Showing posts from 2011

The Native-App economy and its future

Since the launch of iPhone, everyone has been trying to replicate the App Store model that Apple created. Every operator, OEM and even independent companies are trying to create their own app stores and native app platforms.

The app store/native app model is inherently a walled garden model. This is analogous to AOL in the early days of the internet. AOL was the first one to truly bring internet to the 'masses'. Internet was very young at the time, and was difficult to use. AOL, by controlling the ecosystem and adding restrictions so that everything works well within it, was able to drive adoption for the internet.

In 1999, DoCoMo launched iMode in Japan and did what AOL did - but to mobile devices. All of a sudden, people could open emails, look up stock prices, check the weather and even read magazines all from their phone. iMode was extremely popular and put Japan way ahead of the world in mobile use. Following DoCoMo, other Japanese operators also created their own 'p…

Want to know your users better? Run your own analytics!

(Originally posted on theicebreak blog.)

Theicebreak is all about understanding relationships. It makes sense then that we would want to ensure that we have a strong understanding of who we are in a relationship with - our user base.

To do so, we really focus on tracking every feature and functionality through cohort analysis, as championed by Fred Wilson, Dave McClure,  Eric Ries's lean startup movement and others.

There are now a couple of services that provide easy tools to do so for startups, including everyone's favorites...Mixpanel and KISSMetrics. We tried them all, but immediately hit some crucial limitations of these online platforms:
We have multiple interfaces (web, mobile, api) and we would have to individually integrate with analytics on each one. A way to solve this is to integrate on the server side.We wanted to combine this data with other attributes, for example, break down a certain feature by male vs female users, or married vs engaged couples.We needed to be…

Spotify, MOG, Rdio, Rhapsody for Bollywood Music

I now have at-least 6 different devices that are used to play music, so I think its high time to look seriously at streaming music services.

I tried Spotify, Rdio, MOG and Rhapsody. All of them seem to have good audio quality, and a pretty solid music catalog for western music. 
My requirements are simple:

Must have:
Good Bollywood music catalogShare accounts, so that both me and my wife can listen to music at workAndroid, iPhone, PC supportNice to have: Offline playbackUpload songs already owned by me
SpotifyMOGRdioRhapsodyBollywood CatalogYesYesLackingLackingShared AccountNoYesDidn't CheckDidn't CheckAndroid, iPhone, PCYesYesDidn't CheckDidn't Check
To test the bollywood catalog, I used following combination of  music:
SpotifyMOGRdioRhapsodyZindagi Na Milegi Dubara (2011)YesYesNoNoDelhi Belly (2011)NoNoNoNoSangam (1964)YesYesYesYesPurani jeans (Song)YesYesYesYesPatiala house (2010)YesYesYesYesDouble Dhamaal (2011)YesYesNoNo
Based on my requirements, MOG is a clear winner. I…

The 'social graph' lock-in is overvalued

We keep reading that the biggest asset Facebook has is their social graph, the network of friends and friends of friends that is close to impossible for other companies to replicate.

Facebook initially grew their network not just because people wanted to be friends with others on an online service, but because it provided a real value that people wanted to capture (according to my friend who was at school when facebook was getting big, that value was to get invited to all the parties, or spy on a girl).

If a service provides enough value for people, they will go through any amounts of pain to sign up to capture that. Think of dating sites like eharmony and match, they are extremely boring to sign up with forms that run for a mile, but loads of people still sign up.

I had attended the summit series conference few months ago, and they had their own special social network which you could sign up. The had very long forms, no facebook connect and even no email notifications. However, every…


Have been playing around with bitcoins lately. Even though I seriously doubt the long-term viability of such a currency, I think its pretty amazing to be able to use it right now.

If you haven't heard about it, Bitcoin is a P2P, completely decentralized currency. Its like a digital version of having cash, with all the benifits (and disadvantages) of cash. Its anonymous and can't really be tracked (just like cash), but can also get stolen if someone gets access to your files.

People have been using it to buy t-shirts and accesoriesserver space and a physical NY restaurant even accepts payments using bitcoins. Imagine traveling the world without worrying about currency exchange problems and having a single currency that works everywhere.

To get started, check out or download the app. on your computer and send me your bitcoin address so I can send you some!. If you are feeling rather generous, my address is 1JcNMmEUYCieADecgUNkjE3vYTanJhD9wu :)


Where is my digital magazine?

With the millions of new blog posts, news articles, tweets and updates posted daily, getting to the content we want in real time is easier than ever. The only caveat: we need to know what we want.

Traditionally, we have relied on the major publishers and distributors to feed us the content in the form of newspapers, magazines, journals, books, etc. The publishers would decide what content would 'sell', and will then 'productize' it so people can get access to it.

This model worked really well for over a century. However, there was one big inefficiency with this model: The content creator didn't really get much in terms of control or revenue. In fact, for most cases, less than 15% of the revenue of a book goes to the author. The publishers and distributors were able to pull this off because they basically controlled the supply chain.

Now, with the power of the 'internets', anybody can create a piece of content and make it accessible to users in the same way…

Enforcing honest business practices in a 'Flat World'

Last year, when my parents were visiting the US, I decided to get Indian TV programming so they can watch it here. As Dish Network bill can go above $100 per month with such programming, I decided to go the Internet route by signing up with a service called

WatchIndia streams TV channels directly from India (including the ads, which is nice) over the internet. Its a subscription based service with monthly/yearly subscriptions. I purchased their 1 year service package.

Within a few weeks of getting the service, their quality started going down. It will constantly buffer or not work at all, and was overall very slow.The worst happened in december, when the set top box stopped working, and I was without indian programming for over a month during holidays.

Their customer support was polite but not helpful at all, and after a lot of arguing, they fixed my box and told me that I will get 3 months of extension to my service. My service would now expire in June instead of March…

VIM 7.3 with Persistent Undo

VIM 7.3 recently got released, and supports persistent undo!

This post describes a simple way to configure it. You have to compile it / get it from unstable repo, but totally worth it :)


TheIceBreak Tech Overview

A few people asked me what we use at TheIceBreak, so here it goes:
Linux / Apache / MySQL / PythonPylons Framework (SQLAlchemy ORM, Mako Templating Engine)Lucene for SearchJQuery for websiteAppcelerator Titanium for mobile app.Redis for cachingGIT for source control, hosted on githubnginx as load balancerLinode VPS for hosting webservers / databaseAmazon S3 for images  Besides this, it consists of: 3 main servers: Web, Search, Database1 dev server, which also contains a database replica (in case the main server crashes)The dev server also hosts a 'stage2', which is as similar in structure to the live site as it can. Everything that is pushed live goes through stage2 to make sure that nothing breaks. Using this setup, I have been able to keep the latency of most (dynamic) pages to under 150 ms. 

On Leadership

I recently watched an excellent episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS on the topic 'What makes a good leader' that was sitting on my DVR since months. He had some of the biggest leaders in business and politics (Lou Gerstner, Tony Blair, Admiral Mike Mullen and others) talk about their take on Leadership.

I thought I would summarize what were the biggest tasks that a Leader should accomplish:
Set up a clear long-term vision and guidelines for the company.Make sure that the execution follows this long term vision / guidelines. People are free to do whatever they want as long as it helps the company reach its vision. Be a good listener, you will need all the data you can gather to come up with a good visionTrue leaders will show their strength during a downturn, its easy for anyone to do well when the company has a strong momentum for growth.Even though these points can easily be found in any leadership/101 class, its amazing howmanycompanies and products fail at the basic task of having…

Crowdsourcing private data

There have been numerous startups and trends that use crowdsourcing to generate their desired results. Most of them rely on people to publicly share the (public) information, whether they are tweets, status updates, checkins or shared links and then aggregate this information to generate interesting results. This model works great for public content, but completely breaks for anything that is private and personal. There have been a very small number of products that exploit this facet of crowdsourcing properly.

Basically, the idea is simple: Get private data from users and present it to others in an aggregate, anonymous way so that it benefits them (users).

The company that has done this quite well recently is They hold tremendous amount of private, transactional data from their users which is not directly shared with anyone. Then, they mine this data to generate interesting stats that give users a new insight on their usage. Utility companies have started to use this to sho…

Top-down vs. Bottom-up product development

We were recently discussing a new feature for my new startup TheIceBreak that involves building functionality that has never been done before. In order to design it, we relied on a few assumptions that are difficult to validate without actually building the product.

This reminded me of the fundamental differences between dogfood-style (bottom-up) vs vision driven (top-down) product development, and the companies that follow them: Google vs Apple, and how this approach defines how products are built.

Google has a strong bottom-up culture and believes in being extensively data driven. All the products that are built at google go through extensive number-crunching and analysis before (except the 20% projects). It is very difficult for someone to justify a brand new product as there might not exist enough existing data to validate it. Also, someone who is a small contributor might not see the 'big picture' and help move the company in that direction.

Apple (or Facebook), on the ot…

Presentation Zen

Just finished reading the book 'Presentation Zen' by Garr Reynolds.

Its a really good book if you want to do an actual presentation, when you are the speaker on a podium and everyone else is listening.

The concepts in this book revolve strongly around keeping the 'deck' as simple as possible with heavy use of images, etc. The author also suggests that instead of adding more details on the presentation, there should be a separate handout.

This approach makes sense for one-way presentations to a large group of people, and there are some really good points made.

I find that this approach is not very useful while presentating to a smaller group of people whome you are more involved with, like a product review with the team. Such presentations involve a lot of discussion, and its good to have all the data cleanly presented. There are lots of charts and tables (though, less bullet points), which does not blend well with the style in this book. People also expect to be able t…

Pivoting + Startups

Pivot is one of the most overused terms in the startup world in 2010. The general thinking is that Pivoting is a good thing and founders are very proud to say that they have 'pivoted' X number of times for their current startup. I have seen funding pitches which even contain a slide on 'possible pivots', where the founders talk about how its easy for them to change their vision.

Having 'pivoted' my own startup (Pickv -> TheIceBreak), I feel this is definitely something that is important in a startup's lifecycle. However, it is not all that fun or glamorous, and there are very strong reasons to have a plan that does not involve pivoting as the strategy.

Pivoting usually involves changing the vision of the company. From what I have seen, there are 2 kinds of 'pivots':
Pivot to a bigger opportunity: You have a generally decent product getting tiny amount of traction, but see a bigger opportunity so you switch over to that.Pivot to a new product: What…