Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Consulting & advisory, research notes, in the press, about bubblegen,
next wednesdays.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The story of SELCO

Solar electricity is expensive for the rich, but it is cheap for the poor

Brilliant, visionary entrepreneur built a cool business model: check.
Turned conventional wisdom on its head : check.
Had people laugh at him before success: check.
Deep insight into economics of innovation : check.
Achieved social goals of empowering women, creating employment, helping the poor and founding an eco-system: check.
Doing very well and doing good: priceless.

An absolutely fascinating example of social entrepreneurship based on CK Prahalad's strategic model. May millions of SELCO's bloom to harness the power of boundless human creativity and free enterprise around the world to take on the most difficult challenges facing humankind today.

-- Mahashunyam // 12:45 AM //

Friday, July 01, 2005

Reads His Comments He Does

Yeah, I do read my comments. Most of the time, I even respond.

Lately, I've been having fairly major connectivity problems, so I will respond to the latest batch as time (and my ISP) permit.

Of course, if you've got such a burning issue, you could always just email or Skype me - it's not like I'm incredibly hard to track down.

-- umair // 3:45 PM //


The Snowball Effect

Check out the dog-sh*t-girl thread at Don Park's blog for an almost canonical example of a snowball.

I find this example mind-blowingly cool, because I think it's extreme enough to demonstrate the power of the snowball effect to even diehard skeptics.

-- umair // 3:38 PM //

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The New Heroes

A new series from PBS on social entrepreneurs.

-- Mahashunyam // 8:44 AM //

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Social Finance

OK, I think it's time we thought up a name for the rash of p2p finance plays that have sprung up. I've just noticed Ripple, which I think is absolutely brilliant (no kidding).

Ripple inverts the Zopa model, making finance viral - for example, by using viral credit chains. Zopa uses the opposite model: lending/borrowing is one to many, but it's distinctly not viral. If I was Zopa, I would think about the differences in incentives and efficiency between these two models - in short, I think Ripple realizes increasing returns where Zopa realizes adverse selection.

I have long argued that Finance 2.0 is going to be viral (in a sense, finance always has been, but that's another story). Ripple should, IMHO, think about extending their viral model beyond simple credit, and someone (read: Zopa) should think synthesizing the two models, and turning all of this into a nice, user friendly, AJAX rich service.

Perhaps a hotspot to watch for this year - although I don't think the market's ready for it yet. Either way, note the rate of innovation accelerating.

-- umair // 8:41 AM //

Monday, June 27, 2005

Search 2.0: Search and Peer Production

Every once in a while, you come across a new idea that hits you like a bomb. I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about.

I don't have much time to blog these days, but I got that feeling when I recently came across Wondir thanks to Jeff C.

Now, before I begin, lemme note that this is a great example of what I call coordination arbitrage - smart entrepreneurs making it easy for people to coordinate. The point is that this is another nice data point for my hypothesis that peer production is a disruptive mode of production, and one that is going to be used in many, many domains. So strategists across should start thinking about how to leverage peer production.

OK. Wondir, I think, is a radical innovation in the classic sense. It can offer a discontinuous, order of magnitude shift in efficiency/quality/value. In this case, by scaling up on the demand side, Wondir achieves a huge search cost (and possibly quality) advantage over traditional search engines, for whom search is a (relatively) capital and fixed-asset intensive business.

That means achieving speed and scale economies, and leveraging them to build a knowledge pool - in plain English, getting enough users to ask enough questions, and storing them - to achieve increasing returns, as new users are attracted to the growing knowledge pool.

The most interesting thing, to me, is that I don't think Wondir's really got this yet. For example, you can check out the most prolific users, or the highest-ranked users, but I don't see evidence of a knowledge pool anywhere. For example, I can't quickly search archived questions for possible answers.

But if they get this strategy right, I think Wondir has massively disruptive potential across many spaces and segments of the Media 1.0/1.5 value chain. Publishing, search, social networking, classifieds, and personals are just a few of the spaces/segments that Wondir can threaten - at the limit.

What does at the limit mean, in this case? Well, Wondir's positioned to become what I've termed a reconstructor in my media ppt - a player that reconstructs new casts/streams/micromedia from the most valuable bits of the micromediaverse. Reconstructors offer a significantly more powerful value prop than dumb or smart aggregators, which are their predecessors - in this, case the dumb (semismart, if you like) aggregators are search engines. If all that sounds obtuse, just think about the relative signal-noise ratios.

How can Wondir achieve this? If it were me, I'd think about striking deals with other players whose fortunes depend on speed economies and knowledge pools. Technorati comes to mind, as does LinkedIn. Deals like this could significantly lower the acquisition cost of an answer for Wondir. For example, they could hinge around some kind of open standard for questions/answers - XML wrappers or otherwise - to create liquidity for both questions and answers.

I also think it's important to note that the Wondir has opportunity to build an especially valuable knowledge pool which will realize increasing returns fast, because transactions between users are almost costless, and the relative expected value of a transaction is really, really big. (Dynamics outlined in my peer production presentation).

How can I put the intuition - Wondir, I think, has the potential to be an eBay for knowledge. Uhhh...not to sound like shades of 1999 or anything :)

That said, I think Wondir needs to hire a designer or two, because it's interface is also kinda 1999. I'd also be thinking about what, IMHO, is gonna be the big problem: adverse selection (lo-value questions get asked most/first/select themselves into Wondir). For example, many of the questions on the VC channel are nice examples of adverse selection: they're low-quality questions which most investors wouldn't spend time answering, because entrepreneurs in the know would already have figured this stuff out (I know, I know, that makes me sound like a git...sorry!!).

-- umair // 8:38 AM //

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Oxfam has been producing some excellent work on policy analysis, especially on agricultural trade and the Doha Round. See these:

A Round for Free : How rich countries are getting a free ride on agricultural subsidies at the WTO
Food aid or hidden dumping? Separating wheat from chaff
Kicking down the door How upcoming WTO talks threaten farmers in poor countries

I wish there were many more instances of such engaged policy analysis from liberals around the world to help negotiate truly free trade in the Doha Round. Hopefully, that just might prevent poor countries from losing the farm at WTO.

Note to the fair-trade organic double soy latte sipping crowd : be careful what you wish for - in a world without WTO, rich countries will be screwing over poor countries with impunity and without absolutely any compunctions. Look at the "negotitions" in CAFTA, for example - those poor suckers in Central America are getting robbed in broad daylight. Negotiating with someone like the US that has such a huge asymmetric economic and information power over them has less chance of resulting in a favourable outcome for them than a snowball in hell. So stop throwing stones at McDonalds and really help the poor by telling rich country governments to stop destroying livelihoods in poor countries through this charade of "free" trade. It's about time that poor countries were allowed to leverage their comparative advantages in a well-institutionalized regime of real free trade to fight the twin scourges of poverty and hunger around the world.

-- Mahashunyam // 10:22 PM //


Dear Google

Can you please fix my Gmail. It's been down all day (at least from where I'm logging in).



-- umair // 7:55 PM //



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