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  • Hello you. I'm a 38-year old MSc student, studying Advanced Computer Science at Sussex University. I'm especially interested in Internet and mobile software, sensors and pervasive computing, user interfaces, and the process of developing great software.

    Before that I spent 11 years running Future Platforms, a software company I co-founded which makes lovely things for mobile phones, and which I sold in 2011.

    I read a lot, write here, and practice Aikido and airsoft. I live in Brighton, a seaside town on the south coast of the UK, with two cats and a clown.

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January 15, 2007

Comments

Mike Butcher

Nice blogging Tom. BTW Sandhill Road is in San Francisco (or 'Silicon Valley'I guess) and has a lot of VCs head-quartered on it. I also agree we should get over 'user experience'. It's a GIVEN that the experience should be good. If it's not then just get out of the business and go and grow vegetables or something. Now let's talk about something else!

Sam Sethi

Agree with Mike Good review Tom. Sorry if the insight was not more compelling but the topic was had to raise about the level of bubble no bubble. I would be interested to hear what you think, as not sure of your thoughts or opinion on this topic or those I raised?

Jag

Although the theme was bubble or no bubble. There were a few things that stuck out for me last night:

* The point (or implication) that Madhuban made early on about how there's too much action in the "application" space and not enough in infrastructure. And how innovators should look beyond advertising as a revenue model. Personally, I think she was being too kind, and could have been a lot harsher.

* Also another point made by Madhuban - this time made me laugh, she recalled her experience and stated on several occasions that working with the network operators was hard/frustrating/bloodbath etc. Here we go again: I always look forward to the point in Mobile Mondays when everyone starts to rant about the "evil operators". For years I used to think the same thing until I joined the "evil operator" and could see from the inside why we do what we do. So my question to Madhuban, had I had the opporunity to ask it would have been: why oh why did you let it get to bloodbath stage with an operator when investing and parading new mobile innovations? Surely VCs should be filtering out the stuff that won't cut it with operators. Perhaps the VCs should get together with the "analysts" and do their homework before trying to get innovations to market that just won't make sense. I know this sounds really arrogant, I'm not saying that "operators know best", but what I am implying is that both operators and VCs are playing with investors money. It's a serious business and decisions aren't generally made emotionally. The operator has investors, just like the VCs. Both are trying to get the best return on capital invested. A VC who has a hard time trying to get an operator to take an innovation nine times out of ten is doing the wrong thing. I'll give you an example; I get innovators and startups knocking on my door every day, I prob see more startups than most people do. But what pains me a great deal are those that come in and say they got second round funding for their innovative product. In some cases I really wonder which VC was mug enough to allow some crazy things to go to second round funding. I know I'm being harsh, so apologies in advance.

* Jan's point about usability, although obvious, needs to be stated again and again and again. And VCs need to understand this too. For example, when meeting mobile startups, it doesn't very long into a meeting when you ask the question "so what phones does this work on?", and the answer is usually something like "well it works on Series 60 today, but we plan to have Windows Mobile and Java version out in x months time". Our response is usually something like "you do realise that Symbian represents only a small single-digit fraction of all of our sales don't you?", and the reply is something like "well, yes but we can see that changing as time goes on, smartphones will dominate at some point". You know I don't necessarily disagree with that line of thinking, BUT we've got an already established business to run and we're concerned about next quarter's revenues, and in so few cases do you spot something that you could take a punt on being a good earner in 8 quarters time, because the world will have moved on in just 2 ! Next please!

* There was a discussion around skills gap and quality of management teams. I think Sam mentioned this. A very interesting dicussion I think. Got my mind wandering a bit about this. I think it kind of relates in some way to what Madhuban implied about "too many player in applications", and the point that Sam made about starting up on a credit card etc. It's just too easy to knock up clever web apps. There seems to be a lack of deep insight and vision, and I think the reason is exactly because it's too easy these days. Let me use computer programming as an analogy. When I was a kid I was mad about computers. I taught myself programming, insitially in BASIC on RML 380z and then progressed to Acorn Atom, Z80 assembler etc. I created Othello games, space invaders games, and progressed into teenage years to programs for complex solutions to complex problems, like AI, chess etc. All self taught and in my spare time. It was all deep insight, fundamental, inspiring and playing with the building blocks to create great things, from roots high up to the leaves in the branches. When I look at kids these days, all the innovations that have been acheived in the last 20 years shield them from getting at the building blocks. The building blocks these days are more macro than they used to be; windows, widgets, web methods etc. The further up the app space you go, the more prescribed your usage of them becomes and the less differentiation in innovation occurs in the end products. In the last bubble I think we saw a lot more of the "deep innovators", and again if I had the opportunity to make it I would have said something last night, something along the lines of "where have all the high quality innovators and managers of the last bubble gone? I'll tell you where they've gone; when the bubble burst they got stable, low-risk jobs, got married had kids and are quite frankly burned out and don't want to go through that kind of hell again. And the next generation of innovators have all grown up reading O'Reilly books instead of programming Casio calculators"

* Jan's point about 50p increase in ARPU over two years seen by KDDI when they went flatrate data. I didn't know that. Very interesting though. I haven't quite had time to absorb that properly, need to get my head around it. It's not as simple as saying that going flat rate will not get the customer using it more. Reason is that when KDDI/AU did that, the market was already very mature in terms of usage. So, need to think about that one a bit more.

jamescoops

I'm afraid to say that, with one or two exceptions, the debate last night was dire. To some extent this was down to the way it was framed but I really hoped for a bit more analysis of MOBILE compared to the wider web 2.0 stuff. Mobile is on a very different point in the curve to the web stuff - B2C mobile was effectively in recession last year.

Tom Hume

Sam: sure, that was the theme. I think it's angels-on-pinheads stuff but the event is still worthwhile :) I don't talk Strategy fluently, so can't really comment on the high-level stuff but I get that the investment climate here doesn't mirror that in the US, and yeah that's a shame. My focus personally tends to be more on building stuff.

Jag: cheers for the comments. Guess I'm jaded on the usability front and read too many interaction design blogs to find this stuff in any way new, but you're echoing what I've heard from other folks in operators here. And know what you mean re deep technical innovation and its rarity. The number of graduate CVs we get where the third year project is "building a web site" makes me shiver...

James: I didn't think it was dire. Certainly I got to catch up with a few familiar faces afterwards, including a couple of folks I'd not seen in yonks :)

jamescoops

yes always a good chat afterwards - was just a bit disappointed that the debate didnt focus on mobile a bit more.

Madhuban

Hi

Just to reclarify, my experience around the 'bloodbath' was not as an investor but more so as a company working for the operators to deliver a joint scheme. Working with one operator is a nightmare, try working with a consortium- having had first hand experience I will not wish it on anyone. My other point which seems to have gone amiss is that it makes sense to know of operator priorities and not to take that lightly under any circumstance. Hence, it pays to do the right due diligence not only as an investor but particularly as a startup in mobile. The end game is about returns be it a startup,network operator or an investor.

Jag

Thanks Madhuban, and apologies for not understanding it in the right context. I agree that a consortium of operators would indeed be a total nightmare. I have been there myself! I remember your point about knowledge of operator priorities, I think it was a point well made. I feel really arrogant saying this, and there's probably not really a nice way of saying it, but think there is a lot of hype and misunderstanding about the logic behind operator priorities, products and services in the market. The better developers/innovators understand these, the more likely we are to get successful product, characterised by good return for all parties like you say. Cheers!

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