Month: September 2009

Four Things

One of the toughest things to accomplish as a largely one-man-show is to get things done on time. There are too many distractions, way too many things to chase after and a majority of the times things just don't go according to plan. Couple all that with a month-long vacation which shreds apart any bit of work discipline you've had before, the result is a list of things-to-do that pile up and task bankruptcy looms large on the horizon.

Previously, I have resorted to quite complicated task mapping and GTD strategies to get through things. Ever since I got back from the vacation, each of those strategies seemed to stop working, especially since my already despicable ability to multitask has undergone another round of depletion. Thus was born the Four Things strategy to getting things done.

Four Things is very simple. It is easy to understand and implement. It is rather self explanatory: you pick four things every day that you want to accomplish and the time you want to allocate for them. Of the four, three are largely static. You can't avoid cooking or exercising on most days. The same goes for work. So all those get slotted into the three things. The remaining slot goes for activities that don't get repeated on a daily basis. This could include going sport climbing, catching a movie, going out drinking etc.

The larger idea is to get comfortable doing these simple plans on a daily basis and finishing them as a rule every day. The simplicity of the method ensures that the overhead of measuring/mapping is significantly lower in this. As you get into the habit of doing the Four Things subconsciously, you can increase it to five, six or any number that you are comfortable with. Focus more on execution than planning and maintenance. Let us see how it works for me in the long run.

Filed under: Misc

Is There A Method To Yahoo!'s Divesture Craze? I Think There Is

So, Yahoo! is now looking to sell off even Zimbra, the white-label email company that it acquired in 2007, in what seems to be a crazy effort to get rid of a lot potentially valuable divisions within the company. It seems to be the case that Carol Bartz has gone off her rocker, or that she is not going to stop until, one way or the other, Yahoo! winds up being an outpost of Microsoft in Sunnyvale.

But, there is another possible angle to this weird story, one that is 100% based on speculation and 0% information. And here is how it goes:

1. Yahoo!'s primary pull on the internet is as a content destination. It may still have a massive number of people using its email services, but the money is made in content and using the humongous level of traffic it generates to derive advertising revenue*.

2. The company is not the market leader in the following domains: search, advertising, social networking, B2B services, jobs. Focus on these costs the company time and money and takes its attention away from the primary source of revenue. The company's future lies in being in the same position of leadership which it has right now – being the internet's number one content destination.

This is one place where neither Microsoft nor Google has the upper hand. But that does not mean the lead will remain with them forever.

3. The content model is changing dramatically now due to a variety of reasons, Yahoo! has to change and stay ahead of the curve to remain the leader. If it fails in it, all the Flickrs and Zimbras of the world, won't be able to save the company.

Which Means:

  • Yahoo! will soon have to start Investing heavily in new content models (both production and distribution): They would want to be at the bleeding edge in the domain.
  • The company has to Invest heavily into acquiring new and unique content (even though publications are struggling to make money, content production costs will not go down, unique content will cost even more). Selling the non-core assets frees up resources, both financial and otherwise to do this.
  • Lesser distractions: Other attention-sucking products have to be let go. It is a short-term negative for a longer-term positive.
  • I would expect the company to treat content is the gateway drug into the ecosystem, with ancillary products will built around it, developed in alignment, than as a retrofit.
  • Also, expect Yahoo! R&D to realign their products around content (search is anyway gone for now).

In short Yahoo! wants to further cement their position as the Google of online content. I do not know much of a visionary Bratz is, but one thing she seems to understand well is numbers. There is very much the probability that she has looked at the numbers and realized what almost nobody in leadership positions in the internet domain is willing to openly admit: that the current business models are sustainable at all. Sooner of later we will be forced to find, create and leverage genuine value at scale in it.

Or, it could just be that she is indeed chopping it down to a size that Microsoft can easily gobble up, but I don't think that is the case.

* Taken from Yahoo!'s Q2, 2009, earnings release:

Marketing services revenues from Owned and Operated sites were $858 million for the second quarter of 2009, a 16 percent decrease compared to $1,016 million for the same period of 2008. Marketing services revenues from Affiliate sites were $520 million for the second quarter of 2009, a 9 percent decrease compared to $571 million for the same period of 2008.

As it can be seen Yahoo!'s own sites generate the maximum revenue for the company. What the company is now aiming to do is to put more effort and infrastructure behind the former and get rid of the pieces that generate the latter.

Filed under: Internet

The Indian Digital Opportunity – Build For The Next Three Years

One of the rather interesting outcomes of having been largely out of the loop for close to a month is that it helps you differentiate better the stuff that determines what wheat is and what chaff is. Unfortunately, in the digital domain in India, there is much more of chaff than wheat. I will dig deeper into the numbers when I have a bit more of time to spare, but for the time being this will be posted mostly as a rant.

It was yesterday, during one of our regular conversations on the state of the industry, that I told Nikhil that even for the successful large digital players in India, the scenario is not all that great. There is really little upside to being in the business right now, even if you are on top, for it is near-impossible to accomplish scale in the business beyond the numbers that are already there. And even at ~20 crore INR per quarter, those numbers certainly don't look that great, when you can see that the addressable opportunity won't allow for more than, at the most, half-a-dozen players on that level.

Outside the internet domain, the only sector that offers some kind of respite is telecom. Even here the scope is really limited with horrendously high entry barriers and shrinking margins. The poster child of the past couple of years — mobile VAS — does not look all that great these days and the segment itself is now looking ripe for major consolidation as margins shrink and IP-related costs spiral out of reach. Take VAS out of the telecom equation and the picture becomes rather dreary. If you allow people to use phones only for their basic purpose – to make and recieve calls – the industry size would shrink dramatically. And the trouble with add-on services is that they tend to be rather temperamental and hard to sustain at low cost in the longer run.

Saying television is a mess is an understatement. Even though everyone still wants to start a channel, less than a handful have any chance of ever being on the path to profitability. Most don't have a lifeline that goes beyond the hope of being acquired by some larger player or being made the potential conduit for a foreign player to come to India. Most of the news channels are running losses and mired in debt. And the best part is that none of this still makes it easy or cheaper to start a channel, so the disruptive opportunity is also non-existent, without even taking into account that the software production houses that service most channels are roughly the same handful.

Obviously, none of the powers to be will admit to most of what is written above since it goes at the heart of their raison d'être. But we do need a rethink on how to up the addressable opportunity that can actually be addressed from now to the next five years. Let us admit it, the current opportunity size is just way too tiny to justify the kind of money being burnt in trying to say that it is a future-looking investment. None of the current products really have much appeal even in semi-urban areas. So, addressing the rural areas does not even come into the picture here.

For any company to be successful in the next five years in the digital domain in India, it is necessary for them rethink everything they do from the ground up. It is unlikely that the current scenario will change in the next 2-3 years. We need to use that opportunity to build for a different India and also invest in products that will aim to open up the marketplace, than to keep building clones of western products that have a hard time finding sustenance in the existing market place. It needs thought, leadership and strategy that is different from what we have known till now. It would be interesting to see if that ever comes around.

Filed under: Misc