Category Archives: Mobile

The smartphone BOOM in India (2014)

Worldwide there are over 7 Billion people. The total number of mobile connections (active) worldwide in 2013 was 6.2 Billion. In 2014 that number will reach 7.3 Billion. There will be more mobile phone connections than people in the world, even when you account for kids and those who cannot afford a phone.

Of those 6.2 Billion mobile connections, 1.1 Billion are smartphones. 2014 will see 1.05 Billion smartphones shipped. About 273 million of those are replacement and 753 Million are new smartphones.

India has over 800 million mobile connections and 603 million active mobile connections.

Currently of the 603 million mobile phones, 73 Million are smartphones.

India will add 172 Million new smartphones in 2014 to have a total of 250+ Million mobile smartphone users overall.

Imagine that.

170+ Million smartphones this year that are NEW users.

That is almost 2.5 times the number of existing smartphone users in India.


Suddenly there are 2.5 times the people having access to the Internet from India.

By most estimates, India has about 150 Million English speaking users.

These 170+ Million smartphone users in 2014 are not the same as the 70+ Million current users of 2013.

They largely will use the smartphone as a phone, maybe some text messaging, music, movies and videos, and some (or very little) social networking.

Guess who’s making money from these smartphone users in India?

Chinese manufacturers of low cost phones. And resellers of used smartphones in India.


1. 100 Million club.

2. Handset marketshare

3. Smartphone explosion

P.S. As an aside, Facebook claims 94 Million users in India, and 70% users on mobile. There are 70 Million smartphones in India, so you can safely assume that 25 Million fake facebook accounts exist in India. (I am joking, of course, but not by much).

Why I published a personal social network app

I started blogging in 2006. It has taken me over 7 years to build an audience of 60K. When I started, I believed that the best content always won. Now I know that the best content with the best distribution wins.

In 2006-7 the prevalent method to distribute my posts was RSS feeds. I focused a lot of effort to get RSS subscribers. Then FeedBurner got acquired by Google and I noticed that my subscriber base was dropping slowly from 2000+ to under 1000.

I realized that SEO was another mechanism to get new readers to read my posts, but I was not going to do anything unnatural to optimize my content to be “search” friendly.

I focused my efforts on Facebook to distribute my content between 2007-2009. I grew my readership from over about friends and readers to over 4000 in 2 years.

I realized late in 2009 that the Facebook feed algorithm was being changed constantly. This meant fewer friend had a chance to see my posts on their news feed. From an average of 25% of my friends who would read my posts via FB, it started dropping to < 10%.

From 2009 to 2011 I got focused on getting more users on twitter to follow and read my blog posts. I have over 10K followers and about 10-20% of the users come to read when I post.

Some of my friends were in the US, others in India. To optimize time and delivery I created 2 accounts. On one, I’d post at the local US time and at local India time for the other. This was to ensure a better chance of delivery on their twitter feed.

In 2012 I noticed many of my friends and readers from twitter coming to my blog also started to drop. Turned out that most folks were following multiple people and unless you timed it right for that person, it was near impossible for them to see it on twitter.

From 2012 to 2013 I put a lot of efforts into building my email subscriber list. Which has helped me go to about 60K+ readers. Then Google tabs happened and my email open rates dropped from 25% to ~18%. Many of my friends asked me when I stopped blogging. Turns out my blog posts were going into their social or promotions tab in their Gmail. There were not seeing my blog posts at all thanks to the new Gmail tabs.

It was frustrating to see the effort I put into building a channel go waste in 2 years. The more frustrating part was that in all these cases I was not in control.

During the last 7 years I have been constantly posting my thoughts and have not significantly increased or decreased the # of posts per year. I still average 120+ posts a year or about 2-3 a week.

The other part I wanted to clarify was if the quality of my posts dropped, which may have been the reason my readership rose (expectation) and fell (reality).

I think there might be some truth to that, but  engagement with my posts has constantly risen throughout this period. I measure engagement by time spent on my blog, average number of posts per visit, the number of comments and the # of Retweets / Likes on Facebook.

By all measures except Retweets my engagement has steadily risen over the last 5 years.

Over the last 6 months I noticed that more users were reading my posts on their mobile phone than PC or tablet. I also wanted to create a deeper sense of engagement with my friends and readers, and since I like to build a deeper connection I thought the best way to do this was to build a mobile application.

It is available on Apple app store and the Google play store. The Windows phone version will be out soon.

The apps are going to be my primary means of engaging with my friends and folks in the startup community. I am giving up on email and slowly paring down from facebook. It’s lack of immediacy in a real time world bothers me a lot.

There are 3 primary features I wanted in the app:

1. Ability to post items and get feedback / learn from my friends.

2. Find ways to meet friends and readers when I am “close” to their location.

3. Create a close network of friends who can help each other.

The beta version is out now and I’d love for you to give it a spin and connect with me there.

A discussion with Rajan Anandan on #startup trends and the 2020 outlook

Prolific angel investor, MD of Google India and all around nice guy, Rajan Anandan was at the accelerator yesterday to meet our startups and other investors. He mentioned a few very interesting stats and trends that he gets to view at a macro level from his vantage point.

Along with Sandeep Singhal and Aarti Kapoor we had a chance to talk about key trends that will affect startups in India over lunch.

  1.  Android is growing very rapidly in India and smartphone growth has hit an inflection point (across all brands). The estimate for Indian smartphone growth is there will be 40+ Million new smartphones (of all types) overall this year sold and that compares to an existing base of 25 Million smart phones. So, 65 Million smartphones out of a total of 600 Million unique phone users in India. By 2020, over 350 Million phones will be smartphones in India and most of them will be connected (Compared to only 25M connected smartphones in 2012).
  2. Large brands (not digital companies like eCommerce and others) are now beginning to bring their brand campaigns online and digital is complementing TV and print in a significant way. Over the next 3 years brand spending will move to digital in a meaningful way.
  3. SMB spend online accounts for a small 10% of advertising spend online, but is growing dramatically. Given that some estimates put the # of SMB in India to be 45 Million, even 20-30% of them going online in the next 7 years is a dramatic increase in # of SMB  websites in India.
  4. Video will be a key driver of brand advertising in India. While search is a very powerful performance medium, YouTube has grown by leaps and bounds in India and is also strong growth engine.

What does this mean for startups?

  1. Companies focused on getting SMB’s online with a simple and easy to use product will do well he said.
  2. Since the number of English speaking Indians is much smaller than Indic languages, indic language focused startups will have a very bright future
  3. He also was bullish on the Indian eCommerce market, given that FDI in retail will be addressed at some point of time. Companies that have the wherewithal to last the next few years and grow profitably will be ripe for acquisition in a few years.

The 99-0.9-0.1 rule for Indian Startups

Jakob Nielsen is given credit for the 90-9-1 rule of Internet participation.

The “90–9–1″ version of this rule states that 1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing.

In the last 6 months, I have gotten 21 Indian web and mobile consumer applications data on visitors, engagement and contribution.

In India the numbers are closer to the 99%, 0.9% and 0.1% in terms of lurkers, participants and contributors of any consumer application.

This explains a lot of things, including the 2-speed nature of Indian market adoption.

Its not that we don’t have early adopters, its that most people (99%) are really laggard adopters.

The difference between 1% and 0.1% is dramatic for startups who need the early contributors to get the community going.

To give you an example. Lets take a mobile application which has 3 competitors in India. Each of the 3 products has been in the market for about 6 months and still they total about 140K total downloads.

In the 1% scenario they would total 1.4 Million downloads. This assumes 140M total Internet users for both mobile and web. In reality there are only about 50-80 Million real broadband users.

Is it cultural? I have heard many folks blame (yet again) our Indian culture & education system which values listening to others than voicing our opinions. I don’t quite agree with that though.

I don’t know why exactly we have only 0.1% of people contributing.

This however has dramatic implications for “traction” among startups.

If you are going to show traction and have between 20K to 50K users or downloads, then you should realize that the 99, 0.9 and 0.1 % rule applies again to your users.

Only 0.1% of those who download will actually be contributors (such as check-in to locations if you are Location based service).

So the engagement metrics will be consistent but woefully low compared to what our US counterparts are seeing.

Traction among Indian consumer startups is not really “traction” in other markets.

P.S. I am still trying to see if this is the same for ecommerce startups. I am hesitant to think it will be the same, but among new and smaller (lesser known) ecommerce companies, these numbers are in the range. However, among established companies, the US engagement (or purchase) numbers are probably more valid.

Microsoft Accelerator Research on Smartphone usage in India

We are planning to release research findings every month as part of our startup support program at the Microsoft Accelerator in India.. There are about 50 different topics that we are curious about and are consistently doing research to find out ways to help our accelerator companies perform market research, target early adopters and focus on getting more customer traction.

This series is part of our accelerator database on engagement with startups, investors, mentors & entrepreneurship.

The first research today that we are sharing is based on survey of mobile phone usage in India. Specifically we wanted to focus on smartphones and the adoption of apps on the smartphones.

There were 3 important questions some of our startups that are building mobile applications had, which we wanted to find answers for.

1. Who are the early adopters of mobile applications on smartphones? By age, gender, type of phone & OS.

2. What types of apps get quicker adoption than others? Games vs. social and Connected vs. standalone apps.

3. What is the usage of mobile web among smartphone users?

There are 3 most surprising answers are:

1. Older people (>35) make up 40+% of smart phone users. Used phones make up 18% overall and nearly 25% of smaller city users.

2. While Blackberry is still strong among older users, Samsung has the most number of touch screen and smartphone users overall, followed by a wide range of local brands.

3. The awareness of apps among both younger and older audiences is miserably low. <27% have EVER downloaded an app in India. Over 33% overall and 44% of older users have no data plan.

What does this mean for app developers in India?

1) Like worldwide stats, games trumps productivity and other apps on the mobile. But if you have a game that requires a data plan you are in trouble. So for game makers, the ability to make money from “ads” that are served via a mobile ad server is limited

2. Given that a lot of users are buying used (second-hand) phones in India, expect to support older models for a significant amount of time.

3. Given very little awareness of “apps” among Indian smartphone users, look for offline mechanisms (kiosks) to pop up to support app distribution.

P.S. Some of the slides have not rendered properly on Slideshare even after 2 attempts, so, here is a pdf version. Smartphone usage in India.

The Microsoft Surface: Why I’d buy it

Microsoft announced a new device today called the Surface. I’d buy it immediately if it were available. Why?

1. I dont believe it is a tablet, although it can be used as one. I believe it falls into the same line as the Mac Book Air. Its a really thin notebook with a Z-height that’s simply awesome. Light and yet fully functional. I use my iPad purely for leisure – reading mostly and the kids use it for gaming. To get work done, I need a notebook. My current notebook’s pretty heavy and I’d love the ability to add a keyboard (which is what the surface does very well). So, out goes my notebook and its going to be replaced by the Surface.

2. I dont think the partners (HP, Dell, etc.) are going to get happy with Microsoft, because they’d now be competing with the device, but I also think MSFT is borrowing a leaf from the Google Android playbook. The Galaxy nexus was by far the best Android device I have used (Got it as a gift from my brother at Google), but Samsung Galaxy S II and S III (and the others like HTC) are pretty good as well. I think MSFT is creating a benchmark for what a great device running their software will look like.

3. My primary use of computing on the go is my mobile device. I tried the iPad, but its not suited for my style of intense use of documents, spreadsheets, presentations and some development. I need a notebook, but one that’s a lot less heavy and if I dont need the keyboard I want the option of using it as a leisure device as well – (as an iPad if you like).

I’d buy it and give away my notebook if it were available today.

The Internet trends report by Mary Meeker – some key insights

I enjoy Mary Meeker’s annual trends  reports, which summarize key mobile and Internet stats and puts them in context to tell a compelling story. Below is a link to the report, which makes for a great iPad reading late in the day.

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Some key takeaways for me.

1. Even though India is ranked #2 in the Internet users added in 2012 metric, (most of whom are thanks to the mobile phone) it “feels” like a comparison of apples to oranges. Most Indian users with mobile Internet access dont use it is my gut feeling.

2. 3G is dramatically changing the landscape. 1.1B subscribers is more than critical mass.

3. Smartphones are at little less than 1B. Again an amazing stat, but considering the number of feature phones is at 5 B, there’s a lot of room for growth. Most interesting is that this might happen in the next 5 years. Imagine every person (or most everyone) having a phone that has a camera, GPS and Internet. It has the potential to *change* the news media industry dramatically. The #1 thing people do (besides email and call) on the phone is get news and information (weather, stock, sports, news) and #2 is play games – this is by # of minutes spent.

4. Mobile traffic is 10% of all Internet traffic. For some websites its close to 30% of their visits. Mobile first seems like a very smart strategy for consumer apps / sites.

5. Mobile monetization is driven (71%) by app purchases, and very little <30% by ads.

6. India Internet traffic from mobile is reaching the same number as desktop Internet traffic (April 2012). Not surprisingly CPM’s are lower on mobile than notebooks.

7. Newspaper ad revenues was surpassed by Internet in 2012 and the trend is heading towards digital at a very fast clip.

Absolutely awesome read on the before and after pictures.

I’d buy a facebook phone today

What if?

1. Every time someone called me on my phone I get all their details, some specific reminders of their recent interests, likes and dislikes and what they are thinking.

2. I get their photo, recent images and where they had recently been on vacation, so my conversations are more engaging.

3. I dont have to pay for Text messaging (SMS) fees to chat with them and instead use the phone’s messaging function and only pay for data (not voice).

P.S. I am still trying to figure out why so many folks like voice calls instead of text messages or email.

4. I can only share my photos with my existing friends and family (automatically), with no need to manually upload, sync, tag etc.

5. I only get calls from pre-selected folks in my friend list (who I have authorized) or from companies I have confirmed a liking or intention to work with. Others need to send me a “message” so I can add them to my list if desired.

That’s something I’d pick over a “regular” android or iPhone.

That’s possibly the facebook mobile phone.

I believe, (if it comes), facebook wont focus on a hardware device. Just a software OS (fBOS sounds good) that is manufactured by HTC, Samsung, Nokia and others.

How does mobile marketing change the spend on Paid, Owned and Earned Media?

If we were to revisit paid, owned and earned media and the impact on mobile marketing.

Most marketers are now building custom mobile applications (owned) for Android / iOs and will soon start to build them for Win Phone 7. Most are already ignoring the Symbian and Blackberry RIM.

During the days of television, print and radio paid was the choice of campaign spend, whereas earned was relatively small (less than 10%). Meaning, you paid for advertising alone and worked on your PR strategy to get your message out alternatively without paying for placement.

The days of the web changed that mix from only paid and earned to spending on your website (owned) which I think reduced the percentage of paid to 70% (from 90%) with 15% being spent on owned and earned slightly increasing to remaining constant.

With mobile applications being developed by marketers and social media engagement the owned portion of marketing spend is increasing even more to close to 25% of marketing budgets, and PR at a constant 15%, the spend towards paid media has further dropped to 65%.

The challenge with every marketer trying to develop their “owned” media channels is that they need

a) more resources (social media analysts & marketers and app developers) instead of campaign spend and

b) more “viral” techniques are being adopted to promote the owned properties.

Lets assume the viral techniques are getting more ineffective as more people try them.

Marketing budgets are increasing at a pace of about 5-7% annually for large companies and more marketers are being asked to spend more money on “owned media”.

What impact does this have on the future of marketing and more specifically mobile marketing?

1. I see the mobile advertising (both display and search) largely being used for promoting marketers “owned” applications – the main reason for that is the instant gratification that comes with an ad to download an application that possibly helps you more than just an ad for branding purposes. It is a lot more measurable.

2. I see many marketers being asked to “get more technical” and start building more “owned” properties since in the long run they are cost effective, easier to control and provide measurable value to the company.

3. Mobile ad networks such as inMobi, Google Admob, etc. will start to focus on helping marketers build, deliver and then promote these owned “applications and properties” since its in their best interest to get marketers to spend more money and make it a lot more accountable.

Update: Nick Burcher has written a book on this topic, and the except is available to review.

What if scenarios for mobile phones, devices and thoughts on MWC 2012

The mobile phone is fast becoming to 6 Billion people what the PC was to 2 Billion people – a communications device (voice and text), and entertainment unit (video, music, movies, news & information, gaming), a productivity tool (contacts, email, task manager and calendar), a gadget (camera, mobile wallet) and an Internet access unit (social networking, commerce, etc.).

First the mobile phone replaced the phone booth and the pager. Email has already replaced faxes and postal mail. Given that 27% of emails are read using the mobile phone (up from 20% the previous year). I wanted to speculate all the “devices” that the mobile phone threatens and might replace.

1. Camera – done mostly. The camera market will be largely relegated to SLR, while point and shoot will reduce in # of shipments. With the announcement of the 41MP camera by Nokia, we are now getting high resolution pictures taken by the phone. This will accelerate the downward trend that point and shoot cameras are seeing overall.

2. Television – In the last few months, I have seen more people using their phone to watch movies on planes than ever before. Previously they would either watch it on their laptop or a portable DVD player with an integrated display. I can still see the need for television for the large screen viewing experience with an integrated audio system, but with projectors built into phones, they might soon be used for short movies.

3. Game console – In 3-5 years with motion sensing and gesture recognition coming to mobile devices, and built in projection, I suspect most game consoles (Wii, XBox and Sony Playstation) will go the way of the SLR camera. Hard core gaming will be for the niche market, while casual gamers will use the mobile phone as their primary game entertainment device.

4. Radio – The primary use of radio is during commute. Specialized radio units I believe are already passe, so this unit is also mostly done with. I suspect most kids born today will not even know that stand alone radio units can be bought. They will be a “feature” on the phone as are calculators.

5. Car stereo – With 3G and integrated music output into the speakers of the car, this device will also be relegated to low-end cars alone. Imagine having a “separate” MP3 device just for your songs – bizarre in 3-5 years. Most likely the phone unit will snugly fit into a slot where it will be both charged and can power the music / radio within the car.

6. Projector – this is just starting to happen, and will take longer than 3 years, but with Samsung announcing the new integrated phone / projector unit (its a start), there will be possibly no longer a need to lug large projectors for quick presentations which don’t require high resolution projection.

7. Cash / Payments – This will take longer because of ID requirements than necessarily mobile commerce. The average wallet today contains a government issued ID, a security badge (company / employer issued), a debit card, one or two credit cards and some cash. The cash and credit card can be replaced within the next 5 years, but ID’s will take much longer if at all.

8. Access (Security) device or other forms of ID – I can see the possibility of employers issuing limited ID card applications that function both as an ID and an access unit. They are easier to destroy and manage (if the employee leaves the organization) and cheaper than physical cards. I can also see insurance companies quickly providing their ID for insurance etc. on an app within the device instead of a physical card.

9. Flashlight – useful in countries such as India where you have power outages in the night.

10. Business cards – surprisingly this is taking much longer than most people thought it would. You should be able to bump your business card to another phone regardless of whether they have different platforms. It will happen in 3-5 years, but the business card is going the way of the fax – niche, used sparingly to make a statement, but not pervasive.

11. Keys – This is a lot more tricky. Given typically most people have 3-4 keys – car, home (front / back) and some cases office, replacing these will take a lot longer. I dont see this happening in the next 5-10 years.

If your phone really replaces all these devices, you will need a cloud storage and security because nearly 25% of phone are lost / stolen / dropped in liquid each year. So you should be able to walk into a store, buy a new phone and “log into” your phone, similar to what an IP phone does already.

For women, who have a larger purse or handbag with other items such as a makeup kit or lipstick, I am surprised that phones dont offer that yet (although the Micromax Bling does offer a compact mirror).

Now that all items that you carry daily on your pocket will be mostly replaced by the mobile phone, I think the laptop bag or backpack is next.