Welcome to aaron chua make money blog

Hi, welcome to my blog. In this part of my world, I talked about how to achieve financial freedom by learning how to make money online through creating sites and earning from them.

Below are some current and past make money projects that details my learning journey.

My current experiment in making 50 amazon site niches. If you have not been following this challenge, best place to start is this resource page for the amazon challenge, that lists all the articles that I have written so far.

My experiment in making 1000 a month through adsense in 9 months.

If you came here looking for low cost startup ideas, here are 140 startup ideas that you can browse through.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Interfaces that enhance serendipity

John Hagel had a great tweet:

maps are powerful interfaces focusing on relationships, not objects - applies to people and ideas, not just places - enhances serendipity

This inspired me to think about interfaces. Serendipity doesn't happen in a vacuum. It requires a medium that conveys the flow of information, the diversity of views and the connections to the edge. The interface, in fact, is a vital point that potentially enhances or limits the extend of discovery. It is the difference between enhanced serendipity and random browsing the Web.

The serendipitous service of the moment is Twitter. Through the 'river of news' style of presenting thoughts, links, conversations etc, one can easily discover stuff that are outside their normal web of interest. The value of discovery, however, depends greatly on the people you follow. If you pick the right ones like John Hagel above, you will find your perspectives being extended in ways you have not thought before. The challenge is, of course, to pick those people and that is why we will recommendation services like ReTweetRank and Mr Tweet becoming more important.

One other interface I can think of that enhances serendipity is the calender view from events companies like upcoming.com. They enhance discovery of events, and in the process, makes physical connections between people. Such interfaces are great for maximising discovery of time based items.

The common thread running through the two interfaces is the diverse source of information and how they are being compressed for easy scanning.

-sources of information are diverse
-information is stripped down to its bare minimum
-display is compact with little wastage of space
-format of display is in time format, either zoom in as in minutes updates to twitter or zoom out as in monthly displays in calender

Using these principle ( I am sure there are many more), we can design for better interfaces that enhances serendipity. Conversely, interfaces that do not do so are limited in discovery. Consider the disqus interface below: (i) information is not compresses with too much space that hinders scanning, (ii) no way to discover comments made on other blogs by the same commentor.

In summary, interfaces are a great place to uncover new ideas that may form the basis of different products/services. What other great interfaces have you seen that maximises serendipity?

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Using mobile to create connections

I have blogged before about the potential of mobile to create closer connections between artists and their fans. Mobile is our most personal communication device and exploiting that to bring about real conversations is a powerful lever in exploring connections.

Recently, I have seen magazine publishers tapping on the power of mobile. Variety, for example, just launched an iPhone app powered by Newsgator. People magazine is also launching an iPhone application. While useful, I feel that these efforts are missing the bigger opportunity. The mobile is not just another distribution platform. It represents a whole new way to create value for both artists and fans.

This mobile pearl talks about how Interscope Geffen A&M is launching iPhone applications for five of its key artists. It is a more powerful example of how mobile can be used:

"Kyte allows us to easily deliver iPhone and iPod touch apps that connect our artists with their fans in a fully immersive, interactive experience,”

Going forward, there is plenty of room to create mobiles/services that enable meaningful connections between artists and fans, between fans and fans, between metadata and fans. If you are into media startups, think connections, not transactions.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Twitter is cooler when it becomes mainstream

Alan Patrick wrote an interesting post that touches on whether Twitter is still 'cool', given that it seems to gaining mass adoption. Personally, I think the opposite. I feel that technology can only be cool once it becomes transparent and merges into our daily lives. This is when we can start to do interesting and useful things.

StockTwits, TweetDeck etc are only the beginning. They are early hints on what is possible when we move to real time, human to human conversations. In fact, we will see much more powerful changes as the web becomes more real time.

How will things change when we get real time feedback about our work? What would happen when companies can tap into conversations anytime to discuss about their product designs, the pain points of their customers, the way that things should be done? Will education be enhanced with real time conversations between students and their peers on the topic of their interest? Can we change how we are organised based on real time communications?

As I said, Twitter become interesting when it is mainstream. Only then can we have a platform to truly explore how things can be better with real time conversations.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The challenges from the crisis and our response to it

After talking to numerous companies and startups about how the current climate are affecting them, a couple of major issues have emerged. From these challenges, we have fine tune our Future of Media effort to address them.

Lack of access to bigger players
The crisis has bought about a bigger need to scale faster and to build a real business. One of the ways to do that is to leverage on platform players such as Facebook and iPhone. Unfortunately in Singapore, our bigger companies such as Singtel and MediaCorps are not as open.

Our respond: Our Future of Media initiative brings in the bigger companies as partners. As part of the network, they are committed to open up their market access to the smaller guys. In this way, we have effectively open up our relationships with the bigger companies to the rest of the industry. I think this is more useful than our grants because in this new economy, useful relationships are the new capital.

Difficulty in starting up
To get things started or to build things from scratch is actually very hard. Even with open source software, knowing what to use, how to put things together, where to start etc is a tough challenge, especially for first time entreprenuer.

Our respond: Our experienced partners in the Future of Media intiative is offering support beyond technology platform and market access. They are offering valuable mentorship through technical and market advice. Through the network, startups can gain guidance from fellow partners that will make it easier to startup.

Global marketing
For a startup to penetrate global markets is actually quite challenging. Even with the Web, the amount of localisation is still considerable. You will need local partnerships and connections. However, for a small startup, securing such relationships is difficult.

Our respond: With the network in place, we can market the network itself to our global counterparts. It is difficult to promote one or two companies but as a network of say 100 companies, we are in a position to make our deal more convincing. A network also means that the offerings will be more complete.

We sincerely think that the Future of Media initiative can bring great benefits to our industry. If you think we can do better, do drop me a comment.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The economics of viral loops

Viral loops are now a big part of product design. In looking at the various ways loops are modeled in various services, I realise there is a big point of failure: the email invite.

Email invites have effectively turned everyone into a spammer. In this age of increasing attention deficit, this current form of email invites cannot be sustained. The attention costs are too high such that people will ignore them all together.

To create better viral loops, we need to rethink about value adding. How can we create loops that benefits the recipients, instead of imposing more costs on them? If we rethink invites as a form of advertisement, can we apply the economics of branding here?

One way is to think of invites (advertisements) as content. Is that possible?

Admin note: carnival of mobilists #162

The latest edition of the carnival is up, with my post on the shortcomings of mobile ebook applications being one of the selected links.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

5 reasons why you should start a blog before doing a startup

Here is what I always tell first time entrepreneurs: start a blog in your area first and aim to attract x number of readers before attempting the startup. To me, blogging is the best way to test your idea as well as is the ideal training ground for your subsequent entrepreneurial journey. Here are five reasons why:

Blogging tests your commitment and fosters discipline

If you want to attract a certain number of readers, you will discover that daily blogging is almost a must. This is where you will know whether you have the necessary discipline to sit down and do the hard work of writing every night. This is where you will stop dreaming about success and start doing real work. If you find that you don't have the passion or motivation to write every day about your startup area, you are probably not suited as an entrepreneur or your current idea isn't right for you.

Blogging forces you to gain domain expertise
The most successful blogger picked a niche and dominate that. You will find that to be successful, you really need to be the best in your niche. This means every blog post must be thoroughly researched on. You will start to read books, hunt down relevant blogs, join discussions etc. You will gain more domain expertise through blogging about your startup area.

Blogging forces you to be customer centric from day one

It is easy to talk about customer centric than to actually live like one. Blogging forces you to think about what your readers really want. It puts you in their perspective. Practice enough of this and thinking from the other side becomes natural. Blogging also forces you to be value adding. You can't just write nonsensical posts and hope to attract an audience. You will need to be mindful of how your posts add value and that mindset will go a long way in helping you build a better product in the future.

Blogging teaches you about how online marketing works

In order to reach your target of X readers, you will begin to think about reaching your potential audience. You might start off with blatant advertising but you will soon discover that it is not sustainable. You will need to start reaching out to online conversations and add value to them. That is where real marketing begins. You will soon learn of the importance of linking, retweeting, aggregating etc that will be useful to you when you want to market your actual product.

Blogging builds your connections

Through blogging, you will earn new connections. Some of them can be your first customers . Some can be your most vocal supporters, helping you to spread your product around if it is good. Others might give you new ideas or perspectives or connect you to other important people. These connections will be better than any promotion or advertising dollars can bring.

So, if you are a first time entrepreneur, do start a blog first. It is the cheapest test bed for your business. If you cannot make a blog work, you probably cannot make your startup work as well. Have fun blogging!

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The live Web

Jeff Javier had a statement that was stuck in my head for a while: live changes everything - again. Together with the recent post on creative destruction by John Borthwick, they point to a real opportunity that is happening right now: the emergence of the live web.

Live web is most powerful when centered around events: a plane crash, a football match, a party, a concert etc. That is why I think live web is intertwined with events web, of which their interaction holds the most interesting possibilities. Event search for example, is made more powerful when the things it is searching for is live, i.e. where can I find the most fun party to go to right now?
Fred Wilson hinted at similar conclusions how live and event web generates more social interactions.

Without events as a focal point, live web becomes too much noise (See Justin.TV as an example). We don't know how to cope with the tsunami of information that is going to be unleashed by the live web. We can't filter through the data to find what is most interesting and relevant to us, at this point in time.

The confusing state of Singapore government's funding schemes

I must admit, government agencies are the least customer centric organisations one can find. This is manifested very clearly in the way we offer our funding schemes, in a maze-like structure for companies to navigate. This is insane. Imagine if you are a company and your customers can't find your products, how acceptable will that be?

The top issue is one, ironcally, that the web would have solve: search. There are so many funding schemes from various agencies that a company will not know where to start. Pages are not optimised for search engines so they don't show up in google searches. Even when there is an attempt to provide a one stop listing, the information is so minimal and incomplete that it is next to useless.

Let's look at one of those attempts at listing all the relevant funding schemes:

The first thing that jumped out at me was that the funding scheme was organised by agencies, with very little information on the details of the scheme such as description, funding scope, crtieria, grant amount etc. This is again a reflection of the non-customer centric attitude of the agencies.

What I would like to see is a startup that organises such information for the rest of the community. I have given up any hope that the changes will come from within the agencies. We need a startup to create a pull system that lets companies key in what they need, which sectors they are from etc and then recommend the right schemes to them. If that is too much work, even a comparison engine with the options to filter schemes by criteria, grant amount, grant type, sectors etc will be much more useful.

Anybody wants to take a crack at it?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Insights from Google's Jonathan Rosenberg

Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's VP for product management has written a thoughtful long post. It touches on many of the important trends that are important. If you are a startup, take notice and spot where the opportunities are:
All the world's information will be accessible from the palm of every person
More than three billion people have mobile phones, with 1.2 billion new phones expected to be sold this year. More Internet-enabled phones will be sold and activated in 2009 than personal computers. China is a prime example of where these trends are coming together. It has more Internet users than any other country, at nearly 300 million, and more than 600 million mobile users — 600 million!

My Comment: That is why, my dear readers, I am so hot on mobile. It is going to bring greater evolution than what the PC has bought. Read the mobile pearls posts (part 1, part 2) for inspirations on the kind of innovation products/services that are already entering the market.
the interplay between high-quality content, search algorithms, and personal information is just beginning.
Why should a user have to ask us a question to get the information she needs? With her permission, why don't we surf the web on her behalf, and present interesting and relevant information to her as we come across it?

My comment: Search and serendipity. Two sides of the same coin. It is going to be a very productive area to watch.

The evolution of online news
The experience of consuming news on the web today fails to take full advantage of the power of technology. It doesn't understand what users want in order to give them what they need. When I go to a site like the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury, it should know what I am interested in and what has changed since my last visit. If I read the story on the US stimulus package only six hours ago, then just show me the updates the reporter has filed since then (and the most interesting responses from readers, bloggers, or other sources). If Thomas Friedman has filed a column since I last checked, tell me that on the front page. Beyond that, present to me a front page rich with interesting content selected by smart editors, customized based on my reading habits (tracked with my permission).

My comment: Online news is still a wide open area but innovations have stopped. What we are seeing are clones all over.

There are many more nuggets in that post including data and cloud computing. I recommend you read it in its entirety.

(Note: Sorry for the lack for structure. I am still recovering from too much alocohol at my D&D last night)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

3 shortcomings of current mobile ebook applications

I have been helping a team of young and talented developers build their business plan for an open source mobile ebook reader application. As we were researching and discussing about the current state of these applications, we noticed three shortcomings that startups can create better services around.

Sharing is not enabled: We like sharing. We like to share things that are interesting and useful with our friends. Sharing enables context to be built. As Clay Shirky puts it: We like it(sharing) so much, in fact, that we are willing to reward amateur outlets that enable it at the expense of professional ones that forbid it.
Current ebook applications don't facilitate sharing. I can't highlight certain paragraphs and share it on my blog or send it to a friend. Imagine what can happen if we start sharing the favourite parts of what we read. We can have a Digg for voting the best paragraphs. We can use the highlighted portion to help us filter what ebooks to read. We can all become super distributors, helping to spread our favourite ebooks to our friends.

Connections are not enabled: The web is about making connections. I connect to my friends through Facebook. Fans connect to their bands on MySpace. Dog lovers connect with each other on Dogster.

However, the current ebook applications don't allow me to connect to anything. I can't connect to my favorite author. I can't connect to people who loved the same book as me. I can't connect to authors whom my favorite author likes.

Being able to connect can unlock tremendous value. It is a powerful way for authors to have real conversations with their fans and to build real relationships. It will enable fans to self organise into groups that in turn, unlock other values ie fan clubs, fan friction etc.

Openness is not enabled: The current mobile ereaders are like walled gardens. I can't more my ebook from one reader to another. It is akin having a different browser to view different pages. This can't be sustained. Once there is a ereader that is open, these closed wall gardens will collapse.

The best opportunity for a open mobile ereader might be the mobile browser itself. I wouldn't be surprise if somebody builds a service that uses the browser as the reader or renders the ebook that would fit a browser.

These are the current main shortcomings I see in mobile ebook readers. What is your opinion of them? Do you find them useful or troublesome? How can you better them?

Is there a room for an Asian Offerpal?

I have listening to feedback from my funded startups that Offerpay doesn't provide enough monetisation options for their users. Most of them have have heavy users in this part of the world. This means most of the offers in Offerpal doesn't apply.

There is a delay in digital adaption by our market research firms and our advertisers in general, relative to US. For example, I still see many surveys done by face-to-face which completely

I think there is an opportunity for someone to bring together the current traditional market research companies, offer them the opportunities in social networks, and pull their survey needs for the startups in social networks to tap on as a revenue stream.

Beyond survey, polls etc, the bigger opportunity is to think about creating better forms of tools to gather insights from online communities, to let organizations 'listen' better. Think prediction markets, engagement marketing etc

What is your view?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

What social capital can enable (Part 1)

(The following rambling is triggered by burt ronald's "social capital of structural holes")

I feel that we are reaching an optimal in online communications and networking. There is only so much sharing you can do in the name of sharing. I want to leverage on the abundance of online knowledge and networks to achieve more, to learn more, to have better ideas etc. Somehow, the current crop of services doesn't cut it for me.

In terms of news and information aggregation, I don't need more services to recommend me news of similar nature.
I don't need services that aggregate everything either because the noise ratio is too high. What I need are services that show me who are the good bridges who can connect me to other stuff that are outside of my current specialization. People who are good in relating one industry to another.

One good example is reBang who does a great job in bridging between industrial design and virtual world technologies. Another one is Jordan Furlong who specialises in bridging between the legal industry and our web world.

I need a Mr Tweet that recommends such people to me. People who painstaking draw the connections between different areas, who tease out the subtle relationships and to paint the possibilities that such relationships & connections can enable.

These are services I want to have right now.

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Our crisis package for startups

With bailout plans announcing all over the world, I thought it would be a good time for me to write about some of the things we are doing to help our startups as well. They may not billion dollar packages but I think it is something that will benefit them more than blindly throwing money around.

Generating demand
As part of our efforts to build partner networks in 6 verticals (I am responsible for phone and books), we are pooling the demand for applications from our bigger partners. What we are effectively doing is creating marketplaces akin to the AppStore across our bigger partners for the smaller startups to tap into.

I think this is sensible as we are allowing the marketplace to decide what startups should survive and what should not. We don't believe in keeping startups alive just because we funded them. They must prove their value in the market place.

Offering common assetsThrough the partner networks, we are also offering access to common assets such as open APIs, distribution points, payment systems, access to markets et al that is contributed by all our partners. This will signficantly reduce startup costs for any small companies.

Our belief in offering help at this infrastructure level is that all companies are equal. We don't believe in companies that are too big to fail.

Match making
We offer match making services for our startups to meet private investors for different stages of funding. Part of my open call for a business angel network is to find a more efficient way to match startups and angel investors. This is to complement what we have already done for Series A fund matching.

Talent development

Finally, we are subsidizing talent development programmes for people whom companies might have retrenched during this period. This is to help keep the team intact and at the same time, develop their capabilities.

The above will be the core of what we will be offering. We are not sure whether these are sufficient but we are always listening. If you like to suggest anything else, drop a comment.

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Do our startups blog?

I was checking out my traffic sources when I saw some referrals from a French site, 22mars. If you look at the image below, my post on linked journalism was the fifth item, a couple of months after I wrote the initial post.

Although this is nothing new, I am still impressed by how information spreads across the web. It is much easier now to reach places and locations you haven't thought possible before.

Despite this, I am still amazed by how many of our startup don't have a blog to communicate to their potential users. I want to do some research later this evening to gather statistics on the following:

  • How many of our funded 120 startups have blogs?
  • What is their updating frequency?
  • How often do they reply to their comments?
  • How long in terms of delay was their replies?
It will be an interesting research, especially when I compared how their statistics fare to mine, a government official :)

Opportunities in the prosumer economy: healthcare edition

The prosumer economy is an invisible economy that we never pay much attention to. Our conversation of prosumer typically restricts to online activities, be it writing blogs, reviewing books, or editing wikipedia entries. Prosumer however also touches the real economy in countless other ways we have never noticed: cooking one's meals, caring for your sickly father, volunteering at non-profits, repairing your house, shopping for your groceries et al. All these activities are produced and consumed by the user and its economic value is estimated to 50 trillion.

As we move to a knowledge based economy, more people are empowered to become prosumers. This implies that value will disappear from the monetary economy as people produce what they consume, rather than purchasing them in the marketplace. However, as old markets disappear, completely new ones will take their place.

This brings me to the two big opportunities in the prosumer economy. One is to shift the prosumers back into the monetary economy. This can be seen by iTunes which have shifted the value loss in peer to peer sharing back to the marketplace. Second is to enable more users to become prosumers. This is the opportunity that will frame the idea below.

One industry where we will see prosumer shifting value out of the montary economy is healthcare. This
NYtimes article, for example estimates the size of the prosumer economy in healthcare to be worth $350 billion. This number is only going to grow bigger with more healthcare information being made available, and better mechanisms to filter the information.

The idea here is to create products/services that will help prosumers better perform in the non monetary economy. We already see some of this in self monitoring devices. However, the bigger market is the mobile.

In the future, I foresee self monitoring devices to become self monitoring applications that work on mobiles with in-built sensors. There will be a marketplace where these applications will be reviewed, sold, exchanged, resold et al. Each mobile application will be linked to a web database that tracks and shares your health symptoms.

These mobile applications for health monitoring will reduce costs and increase ease of use. This in turn will enable even more prosumers in the healthcare sector.

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What are the business models for attention allocators?

In my previous post, I have mentioned 2 ideas that will help to better allocate the attention for users. One of the nagging concerns, however is the missing business models for these attention allocators.

So far, the better attention allocators such as Techmeme, and TIOTI seem to have either no clear business models or rely on advertisements, which increases attention costs. What are the alternatives? Is it possible to charge people for better allocating their attention? Would you pay to use techmeme?
Kevin Kelly believes that where attention flows, money will flow in 8 different ways. Can we use this as a basis for building business models around attention allocators? What are the current examples you have seen?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Mobile Pearls II

Here are 10 more mobile pearls that shows innovative mobile services:

User generated 'explanatory' books
The book series allows users to create their own “self explanation.” The results, the user’s own explanatory “book” can be forwarded as a text to friends and family.
(Mobile novels or books will continue to gain more market and we will see more innovations such as the above in this space.)

Virtual hairstyle makeover
With this free service users simply choose a hairstyle from the modeled looks, take their own portrait photo with their mobile phone camera, and enter it into the system to receive a version of the photo modified with the new look.
(Imagine this to be a engagement model where users can opt in to receive periodic updates on the latest hairstyles, with their faces as the model. If users like the look, they can book an appointment with any of the participating saloons. Another example of ads as content)

Adva Mobile
Adva Mobile provides a software service for music artists to create closer relations with their fans on their mobile phones.
(This is what I was talking about on post on creating mobile music startups. Well, one is now taken. There are still four others to consider...)

allows users to customize their own set of sneakers according to their physical surroundings. You simply take a picture of something on your camera phone and then send this pic off to a shortcode via MMS. The NIKEiD website then picks out the two strongest colours from your image and uses them to colour your custom sneakers. Within a minute, you are sent a link with your design superimposed over the original source of pantone inspiration.
(I see this powerful example of offline-online as something that will become more mainstream as more products allows personalization. It fully leverages the unique ability of mobile to be available at the point of creative impulse)

Mobile medical lab
It is a new way of doing images of cells and bacteria
(This is something I will be watching closely. Mobile has the potential to disrupt health monitoring devices, the way it is disrupting camera phones and music players. Paired it with an app store model and we will see a truly powerful new chain in personal healthcare.)

Megapixel Microscopy
Having trouble reading the ingredient list on a small packet, for example? Simply snap it with your INNOV8 (or similar) and then zoom in a couple of notches to see the microscopic text at huge size
(The potential uses for such zooming capabilities will be tremendous.)

Cellphone colleges
Cyber University, the nation's only university to offer all classes only on the Internet, began offering a class on mobile phones Wednesday on the mysteries of the pyramids.
(Reinventing education on mobile is very cool.)

Nomadic Schools in Africa
Students can access lessons, revision, careers guidance, cultural and medical information on their mobile phone. It is a means of connecting students and teachers.

SnapNow in Brasil
Educate visitors about Brazil’s tourist product in seconds, simply by taking a photo of Brazil(A new form of search and interaction on mobile. Great example on how image recognition will be a step up from barcodes. See another example here by the same company)

Sponsored ringback service

TonlaKazan subscribers can choose a branded message that people hear - instead of a standard ringtone - when they call that subscriber. The subscribers would then earn free airtime depending on how many people called and how long they listened to the advertisements.
(If the ads are co-created like Blyk, this can be a valuable form of 'advertisements'.)

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Saturday, 14 February 2009

Understanding social capital: readings from the Web

My social capital readings for the weekend.

1) The network structure of social capital
At the same time that group performance is enhanced by the social capital of its members, organization social capital can enhance employee performance.

2) Social capital: the key to success in the 21st Century
The first step is to identify the social capital in the organization

3) Network duality of social capital
(Check out Ronald Burt's entire research papers here)
The balance between brokerage and closure is usually analyzed in terms of where to invoke the mechanisms: maximum advantage occurs when a closed network secures alignment within a team and team members have brokerage networks beyond the team.

4) The network paradigm in organisational research: a review and typology
In this paper, we review and analyze the emerging network paradigm in organizational research.

5) Social capital in online social networks
We need to understand how online social networks already manifest these concepts, and where there is still opportunities to use these theories to create better experiences for users

6) Structural holes and online social networks
If you think about it, every Facebook App is a tertius strategy -- some are good, some are not. But it shows that there are still a lot of structural holes out there in social networks, waiting for someone to step in and broker the deal

7)The convergence of social and technological networks.
there is a broader process at work, a growing pattern of movement through
online spaces to form connections with others, build virtual communities, and engage in self-expression.

Idea nuggets from the Web

Ideas can be found anywhere. From blogs to comments to Twits. Here are some of the interesting ideas I have read for today:

I'd like something similar, but with a personalization layer that compares my past lifestream activity to my friends new activity and surfaces the stuff that's most relevant to my interests... as opposed to FriendFeed, which just spews everything at me in an overwhelming mess. I was working on a project in this area earlier this year, but lost my developer. I'm still convinced it's a killer concept.

Originally posted as a comment by Joe Lazarus on This is going to be BIG! using Disqus.


Wikipedia is nothing if not a platform for a ton of other businesses to be built on top.
I can imagine a great business that’s more or less the “VeriSign mark for Wikpedia articles”. Would be an easy way for volunteer editors to make a buck, too, if they peer produce the business ;-)


I guess I have to respond since you called me out :)

Mark MacLeod wrote about the "era of the small exit" a couple weeks ago; what we're seeing is the result of what happens when people can create products (or even businesses?) based on creating new "skins of data" on top of platforms using public APIs.

As I commented on his site:

Not only might the M&A market might become an efficient hiring market for talent and products, but finding and executing the right acquisitions and partnerships sooner and quicker might become a more important core competence than planning and executing product extension development.

From an investor standpoint, I wonder if there is more value in funding the "skins of data" or the "platforms of data"?

I don't think that the same investor will fund multiple skins of data on a shared platform; it creates too many conflicts of interest and consolidates the investment dollars into a single platform.

Twitter enables exchanges of value through facilitating, capturing, archiving and discovering communications, transactions, information and people. That's the value capture strategy; but that's not a new perspective :)

Originally posted as a comment by Taylor Davidson on Ethan Bauley Dot Com using Disqus.

Mobile link journalism

Link journalism is a new form of journalism that is made available by the Web. Companies such as Publish2 are providing the infrastructure that powers this new model. I believe, however that a mobile link infrastructure makes more sense because the revenue models seem clearer.

Imagine you are a journalist and you provide daily headlines of what you think are important stories. Users can subscribe to your daily sms, which is offered free. However, if users want to get the whole story, they will have to pay premium sms for each click. That payment becomes the revenue model for journalists and you will get a small cut for providing the application.

Mobile journalism can also be more immediate and that immediacy may be a value that users will pay for. Imagine a journalist covering crisis events through mobile. Users may pay for the latest coverage through their mobile.

What do you think? Is mobile link journalism a more viable path to unlocking a new model for journalism?

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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Reading links for the day

Here is a list of links that I am reading these past few days:

  • A Spec for the Social Feed Reader
    (a much more fundamental shift in the way we're consuming things on the web)
    This is a cool idea that addresses our attention cost problem...
  • 'Curation', and journalists as curator
    If we talk about curation, we refer to more than a simple act of filtering)
    This is another oportunity for someone to take a crack. Again, this addresses our attention cost problem
  • Google's Power Play
    (The search giant wants to remake the electricity grid—and do for power what it did for the web)
    Energy is just bits of information. I am waiting to see how the market opens up for smaller guys to play
  • Check Cashers, Redeemed
    Inside, it’s like banking turned upside down. Poor customers are commodities, deposits are irrelevant, bad credit makes for a good loan candidate and recessions can be boom times.)
    A different form of banking. One to learn and apply.

Open call for a startup to help us create a business angel network

Early stage funding has been a serious problem for us for a long time. Last year, we rolled out a match-making programme for startups called i.MATCH. We gathered 69 investors to meet 12 of our companies in a single day, using speed dating format to encourage interactions between investors and companies.

However, we soon found out that i.MATCH is more suited for Series A type of investments whereas many of our startups require just angel level funding. This is a problem we aim to fix this year.

Here is the proposed solution: we want to form a LinkedIn equvialent for angel investors and startups. We will gather as many of these angel investors as we can find. These people will not be your traditional investors but may come from occupations such as legal, doctor, private bankers et al.

We are looking for a startup who have an interest in developing this network with us. We will fund you just like our other fundees but we will be working closely with you to develop this site. If you are Singapore based and wants a crack at this, do drop me an email or leave a comment.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Advertisements as content

One of the interesting trends of advertising is its evolution into content. This is part of the bigger shift in advertising where they must evolve into something that is useful and desirable to users.

The biggest example of desirable advertisement in my mind is MTV:

Back in the 1970s the music recording industry was trying to capitalise on the emergence of pop music TV shows. Global artists like Queen, David Bowie, Abba and the Rolling Stones in the 1970s were finding that they could send "film clips" of their latest hits to be played on the shows, even when the artists themselves did not have time to fly all around the world promoting every new release of singles and albums. These precursors to the modern music video were very clearly developed as the promotional tools for new music. They were advertisements.

Beyond MTV, there are now many interesting experiments in turning advertisements into useful content. Here are some links that show these examples:

Contents and its Discontents
one day cosmetics companies will perhaps start beefing up their own Web sites — with makeup videos and click-to-buy options — just as kraftfoods.com has done with its hugely trafficked recipe site and walmart.com has done with its popular blogs by mothers.

Shows how advertisers are beginning to generate their own content, rather than rely on traditional channels like magazines. This opens an interesting opportunity: is there a market for a service to match independent content providers and advertisers directly?

IBM Turns Old NYT Editorial and PR Into Ads
The campaign is different in that the ads curate archived editorial on the environment from the Times and displays it right in the unit itself. The reader doesn't need to leave the page he/she is on to peruse the articles. Branding is light and the focus is on content. Needless to say, since all of the articles are by star columnist Thomas Friedman, the writing is strong.

NBC to create product focus shows
The collaboration between NBC and Omnicom offers "a unique way of giving brands a seat at the table with writers and producers in developing episodic programming that ties directly to brand needs,"

I don't know why but somehow I don't think this is going to work...

Bonus link: Advertisements from the past as desirable content

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

I can't believe we are still having Digg clones in 2009! The sad state of Singapore startups

I was in shock when I read this: Breaking.Sg - Singapore’s Digg Clone .

Wow, I can't believe that somebody is making attempts to do a Digg clone in 2009. I mean, didn't Ycombinator funded slinkset that enables anyone without programming knowledge to do a digg clone? I even implemented a Digg clone (see ijam.sg) for proposal submission way back in 2006 (bad idea btw).

Don't get me wrong. I think attention markets, of which Digg is but one form, has great potential. Unfortunately, I don't think our guys are thinking that deep. If you are exploring these areas, the minimal you can do is at least understand what attention markets are and how are they shaped.

One last comment I have. Sg Entrepreneur guys, be more constructive in your articles. Don't just report. Analyse the issues deeper. Understand about the economics and drivers that are shaping the industry. You guys have the community. You can make a difference in raising the level of our startups.

Why I choose to work for Singapore's government

I was contemplating earlier this year about leaving the office and start my own thing again. It was a hard choice. So, what I did was to list down the reason for staying and they turn out to be pretty compelling. I am sharing them now to maybe give you some considerations to ponder if you are thinking about leaving your current job.

Basically, there are three strong reasons why I choose to remain in the office for another year:

The office offers unparalleled learning experiences: As part of our work, we deal with many companies and institutions, in various forms and shapes, from startups to MNCs to investors. Each and everyone of them represents a accumulative experiences of their trials and tribulations. You can see how startups fail or become successful. You see how big companies struggle with their transformations from traditional to new media. You see different business models being attempted. You see cutting edge technologies being researched on.

All these are great learning points. Only in the office are you allow to fund new innovations and learn whether they work. It is as if the $500M budget is your tution fees for learning. Where else offers such a rich learning around?

Freedom to drive national projects: It is rare that a 31 year old guy has the freedom run national programmes the way I think it will work. I don't have the answers but I have the freedom to experiment, learn from feedback and retry again. To be able to do this, especially in a government agency is a rare luxury.

For my past work, I had the freedom to create, experiment and shape an incubation effort for the entire nation.
This year, I have been tasked to head 2 interesting projects, forming nation-wide partner networks to shape 2 sectors: future of phone and future of books. Trying these different models gives me opportunity to apply and master new forms of coordination that I think will be critical in creating innovation business models for the years to come. They allowed me to master what Seth Godin calls emotional intelligence skills i.e. managing projects, visualizing success, persuading other people of your point of view, dealing with multiple priorities.

A great mentor: My boss (Google for michael yap) has been a great mentor. For the past 2 years under him, I have matured as a manager, learning stuff ranging from
  • how to do ppt to win buy-in,
  • how to think from your viewers' end,
  • how to write minutes that get you what you want,
  • how to setup meetings that win negotiations,
  • how to read you boss,
  • how to find strangle holds in contracts,
  • how to dream big,
  • how to evaluate startups,
  • how to have a natural feel for numbers, to know whether they are right or wrong at one glance
  • how to anticipate failures and to build that into contracts and mechanisms
This is perhaps the biggest reason why I am staying. Ask yourself this: is your boss a mentor or someone that merely gives you stuff to do?

Monday, 9 February 2009

Opportunities in enhancing discovery (serendipity)

I have find that Singapore is always a generation late when it comes to innovation, especially in the Web area. Hence, I am always 'listening in' to conversations around the Web, especially to people who are exploring the deep fundamental drivers that are shaping our economy and society.

In one of these listening sessions, I picked up on the concept of serendipity enhancement (hat tip to Ethan Bauley). It is different and yet may occupy the same importance as search. While search is powerful when the intention is clear, serendipity enhances social connections as it leads people to connect in unexpected ways. In a economy where social capital is growing in importance, such enhancement can bring tremendous value.

How then can you enhance serendipity? I have no strict answers but here a few thoughts that I am working on:

Serendipity is about flow: It is about maximising your exposure to the flow of connections and information, on your own terms of participation. Think about river of news but add in the ability of people to connect via the social objects being shared and discussed.

Such flow will come from services that help people expose their thoughts and work to where the flow is. Aggreagtors are the first manifestations of creating such values as they bring exposure to your writings. However, the bigger opportunity is in services which are able to move your information around and plug you into relevant flows. I called it SwitchBoard 2.0.

Serendipity is about edge connections: It is commonly known that the greatest value from your network typically comes from the weakest link. Serendipity increases your chance to connect to somebody that is outside your traditional network and hence, potentially bringing greater value to you.

This is why I lament here that current social networks are not meant to enhance social capital. What is needed is a way to let us, as individuals connect to the edge. To do this, we need to understand how social capital is built which then gives us answers on how to better a recommendation service. This is a key challenge and one that is still wide open.

Serendipity is about diversity: Discovering news things (and though that, new connections) needs a certain degree of randomness, and consequently a certain degree of noise. What many current services have done is to pair down the noise though specialised verticals. This has dramatically reduced diversity.

Aggregating across verticals to produce diversity is what we need to reproduce the serendipity that is found in our physical lives. That is one powerful benefit that services such as FriendFeed has introduce.

However, beyond activities, aggregating different perspectives on life, strategies, knowledge, values et al has the potential to really open up innovations. That is a difficult problem and one that I have yet to see attempts being made.

There are many more things to understand about serendipity and the opportunities it represent. This is my attempt to plug into the conversations that are happening. Let's see where serendipity will lead me to.

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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mobile pearls: examples of innovative mobile services

I find that real examples are the best way to communicate opportunities and concepts. Nothing beats the fact that you can see and understand. Hence, I will be doing a weekly or biweekly post called mobile pearls that links to real products/services that illustrates the 7 unique benefits of mobile and the opportunities they represent.

(Note: This mobile pearl concept is from Mr Tomi's excellent ebook (which I have given up buying due to the problems in 'PainPal').

Once I have collected 100 pearls, I will complied them into a free ebook for easy reference. If you have examples of mobile pearls, grateful if you can point to them in the comments section.

Event based mobile commerce for fashion shows:
all the fashion items featured in the shows were available for purchase via your mobile phone as soon as they were debuted on the runway. So, if you take a fancy to the red and white CECIL McBee dress that the third model was wearing, you can buy it instantly on your phone and have it delivered the next day, therefore being on the absolute cutting edge of Tokyo Fashion.

Mobagetown: Mobile games, SNS and avatars

MobageTown previously cooperated with Nike:
buy a real world Nike item from one of their mobile auction sites or shops and you would get free Nike merchandise for your avatar. For the people that want to match their avatar to their RL appearance, this must be a major ‘yes, I’ll buy it’ reason.

Integrating real world merchandise with virtual items will be a very powerful revenue model. I expect we will see many such models in the near future.

Purohu: A mobile profile service using game mechanisms
The Strategic Purohu service is all about completing personal profiles. By simply answering the questions given by the service, user completes his/her profile. There are nearly a hundred questions including "What's your dream car?" or "Your favorite song at Karaoke" as well as pretty basic questions. While not all of these questions are mandatory, the more questions a user answers, the more complete the user's profile becomes. So it's like Linked In for teens on mobile.

3VOOR12 is piloting a new heat-mapping system at Lowlands music festival
Using familiar web terminology—Hot or Not—the festival's visitors will be able to let others know which of twelve venues is hosting the hottest show at any particular moment. The voting system will run on a mobile app that users can download to their internet-enabled phones.

Now, imagine if we can further engage with the user by letting them become a fan club of the hottest show.....

Pumbby: A cross operator approach to ad supported mobile sms services:
pays cash to users regardless of the mobile network they subscribe to. When users sign up for Pumbby online, they simply indicate which network they use and how many ads they are willing to receive each day.

Dance Fabulous
Dance Fabulous is a sort of rhythm action title, in which you create and customise an avatar then build a range of dance moves into your own routine. Apparently, there are plans to integrate with Nokia's music store so you can get the character to dance to real tracks. You'll also be able to upload your dance routines to a community site.

The child of Guitar hero and Cyworld. A very lethal combination.

Chokkan Band
The sensor on the phone detects movement, making it possible for anyone to use the phone as a guitar, violin or any other instrument you can think of.

Totally awesome application of one of mobile's unique ability of being available at the point of creative pulse. You can play Guitor Hero on your console but when you are out of home and wants to party with friends, mobile is your only way to do it.

TV Play Along - The next generation of viewer participation
Instead of the limited interaction of SMS or call-in formats, PlayToTV offers continuous social and massive multiplayer game play for the entire home audience. The majority of viewers that turn into participants today already use their mobile phone as their primary mean of interaction, and more and more people watch TV near or on their computer.

Truly understanding how mobile is can unlock complementary gains to traditional media.

Axe's Wake Up Service
Set up personalised wake up calls to mobile via pc. In the process of this, a relevant model appears on screen and, simultaneously, the mobile phone rings and the user can her 'talking to him' and confirming the call.

The BMW campaign
They ran a campaign of under 120,000 MMS picture messages. And that miniscule mobile phone campaign resulted in 45 million - million - dollars in additional business. Business that wes directly attributable - and accurately attributed - to the 120,000 mobile phone messages.

We are just beginning to see how engagement marketing happens on the mobile and the BMW is a great example.

Friday, 6 February 2009

How to make company grow

I have see many startups that we funded not growing. In fact, how to make company grow is a very challenging problem. Very often, when I asked them for the reason, I hear this: we need more advertising. Somehow, I don't think that is the answer. Take a good hard look at your product/services and ask:

Is your product a purple cow?: Is your product a remarkable product? Will people talk about it because it is cool, meaningful, authentic, innovative etc? Many will argue that their products, by nature, cannot be a purple cow. If that is the way you think, you are already on the wrong path.

Let's take a great example: Little Miss Matched. It is a company selling socks. What can be more unremarkable. Yet, they have successfully turn socks into a purple cow by understanding what their customer group care about. It leverages on a deep understanding of what young girl would like. Are you doing the same for your products?

Is your product a viral loop?: I have mention this before but this is worth repeating:

understand the context of of sharing: when does sharing occur, under what circumstances and for what type of products?

You need to apply the principles of viral loops to your product principles in the context of solving a issue in your industry. Often times, applying game design is a good way to start the thought process. Does your product have a viral loop?

Is your product creating real value?: This is perhaps the most important question. We have enough of entertainment stuff in the world. We have Youtubes, WOWs, Facebooks, Meebos of the world to gives us all the entertainment we want. What we need are products that help us solve our real problems.

Here is a one common problem I see: we are all stuck in jobs we hate. How do you create products that help people do what they are passinate about and enjoy a healthy financial income? Are you empowering people and giving them a means to an alternate lifestyle that people love?

What is the value you are creating?

Does location based services really have no business models?

One of the lessons I have learn in my previous post is the lack of a business case for location based services. I like to give more perspective on why this is so. There are currently three general categories of location based services and below are my beliefs on why they are not as viable as is commonly believed.

Directory Services: There are currently tons of services that offer you information on where to eat, which pub to drink, what shops are there etc. While there will be traction on these services, I believe they will remain niches. Why?

The simple logic is that we are always in familiar places. Most of the time we are either at home or at work. When we are at these places, do we need to know what is available around us? Most probably we already know, and if we don't, the more simple way is to ask our colleagues or friends.

There will be times where we are in new places and might need such services but such moments will be infrequent. Creating mobile services that are not used frequently is a missed opportunity for mobile. Phones are the most carried around and personalised items. If we think harder about creating more valuable mobile services, we can potentially create something that people will use on their phones everyday.

Mobile Trackers: There are now trackers of all sorts, from tracking your child and spouse to your car and dog. It again sounds good on paper but there are two issues.

First, who wants to be tracked every single moment? If parents slap a tracking device on their kids, I can bet my last dollar that the kid will find a way to disable or go around it.

Second, once people realise that whatever they are tracking always go on the same route, over and over again, the tendency to use it will diminsh. This goes back to the same issue for infrequent use. It is a wasted opportunity.

Mobile Social Networking: I am actually very optimistic about mobile social networking. However, in this case, the location based component is only a bonus. Take away that part and mobile social networking still works., The key attraction is to be able to connect with your friends anywhere, not necessarily with only those around you.

And this is where I think most locaiton based services will be. Nothing more than a bonus add on. It is a good to have but not the critically component of the service.

So, where do I think are the opportunities? One is of course events related mobile advertising. Events can reveal the users' intentions (i.e. if I go to a U2 concent, it can be assumed I am a U2 fan). If we pair that with the mobile's ability to develop engaging relationships between brands and consumers, the combination is a potentially potent one.

There are of course other areas in the mobile space that is worth spending your attention on. I will leave these for future posts.