The rise of the co-Founders

It is no longer a technology race, its a marketing race. Almost any software can be built or copied at a similar quality, its all up to marketing and customer grabbing at early stages of the product life cycle.

Recently I noticed an increasing trend of using the term “CoFounder and CEO of” on linkedin. The majority of the self described CEOs are fresh graduates or have just joined the IT field. Few of these startups are significant or were ever heard of out of the scope of their owners’ immediate circle of friends. It doesn’t stop at tech startups really it seems like everybody is trying to build something to call his own for a whole array of different reasons be it financial or the mere thirst to get the bragging rights or even in some cases peer pressure. (i.e. “in” people and fashion blogs)

Silicon valley parodied the culture of launching irrelevant startups quite nicely

Silicon valley parodied the culture of launching irrelevant startups quite nicely

The notion of being a middle-class salary man is no longer fashionable, As a generation we were raised that each and everyone of us is unique and destined for greatness settling into a life of corporate obscurity is not something can cope with easily. Financial reasons play a role here as well as startups appear to some as a quick way to make it into the double commas club (millionaires club) after all how hard can it be to build up a company and then sell it later for a couple of millions right. Given how the entry barrier is particularly low the common perception is that you don’t have to put a lot on stake in order to build a tech startup, All whats needed is a good idea and a couple of customer and things will organically evolve. Everybody can be an over night entrepreneur.

A website can be built and launched and wouldn’t cost more than a month’s salary hosting the product on the cloud can guarantee a easily affordable operational cost, in theory you can run the website forever securing the “entrepreneur” status for as long as you have it online. I’ve written an article not so long ago about the rise of social entrepreneurs in post 25 January Egypt and how few if any ever make a profit. People confuse having a successful product with having a successful startup, For the first the success is measured by hits/downloads/user-base while for the latter it all comes down to being revenue positive at some point (or at least the prospect of it). More importantly owning your website and URL doesn’t equate being an entrepreneur managing your own startup. Having a killer idea is not as valuable as it used to be, almost any idea can be replicated at an even higher quality what really matters is traction and a growing user base, given the social nature of most products it all comes down to the critical mass of users. Even if you are moving into a new area with no competitors once you achieve anything that resembles a success -and given the low barrier of entry- competition will show up.

Being an entrepreneur and managing your own startup is much more complicated than simply launching a site and getting a couple of hits everyday, there is a certain leap of faith required in order to actually manage your own startup towards success, usually this entails quitting your job and relying on your newly found venture for income. Being a part time entrepreneur almost never works, a CEO/co-founder is expected to spend 16 or 18 hours a day working on his brain child, doing it in the few hours you’ve got left after work would never cut it. So unless you are willing to do that please do not call yourself CEO/Co-Founder of one thing or another.

Still why not do it, with a low entry barrier and almost zero operational cost all of us can be entrepreneurs, the co-founders and CEOs of one thing or another. Profit, value and sustainability are all irrelevant, after all it is all about the bragging rights and the 15 minutes of fame.

**note : To be clear I realise that I sound as if I’m making sweeping generalisations there, however this is not the case, this article is about the type of “entrepreneurs” who do it for all the wrong reasons.

Paid Apps Appearing in GooglePlay in Egypt

With Google checkout not supporting Egypt, there weren’t any paid apps listed in the Egyptian version of Google store. For local developers the only way for them to get paid for their android app was to set up a bank account in one of the “Google Approved” countries and even then they wont be able to sell their apps in Egypt. This was the main reason why android development never picked up in Egypt unlike iPhone apps (since Apple App store has been handling local payments for quite sometime now). Today I noticed that paid apps started popping up in Google Play, which may indicate that Google now allows Egyptian users to purchase apps, of course this completely relies on Google wallet which is the only way to pay for apps on Google Play.

Paid Apps Visible on Egyptian Google Play

Paid Apps Visible on Egyptian Google Play

So far Egyptian users were forced to rely on creative methods such as using “market enabler” which requires rooting the device, however now even on none rooted devices I can see paid apps (exactly 5 of them). I tried to purchase one of the apps and was immediately asked for my Google wallet login only to later find out that my Egyptian credit card is still NOT approved by google, which basically means that even though we can view paid apps we still can’t purchase them.

Screenshot_2012-12-19-17-16-38

Egypt is not listed as one of the “approved” countries

This has one of two explenations, either a technical glitch resulted in us seeing these apps – or – we can purchase apps through redeeming google play gift cards which are purchased using credit cards issued from one of the approved countries. The caveat of it all is that Egyptian android users still need to root and then use market enabler on their phones to be able to download any decent apps.

 

**update**

When I logged into the development console I spotted this, obviously starting sunday egyptian users can purchase apps, however they don’t mention anything about allowing egyptian developers to sell them.

Capturehttps://support.google.com/googleplay/android-developer/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=138294

You can only sell paid apps if you are living in one of the following countries

Facebook does it again

Facebook is notoriously known for their hacker like attitude. Ever since they started they’ve been using certain ethically questionable techniques whenever they released a new feature to their existing customers, usually opting everybody in and calling for people to opt out when if they wanted to.

Seemingly innocent, grossly misleading.

Just the other day I was going through my timeline when I spotted this banner on top asking me if I wanted to try “Better Photo Sharing”. Digging around I found out that this seemingly innocent question has a lot to it than what anybody can deduct from reading the banner. Facebook has launched a photo-stream like service, allowing their users to upload every single photo they take to Facebook – privately of course – thus turning Facebook to a cloud storage for your photos. Quite similar to apple’s photo-stream, even Dropbox has a similar feature. The main difference though is that neither Dropbox nor Apple mine your photos for data they can use to sell better ads, also they don’t have the facial recognition Facebook now has. You know how you take 10 photos only to delete 9 of them, well facebook would know have all 10 photos, and given how their user agreement is they actually OWN them.

Had I pressed the “try now” button FB would have had a full access to every single photo I have on my phone. Uploaded them all to their servers, and then started the process of auto-tagging them. Personally I’d not feel comfortable knowing that FB has all my photos (including these super awkward ones) stored on some server somewhere. Unless you are ok with that don’t press that “Try it now” button.

 

Twitter Now Offering Photo Filters (and in the process following on FBs footsteps)

Twitter has been reinventing itself over the last year. In the process of finding new possible revenue stream it’s becoming more similar to facebook than ever (which is becoming more similar to my space, but thats another story).  People initially went for Twitter since it was not as cluttered as Facebook, it was simpler with the focus on thoughts rather than media. Ages ago, twitter didn’t even support media’s as simple as photos, triggering the rise of third party tools such as pic.ly and its likes. Twitter included that feature around a year ago, and now it has partnered with aviary to provide instagram like filters to its users.

Personally I’ve always preferred twitter, Facebook bombards the user with media, photos, ads and videos. Twitter on the other hand used to offer what can be called the conscious stream of society. FB tried to include that feature with subscriptions, which didn’t work that well, now twitter is trying to become more and more like FB. Instagram was purchased by FB and so they went for aviary themselves. I believe the main turning point was FB’s IPO, twitter realized how much money FB was able to generate through that and decided to ditch its vision for that of FBs, thus alienating the core twitter user base. Also I’m sure that the powers that be in twitter realized that most of the photos on twitter are instagrammed with twitter becoming the channel rather than the application.

The question now is whether they are going to introduce twitter chat next…

http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/10/twitter-brings-aviary-powered-photo-filters-to-its-android-and-iphone-apps/

How to Become an Entrepreneur in Post Jan25 Egypt

One of the direct results of the arab spring revolutions is the sudden increase in the number of entrepreneurs in the arab world. As things starting settling down the handful of pre-arabSpring were joined by hundreds if not thousands of new entrepreneurs. Filled with ArabSpring euphoria most of these new entrepreneurs had grandiose ideas they believed would make a dent in the reality they are living in, and perhaps-as a welcomed side effect-would catapult them into stardom. However without much of a business plan, foreseeable revenue stream or previous experience many of them just faded away (ex: zabatak).

Going through these projects I realized that there is a single recipe followed by most of them, it may not turn your idea into a steady cashflow however its almost guaranteed to grant you your 15 minutes of fame.

There is a certain approach followed by most post jan25 entrepreneurs almost guaranteed to result in 15 minutes of fame before slipping into oblivion as lack of a revenue stream kicks in.

The approach is as follows

1. Pick a grandiose idea 

A social website through which users can report potholes and other paving issues impacting their driving experience as well as traffic.

lets use “Improving the quality of the streets and driving experience in Egypt” as an example.

2. Put in a social spin

This shifts the content production overhead to the user, greatly reducing the operational expenses (opex).

Working Together to Improve the quality of  the streets and driving experience in Egypt

Grandiose Ideas with equally Grandiose names #step 2

Grandiose Ideas #step 2

3. Pick a hip name and an appropriately grandiose mission statement.

The name must be based on a slang word, it must be a verb derivative referring to (us/you/them), the mission statement must emphasize public working and how we can solve all our problems by coming together. In our example “Shaware3na, together we can drive better“. http://www.shaware3na.com

shaware3na.com for 13$ a year

4. Find an open source social platform that can accommodate your idea with minimal effort.

Ushahidi is perfect for spatial representation of crowd sourced reports. (and what would work with this example).

Switfriver for twitter driven analytics/aggregation.

one organization is behind Ushahidi and SwiftRiver

Drupal / Joomla / WordPress for almost everything else.

5. Design and Logo Guidelines

Text based easy to read logo is the most optimum choice here, incorporating Arabic letters into it would make a huge difference to people high on national pride, including tashkeel help as well.

Shawarعak with the S looking like a paved road

The website must have an Arabic version since most of your users if not all would be Arabic speakers.

6. Host on the cloud

The cheapest cloud based service would do, this will have a directly influence how long the website will remains live, many options exist some of which are:

appfog offers hosting at $29/month

Hostgator hosting almost anything for $4/month

Go daddy $5/month

7. Marketing the grandiose idea

Target the popular facebook pages, Peppering them with how your idea would make your country a much better place (needless to say use Arabic), talk to the admins of that page and try to get them to endorse your product. Try to get people who are high on the newly rediscovered national pride to like your product and market it for you. Hit even the Islamist pages (using the share Fl khair sentence).

A twitter account wouldn’t hurt, ask the movers and shakers of twitterverse to tweet about you (most of them would since they are always looking for something new and cool to talk about).

8. Start talking with the media

Once the idea starts gaining traction media is to be contacted. target main stream newspapers technology sections. Tech journalists are always on the look out for some local news to run since there aren’t that many to begin with, and once someone talks about you in one news paper the rest would instantly want to talk to you.

TV is a must as well channels such as ONTV are quite interested in products that has the potential of “helping” Egypt, if you play your cards right you’ll get featured in one of their shows (Baladna  or onTube).

9. Whats next

15 minutes of fame achieved, and with minimal operational expenses the website can be kept live until the weekly visitors figure is in the double digits, since its OPEX is quite affordable it can be left online for a year or two even after people stop visiting it. However you should direct your effort towards a new venture, reusing that same approach with another fresh grandiose idea. Which will be even easier to promote since it is “brought to you by the creators of shaware3na.com“.

Conclusion

Its not much of a surprise that most of these venture fade away overtime, with other products replacing them. It all comes down to having a sustainable revenue stream be it ad based/donations based or even through direct sales, most of the sites I mentioned in this entry are spontaneous ideas based on good will rather than a solid business plan. Even worse some of them don’t propose a solution to the issue they are tracking, working instead as a social analytical tools, with the data sitting there not being used.

Zabatak.com, people report incidents and then…? who is expected to take actions based on that data?

Most of these sites are still online only because they are quite cheap to operate, even as the number of weekly hits dwindles down to even a single digit, they can be maintained for a couple of years with minimal expenses and can always be used as reference to future ventures. Their value proposition is limited to presenting crowd sourced data and only useful as long as the users are using it, basically if you take all the bells and whistles away all these sites represent a single concept “gathering data and representing it” and shouldn’t be classified as innovative solutions.

Ushahidi the platform powering all the spatial data presentation start ups is a Kenyan project

Surprisingly incubators and accelerators fall for this formula, supporting projects that are known to have limited sustainability and limited (unrealistic) revenue streams, flat 6 labs supported several of the startups mentioned in this entry. Personally I believe that the money and effort they have invested in these products could have been directed towards startups with something more tangible to offer, as in they should promote computer science projects rather than information technology. Even though they aren’t sexy they possess huge potential and are infinitely reusable. Be it Arabic NLP or a new graphical representation suite for spatial data, anything with true value and that includes  leans more towards development than marketing (social sites) would have a much higher long term variable, not to mention have a higher competition entry threshold.

Twitter is Changing its API

Twitter API v1.1, decreasing the openness of the API and increasing the stability of the platform.

Twitter is set to change their API depreciating the current version (API V1), By March 2013 developers will be forced to switch to version 1.1, which includes many changes meant to improve the service they are providing, and by improve they actually mean making it easier/cheaper for them to provide the service, forcing new customers into paying for the fire hose access, and blocking none Twitter approved clients (tweet-bot and echo-phone).

In API V1.0 developers were able to access the twitter public timeline without authentication, Twitter throttled requests per IP address. Applications didn’t require to authenticate in order to query the public timeline, If the application uses oAuth to authenticate 350 API calls is allowed every 1 hour, these API calls can be consumed in whichever way the developers sees fit. API V1.1 is changing all of that, now instead of leaving the applications client to the users discretion a higher level of control is applied. Instead of the 350 calls per hour, Authenticated accounts get 60 calls per service per hour (as in the application can issue 60 follow requests, 60 searches, 60 replies and so on), None authenticated access is blocked all together thus soon making anonymous searches a piece of history. Regardless to how the application uses Twitter re-coding is required.

Usually new Versions have a certain level of backwards compatibility, allowing old apps to function even after the decommissioning of the old one. This one doesn’t, which means that every single Twitter based application needs to be updated and tested, a phenomenal task that would amount into hundreds of thousands of working hours.

They are trying to eliminate the upper right quadrant, While trying to get a bigger cut of the profit generated by the lower left one.

 

Personally I believe Twitter is aiming for two things with this update. Eliminating none Twitter approved clients (as they’d be useless with the new throttling rules), thus nudging people towards using their sanctioned apps. The second would be shutting down social analytics apps that rely on public timeline, most probably Twitter has been watching the boom in social analytics market and now they want a piece of the action. With the new API Social Analytics would be almost impossible without firehose access, given the level of control they exert on the customer they grant firehose access, Twitter will be in control of any company planning to do any kind of Twitter Analysis.

Incidentally did you know that SalesForce (Oracles CRM Rival) purchased the twitter management/analysis cloud service Radian6 for $326 Million, a substantial amount for a young company that completely relies on Twitter for its services.

Twitter’s real value, its only value really is its users. Many of them may have been drawn into using it by the various apps integrated with it, the initial openness of the platform created a healthy environment for developers to build anything they wanted to. Back when twitter was a startup no one cared about Hackers and Moders used to it to have their scripts or even devices publish things to the internet. Twitter’s main appeal to developers was and still remains the open/stable API, allowing them to build new innovative apps that in turn attracted normal users. How will the new API impact this intricate relationship we’ll have to wait till March 2013 to know.

As a Twitter applications developer I know I have to spend at least 16 hours updating and testing my app with no visible added features or even improved performance, personally I’m not happy about this update as it’ll only serve to limit the applications I can build.

Update
Twitter introduced a profile cover similar to the one that Facebook has. The target apparently is allowing companies better more graphical profile Page that can be used to showcase their products. And then a new version of Twitter client was released that incorporates that. No wonder they are trying to eliminate competing twitter clients, they need to control the consistency of how profiles appear on various channels in order to be able to sign up more paying customers.