Presumptious me suggested MDA was wrong even before they officially launched their new $500M fund at the IDM Jamboree. Fearful I will end up with mud on my face, I bravely went for the event but nothing I saw made me change my mind. The event is ripe for an “Extreme Makeover” series featuring event launches of govt initatives.
My friend Justin has a terrific, blow-by-blow, review of the event here.. Great for those of you who did not go. Like he said, government agencies seem to love keywords. Short of plastering Web 3.0 over the entire auditorium, they relied on new catchphrases invented by their own staff (?), such as the initiatives of “i.Rock”, “i.Jam”, FutureScape”, “Flagship2B”. I think I came away feeling more stupid after the event because I don’t understand these terms at all. That gnawing buzz in my head told me it might be due to the painful need to read the wordy, mambo-jumbo description that came with those buzzwords. Like what many people including myself think of those hip-hop wannabes in PAP, I will say the same thing to MDA — Don’t act cool. Thats poserish.
For many of the online community that wondered whether the words Web 3.0 was coined by SGEntrepreneurs, the answer came from the event MC of the panel discussion called “Interactive Markets and Trends”. He held up Seraja.com as an example of a startup with a business model that he introduces as a Web3.0 startup. Now, I heard this myself, along with almost a hundred other people in this panel discussion. Someone might have the video, if we want to do some digital forensics study of this.
More on Seraja, I thought Seraja was the icing on this cake nobody seemed keen to eat; a representation of all thats wrong in the beautiful picture of IDM that MDA wanted to portray. Its unfortunate to make Seraja the scapegoat, I must admit, because I think the organizers are more culpable. Seraja.com was presented by a German guy called Utz. FYI, Seraja was also lauded by an earlier presenter, a Michael Yap who is an Exec Director of the IDM programme.
Firstly, I had used Seraja’s web service during Michael Yap’s presentation and found it totally clunky in its features and lacking in useability design and how the user is supposed to use the service and what benefits it brings. There seemed to be no unifying objective behind all the hodge-podge set of functionalities in this website, such as viewing, submission of comments, photos, videos and such. I really didn’t know what the website could do. All it gave me was a mess of tags, picture upload galleries, a few pictures that I don’t know what to make of or start using. I wondered what the objective of the website was as it was vaguely called an “event web”. Utz talked for about 15 minutes (?). He articulated on the current state of multimedia content management on the web such as video and audio-based content on blogs, youtube, podcasts and how rudimentary it was to sort through all this content and find the right one the end user was searching for. He decided that all this multimedia was created because content producers wanted to talk about events. (Here’s my own interpretation, i dun really understand it too). He says events are the origin of conversation and the reason why content is produced on the web. And he says Serja wants to solve the problem by conceptualizing the problem as an “event web”, meaning that his website wants to present a system that helps users discover events? Perhaps Seraja’s “About” page could shed more light.
Secondly, I didn’t understand his value proposition, his business model, what the website’s objective was supposed to do for the consumer, how it could vaguely be classified as Web2.0, let alone a paradigm-changing Web 3.0 company, according to the event MC who introduced Seraja. Its all hot air and smoke by the organizers, i thought. If MDA thought Seraja could be used to inspire the attendant audience, they were dead wrong. I came away disappointed, to say mildly. Not with Seraja, because I think they need more time to build their fledgling alpha product ( and they are fellow entrepreneurs who need time and good pple to flesh out an idea), but at how poorly this startup was selected and held up by the organizers as an example to be followed.
I only attended one panel discussion since all 3 of them were run concurrently. A friend of mine who attended the i.Jam panel discussion on creating a “jamming platform for jam-starting ideas” (???) was sketchy on what type of ideas to “jam-start”. I think its for budding musicians producing their own music? That panel discussion was plagued by the same problem plaguing the “Interactive Markets and Trends” panel, chockful of panel members who “didn’t know what they were saying and arguing for the sake of their own 15 minutes of fame”, as I quote my friend.
I hope attendees of this event don’t start getting the wrong idea of how we should go about building interactive digital media startups akin to the examples in the event. Otherwise, we should get ready for a real bubble again in Singapore’s IDM entrepreneurial sector. As Justin mentioned in his blog, the “digital concierge” envisioned by DR Vivian Balakrishnan, of an “avatar” at a restaurant telling me what recommendations they have for me before I even order my meal, is an inappropriate example of IDM startups. Most especially, I think we must also understand that despite the bad presentation and PR image of this event through the keynote, there were some interesting ideas presented at the exhibition. So real innovation is being done, although the signal to noise ratio of the startups profiled at this event is really poor owing to the focus on Seraja. I was also mildly impressed by Michael Yap, the IDM director, who displayed enough drive and enthusiasm in how he intended the IDM programme to really spur innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore by working through their partnership channels in the educational institutions and partnering companies. His enthusiasm is whats needed to invigorate the moribund culture we have here for innovation. Michael Yap’s presentation, while lacking in style, made up for in terms of substance and is what the government should do – pull together the public sector of Govt-linked companies such as Singtel, Mediacorp and focus on educating the young with enough tools to innovate. Sadly, I don’t think the young, present at the event, was impressed enough to come away thinking of starting up in the IDM industry.
To sum up, the MDA Jamboree’s objective should be to excite the public on the opportunities, educate the youth, as a key target segment, on how to take advantages of the funds and industry support that MDA is good for. The MDA’s approach towards excitement was applying social pressure through a bandwagon effect that, if all the schools, polys and top Govt-linked companies was supporting the effort (through the dozens of press releases in the event folder), it was a good initiative. Dead wrong, people are not that dumb and know fluff when they see fluff. This approach was complemented by a cookie-cutter marketing campaign high on fluff, catchphrases like i.rock and government pomp. Hence, they skimped on showing what interactive digital media really was, taking shortcuts in the selection of startups to present at the panel discussions. I can think of a dozen other startups a simple Google search could churn up to be showcased at this event. Techcrunch will be a good place to start, they are based in mostly Silicon Valley and have really well-flashed out business models scrutinized and validated by some of the best VC firms on this planet. A few thousand bucks to fly them into Singapore will go a long way in inspiring and painting a much better picture of the opportunities of IDM to our local audience. The entire initiative is poorly marketed but the direction is right since other than MDA, I honestly can think of no other company in Singapore who will drive this needed push into the digital media industry. While $500M is a huge amount to generate a lot of buzz and theories about the usage of public money, the focus should be on growing startups instead of how MDA markets this initiative.
How do we go from here? My purpose in critiquing this event is not to pour scorn on MDA’s initiatives. Of course, I still think they misfired badly at the event marketing but we need to move on from mistakes to better things. Focusing on them will miss the point of this exercise. MDA has commissioned several partners, such as SGEntrepreneurs and Project Senso, among others, to source for good ideas and hopefully screen out the good ones and fast-track them for funding and other kinds of support. More has to be done still in ensuring that our local entrepreneurs understand what Web2.0 and web startups can do in the exciting times ahead. And community-driven events exist to ensure such conversations go on within the real innovators, thinkers and entrepreneurs. These are The Digital Movement, BarCamp Singapore, Talentpreneur Hub and Entrepreneur27 Singapore.
Disclaimer: The author is a co-founder of Entrepreneur27 Singapore and a contributing blogger on SGEntrepreneurs.com. All opinions expressed are his own and not representative of his affiliated organizations. If you have a problem, I honestly don’t know what to do with you but you can try commenting here so we can get everyone else to blast me on this comment thread and vent our frustrations together..