor, focusing on daily management decisions (i.e. micro-managing) will not have a positive impact on the company (and may have a negative impact). Focus on strategic changes, such as building the best management team, making the right bets on monetization, making the right introductions to partners/acquirers, holding people accountable for outcomes.
  • Conduct board meetings for the right reasons. Board meetings should not primarily be about reporting only but also about trying to solve problems together and laying the groundwork for scale.  The real action happens outside of board meetings though.
  • Align with founders on outcomes. Understand your goals and risk-profile as an investor early on relative to goals and risk-profile of the founders & management team.  Align.
  • Angels and VCs are not at loggerheads. As long as companies continue to build value in a large enough market, angel investors and venture investors are aligned.  All the media hype about the two communities being at loggerheads with each other is overdone.

(previously published on Nextwala blog)

Our colleague Dev has posted on his Nextwala blog regarding his search for a utility app for local news aggregation. The article was also published on VCCircle.

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