Sunday, November 13, 2011

Web 2.0 Internet trends

Every year, Mary Meeker looks into her crystal ball and gives a presentation on the internet trends. These presentations are filled with a lot of data and analysis. In case you haven't seen the 2011 presentation, here it is:

Here is the PPT if you want to go over the slides at your own pace.

KPCB Internet Trends (2011)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


What is Lytro? How is it differentiated from the competition? What is its competition? What is the current market? What is its message to the market?

The photography market can be roughly divided into professionals, prosumers and consumers.
Professionals care about the kinds of pictures they take and are looking for control, accuracy, dependence and ruggedness in a camera.

Consumers are not very particular about the picture quality and accuracy. Consumers care about how quickly they can capture the picture and upload it onto their favorite social network. Consumers also want the ability to capture video using the same camera.

Prosumers care a bit about the control and picture quality but are not very concerned about dependence and ruggedness.

Professionals and prosumers tend to gravitate towards SLRs and consumers move towards P&S cameras. Of late, consumers are moving towards cell phone cameras in droves. Especially after the introduction of smart phones with high pixel count and featureful cameras. Consumers are more interested in snapping a picture or shooting a video and uploading it onto the Internet instantaneously.

So, where does Lytro fit in this picture? Lytro is currently marketed as a consumer camera. The main differentiation of Lytro is that it lets you capture an image without first worrying about focusing it. This is something unique and no other camera can accomplish. Of course, there are several single focus cameras in the market. But, what Lytro promises is the ability to focus after taking the shot. Due to the nature of the lens structure, it is hard to pack it into a cell phone. At least, not right now. The current form factor is completely different than anything in the market. It is neither pocket nor palm friendly. Based on the current design, it is a hard sell to consumers.

Prosumers would be interested in the camera because of its novelty. Prosumers and technology geeks will buy it for the sake of technology so they can play with it and hack it.

Professionals could immensely benefit from the creative opportunities offered. But, professionals need control, accuracy, ruggedness and dependence. Lytro does not offer control over aperture and shutter speed. It only offers the ability to change focus, after the fact. It has a fixed aperture (f2.0?) and no way to control the shutter speed.

Until the Lytro technology can be put into a tablet or a smart phone, it is hard to sell it to the average consumer.

So, what features can we add to the Lytro to make it attractive to prosumers as well as professionals? Control is the biggest factor for this group.

The ability to control the image composition via variable focal lengths, aperture and shutter speed. The ability to convert the image into a standard 2D format after manipulation. This gives the user additional parameters (focus) to tweak after the shot is taken. This is tremendous value for professionals, as long as they can convert the final product into another standard 2D format and print high quality images.

Right now, the camera is taking away a lot of the controls from the user and giving one back. The value add from the new feature is not sufficient to replace the lost ones. That is where it is hard to differentiate and sell the camera to users.

As I mentioned earlier, law enforcement, security monitoring, etc. are areas where this technology can be very effectively used as it is.

(Update) Based on this article, Steve Jobs was interested in this technology. Maybe, Apple is waiting for the technology to become mature enough so they can acquire it and have Jony do some magic with it.

Apart from these exits, Lytro could end up being another Segway.
(Photo credit:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Enterprise Cloud

There has been a lot of talk about cloud computing tools and services and how it could reshape the competitive landscape.

A very small group of early adopters are using cloud computing in the Enterprise arena. One of the main reasons for the lackluster adoption in the Enterprise is due to the lack of full understanding of the benefits and risks of cloud computing. There is a lot of hype thrown out by marketing and it is hard for executives to sift through it.

The main concerns when it comes to cloud computing is security, business continuity and compliance.

Adoption has been great in small companies and especially, amongst technology startups. But, this evidence is not factored in by the large enterprises. When you see Fortune 500 enterprises using paper and Excel to manage their data (database, what?), one has to wonder how long it will take for them to consider cloud solutions. It is not an easy task to implement a new technology or roll out an application in an enterprise that is busy rolling out consumer goods or airplanes. There are a lot of moving parts and interdependencies which make the move very tricky and expensive. When the mission critical applications are on the line, it is not easy to justify the change.

Marc Andreessen commented that enterprise vendors like Oracle are doomed because everything is moving towards the cloud. He said that the clock is ticking on old-line software and infrastructure companies and they need to cloudify their applications or perish. His evidence is based on his vision and premise that cloud is the future. His evidence that a lot of startups utilize cloud-based alternatives to enterprise software as well as infrastructure is well founded because most startups are cash strapped and cannot afford to cut huge checks to enterprise vendors. It is a boon for startups and helps them keep their costs down and be nimble. But, the same does not hold true to enterprises. There are still a lot of hurdles to clear before enterprises accept cloud computing. They need to see a lot of evidence and benefits in order to make a switch, and still, it will take a decade before we see much traction. Also, specific to the point Mark makes, someone still has to create all the infrastructure and software to run the cloud in the first place. So, there will still be a place (albeit smaller) for the so called old-line software and infrastructure companies.

Based on a report in the HBR, some of the highly valued benefits of cloud computing are:
- Increased business agility
- Flexible capacity
- Faster adoption of new technology
- Lower fixed costs (moving capex to opex)
- Lower up-front costs to develop/deploy IT systems
- Always on newest versions of software without IT updates/patches

The article also lists the following as the advantages of the cloud:
- Makes it easy to experiment at low cost
- Enables deeper collaboration with business partners
- Frees up IT resources to work on more strategic things
- Is a source of competitive advantage for early adopters
- Lowers cost of doing business
- Lowers overall IT costs

Many executives believe that cloud computing can give them considerable advantages, but are still hesitant due to the fact that they do not have answers to their questions on security, reliability and implementation costs. All the information from marketing is not helping either. Technical executives understand the implications of cloud computing, and the gap is in educating the non-technical executives and getting their buy-in.

Salesforce has successfully made in-roads into enterprises and there are lessons to learn from this case study.

Aaron Levie, the CEO of makes an interesting observation (read full interview here) when it comes to enterprise software. He talks about the disconnect in the customer-vendor relationship. He says "There are literally lawsuits from vendors to customers and customers to vendors in that industry. It's kind of a crazy industry because there's this asymmetry where you'll sell software to an enterprise, and they will pay you regardless of whether that's successful or not. That's entirely unlike SaaS where customers will only pay us if we're successful."

From a common sense perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Why would you pay for a car one year before its delivery, only to find out that it is not at all what you wanted?

But, the reality is quite different. You are not paying for a run of the mill car, but a custom car with styling and performance characteristics defined by you. Hence, you have to pay in advance and wait a year to have the car delivered.

Majority of the enterprise applications need configuration and/or customizations to suit the client's specific needs. This is what takes the time to create and is what incurs up-front capital investment. Even if we move into the cloud paradigm, this still holds true and the costs are going to be incurred. What is going to be different is that the infrastructure costs will go down since you are renting rather than buying on your own.

Cloud is here to stay, for sure. But there will still be a mix of on-premise and cloud hosted solutions from what I can see, with the cloud being the majority.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kindle eBooks at your public library!

Couple days ago I read that Kindle books are now available for download from the King County Library System in Seattle. Ever since I read the news report that Kindle books were coming to public libraries I was thrilled and anxiously waiting for the moment.

I always imagined a day when I walk into a new public library and open an account, instead of a library card, I get handed a Kindle. I go home and browse the library catalog and check out books using the Kindle. How cool would that be? It is still a long way to get there, but it will happen (either with the Kindle or some other such device).

I immediately headed over to the KCLS web site to browse the library. To my surprise, there were thousands of titles available! I was tempted to download a boat load, but restricted myself to a handful and went through the checkout process. The site does inform that whispernet is not supported and I was curious to see how the checkout worked. I collected all my books in my BookBag, and logged into the KCLS system. Once I checked out the books, I was redirected to the Amazon web site for download. I had to then login to and then instruct the site to transfer the book over to my Kindle. Lo and behold, the book appeared on my Kindle (via WiFi, though) in a few moments!

I would have loved it if I were allowed to download the book directly from the library, but then, I would have had to use USB to get the book across to my Kindle. Also, another gripe is the inability to perform bulk transfer. If you check out 10 books from the library, you will have to initiate the download process 10 times. This is a bit annoying, but I am sure Amazon will fix it soon.

All in all, a great experience and I am glad Kindle is now supported by the public library system. Looking forward to a lot more time spent with my Kindle.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Urwerk UR-110 Torpedo

I love timepieces with spectacular satellite complications and Urwerk makes some of the best watches in this category. UR-110 Torpedo is another such device and this stunning video demonstrates it. Did I mention they are also great at creating awesome fly-throughs of their complications?

Check this one out:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lessons from Angry Birds

I am flying back home from San Jose and have a ton of catchup work to finish on the plane ride. I board the plane and get buckled in. While waiting for the doors to close, I take out my cellphone and start flinging birds. I am excited that I am kicking a$$ and jumping into new levels. The door closes, plane takes off, and finally lands in Seattle. I have completed multitudes of levels by this time. Yay!!

And, then I remember all the work that I had planned on accomplishing on the ride...

Not to mention that it ended up being a long night.

Ever wonder why Angry Birds is so addictive? Here is an interesting infographic trying to explain it.

There are a lot of takeaways from this analysis. It helps us list the key qualities of a winning and addictive app:
1. Simple with no learning curve
2. Rewarding. Users get primitive pleasure blowing things up
3. Realistic. Great physics
4. Funny. Creatures' sound, laughter and backflips
5. Anticipation of the reward of progressing to the next level

These form the fundamentals of a great game design.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lessons from the demise of TouchPad

It was Saturday morning and I am at Best Buy standing in line outside the door waiting for the store to open. There were around 20 people with me, all excited to get their hands on the $99 TouchPads. The door opens and we all walk in and start looking for TouchPads, only to be told by the sales staff that they have none in stock. Everybody is flabbergasted that the store has lots on stock the previous evening and none this morning. We all return empty handed.

I started following a Twitter feed for tips on where to score one. And, I do get a tip that it is in stock at I immediately rush over and place an order for my TouchPad. Everything goes smooth and my order in place, I relax for the rest of the weekend.

Monday arrives and I get an email from BN and I immediately open it to see when my TouchPad is arriving. But, to my dismay, the email says:
Due to unexpected customer demand for this item, our inventory was depleted prior to your order being processed so we are unable to fulfill this item as requested. Consequently, we have canceled your order and you will not be billed for this amount.


Later on, I hear that another of my friend's order met with the same fate, albeit with another retailer.

What this tells me is that Best Buy had a lapse of communication, corporate not relaying the information to their stores in a timely manner. I did hear that the same store sold the TouchPads later during the day.

And, the Order Management (OM) system is not integrated with the Supply Chain and Inventory Management system at B&N. The OM system doesn't have a clue of the real-time inventory. They didn't have a clue what their Available To Promise (ATP) was. If BN had an integrated multi-channel OM system that was in sync with their Inventory Management system, this would not have happened.

What the TouchPad fire sale showed us was that most of the retailers are yet to mature in managing their multi-channel OM, Inventory and ERP functionality. This is a tremendous opportunity for them to squeeze more profits out of their supply chain by maximizing their supply utilization and inventory productivity. Maybe, the brick and mortar retailers can still survive (for some more time) if they get their houses in order and streamlined to reduce costs.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Django in 20 mins

During one of my StartupWeekend experiences, my team used Django and Python to create the prototype web application. They did a fantastic job in a short period of time. I have always worked with Java, Javascript, Struts, Hibernate, etc. but had not ventured into the server side technologies like Ruby, PHP, Python, etc. So, I thought it is a good time to catch up on these technologies so that I can better understand them. I am always a firm believer of getting my hands dirty in order to fully appreciate anything, be it technology or art.

This week, I decided to learn Django and Python.

I looked around the web and found a site which promised to teach me to build a web site using this technology in 20 minutes!! Awesome, I thought. No wonder it has become so much easier and faster to develop web apps. I watched the video here, and it seemed pretty straight forward and easy to try out. The rest of this post is about my saga to build this sample Wiki application using Django and Python.

One thing I realized after spending several hours (not minutes) to get up and running is that the tutorial completely misses out on the pre-requisites. It assumes that all the pre-requisite software is already installed and configured. That is where the problem started. I didn’t have any of the pre-reqs (apart from mySQL database server, Tomcat, Eclipse and others) installed. Note that I was trying this project on a brand new 64-bit Windows machine.

First thing I had to do was to get Python. I downloaded Python 2.7 and installed it. Then, I downloaded Django and installed it.

Python, for some reason, doesn't append the Path env variable. I had to manually add Python to the Path. Once I had these two in place, I created my project and started configuring it. Trying to connect the Django model to the database is when I realized that I didn't have a connector for Python to talk to MySQL. I looked around and found MySQLdb from SourceForge and downloaded that. The beauty of this is, it is not available as a binary. So, I had to download the source and build it. I try to build it and lo and behold, I discover that I don’t have a compiler. Since I did not have access to Visual Studio, I downloaded MinGW, the open source compiler. I ran the ' build' utility and hit many more errors. After several iterations, I was able to finally build it. I run the executable and it complained that I don’t have Python installed. Duh. I know that Python is on my machine but this sucker is not recognizing it. After a bit of research I found that Win64 sticks the registry values for 32bit apps under Wow6432Node. Thanks. Now, I had to correct this or add the correct registry entries. I created a .reg file and added the correct entries. Ran regedit and was able to add the correct registry entries. Now, the MySQLdb installation was able to complete successfully. Phew.

The video also forgets to mention that the database needs to be created before running syncdb command. I ran the command and after seeing the errors, went ahead and created a new database in mySQL and ran syncdb again successfully. I now had the database tables created.

Success at last.

I am now able to build my app. I start the server and hit more errors. Runserver craps out with error that it cannot access socket. This may be due to the fact that Windows 7, with UAC, administrator accounts run programs in unprivileged mode by default. So, programs must prompt the user and get permission. But, since python scripts aren't directly executable, they cannot prompt the user. Hmm…

After more research, I found that the default port was already in use and that was the real issue. I called runserver with another specific port and everything worked fine. Phew. Now, I have the server up and running.

I went ahead and completed the application and ran it successfully.

I discovered that most of this open source software is yet to be ported to Win64 and hence these problems. I also discovered that lots of people have come across the same errors I encountered. Is it due to lack of documentation? Not really. Django has a tonne of great documentation. I just need to make time to read it all. I was too eager to get the application up and running.

But, there are lots of resources on the web to help you surmount the problems.

All in all, Django and Python are great for quickly putting up a prototype web application. I am really impressed. I still need to see how well it scales, though.

But, don’t be fooled by the video claiming that it takes only 20 mins to get up and running. It took me more like 3-4 hrs starting from scratch. Maybe, because, I had a 64 bit machine and was running Win 7. Or, maybe because these things do take some time to wrangle and set up correctly. I am hoping that it will be clear sailing from this point onwards.

Looking forward to more web app development.

Follow up comments (Jul 2011):

I did look into the Django as well as Python documentation and they are fantastic. The documentation is extremely detailed and is available in many formats. Kudos to the team that put this documentation together. Top notch.

Light Field Photography

Lytro, a Bay area startup announced their product to the world today. It is great to see innovation in the area of photography. Yes, we did go from film to digital, but what changed was the medium of capture of the data and nothing else. What Lytro promises is a new way to capture image data, one which captures light fields from multiple angles and lets the user manipulate the data after the fact. Check out their gallery for some stunning examples. This is really cool technology and I am waiting to get my hands on the camera.

The marketing message for this camera seems to be centered around 'shoot first, focus later'. Before auto-focus was invented, people focused cameras manually. But, once auto focus was introduced, how many of us focus cameras manually, especially, consumers. Auto focus was a boon to the camera world and paved the way to make photography an enjoyable experience, and we saw an exponential increase in consumer adoption. Digital photography (immediate gratification) took it to the next level. Now, Lytro wants the consumer (viewer of the end result) to 'focus' the picture in order to enjoy the 'living picture'. I don't think my friends and family would want to 'focus' my pictures and discover the hidden details.

The beauty and art of photography was that it allowed the artist to tell a story in the way they want to tell it. This new technology is akin to the 'create your own adventure' books where you decide how the story turns out. How popular are those books? Not very..

The light field technology and camera does have its uses. Imagine a traffic/surveillance camera equipped with this technology, and the CSI computer geeks will be out of jobs.

The success of this company will depend on how they productize the technology and market it to the consumers. The current story is not compelling enough to tilt the scales.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lessons from StartupWeekend

I have attended a few StartupWeekend events and it is always exhilarating to participate in them. All the energy and enthusiasm is contagious to say the least.

One pattern I have noticed so far is that a majority of the projects just fizzle off, after the weekend. One of the main reasons is the fact that the team realizes that the idea is either not feasible or does not make sound business.

In reality, VCs always look for 'the team'. If you have an A-team, come what may, they will execute. If halfway through the endeavor, they discover that the idea doesn't hold water, they will come up with another one which will. Remember, they are the A-team.

The biggest problem at StartupWeekends is that there isn't enough time to iterate, and come up with fresh ideas. You present an idea on Friday, and have two days to execute. If the Product Manager determines that the idea doesn't make business sense, it is too late to turn the ship. The developers are already half way through the project and are not going to stop. Even if you stop, and change course, the chances of having a demoable application by Sunday evening is pretty slim. So, in order to save face, the team moves along and completes the implementation (demo app).

After the weekend, the idea fizzles off since the momentum is lost and no value is seen in continuing the idea. In cases where there is a lot of synergy and great teams are formed, they continue to meet and hash out ideas that they finally implement.

So, the key to a successful StartupWeekend is not the idea, per se, but the team you form. Next time, pick people who complement you and make a great team and success will follow.