Be A Thirsty and Hungry Hippo

Click to enlarge. (Image credit:

I think everyone is busy with their exams at the moment (or some lucky ones, no more exams!) Good luck everyone :). 

This post originally appeared on Tech in Asia, and when the Singapore blogosphere was talking about the Alvin Wang issue, I felt the need to write about it.

There has been a lot of debate about Alvin’s admission to the National University of Singapore (NUS) after the young guy’s social media campaign last week. It caught our attention here at Tech in Asia, and even inspired the Burpple team to create a campaign too.

To date, I see 11,000 ‘likes’ on the webpage, and we have received many comments and conversations in the blogosphere. Just from Willis’ post earlier, we had protestations from someone by the nickname “AlvinWasUntruthful” in the comments thread, and some others also said that he misrepresented himself in his campaign. Prior to his releasing the information that he was already accepted into Information Systems at NUS, our first comment was, “There is always NTU and SMU. The oldest university tends to be inflexible and may hinder your creativity.” Lastly, we also had a comment from the nickname “Graduated” encouraging Alvin to “forget about going to local unis. You will not learn much at computing courses in NUS/NTU/SMU”.

Here’s my two cents:

1. Alvin was goal-oriented

Eventually Alvin released an update on his website which clarified that he was already accepted into Computing (Information Systems), but was appealing to enter Computing (Computer Science). With this, it invited a lot of disapproval from the audience over an apparent lack of clarity/transparency.

But really, I think everyone should give him a break. It wasn’t mentioned that he did get into Computing (IS), but neither did he claim that he was entirely rejected by NUS.

As I quote from Alvin’s website,

… my application to pursue a degree in Computer Science in National University of Singapore was rejected

I think he was very specific on what he wants to get out of his campaigning website. From a social media campaign angle, he was positioning this in a manner as straightforward as possible. It was a mere intention of wanting to amplifying his desire to enter a course and influence the people around to lend some support.

Besides, he was looking to enter Communications and New Media (CNM) where studying social media could possibly be one of the modules that Alvin would probably be required to take. Creating a social media campaign which is able to create such a conversation in the Singapore blogosphere probably means he is exemplary example of a good student applying his knowledge in a real context. Isn’t that what education is supposed to be about? Contrary to what most people are saying, I don’t think his campaign was childish at all.

There were also comments which suggested Alvin should first get into NUS on any course, and then opt for a switch. I agree that that could be an option, but what is wrong with Alvin giving a shot at appealing for a direct admission into the course he desires most? In fact, I find it an utter waste of time to get into a course he is disinterested in, face a difficult time in school, and could possibly face an eventual dropout.

A couple of days back, our fellow blogger Willis tweeted:

Reward success and failure – punish inaction.

I thought that was totally apt in describing this situation. Assuming a situation where Alvin succeeds in his campaign, he will be “rewarded” a place within the course he desires. Even if he “fails,” at least he did give his best shot. At least, for him, he won’t be looking back and regretting not doing anything regarding his appeal. But, if he didn’t even bother about giving it a shot, he would be “punished” by having to settle for the next best alternative.

My ex-principal once told me:

Reach for the sky, even if you fall, you’ll land amongst the stars.

I thought he had the spirit of what a true blue entrepreneur should be and also a lesson that all of us could learn from. It is about giving your best shot at the things that you wish to succeed in, and not give a half-f*ck job.

So if maybe we could ask people out there, if someone says that you can’t make it big with your startup, are you just going to stop there? Are you going to just resign to fate and not influence change? I don’t think so. I think it is in times of difficulties you find opportunities to grow even stronger.

2. I beg to differ that NUS offers education that hinders creativity

A thirsty - maybe hungry - hippo. (Image credit:

I thought it was a pretty unfair attitude for some people to take about NUS. Just to clarify, what I’m saying here does not represent NUS, and the views are my own.

Yes, some elements of the school could improve, but we must also acknowledge that all of us have different learning aptitudes and attitudes, and what might work for one, could possibly not work for another.

We might not have the best of everything, but we can make the best out of everything.

Education is never a one-way conversation where the student passively receives information and does not question the basis of arguments that are presented. We also have a role in our own education – to be inquisitive, to question, and to learn actively.

I think NUS recognizes that each and every student within the school has differing capabilities and are meant for different roles within society. Beyond the textbooks and mainstream education, there are also other activities within NUS which allow us to shine in ways we can as individuals; developing us into outstanding people to contribute back to society. Some are meant to be ministers, industry leaders, designers, creators, and even entrepreneurs.

Take, for instance, the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) program, which is under the NUS Enterprise scheme, which specially hones individuals who are interested in entrepreneurship, where they are sent overseas for a year to work and study. I am very proud to say that I have been part of it, and I didn’t regret giving up one year (of my youth and income) to take part in it.

We have had really successful cases, where our talented NOC alumni have displayed creativity and created startups which had successful exits. Our first example was Darius Cheung, an NUS graduate and NOC Silicon Valley alumnus who co-founded tenCube WaveSecure, which was acquired by McAfee. In the most recent news, eBay’s StubHub acquired PeekSpy, where the latter company was co-founded by Oliver Oxenham, who is also an NUS graduate and NOC Silicon Valley alumnus.

What I am trying to put across here is: a school provides you an environment to hone your creativity. Whether you allow that creative talent in you depends on how much you are willing to let it shine. In my opinion, NUS offers more than just an education. It offers an entire experience which students can opt into, which in turns allow one to display their creativity and potential.

3. We all should never stop learning

(Image from Imgur via Reddit)

I personally value education and knowledge. With the success of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many others, entrepreneurship has been made so sexy that sometimes some might perceive that building a successful startup is as easy as ABC, that we could become billionaires before the age 30.

As much as I don’t think cumulative average point (CAP) or a degree should determine how adaptable or how capable you will be to survive in today’s society, let’s face the fact these things are valued. Here in Singapore, we put great emphasis on paper qualifications. Our society values paper qualifications; that’s the sad reality. But there’s also a reason to why it is important.

Going through a tertiary education equips you with the knowledge to substantiate arguments and makes one go through a higher and analytical thinking process. Some might argue that such information and knowledge can be obtained while on the job. I concur, but having to go through exams and formal education also tests one’s mental endurance. I think exams actually made me pay attention to more details, and because of the prior knowledge learnt in school, I could easily relate and apply them at work. Beyond that paper qualification, it provides individuals an opportunity to meet people from different environments, culture, and extend that to a wider, quality network.

I once spoke to Professor Bruce Quan Jr, who lectures at Peking University Law School, on his thoughts about the pursuit of studies. In the startup context, given his cross-cultural roots, Prof Quan’s take is: you might meet individuals who are either keen on investing or participating in your idea, or meet people who are interested in the market that you come from. This might further facilitate exchange of ideas and even fusion of them – leading to greater innovation and product disruption.

Going to school also puts you into networks which provide you with access to the people who might possibly help with your startup. For instance, if you are interested in venturing into solar energy, your educational base puts you a step closer to the talents and research scientists who are already developing such products. You have also greater access to industry leaders in the alumni networks who could better guide and help you.

In other words, you will be placed in networks which will provide you easy access to resources such as researches, studies, and people who could help build your startup fast. Don’t dismiss me by saying that he’s a professor, that’s why he advocates education. I think what he says make sense.

My take on this…

I think every individual has a role to play in their own education. I think Alvin did the right thing by taking his responsibility and ownership in his education. Ultimately, I think many Singaporean students make the mistake of wanting to pursue a paper qualification for the sake of pursuing one.

There are many lessons to learn from Alvin’s social media campaign. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, investor, or student – be a hungry (and thirsty) hippo. Live your life to the fullest, give the best shot in things you set to achieve, learn proactively, and take responsibility as well as pride in the things you do.

On the road…

Hi all,

This is a belated post from me and it’s not easy for me to write a post – I’m just not used to doing that. 😀 Although I do follow your articles! 🙂

Truth to be told, @vocadoes planned to write a post each on the revenue models of various startups/companies/applications like Yugene’s. Since that week has passed and we’ve just concluded our final session yesterday, I thought it’ll be great to share my learning journey….

When I first stepped into class on day 1 (after waiting foolishly for half an hour with about 15 new faces wondering whether we were in the wrong room or whether prof was late..) I was kinda scared. Especially when I’m in a room filled with so many talented people (you guys are awesome) who KNOW their stuff!

Somehow, along the way (with help my very nice groupmates who had to put up with me, my questions and blank looks) I’d unknowingly taken the very first baby steps. Although I’m still trying to get a grasp on business models. 😀 It’s very different from the traditional forms of businesses.

What I enjoyed most were the case studies done in class about the various business models, how ideas evolve and the presentations yesterday. Through our project on a business idea, I’d come to really appreciate the amount of effort and time it takes to come up with something workable, how people really are the best assets of any company – most ideas I believe began with our team mate’s skills.

We’ve learnt a lot from meeting with Anuj too. One key takeaway for me was that having a team leader is quite important to whether a project is good or mediocre. One of the first questions he asked us was our roles and that question was repeated yesterday. And so now @vocadoes does have an official CEO, we’re going ahead with our idea. 🙂 What did you learn from Anuj and is everyone going to work on your proposals?

Now with only the business plan to submit, let’s put Nic’s effort to good use and keep in touch with each other. 🙂 Outing/dinner after exams anyone? @vocadoes will be having one!

Thanks Prof for taking me into this class. It’s a steep learning curve, but I enjoyed it.




Instagram’s remarkable acquisition: A discussion

Regarding Instagram’s successful sale to Facebook (see here): what do you think are some of the important reasons that led to (a) Facebook buying it and (b) Instagram getting valued at an astonishing $1 billion?

Zuckerberg stated in the press release that “we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to […] offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests”. At first glance, it would seem incredulous that a “fun & quirky” app would warrant such a huge price tag. However, there must be more to this story. Let’s dig deeper.

Instagram's amazing sale to FB - image

Here are some points that come to mind:

–  Facebook seeing that it has no killer app for the mobile OS ecosystem: since mobile platforms will be the dominant web platforms in the future, FB must be placing great importance and value to establishing a solid foothold in the hearts, minds and pockets of millions of consumers, in a way that it doesn’t see itself being able to do solely through its Facebook app.

– In addition, Facebook would get access to a huge established user base from which to launch additional mobile products and initiatives. Keep in mind that many of these mobile users will be accustomed and willing to make payments in their apps (as compared to most online Facebook users, who do not spend a cent in it), so it might be seeing their long-term monetary potential as users of multiple Facebook-owned apps.

– Facebook seeing the value of user data generated in Instagram – information about image locations, check-ins and friends from the profiles of Instagram’s users – that would be valuable for Facebook to exploit for its targeted advertising and data mining efforts. In fact, there is already a web article telling users how to protect themselves from having their Instagram data harvested by Facebook.

– Instagram might have been seen as a good competitor to Path, the leading mobile social platform that Facebook must be worried about. Hence, FB may have bought Instagram to defend its mindshare in the mobile OS ecosystem against this potential looming threat.

– Facebook feeling that Instagram would be able to keep up its rapid user growth: it reached 30 million iOS users in 18 months, and its Android app garnered 1 million downloads in a day.

– Facebook finally realizing that much of its core appeal to its users lies in the fact that it is basically the world’s premier web photo sharing platform, and wanting to take that to its logical conclusion: seeking to also become the world’s number one mobile photo sharing platform.

– (may seem far-out, but might have some bearing in truth) Facebook, in its patent war against the rapidly crumbling Yahoo, might have decided that it needs to own a leading social photo platform to take on and overtake Flickr, Yahoo’s own acquired photo platform.

What does the timing of the deal (just after Instagram’s successful Android launch, and just before Facebook’s IPO) tell us? Could Facebook be desperate to provide potential investors and fund operators with the picture of a stronger and more profitable company by acquiring a leading player in the mobile-social ecosystem, in order to justify its own high valuation (which is also inflated, in many investors’ views)?

In addition, given the mixture of stock and cash that Facebook is paying for the deal with, it could be possible that Facebook’s top management is well aware of its own potentially inflated valuation, and is seeking to use its current $75-$100 billion valuation as a cheaper way to pay in the long run using stock that they know will probably devalue, than merely using cash (possible, though questionable).

So, what do you think? I’d like to get your thoughts and feedback on this.

Transparency: Singular profile

I believe one of the most talked about issues with technology (esp. with social technologies) is privacy.

During class, we spoke about FB’s vision of creating a singular view of its users. This is not a new concept.

#1: Businesses wants a singular view of their customers!

Businesses had been striving to have a singular and consistent view of its customers to better serve them or to segment them. Truth is, we give our IC numbers, telephone numbers, email addresses to the forms we fill up.

Okay, in this 21st century, consumers are getting smarter and more educated thus balancing the former information asymmetry played by commercial and government organizations. So, facing commercial or charity organizations, we often do not like to reveal too much such as IC number and handphone numbers. As Prof had mentioned in an experiment, email addresses are likely to be exchanged for something else such as lucky draws, etc. We all can guess the reasons, we often have the idea that we can control our emails and it’s easier to handle spam mails than prank calls.

Nowadays, consumers use email addresses or Facebook accounts to become a “bridge” to gain something out from the tangible world. Stand a chance to win an automobile or a iPad 3? Sure, fill in this particulars: Name, IC, HP, Address, Email address or even DOB. Stand a chance to win a $50 hamper? Sure, I will just fill in my name and email address.

The notion is that my online profile is still a distance away from the real me in real life. However, many are not aware or simply didn’t care that on a daily basis, they had been pouring our intimate information online which very much easily links back to their real lives!

Now, how about government agencies? People are more likely to divulge more information to play safe or to portray “obedience”. (This is subjected to various power-distance index of different countries [1])

Therefore, how users give up their online privacy is largely psychological and not technological.

#2: Media companies/Journalists wants a singular view of you as well!

Just made an observation and would like to share them. There is no hard evidence I could have gathered and it’s just pure speculation on my part.

I am not sure if this is an SOP that journalists will first cross check their databases before covering a new story. But I encountered a journalist [I call this person J1] who asked me about a fellow interviewee’s [I call this person ABC] age, I was told that ABC gave a age which did not match up after cross checking with the database. ABC was also featured on newspaper 2 years ago. Well, I told J1 then you can do simple maths and know what is the current age of ABC.

So, I was figuring that if some journalist were to write a story about you, he will definitely want to find out your history, at least on his database. However, the problem is social media, a simple google search can bring up wealth of information about you. And who knows what he will gather to get a better scoop of his story.

Imagine that 10 years ago you were a featured hero on newspaper. Today, you were involved in a fraud or scandal. A journalist who is covering your story might dig your past and say, “XYZ Scholar involved in ABC scam fraud!” This is a better headline than “Mr Plain Vanilla involved in an ABC scam fraud”

Conclusion of the matter

Countering the conventional saying of “You run but you can’t hide”.
There can no longer be any hiding online. With social media and the psychology behind users’ online behavior in converging online and offline identities, you can no longer run nor hide.


Myanmar: What is happening?

In this post, I would like to share a few things about current situation in Myanmar. This might not be directly related to Technopreneurship but hopefully it might serve as a variety of reading for the class and  it might be of some interest to those who might want to invest in Myanmar in the future.

Firstly, a few facts about Myanmar (2010)

  • Population: 60millions
  • Area: 676578 km2
  • nominal GDP: $42.953 billion
  • Per capita (nominal): $702
  • GDP real growth rate: 5.3%
  • GDP composition by sector – 43.1% agriculture, 20%industry, 36.9% services
  • Population below poverty line – 32.7%
  • Labor force – 31.68 millions
  • Labor force by occupation – 70% agriculture, 7% industry, 23% services
  • Unemployment rate – 5.7%

Currently, Myanmar’s economy depends highly on export of agricultural and natural resources. Rice is the major agricultural product and rice fields cover about 60% of the total cultivated land area. Natural resources include precious stones such as sapphires, pearls, jade and rubies. Nearly 7 million barrels of crude oils and over 400 billion cubic-feet of gas were exported in 2009-2010.

Until one year ago, Myanmar was under Military Regime and Myanmar economy has been isolated for past few decades due to economic sanctions.

Since one year ago, Myanmar has civilian government and recently Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the most prominent Myanmar pro democracy opposition leader, has been voted into parliament. US has promised to re-establish diplomatic ties with Myanmar and send an Ambassador to Myanmar. Hillary Clinton has promised that US will ease economic sanctions. Myanmar government has also laid out some laws to invite foreign investment. It has also floated Myanmar currency, Kyat, which has long been pegged “artificially” at 6.4 Kyat per dollar, a rate only available to state-owned companies and about 125 times stronger than the black-market rate. With all these changes and more to come in the near future, Myanmar finally seems to open up for foreign investment and economic growth. Nevertheless, there are still a long road ahead.

There are a few industries in Myanmar that are likely to see big growth in the near future.

  1. Construction – Demand for construction is set to rise as Myanmar builds necessary physical infrastructure for economic growth and foreign investment
  2. Telecommunication – Mobile phone usage has recently surged but there is still a big space to grow. Also, internet infrastructure are not there. In 2010,  internet penetration rate was only around 0.2%. This is one industry which is set to face rapid and huge growth sooner or later
  3. Education – Myanmar’s current education systems is dysfunctional. Students are hardworking but the system does not allow them to reach their potential. Myanmar needs to correct this and develop Human resources fast if it aims to achieve economic growth and compete internationally.
  4. Tourism – with reduced sanctions and increased stability in the country, tourism is bound to increase as Myanmar has been “out of bound” for a long time for foreign travelers
  5. Banking – Myanmar needs to develop proper banking system if it hopes to attract foreign investment. According to some reports, the government will allow joint ventures between local banks and foreign banks in two or three year first and then foreign banks will be allowed to operate on their own.
  6. Oil and Gas – Myanmar has a sizable reserve of oil and gas. With economic sanctions lifted, the export of these resources will increase.

Important Note: I might miss out some big industries 😛

eBuddy XMS-SMS Rolls Out iMessage-Like Feature, Targets Indonesia and India Telcos First

Group messaging – or so-called over-the-top (OTT) messaging – apps have been featured a lot in the news of late, with big plans hailing from China’s Weixin rebranding as WeChat in order to go global, to WhatsApp standing accused of munching into the revenue pies of operators [1]. It is pretty evident that these messaging apps have become the ultimate nemesis of operators across the globe, redefining the way we communicate in text on our phones.

In the light of these events, it seems pretty timely for eBuddy XMS to roll out its iMessage-like feature this upcoming summer, which will be called eBuddy XMS-SMS. It’ll work sort of like the other OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Line. Difference is, besides allowing users to send ‘XMS’ messages (ie: group messages using a 2G or 3G connection), they can also send and receive conventional SMS messages from within the app. It works like Apple’s iMessage, giving users a seamless experience between sending XMS as well as SMS messages within one single app.

When we reached out to Jonie Oosteven, director of strategic partnerships at eBuddy, for his thoughts about WhatsApp’s defense against the accusations, he said:

Brian Acton of WhatsApp is partially right that WhatsApp might stimulate data usage, but WhatsApp is also pushing operators in the “bit-pipe” mode, meaning that operators will become like providers of a commodity like electricity, without any added value. A lot of operators have the strategy to play a more important role in the value chain and want to provide more value-added services (and get more margin and create better customer lock-ins) than just providing data access.

In fact, XMS-SMS could be used by telcos to counteract the influence of the current batch of OTT messaging apps in the market and help maintain SMS revenues for operators. The eBuddy product will be different from other OTT messaging apps because it includes the sending and receiving of SMS messages, which gives the operator the possibility to sell a specific messaging bundle that includes both data and SMS.

A Feature for Feature-Phones

It caters not just to smartphone users, but also to feature-phone users. So, for example, when massive amounts of messages are being exchanged in a group chat consisting of friends on smartphones and feature-phones, the latter can still receive and reply via SMS when they’re offline. It might drive up the SMS revenues of operators pretty significantly, because people would be more inclined to take part in these conversations.

How will you tell if someone is using the XMS app or not? According to Jonie, there will be one single contact list in the app that combines both XMS as well as other phone contacts you have. For those XMS contacts, they will be identified by a XMS logo behind their names, so when you send the message it will use your data network. Likewise, non-XMS contacts will have an operator logo behind their names, so when you send a message across the GSM network will be used.

At present, there are around 250 million eBuddy chat users worldwide, with four million monthly active users (MAU) in India and two million MAUs in Indonesia. For a start, the team at eBuddy is first targeting Indonesia and India to roll out this XMS-SMS service. In fact, this service has been introduced at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona earlier this year, and has garnered much interest from operators – especially from those in emerging markets. Their first operator launch will be later this year in Indonesia. They are also currently in talks with other operators in other APAC countries, as well as in the Middle East and across Latin America.

Won’t eBuddy be afraid that the other mobile messaging apps would replicate its model? Jonie further explains that this service is another ball game altogether. This service requires a connection with the SMS router, and is not something that developers can easily copy and roll out. This would mean they would need to work together with mobile telcos – which eBuddy has already been doing, giving it the first-mover advantage.

Honestly, at the moment, I am communicating with most of my friends over WhatsApp, and my China friends over Weixin. Depending on whether my friends are willing to switch over, if not I’m pretty comfortable with these 2 platforms. I actually also fear if I do not have internet connection and if I were to send a normal SMS overseas to and fro, I might just end up with a crazy high bill.

It might be a boon to telcos, but might not necessarily be good for individuals. Would you guys ditch your current messaging platforms for this?

  1. According to this Bloomberg news article, it is predicted that operators might lose US$23.2 billion in SMS revenues in 2012, as more subscribers are opting in to OTT messaging apps. ↩

Instagram’s success: 1 platform, 2 years, 13 employees, 27 Million Users, $500M valuation


Instagram is a free photo sharing application that allows users to take photos, apply a filter, and share it on the service or a variety of other social networking services, including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Flickr , Foursquare and Posterous. The simple photo sharing app that doesn’t make a single penny revenue from consumers is closed to pick up another round of funding worth about $40 million, which will value the startup at $500 million, according to sources.

Are you kidding me?

Forty million dollars funding? What they want to do with it? Build app for Android, WP7, mac, Windows 8, Black Berry OS or even on Sony Playstation Vita? Do they really need 40 million dollars for this?

Sometimes, when looking at this number, most of us will feel ridiculous, why the hell a company with 13 employees needs 40 millions to operate?

Let’s breakdown some numbers

27 million users in 2 years. What does 27 million users mean?

  • 5 times of Singapore population
  • all residents in Malaysia
  • 1/10 US residents
  • if they are able to generate $1 from each user per day, they can generate $810m revenue per month (I know it is impossible)

Some interesting factors about Instagram:

  • It is only available on iPhone (why it took 2 years for them to build an app for Android)
  • It acquired 1m users in 3 months
  • Kevin’s girlfriend built Lovestagram for Valentine’s Day


What $40 millions mean?

On the company’s side

  • Salary
    • Basic salary of a software engineers in SV per month = $15k USD
    • 13 employees = $195k per month and $2.34M per year
  • Marketing expenses
    • Let’s assume $2 millions per year (which is damm a lot for a startup)
  • Server cost
    • It shouldn’t cost a lot with Amazon ec2 or Rackspace, but still assume $0.5m per year.

Add up all together, it will cost Instagram $4.84m a year to sustain themselves. So, a $40 millions funding will able to sustain them for at least 6 years (let’s assume they will grow with more employees).

On the investors’ side

But, some other maths we have to do here, the money is not free, they have to generate more back for the investors or VCs.

  • $500,000,000: Instagram’s current valuation
  • Let’s assume a 40 PE ratio, given current market conditions.
  • $12,500,000: the amount of profits that Instagram would need to generate, at that generous PE ratio, yearly, to make their half billion dollar valuation make sense. It is profit, not revenue, so it has to minus out all the expenses which is about 4-6 millions per year.


But, investors are not crazy, why it really worth $500M?

Even thought the app doesn’t have an ad program, there are currently a few ways brands are tapping into the app for some ad purposes. First, brands are using it to promote their products. For example, Burberry uses Instagram to share photos from its fashion show and repost its ads with some filter effects. Besides, brands can use Instagram as live coverage and publicity, as what sundance has done. Other than that, brands can organize Instagram-specific campaigns. For instance, Tiffany asked users to share love-themes photos.

However, just another company named Virtue, popped out from the tech scene and launched an Instagram “tab module” for brands to use on their Facebook pages, using Instagram’s API to automatically import a selection of pictures based around a specific tag and create albums.


My final thoughts

Be a platform, not a product

Instagram has such a high valuation now, they cannot be just a product anymore. They need to get out of just being a product, but a platform, which many companies are depending on them. Google, Facebook, and Apple all went from single products to a platform for many other companies.

Ask Google to acquire them

Maybe another possibility to get back the money to investors are to ask Google acquire them at a price of few billion dollars. But, maybe or maybe not, no one knows what Google is planning.

“The next big opportunity in display advertising.” ~Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram


Rumor has it

This is no April Fool’s – China’s microblogging platforms are being punished – 16 shut down, and the 2 microblog powerhouses – Sina and Tencent are legally implicated for spreading malicious rumors, or allowing users to use their platforms to spread rumors of a coup in Beijing, which is apparently untrue. Sina and Tencent weibo will have to turn off all commenting functions for 3 days. All past comments have been deleted, and users can only use the retweeting function to share information.

Why the separation of comment and retweet you may ask?

Retweet has the power to transfer information to one’s followers, but commenting has empowered users, usually likeminded ones, to discuss about hot trends and promote them, regulating trends into a user-rated media of what’s hot and what’s not – usually a very polarized topic is generated to propel it into the top charts. Weibo has sorted the top trends into the most popular retweets, and top commented posts as the more interesting and hottest topics daily, and this has allowed users to follow everyday, for the latest and most interesting social news. Furthermore, this is fueled partly by Weibo’s (Sina) excellent UI (IMO this beats Twitter and Twitter has been copying it ironically, such as introducing picture uploads, recommendation for trends to follow etc). The combination of these features allow users to both see top viral trends, and also participate in it. It is not just a social network – it is a true social media much sought after apart from the tightly regulated media as user-generated content are able to command a high viewership: many weibo users are reading without commenting, though there is a high proportion who participates in the discussion as well.

Nonetheless, social media’s apparent trump card in the digital era doesn’t seem as glamorous as it’s Western counterparts. Given China’s political sensitivity, and immense power (think Hunger game’s capitol) able to command much influence which web companies live or die – Fanfou the first Twitter clone is nowhere near Sina’s 300 million users today, it raises a question whether web companies are able to move against the pressures given by authorities. Unlike the west’s SOPA and PIPA blackout exerting pressure on the white house administration, the East has not gathered enough steam to push for policies. Xinjiang’s uproar was responded with a total internet blackout in the province, comments critical of the government have their retweet functions turned off. The central government has also proposed to Sina and Tencent for all users to authenticate their profiles for more accountable blogging. Of course this sounds crazy, but one can’t have its cake and eat it, a lesson tested and tried in the great East.

This of course poses a plausible problem for Sina’s intended worldwide expansion. How about the users registering from other places? While Sina has been constantly innovating – its secret following function (you can follow someone secretly without the person discovering you in his/her followers list taking stalking to a whole new level), a question mark has now appeared over its future –  the Beijing administration still has much rein over it, especially because it has not been actively curbing rumors in its pursuit of becoming China’s new social-driven media. Social media has the power to shape and divide opinions, but what is true? Is it because the crowd says so, even if it is baseless claims, or should it be true because is is based on a fact, or because it is politically correct? Should platforms intervene in responsible blogging? Sometimes it is hard to draw a line. the idea of responsibility differs from place to place. There can be many questions arising from the weibos in China, but one thing is certain – the royal flush belongs to the authority; web companies have to play second fiddle and there is no doubt about it. The great firewall of China, or so it is cheekily referred to, is a double edged sword protecting and incubating start-ups in the East from their stronger Western counterparts, but it also holds the power to crush or promote. Rumor has it – Mother knows best.


Attack of the Clones

“Dude, your idea has already been thought of. Not only that, it has been acted upon and is up and running! Not to disappoint you, but they even had funding by [insert prominent Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist]!”. This must be one of the most deflating comments a starry-eyed young entrepreneur embarking on his my-oh-so-amazing idea can hear.

Imitation, or the mere adaptation of an existing model, has been frequently frowned upon. In today’s modern society where innovation is celebrated and trumpeted, startups which try to replicate business models (whether by chance or by intention) receive little support and encouragement. The over-zealous goals of emerging entrepreneurs and investors to create a world-changing, revolutionary product begs the question whether startups that focus on existing ideas can still make their mark.

Geographical Localization

One area that imitating startups can look forward to is the localization of an existing business model. Most of the novel business ideas originates from the United States. However, it has been proven that adapting an existing model to a big localised market can reap great rewards. China and Europe are some of the largest markets outside of the US. In China, we have RenRen(Facebook), Weibo(Twitter), Diandian(Tumblr), Zhihu(Quora) etc. In Europe, we have Alando(eBay), CityDeal(Groupon) etc. These ventures have grown to be wildly successful, many of them achieving public offerings and massive buyouts.

The reason for their success is pretty clear. Whilst skeptics may point to the authoritarian Chinese government’s heavy handed exclusion of foreign firms, localization brings local expertise and on-the-ground knowledge into the business. For example, Baidu may be a blatant copy of Google in its early stages, but its heavy focus on media content (whether the industry folks like it or not) contributed heavily to its eventual success. Baidu understands that the Chinese market craves digital content such as music and videos, and will utilize a search platform which make their task at hand easier. CityDeal, acquired by Groupon eventually for a “3 digit million sum”, was able to build up its merchant networks very quickly due to their networks on the ground.

A Market that is Big Enough

Groupon went public in 2011 amidst much fanfare (and plenty of controversies). Groupon essentially pioneered the group-buying discount concept, amassing a huge amount of users in a pretty short span of time. However, LivingSocial proved that if the market is big enough, another clone can succeed and share some of the spoils. LivingSocial started off very similar to Groupon, differing slightly in the execution. LivingSocial is rumored to be considering going IPO this year. Similarly, Sugarsync proved that despite Dropbox dominant position in the consumer cloud storage industry, it is still able to operate well and stand on its own. In fact, as of date of writing, there are currently 12 Pinterest clones, with some of them actually being backed by VC money.

Adapting and Improving an existing idea

Adapting and improving upon an existing idea has been popular for sometime now. Facebook arguably takes its inspiration from Friendster, improving on its execution. In fact, Facebook can be regarded as a master in “stealing” ideas and improving them. Facebook Deals(Groupon), Places(Foursquare), subscribe(Twitter) etc shows much of the features borrowed from others. Apple’s iPod, widely regarded as one of the most iconic personal consumer product of the last decade, was an idea blatantly copied from previous MP3 makers such as Philips and others. What Apple has done was to take the original idea, which was good, and innovate by slapping a compelling design on it. Another example that we can see is Ryanair, and to be fair, almost all the low-cost airlines in the world. Low cost flights were the brainchild of Southwest Airlines, a US-based airline. Ryanair and all the others learnt greatly for it, copying its business model, tweaked it slightly and blossomed to overtake the original in the realm of budget airlines.

Lets face it, we would love to develop products that will change the world. But that is difficult, not to mention, sometimes unwelcomed. Innovation is not merely creating new products, but rather developing products that create value for the markets around us. The world needs diversity, even if it revolves around the same idea. If imitation and adaptation is unethical, we will have only one airline, one fast food chain, one search engine, one operating system (well, almost) etc. Perhaps its time we remove this negative connotation to imitators, for the No.2s had proven that they can still be wildly successful and may even overtake the pioneer. Its not the idea folks, its ultimately the execution.

What do you guys think? Will imitating and adapting successful US models work in Asia? Or Singapore for that matter. The success of Beeconomic proved that there exists lucrative exits for those who can localize a foreign business concept. Will a Rocket Internet clone (intentional!) in Asia be successful?

The Digital Revolution

In Singapore alone, the cloud computing segment is expected to add 12,000 jobs locally by 2015. These numbers are provided by IBM, meaning that demand for cloud computing in the B2B space is very promising. On a global scale, cloud computing is expected to add over 14million new jobs by 2015, with revenues of $1.1 trillion dollars, roughly equivalent to 13 Facebook IPOs.

With so much digital automation going on in this decade, I find you computer whizzes extremely fortunate. I’m but a business student with only a sparse knowledge of HTML, and I feel that I’m missing out. The digital technopreneurship space is hot, and many of you stand gain the most out of it. I cannot correct or contribute any coding in my digital venture, yet I am determined to be part of this crazy trend of digital automation; by covering the business side of things, which I think is more easily picked up compared to programming.

Industrial revolution lifted humanity in the past centuries by shifting arduous work from humans to machines. The ‘digital automation revolution’ which we are undergoing will lift many more lives around the world. Administrative tasks which were done slowly and repetitively will become a thing of the past. It leaves a void in the workforce, forcing administrators to skill-up or be relegated to doing lower-skilled menial tasks. The rich and powerful who have access to IT knowledge and skills and who are able to deploy them to their advantage will get even more rich and powerful. If I’m already feeling left out, what do we make of those who are deprived of many more basic things in the rest of the world?

As much as digital entrepreneurship can create many millionaires in this era, I really wonder how the rest of the world will turn out to look 20-40 years down the road. Could digital sociopreneurship emerge, thereby distributing some of the immense power and riches down to the less fortunate? Or will we be so glued to our hedonic treadmills that we keep striving for more for ourselves, leaving the rest to fend for themselves?