Best of the Web 104

Paypal Mafia, Luck Vs Hard Work, Life in Weeks, History of Email Marketing & more


A very crisp and interesting read on the evolution of Email Marketing and a brief look at things to come. Find more here  

“Luck matters more in an absolute sense and hard work matters more in a relative sense”. James Clear gets deeper into the ‘Luck Vs Hard Work’ question. Learn more here

As Google marks their 20th anniversary, here’s a first look at the next chapter of Search, and their plan make information more accessible and useful for people everywhere. Discover more here

“The stock market is a place to make easiest money in the hardest way. The path is very complex, and you never get answers to a lot of things”. Read more here

Stupid, Aggressive or Smarter? How are Digital devices altering our brains? Read more here

Rewind (Best of newsletter #70)

1) ‘How To Tell The Truth’ by Ben Horowitz. Read it here

2) Stop Making Users Explore. Read here

3) Your Life in Weeks by Tim Urban(Waitbutwhy). Read here

Video of the Week:
The Incredible Story of The PayPal Mafia. Watch here

Startup Trivia of the Week: OYO 
In 2015, OYO was delisted from Makemytrip, Goibibo and Yatra. Around that time Goibibo also launched GoStays, a competitor to OYO. Back then OYO claimed only 10% of their business came from these aggregators. The status quo continued till Oct-2017 when Yatra decided to re-list OYO.In Feb-2018, MMT (and Goibibo) also re-listed OYO. Source

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The Transportation Layer Protocol of Business

In his classic WSJ piece from 2011, Marc Andreessen declared that ‘Software is eating the world’.

Seven years hence, things are unfolding as Marc had prophesied. Industry after Industry, software is re-writing the rules of how the game is played.

Almost two-thirds of companies currently face high levels of disruption – Accenture


Transportation has been one of the few industries that have already seen a lot of Schumpeterian “Creative Destruction”.

From being ‘Limo service for wealthy people in SF’ to ‘Ride sharing for commoners in Bangladesh’, Uber and many other software based transportation services have come a long way. Goldman Sachs estimates the ride-hailing industry ballooning to $285 billion by 2030.

A host of startups around the world are working in the transportation space with Uber, Lyft and Didi being the bigger players. The Indian Market is also seeing a lot of action in this space.

Popular Transportation Startups In India

3.5 Million Daily Rides across Ola and Uber (via ET)


While the pure transportation market is huge, there’s an sizeable adjacent market (roughly 1/3rd the size in terms of orders) growing at a faster pace. The market in question is ‘Food Delivery’

Food Delivery Market In US & China

Food Delivery Market in India via Mint


Apart from Swiggy and Zomato, there’s Foodpanda, Uber Eats and two more big players starting Food Delivery over the next 3-6 months.

Challenges for Ride-Sharing & Food Delivery Startups

Both Ride-sharing and Food Delivery startups are the epitomes of gig economy and have unlocked huge markets that were previously untapped.
However, to make some economic sense for both types of companies have to make sure that their delivery staff runs at highest utilisation possible.

But, because of the inherent nature of both ride-sharing and food delivery markets, the orders are concentrated at certain peak hours of the day. 

 I am assuming the graph would be similar in India (via http://toddwschneider.com)

Hourly Delivery Orders for a Fast Food Cafe


Ride Sharing Peak Hours*:  8AM – 12 PM, 5 – 9 PM
Food Delivery Peak Hours*: 12PM – 4 PM, 8 – 11 PM

*Rough Estimate

This cyclicality in demand means there are upper limits to optimisation during peak hours and there are long windows of low demand

These long windows of low demand are a huge problem as they lead to 

1. Poor Unit Economics (To cover fixed costs the delivery boy should be utilised fully)
2. Weaker Driver Retention (Part time gig workers will gravitate towards a service that guarantees opportunities to earn more)
3. Scaling Challenges (Uneven/Skewed demand during certain hours makes it difficult to scale delivery ops in an optimised way)

On The Flip Side
Less Demand => Poor Driver Utilisation => Poor Driver Retention => Poor Experience => Less Demand


These problems are pronounced for and particularly hurt the food delivery services, that’s also one reason why most of the ‘stand-alone food delivery’ startups found it difficult to get off the ground and ended up folding. While most startups offering logistics services in Hyperlocal/Food-Delivery space trying defeating gravity and failed, Delhivery (with benefit of hindsight) was able to identify the challenges well in-advance and did a pivot into e-commerce deliveries that offered better fleet utilisation opportunity among other benefits.

The Case for a Transportation Layer Protocol

Both Ride-Sharing and Food-Delivery startups not only share common challenges around fleet capacity utilisation, they also to varying degree share some strengths 

  1. Huge Captive Customer Base
  2. Network of Drivers across cities
  3. Scalable Technology Stack for Managing Logistics 
  4. Proprietary Data about People, Businesses, Routes, Traffic etc
  5. Operations Infrastructure 

Protocol: A set of rules and guidelines for communicating data

Value Capture on The Web – Joel Monegro


The Internet Protocol Stack enabled various web applications to be built on top of it and a handful of them grew up to become today’s Internet Giants (Facebook, Google, Amazon).

Just like the internet protocol layer enabled various apps to be built for the web, we can see a bunch of startups trying to build what can be called ‘Transportation Layer Protocol’ or ‘Transportation Layer’


The Transportation Layer implies having a base infrastructure to build various consumer (B2C) or business (B2B) offerings on.

‘Transportation Layer’ Composition (Building Blocks)


Most companies in this space end up building different variants of Transportation Layer Infra for internal consumption. But to leverage it and attain a dominant market position (with a sustainable business model) the startups should/would try to become the ‘Transportation Layer’ for the country.

Startups with different business models for ‘Transportation Layer’


Ekart Way*: Just like Flipkart’s logistics arm also handles logistics for other companies such as Adidas, in future some of the B2C companies discussed here might also start doing deliveries for other restaurants (managing the delivery orders a restaurant gets directly).

A startup can run multiple lines of businesses on top of the common infrastructure & generate adequate customer demand for their offerings

— A Successful Transportation Layer at Play

Becoming the default app for any transportation related services is the ‘Holy Grail’ as you get both more transactions and revenue per user and it costs you less to service each request. Also, the bigger you become the network effects ensure that less likely you are to get displaced.

This, I believe is what’s unfolding in India and startups from both sides (ride-sharing and food-delivery) are vying to become the ‘Transportation Layer’ to services various consumer offerings.

Indian B2C Startups atop Transportation Layer


Expansion to Adjacent Markets:

  1. Ride sharing Startups – Both Uber and Ola (Foodpanda) have been doing food delivery for around an year now. 
  2. Food Delivery Startups – Swiggy has shared their plans of expanding into Grocery and Medicine Delivery.
  3. Grocery & Medicine Delivery Startups – I Don’t think the grocery delivery startups have shared any plans for other categories.
  4. Concierge Startups – Dunzo, has started doing bike taxis, food delivery and grocery
“Transportation Layer’: A Work-In-Progress


The image above you should give you some sense of what the fruits of becoming the default transportation/logistics layer would look like with different B2C/B2B offerings stacking up atop shared demand and infra.

However, while getting there might be possible it’s gonna be incredibly difficult. Moreover, despite the number of startups aiming, only a few market players are strongly positioned to get a good crack at it. I’ll try to explore more in another post

Twitter’s Balancing Act

While its counterparts (FB, Instagram etc) have been able to ride the growth waves to the fullest, the ride for Twitter hasn’t been exactly a breeze.

Flat Growth in Twitter’s MAU


As visible from the image above, Twitter’s Net New Active User Growth (New Active Users – Lost Users) was “-One Million MAUs”. Amidst, the fake account cleaning activity underway, the company expects this -ve growth trend in MAU to continue and the MAUs to drop further by ‘mid-single-digit millions’ in the next quarter.

While the MAU growth has been rather Flatish, the DAUs and Revenue numbers show some signs of growth

People are using Twitter more often

Twitter is making some money

For now Twitter claims to be prioritising ‘Health’ over ‘Growth’ by undergoing a massive cleanup (Apparently, the company’s health problem also costed them an acquisition offer from Disney).

However, in middle of all this Jack Dorsey announced last week a new functionality, the ability to change the user feed aka timeline.

Jack’s announcement about changes to timeline


A lot of Power users felt a collective sigh of relief. A few features have been on the wish list of a lot of users namely

  1. Abuse control (Stopping accounts that spread hate/harass others, bots)
  2. Ability to Edit a Tweet
  3. Reverse Chronological Timeline (Raw user feed)

Not sure about others, but I found this update rather interesting. Though I initially (and to some extent later) felt how the Twitter timeline experience had sorta deteriorated, but it never bothered me that much. 

In fact, I think for most people the value Twitter provides in terms of ‘staying in the know’ (along with one’s network) is much more than any bad changes to timeline.

A quick look at Twitter’s Timeline/User feed

Starting 2015 (Jack’s Return), Twitter started making changes to the user timeline to offer a better experience (and better monetisation?).  Prior to this the timeline was simply in reverse chronological order.

The Twitter Algo (pre-recent changes) via Buffer


‘Ranked Tweets’ are tweets recommended for each user by Twitter’s algo on the basis of

How Twitter’s Algo works


Apart from ‘Ranked Tweets’ and ‘In Case You Missed It’, Twitter also started ‘Seeding Tweets by accounts they don’t follow’ into users timeline

Via Quartz


While this last move definitely annoyed a lot of users from both timeline intrusive and also their own privacy POV, it apparently worked wonderfully well for Twitter.

From Twitter’s Q2-2016 Letter to Shareholders


As for me, I was finding more interesting tweets and new people to follow due to the ‘A, B and C liked this’ feature. I remember stumbling upon new content and users regularly and thus ended up interacting with that content and also following up more people.

It’s been a week since I reverted back to original timeline, while there is no meaningful difference in the quality of my timeline, the discoverability of new content/people have definitely gone down. I don’t remember starting to follow anyone in the last week or so.

Twitter for as long as I can remember has had a concentration of power users.

Median Twitter User has only 1 follower, as compared to Median FB User that has 100 friends


As Felix Salmon writes in Wired
“Twitter is becoming increasingly concentrated on a tiny core of power users. It’s less and less a distributed mode of many-to-many communication, and more and more a broadcasting hub for the elite—a highly unequal place where their least-considered, Ambien-addled opinions get amplified to a global audience of millions.”

Power users are at core of every product and one must count them lucky to have lots of them, however defining your product roadmap on the basis of what power users want isn’t necessarily the best thing. Given the tricky spot in which Twitter finds itself in (chasing profits via monetising eyeballs and keeping power users happy) they have to make changes to the product that makes their revenue targets met without compromising the user experience much and without bloating the product with hundreds of settings.

PS: Snapchat is another example of challenges a company faces on being the other side of Power User dynamics. 

When products are at mercy of power users

Best of the Web 103

Arc of Company, Understanding Uber’s Rebranding, Pitching Airbnb, Kleiner Perkins, Apple & More

Debt as a percentage of GDP, 2008-2018
Every day hundreds of Angels & VCs pitch their portfolio companies to other investors but surprisingly none of those conversations ever become public. In a rare exception to this, Paul Graham shared the 2009 conversation between him and Fred Wilson over Airbnb. Read it here

Investor Semil Shah shares ‘Reflections On The Big Shake-Up At Kleiner Perkins’. Read here

A solid deep dive into Uber’s recent rebranding exercise. Read here
 
Could China find itself at the centre of the next financial crisis because of its mounting debt?. Read here

Horace Dediu shares his observation from recent iPhone launch event on how ‘Fundamentally, Apple is betting on having customers not selling them products.’ Read more in ‘Lasts Longer’

Rewind (Best of newsletter #69)

‘Betting on Things That Never Change’ by Morgan Housel. Read here

The Arc of Company Life – and How to Prolong It. Read here

Twitter CFO Anthony Noto privately analyzes Facebook. Read here

Book Recommendation of the Week

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
(The Victorian Internet tells the colorful story of the telegraph’s creation and remarkable impact, and of the visionaries, oddballs, and eccentrics who pioneered it, from the eighteenth-century French scientist Jean-Antoine Nollet to Samuel F. B. Morse and Thomas Edison. The electric telegraph nullified distance and shrank the world quicker and further than ever before or since, and its story mirrors and predicts that of the Internet in numerous ways.)

Startup Trivia of the Week: Instagram 
In 2010, Kevin Systrom started ‘Burbn’, a multi-faceted app that allowed users to check in, post plans and share photos. He quickly raised $500k from Baseline Ventures & Andreessen Horowitz but Burbn was unable to get traction.
Later, upon observing usage data they found that the ‘Photo Sharing’ feature was getting most traction among existing users. Next, they quickly stripped down the app to ‘Photo Sharing, likes & comments’ and rest as they say is history.

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Indian FMCG Startups Are Coming

Over the past 5 years or so, consumer product startups have been slowly but steadily picking pace in India. While their scale might be significantly low in comparison with e-commerce, ride-sharing or food delivery startups, their seems to be a lot of action in the space.

India’s FMCG market is pegged to be around $185Bn. Traditionally, the large players in FMCG/CPG space have operated by owning a massive distribution pipe (Wholesalers, Distributors & Retailer), doing massively expensive marketing campaigns and selling commoditised products. All of this is starting to change.

That smaller startups are trying to disrupt incumbents extended to FMCG category is a natural after effect of the internet penetration and the subsequent second-order effects. Also, as shown below, the CPG brands globally are infamous for their lack of innovation.

R&D Spending in Consumer Goods Cos as compared to Tech Cos


Factors that favour growth of FMCG startups
: Include changes in status quo for:

  1. Innovation
  2. Production 
  3. Marketing
  4. Distribution

Given the rising discretionary spends and ability for internet to help micro target, upstart startups can now decide to make products not for a mass segment but for niche consumers subset. For ex: Instead of making Real or Tropicana Juices aimed at all and sundry, there can now be Raw Pressery or Paper Boat aimed at premium/niche segment of the market.

Since the target segment is a smaller niche, it fundamentally changes how companies approach Production, Marketing and Distribution. 

  1. Innovation (Loved by a few vs liked by a lot): Given a niche customer segment, a startup can focus on making a great product that their customers will really love over a good/slightly better than average product that a lot of people will be fine using. 
  2. Production (Lower Upfront Fixed Cost Requirements): Unlike earlier times, a startup can now think of starting small and launching few niche products with a reasonable manufacturing setup and invest in production as they grow.
  3. Marketing (Lower Variable Costs): A startup these days can get the wheels of marketing rolling but starting with ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram and others with a much smaller budget. Another aspect of marketing is the solid brand proposition that most niche CPG startups are able to drive due to their innovative offering.
  4. Distribution (Lower Upfront Fixed, and Variable Costs): Compared to earlier times of building a comprehensive retail supply chain across the state/country to store and deliver goods, a startup can get started with minimal inventory and deliver products directly to consumer (D2C) through their website/3rd party marketplaces and scale distribution spends as their traction grows.
Source: Dollar Shave Club/ Kantar Futures

VC activity in the space has been on rise with some focussed funds like DSG actively investing in startups. DSG has around a dozen investments in India including Chai Point and Raw Pressery. Consumer Goods startups have raised over $152 mn in 2018 (so far).

via Bloomberg Quint

via Economic Times

via Economic Times

The Bigger brands have also started making their moves in Indian Consumer Goods Startups. 

Bombay Shaving Company, Beardo got funded by Palmolive & Marico respectively 


Some other players that attracted investments from bigger players Happily Unmarried’s Ustra (Wipro Consumer Care) and Forest Essentials (Estée Lauder). The biggest player in the D2C category (not FMCG really) that has done exceedingly well in Lenskart.

With increasing GDP per capita, better penetration of high-speed internet, increasing transition towards e-commerce fuelled by significant VC funding and some M&A activity, the FMCG space is bound to grow and thrive. It’d be interesting to observe how various startups evolve and make great businesses.

On closing note, here’s the great introductory video by DollarShaveClub that set the ball rolling.

Of Errands and Good Procrastination

I’ve never been good at doing certain type of things. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. 

This belief of delaying/skipping things that felt ‘Unimportant’ became stronger when I stumbled upon this blog post by Paul Graham during my first job

PG talks about three types of procrastinations depending on what one does instead of not working on something 

  1. Doing Nothing
  2. Doing Something Less Important
  3. Doing Something More Important

As you can imagine, unlike other cases, deciding to ‘Not Do Something’ or procrastinating in order to use that time to ‘Do something more important’ is actually ‘Good Procrastination’

Boman Irani catches a power nap and gets shave done to save time (3 Idiots)


That overwhelming feeling of a long list of errands that need your attention is pretty frequent for many of us. Errands come in all shapes & sizes and come from all directions. Also, they have an infinite supply. Which means, no matter how many of them you get off your list, there will always be more errands waiting for you once you reach home or start working on something important.

In case you are wondering what classifies as errands.

What’s “small stuff?” Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary. It’s hard to say at the time what will turn out to be your best work (will it be your magnum opus on Sumerian temple architecture, or the detective thriller you wrote under a pseudonym?), but there’s a whole class of tasks you can safely rule out: shaving, doing your laundry, cleaning the house, writing thank-you notes—anything that might be called an errand.

Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.

While it may be crystal clear to you that the task at hand is an errand, to people who want you to do it won’t necessarily think like that. This, could be a source of some tension but then

‘You Gotta Not Do, What You Gotta Not Do’.

I try to think of errands from the lens of  ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’

The Eisenhower Matrix’

Types of Errands

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Not Urgent & Important
  3. Urgent & Not Important
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important

Type 1: I try to make everyone around me (the errand creators) understand that we should try not to have any items from Type 1 (Urgent & Important). There should be almost no errands that demands my immediate attention. However, if any errand from Type 1 comes about, it has to be dealt with on priority.

Type 2: I try to bunch the important items together and schedule a suitable time to do them

Type 3: I try to delegate these (where I don’t need to be personally involved and it’s not important) to others or figure out if they can be done using technology

Type 4: I try to treat them as they don’t exist (Ignore). By doing this, such errands stop finding their way to me.

Errands are productivity killers and when left unchecked, grow surprisingly fast and tend to take all the time available.

Another, thing with errands is sometimes they can give you an illusion of getting some work done when in reality, a lot of that work amounts to nothing meaningful and won’t help you grow in any way.

I don’t know any successful person who isn’t a good procrastinator and doesn’t aggressively shield their time from errands. Maybe, this says something.

PS: Here’s a super long read by Tim Urban (Wait but why) on Procrastination 

Best of the Web 102

Toy Markets, EU is Furious with Malta, Decision Making, Instagram Story ,Where’s Larry Page, Malls 2.0 & More

US Venture Capital Returns (2004-2013)

While Alphabet faces existential challenges, its co-founder is exercising his right to be forgotten. Read more in Bloomberg’s “Where in the World Is Larry Page?

Dated but very interesting. “Why I would never want to compete with Travis Kalanick” by Chris Sacca. Read here

Founders often don’t innovate because they can’t quite figure out the answer to “How big could this get?” Read more on how to think and navigate the market size aspect here #YCombinator

The union’s least-populous member nation has become a cryptocurrency and online gambling hub plagued by allegations of corruption and money laundering.Read more in “Why the EU Is Furious With Malta

Rewind (Best of newsletter #68)
“As they re-invent themselves, malls in India are trying to become community spaces and not remain just shopping centres.” Read more in “The mall story 2.0” 

“‘The Ultimate Guide to Making Smart Decisions” by Farnam Street. Read here

Two Years Ago, India Lacked Fast, Cheap Internet—One Billionaire Changed All That. This WSJ article digs deeper into Jio. Read here #paywall

Podcast Episode of the Week: Instagram
“You can scale big with a simple idea (and a tiny team!) — but only if you catch the prevailing winds. That’s what Kevin Systrom did when he co-founded Instagram”. In this episode of ‘Masters of Scale’, Reid Hoffman goes into the history of Instagram and their journey to acquisition by Facebook.

Listen here

Startup Trivia of the Week: Google 
In 1999, Page and Brin wanted to raise investment from KPCB and Sequoia. They also wanted to firms to split the round to retain controlling stake of the firm. During the process, they gave the ultimatum for a take it or leave it offer to invest $12.5mn each. VCs took the deal and rest as they say is history.

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‘Commute Vehicle’ as a Platform

For a while, I’ve been thinking about a lens or a mental model to look at the opportunities possible while once a user is in a ride-sharing vehicle.

Given that millions are using ride-sharing services like Uber and Ola everyday to commute and that they are slightly better suited to being offered another product or service during their commute makes them apt for some interesting possibilities.

Let’s divide the commute into different segments based on distance covered.

1. Short –  Cabs, Bikes, Bicycles
2. Medium – Cabs, Bikes
3. Long – Cabs, Bus

Out of the commute options above, a couple make for a good fit to be ripe for some add-on opportunities. The contenders include

1. Cabs – Medium & Long Distance
2. Bus – Long Distance

When you think of a platform, the following image comes to mind

The underlying structure comprises of:

1. Users using a platform frequently.
2. Platform allowing 3rd parties (developers/companies etc) to offer products that users can access. 
3. Platform collecting rent for offering 3rd parties a connection to users.

Food Outlets in Delhi Metro Stations


Delhi Metro has had food outlets in its metro stations for a long time. Apart from Advertising on the metro train itself, this is one of the biggest sources of revenue from them.

Unlike iOS/Android app stores where anyone can freely publish an app (subject to certain T&C), with it being a physical play one can’t just set up a shop on a metro station. In that sense, one can think of it as a ‘Managed or Curated Platform’. While anyone can apply for a shop via a Tender, the number of shops is constrained and can’t ever be as long tail as in the digital world.

Keeping the limitations of atoms aside and the fact that most of these commute services are structurally aggregators (Ola/Uber have homogeneous supply, decide which cab to be dispatched and more), thinking about the ‘Commute vehicle’ as a platform lets one imagine various possibilities. Let’s take a look at some options

  1. Advertising (Brand and Transaction Driven)
  2. Commerce (Physical and Digital)
  3. Entertainment (Audio, Video, Games)
  1. Advertising (Brand and Transaction Driven): This one is classic, using the platform for un-targeted/blanket brand campaigns or using the platform for targeted ads what could drive the user to a transaction.

    For ex: Sharing a promo code that enables a special discount to try a new app. (QR codes?)

    I feel there could be an interesting play to build a way to deliver targeted campaigns to users. Given the low scale, smaller/upcoming brands might find it more useful.

Cab Branding for Mobikwik

2. Commerce (Physical and Digital):

This is particularly interesting and under-explored (except for food joints in metro stations etc). Our impulse purchase behaviour, coupled with internet connectivity, convenience and instant gratification makes it powerful.

A few months back Uber tied up with Cargo to enable riders to buy snacks and confectionery. Apparently, Cargo helped drivers earn more than $100 extra per month and has shared over $1mn with its drivers since its launch

Snack Ordering Via Cargo


In terms of fitment, the light snacks and confectionery seems to be a great fit. Want a coke on your ride back from Airport or want to grab a quick chocolate on the evening ride back home? All seems, possible.

Apart from the food stuff, can the vehicle enable you to buy some digital stuff or physical stuff digitally? Could be the boring stuff that one doesn’t get time/wants to do during core hours

a) Ordering food or grocery while I’m on the way to home.
But then one might use mobile apps they already have on their phone, in which case the advertising can act as a nudge to make user transact on their phone itself . 

“Don’t feel like eating home food? Order your favourite cousin and have it delivered within 10 minutes of you reaching home (and get 10% off)”

b) Gifting, Getting Utility/Services work done could be some possibilities

3. Entertainment (Audio, Video, Games): 

This is another natural fit for a commuter. Passengers (and riders) have been listening to music, watching videos etc since forever and offering an extension of the same to the user while commuting is perfect.

Bhavish Announcing Launch of Ola Play


While, I’ve never used the other features (like car control and stuff) I can safely say, Ola Play launched in Nov 2016 is a great and useful innovation.

I’m not too sure on the current model for Ola Play but given its relevance for users and the good execution (network connectivity, hardware, ux etc) it can be a great way to offer more value to the customers.

Some possibilities around Live Streaming Events, Live Gaming, Podcasts, Trial Subscriptions for OTT, Short Length Media, Original Content etc would be very interesting to explore. 

There could be potentially a few more options { in-cab feet/back massage machines?:) } to leverage the 30mins-60mins+ commute time, internet connectivity, fewer distractions, other needs (hunger, killing time etc). 

It’d be interesting to see how various companies evolve their offerings in this space, would the ride-sharing companies act as an aggregator or have a platform play and which of them turn out to be well executed, scalable and profitable.

Delhi Tweetup 2018: A Trip Down The Memory Lane

The last time I met folks from Twitter was around 8-9 years ago. After a long gap the so called “Tweetup” happened again when a bunch of Twitter users met at a quaint restro-bar ‘Chateau De Pondicherry’, in Delhi on Saturday, 8th September.

The idea behind having a ‘Tweetup – Twitter User Meetup’ was to meet and get to know people in real that you interact with on Twitter and also to meet some new folks who are also Twitter users.

Tweetups were a rage globally in 2007-08 and continued to be popular for a few more years. Back then, power users (and later by companies & social media agencies) used to organise the events and promote them heavily online. Since Twitter was also gaining attention among media folks , such events also used to get coverage in Print media which further helped spread the word on Twitter.

Image result for delhi tweetup
A Tweetup I attended while at Slideshare


It’s always great to meet folks you’ve only interacted with online, in person and make friends. The fact that such events are organised organically by the community is fascinating.

User Communities are a powerful force. In case of Twitter, one can argue that it’s because of users love for the platform and the powerful connections/networks that user built on it that Twitter could survive the 2007-2008 ‘fail whale’ days.

Twitter’s Error Message (Now Discontinued)


For the unfamiliar, Twitter was having massive issues in scaling their service between the end of 2007 and 2008. The service used to be give a lot of errors frequently and the error message (show above) was a common sight. Apparently a user ‘Nick Quaranto’ coined a term for this error message ‘Fail Whale’ that quickly caught on. You can read more about the history of ‘Fail Whale’ here 

Among a few others, we also tried to leverage this situation to promote a product called Kwippy that we were building. A remarkable thing (Growth-Hack?) that we did to quickly gather attention was let Kwippy users send a Direct Message to their Twitter contacts inviting them to Kwippy. This worked beautifully well and we acquired thousands of users in a month 

Kwippy Invite sent as a DM to Twitter Users


Here’s a short Tweetstorm I did on How Twitter used to Look in 2007 and how it has evolved since

On a closing note, Twitter has been one of my favourite products on the web. I’ve met some really nice people via Twitter, made great friends and have learned a lot of interesting stuff. 

How Twitter Looked In 2007


Some Pics from Yesterday’s Tweetup

‘The Early Comers’ Lot
‘The Mid-Time’ Lot
‘The Last To Leave’ Lot


PS: If you attended the tweet-up and maintain a blog, ping me and I’ll link to it

The Predicament of being a News Publisher

I was talking with a friend who works at a news publisher and he cried foul on how Google had started showing cricket match scores on the search result page (SERP) itself and how that’d translate into lower traffic on news sites like his.

First Fold of Google’s SERP for a query on Cricket Match score.


The information shared here is sufficient for someone who wants to follow the match score updates. In case the user wants to know more details they have two options ‘Click the downward arrow’ or ‘Click the first search result’.  Which one do you think are users likely to click more?

Screen upon clicking the more/downward arrow just below score card on SERP


For a user following match score one gets most info on Google’s SERP itself. Only in case when the user wants more details (like who is batting, bowling etc) they’d need to click one of search results. Also, if one needs to just see the basic scorecard (updated real time), that has also been taken care by Google.

Notice the green bar under ‘1st Innings’. It polls for updated score every second


The implications for such changes for media/publishers are obvious 

What: Google just shaved off top of the funnel traffic searching for match scores from news/sports sites.
Why: The match score is a “Commodity” which is updated on numerous websites and almost all of them have extremely poor user experience especially for someone who just wants to just know the match score.

Thus, Google decides to serve the customer a better experience by bringing score on Google’s SERP itself.

Google Eyes News:
News is important for a lot of people, though how they consume news has changed thanks to the internet and subsequently mobile revolution. 

While earlier one had to wait for the morning newspaper, radio or TV update to find out news, with Internet, news has become a 24/7 event available to everyone realtime. 

Like me, a lot of people consume news through Social Media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Messengers such as Whatsapp. Another way to find out news (over going directly to say news website) is to Google it. 

The importance of news for Google can be judged by the fact that the  ‘Google News’ product is around 16 years old
(Trivia: An Indian named, Krishna Bharat created Google News)

Googling stuff is a much engrained and ever green way to find stuff you need to know. This coupled with facts like

– A lot news is just commodity
– Most news publishers have poor user experience 
– Google wants their users to spend more time on their platform so they can collect more data about them (Most important one)

means that Google would want to serve its users with as much news content as possible (all commodity content) without them ever having to leave their property

Google Eats News

Enter Mobile and the game changes significantly.  Unlike on web, folks on Mobile don’t instinctively open Google.com or start typing their search query on address bar when they need to find something. 

Also, opening the browser to log on Google or opening Google Search app  to find out news and bits like match score isn’t the most efficient way.

Results on Google Search App 


So what do people end up doing instead? 

NEWS APPS: People who follow news tend to use mobile apps by their favourite (assuming they have one) news publisher which they can nibble news on while in the restroom or waiting for their coffee, uber etc.

The fact that most people are spending more time on their mobile (over desktop) and the fact that Google doesn’t enjoy the same share of user habit as it does on web is serious threat to Google. 

Google Drops the Bomb

Google News App (iOS)


In May’18 on their famed I/O event, Google announced launch of the revamped and AI powered news app. Now the thing about Google is, if they say something is powered by AI, it is best for everyone to believe them (as they know what they are talking about).

Some reviews for the revamped ‘Google News’ App

A snippet from Techcrunch on the revamped Google News app
A snippet from Verge on the revamped Google News app

The News app was launched on Android and iOS devices in 127 countries.  

I’m not a news person by any means. I had no news apps on my phone but when I heard about ‘Google News’ app on Twitter recently, I decided to give it a spin. My experience can be summarised below,

“I don’t think I’ll ever download another news app again”

What’s so great about the Google News app deserves a separate blog post.

That aside, IMO it’s a death siren for other big/horizontal media houses or news publishers. While publishers were trying to plan on how to win small battles on the web, Google dropped the nuclear bomb on mobile.

This is a very tough spot to be in for News Publishers.

Whether and how to partner with Google when it competes with them for user attention/usage and this is a great predicament for them.