I was invited to speak at a small conference on venture capital and private equity last week, organised by NUS, one of Singapore's universities. Not knowing exactly who the audience was and suspecting it was mainly students interested in learning about venture capital, I kept my material fairly generic.
Here's what I presented. It's meant to be talked through, not read, but you get the gist of it.
Once the presentation opens, click More and Full Screen.
I don't really have a view on the politics here but on the policy front, like the author of this essay, I wish companies in Singapore were allowed to fail more often. Not just by the government but also by banks and even from a cultural/societal normative perspective (people wanting the supposed "status" of running a business, no matter how badly run). We have plenty of zombie businesses in Singapore and even some start-ups receiving financial support that would never achieve it elsewhere. More deserving businesses are crowded out and besides, a lot of unsuccessful entrepreneurs would actually do better if they started afresh.
Very interesting. What a spectacular start to raise $12.5M in less than a year from a veritable Who's Who of investors. I hope this isn't going to go down in flames like some other start-ups that achieve a lot very soon after launch.
Just saw this great chart from McKinsey (click to enlarge):
I didn't know Singapore's median age was into the 40s! Nor that America's median age was well above China's. It's not obvious to me from casual observation. As a friend once asked me, "Why do people say that Singapore has an aging population? I see plenty of children on the street with their parents." In comparison, one rarely sees children in Japan. But the numbers tell a different story from the perception.
One other interesting point to note is the way the authors have classified the countries. Most countries are classified by their levels of education and age of population. India and China, though, get their own independent categories! That speaks for itself. Another way to do it would have been to separate out urban India and urban China, and lump them in with other parts of the world with similar characteristics. Urban China and India are older and wealthier than the rest of each country, so this could substantially alter the picture.
This chart is from a longer McKinsey report called The World at Work, which is available for free download.
Another great source of this sort of data, visualised just as nicely as this, is the absolutely spectacular website Gapminder. If you're reading this blog, you're probably aware of this website already.
Over the weekend, I took it upon myself to get started on a much-procrastinated project: retrieving a couple of hard disks from an old desktop PC and pulling the data off them.
The first thing I had to do was to get an external casing with a built-in power supply unit. When I went to the stores and asked for a casing, I was offered a small casing by default, the sort used for laptop hard disk drives. Cue general bemusement when I said this was for the larger desktop variety. "Old school," whispered one chap to himself.
Another question that came up was, what the capacity of the disk was. When I told him, one held just short of 10 GB and the other 8 GB, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. I guess we're from different generations!
Coming to the point of this post, I was actually a little nervous about whether the two drives would even work. I had a lot of old data (photos and so on) that I really wanted to retrieve but I hadn't even turned on my old computer for at least five years. In the meantime, it had endured being stored in a forgotten corner gathering dust and being transported twice by a moving service. I wasn't that worried about retrieving my data as long as the disks would still spin.
But, glory be, both drives actually started spinning with that familiar but long-forgotten whir. When I connected them to my laptop, reading data wasn't a problem either. I was mighty impressed with the engineering that's gone into this, no credit to me for the sheer neglect.
I quickly backed up my files, then started going through my old treasures at leisure. Everything just worked. Even that Word document from 1998, those photographs from 2001, that music from 1999... I was even more impressed by this.
Hang on. Everything? No. Real Media files don't work. Is it because I don't have the right codecs installed? No, I checked that I have the latest versions of everything. They just don't work. Maybe that's the problem. I have the latest version of the codecs not the prehistoric versions. Who knows?
You know that external hard disk you've invested in to backup your stuff? Or that cloud-based service? None of that can save you from this fate. You'll have all the data you ever had and be unable to use some of it.
The sort-of-solutions to this are:
If possible, work with data that use open file formats. This doesn't guarantee that your file will still be usable 5 years from now but at least it raises the odds. [Aside: Microsoft Office isn't truly open but it's become a de-facto standard now and I think backward compatibility is reasonably assured going back to Office 97.]
Keep old software installers handy. This isn't always possible. Your old software programs might have been installed off the web. Or they may have come on a CD-ROM that you have long since turned into a coaster.
Learn how to write software of your own!
These are only sort-of-solutions because you need to be a bit of a geek to make any of this work and, unfortunately, the world isn't only composed of geeks. Or you could go out and get your own captive geek to take care of this for you, but that only works for some people. What about everyone else?
Facebook just announced a new RTB-enabled ad exchange for advertisers to "buy impressions" in real time on a per-user basis. (RTB = Real-Time Bidding)
Either they've lost their minds or they're desperate to try something, anything to regain the initiative since the IPO fiasco.
Too many people than I care to count have made the point that Facebook users are on Facebook to communicate and socialise, not to buy products. Facebook themselves have touted their ability to help advertisers with the branding problem, not what is known in the trade as "performance media" (i.e., an ad that helps achieve a specific goal, whether that is a click-through or a lead or a sale).
But the very act of tailoring brand advertising to the individual user defeats the original purpose of branding as Don Marti lucidly explains here. The point of brand advertising is to shout from the rooftops that one's firm or product is of high quality. Shout? Why? Because:
When a firm signals by advertising, it demonstrates to consumers that its production costs and the demand for its product are such that advertising costs can be recovered. In order for advertising to be an effective signal, high-quality firms must be able to recover advertising costs while low-quality firms cannot.
Targeting users precisely for brand advertising leaves consumers unable to assess whether the ad comes from a reputed company or a guy in his underwear selling worthless widgets from his parents' basement, because web users know that web ads are cheap.
This is of course not the case when the brand being advertised online is a large, well established one. Every web user knows that IBM and Ford are big companies with reputations to maintain. But that is the crux of the matter -- those reputations were not formed by campaigns targeted down to the individual. They were formed via various forms of broadcast media. Try establishing a brand new brand (uhh...) exclusively with targeted advertising and without leveraging an established brand. Get back to me once you've run out of budget.
RTB is a good thing. Performance media is a good thing. But mashing those ideas with brand advertising is a bad idea in the long term.
I meant to write a longer post where I say more on this and a related topic but that will have to wait for now. I promise that post isn't about Facebook... or isn't exclusively about Facebook!
Quick update: the broadcast-advertising-as-signaling-mechanism concept is certainly true in India. Smart start-ups in India turn to TV, radio and print at the first possible chance when they can afford it, because the relatively conservative Indian consumer (especially in smaller towns where scams are not unknown) interprets being on TV as being high-quality.
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