Wrote a Business Plan when you were 17?

I didn’t. But the high school students at Raffles Junior College (RJC) sure did. I was at the school yesterday giving a presentation on business plan writing to about 40 (?) members of their Entrepreneurship club (along with Justin who’s an alumni). This was a weekend camp for the new members who had a 2-hour crash course on business plan writing as part of their camp programme. 2 hours?!?! Man, it took 10 weeks for John Nesheim to teach that same course. Maybe a couple of days for a proper workshop for business plan competition participants. But 2 hours? I didn’t really know what I was in for when i took this project up.

“Can you talk about “Business” or “Entrepreneurship” for more than 3 minutes when you were 17?”

I am good at BS, so I sure could =D But it won’t make sense to those who really knew. I wanted to develop a presentation that excited the young audience without killing their interest by boring them with details. Thats where the E27 philosophy came in. We invoked a lot of excitement by highlighting Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Blake Ross, Mark Zuckerberg, the Youtube guys — most of which were 1-5 year timeframes away from the young audience when they started up. But inspiring them was easy, the meat of the presentation was the tricky part.

I had ONE BIG Challenge: the Curse of Knowledge.

1. I had way too much knowledge from my years of starting up and working for a startup. A fine line had to be drawn between simplicity and quality.

2. These kids had their own Curse of Knowledge too – from Google. I have to help them navigate through that surplus of information that plagues modern society today.

We realized 3 things early in developing our presentation:

1. A business plan format is really boring and tedious to 17-year-olds.

2. Everything was available on Google.

3. We are all very good “buying” consumers but we just dunno what its like on the other “selling” side.

We ditched the entire business plan format as the focus. And did away with a lot of business jargon like sustainable competitive advantage, core competency, value proposition. At its very core, entrepreneurship=business=making money. To me, entrepreneurship is making money with soul as a real human being. (You have to curb some human instincts when you work in a big corporation.) Injecting what you know about human society, their psychology and their attitudes towards buying things. All of us are humans and we are in contact with many businesses every day. And thats the angle I took.

Since everybody could google “Business plan writing” anytime, we focused on 3 key concepts that will be good filters in knowing the core of what it takes to write a good business plan. These filters were intended to be the mental “Compasses” to navigating the “GoogleLand” and overcoming the Curse of Knowledge.

1. Unfair Advantage

2. Positioning

3. Strategy

These were smart kids and I tried to make the examples and analogies as close and personal to them as possible. I asked that what shoes they wear, the food they eat, the MP3 player they like and what other company dominates their consciousness. From there, I explained why Nike, Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Apple iPod conquers the business world and their minds.

Hopefully, it was all engaging. The room was bloody cold and the kids were dressed in T-shirts and shorts. I feared there would be a mass exodus midway through the lecture due to hypothermia fears. =D Thankfully, there wasn’t. Lets see if any of them find this blog post so we all get some real feedback.

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Event: Conversations with Web2.0 Community at E27

e27round.jpgRegular readers of this blog will know of the Entrepreneur27 Singapore initiative started by myself last year. We return this Feb 15 (next Thursday) with our 4th edition titled “You Are the Media”. Ahh yeah, I know, we “borrowed” that from the Time magazine folks.

I want to thank Ridzuan from NTU who has blogged a “5 Reasons why you should come…” kind of pitch for us, hence saving my work for marketing. =) He’s not the only guy and I want to thank the other bloggers for helping the word of mouth effort. Hat-tip to U-Zyn too at Ping.sg. We have 130+ signups since we started the wiki early this week. 70 more spaces to go, guys. Cant resist a commercial pitch here..

Sign up here (no entry fee). More on event here.

This time round, we have a better-planned unconference with 3 concurrent tracks. I pray it works and attendees find the range of sessions useful and not disruptive. We continue to unearth the more exciting Web2.0 startups in little Singapore, those with crazy ideas that should really sink or swim, as evaluated in front of our live audience. There’s no better way to crash-test your business model in front of the actual consumers themselves — young university students and bored young professionals with lots of free time spent surfing the web at home, in dorms and in offices. If you are keen to sharpen your sense of wit and sarcasm and practise your VC analytical skills, come sit in. Its really kinda like American Idol where the audience members are all Simon Cowells, Randy Jacksons and Paula Abduls.

Then there’s always the user-generated sessions which grants you a podium to speak freely and get your 15-30minutes of facetime in front of an audience. Talk about anything you want as long as its relevant to web2.0. Like whether Youtube is an one-off startup opportunity, whether Internet TV is a misnomer due to bandwidth issues, how to identify and find good PHP/ Django programmers, how to design a better widget, tricks to make loads of Adsense money or building the nest big thing blah blah… Eclectic topics and equally eccentric personalities is what we like. Sometimes, the crazy ideas help us get our best thinking done.

The final track is a new creation. Called “branded conversations”, we hope to let the corporates eat the E27 pie too and talk to our audience. In Singapore especially, our fledgling Web 2.0 industry means most of the subject matter experts with industry experience work for someone else now rather than for themselves. So, we hope to bring these people to share some frontline stories of battling with real customers, industrysg_entrepreneurs_logo-white.jpg partners and share their strategic viewpoints from within their corporations. We think its also a good chance for entrepreneurs to have a direct line to talk partnering with the biggies without the hassle of calling contacts and scheduling. Join in the pre-event chatter now at SgEntrepreneurs here. The $500M Interactive Digital Media (IDM) fund guys from MDA will also be around to chat.

If you dig Web 2.0, what are you waiting for? Did i mention free dinner too if u come early? But dun leave till you contribute. 😉

Another unconference joins the family – Barcamp SG

This one is for the geeks of Singapore. “Those who code shall rule the world” appears to be the mantra that drives many other Barcamps around the world. In Singapore, we might be late to jump on this bandwagon but we are coming there.

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Harish lamented the lack of geeks at the Barcamp event. I agree. I might not be a geek but I do know what Barcamp is not – another event for business types like myself. We need diversity of social events for the coders, hackers and all forms and shapes of Continue reading

Valuation of Social Networking Sites: A Reality Check

Knowledge@Wharton, in an October 4th article, talks about the irrational exuberance in valuations of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. They compared it to the more stable business models of search engine companies like Google and Yahoo; ecommerce sites like Amazon and eBay. One example of such exuberance is the $900M offer for Facebook in 4th Quarter 2006.

“Last January, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, now 22, reportedly turned down a $750 million offer from Viacom, holding out for $2 billion, according to news accounts. This fall he is said to be mulling over a $900 million offer from Yahoo. Those are big numbers considering that the business, started early in 2004, has a modest nine million users and is believed to have annual revenue of around $50 million, though some experts expect that to double soon. If Facebook were valued at 55 times earnings, it would need a $16 million profit to justify a $900 million price.

I particularly like this point on the different types of advertising pricing models that makes argument for valuations based on the oft-quoted metrics of unique visitors and page views, irrelevant.

The problem, as Wharton accounting professor Robert W. Holthausen sees it, is a dearth of information to plug into the standard valuation models. “You have little data on what kind of revenues they can generate and what their cost structure is.”

Valuing advertising-driven sites is particularly hard because the same numbers — such as the number of users or page views — can mean different things depending on how the advertisers are billed, Holthausen adds. “How often do they get paid for that advertising? Is it just when the advertisement appears? Or does there have to be a click through?” Similarly, not every user has the same value. That depends on how much the typical user is likely to spend and what he or she is likely to buy. Finally, Holthausen notes, a site will be more valuable if it uses a proprietary technology than if it simply offers services competitors can easily duplicate.

The full article can be read here.

MDA Jamboree – An Extreme Makeover Series-in-the-making?

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.

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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. Continue reading

BarCamp for the REAL Web Community of Singapore

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Riding on my “Tomorrow-ed” post earlier, also here, some good friends of mine, Chandra and his linuxNUS community and Ming Yeow, from The Digital Movement, are going to launch the first-ever BarCamp Singapore meetup on Jan 20. I thought its time for private folks like us to step away from the government loudspeakers and propaganda machine for a while to think deeply within our own circles and focus on building real products. Hence my shameless pitch here.

For those clueless on what BarCamp is,

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees.

All attendees should give a demo, a session, or help with one. All presentions are scheduled the day they happen. Prepare in advance, but come early to get a slot on the wall. Presenters are responsible for making sure that notes/slides/audio/video of their presentations are published on the web for the benefit of all and those who can’t be present.

Anyone with something to contribute or with the desire to learn is welcome and invited to join.

Barcamp is one of many community events run by and for programmers and all other geeks in Silicon Valley. The concept has been replicated in many other countries around the world and you can find out more by clicking here. Other examples include SuperHappyDev House. I am not a programmer so my knowledge runs shallow. But for programmers in Singapore who have not succumbed to the doom and gloom of senior programmers and comp engineers in Singapore’s forlorn IT industry, the BarCamp Singapore initiative might be an eye-opener to passionate folks within our little red dot of an island. At these BarCamps, attendees discuss the latest tools and tricks of programming, design, code up fresh new applications on the fly or simply discuss anything that relates to their passion and hobbies. Common conversation centre around the Ruby on Rails, Django, MySQL or the other fascinating open-source stuff that I have lost track of but are all might cool. Call them naive or passionate, but come join us and get ready to contribute and share.

For interested folks, go to the BarCamp wiki and learn more before you sign up. Its a very attendee-driven event. The program is literally what you make of it. Thats what we call an unconference. =)

Some thoughts on MDA IDM Jamboree

Update 2: The post-event analysis is up and readable here.

Update: I found Professor Ramesh Jain from UC Irvine, CA, who might be attending this event too as a presenter of his startup, Event Web. Check out Ramesh Jain’s blog. More on his startup idea here (no website available, it seems). More on the man here.

idmlogothumbnail.JPGThis event, held Jan 10, will launch an initiative to launch Web 3.0 in Singapore. Frankly, I don;t know how we skipped the evolution cycle because Web 2.0 did not even start in Singapore’s IT and media industries. More on this event at SGEntrepreneurs. I cannot find the actual event site. Looks like this Web3.0 event launch is neither search optimized nor browsable on the website of MDA, the lead agency spearheading this effort. tsk tsk..

And I left a comment on the SGE site which i will reproduce here, in an edited version. As a disclaimer, I am not yet an active practitioner nor entrepreneur in the web industry. But I think I have the right to at least air my opinion on this issue. I am passionate about the Web industry and bullish about the internet medium on business and society and am willing to support any initiative that will propagate its growth. I take issue with the manner of the latest launch by MDA and its affiliated agencies and just prefer to make my thoughts heard in the hope that it lands in the right hands/ ears and we do this initiative right.

“there’s no such thing called “web 3.0” yet. i am attending this event to see just how the govt defines web 2.0 before we attempt to jump the whole world and create this fictitious web 3.0. Even the website of the event is a joke. its so web 1.0 and they still use antiquated terms of no relevance to the subject matter.

This event almost looks like another initiative by some harried civil servant who pulled together a bunch of kakis from the other ministries to show the whole world they are all collectively putting effort in doing something that meets their KPI/ ROI/ whatever. Yes, a bureaucratic kneejerk reaction is what this looks like.

I rant alot here, i know, but the way the government is trying to launch this fund shows they are simply out of touch in trying to understand what really matters in trying to spur innovation here. those who will create any web3.0 already exist. And i think none of these people are inspired enough by the promise of what this web 3.0 can do to them. I might be jumping the gun before i even attend this event but i will seek to offer some suggestions to improve as as an event precursor.

For starters, dun get government to push it. Get industry leaders, academics, foreign thought leaders from technological hubs in israel, silicon valley to speak at fund launches like this. If the govt has 500 million to spend eventually, they can spend a few million trying to do this right for once by flying the right people down to Singapore to launch this. Get any warm body the innovators, the engineers, the entrepreneurs, will respect, NOT govt officials. Unless this is an internal fund for only civil servants to create startups, no one in the audience is going to listen to some civil servants step up that podium and subsequently gladly oblige to follow the commands. Singapore’s culture may be paternalistic but all kids grow up eventually.

I don;t know whether this fund’s creators actually pondered the root to the lack of innovation here which is why we have no notable web 2.0 enterprises of note. The real problem is the engineers and comp science students in singapore flocking to the more financially stable industries of Finance and Banking. Without real efforts put into university admin and policies that effectively overcome the sociological and psychological bias of our nation’s brightest engineers against non-financial careers, this initiative is dead in the water before it starts. This is the real brain drain a fictional Web 3.0 industry in Singapore will face. And this is a chronic cancer no cure seems imminent at present. We need to make this industry more glamorous and credible. Which does not mean more lame advertising campaigns depicting the computing industry as sexy or anything. It means putting more money into the promising startups we already have, helping them hire good talent from local and especially overseas etc…

More importantly, we need to inspire and fertilize the ground which grows those entrepreneurs, ie. the schools. We need to find what ever minor successes we have in the current generation of web entrepreneurs we have in Singapore and cultivate them as role models through the media. Talk about their struggles, their successes and the route they took to success so others can take note and support can be rallied from society and the industry. Influencing the public is key here anda successful push in the Web industry will help greatly in expanding career options to students in the educational institutions in polys ITEs, and the unis.

logo.gifTHe only web “successes” we have so far is? I might be ignorant but only HArdwarezone.com came to mind and they were bought for a paltry SG$7 million. how is that going to inspire any potential local web3.0 entrepreneur to start up? I think this is a question begging to be asked. 500 million from the govt coffers might be huge, but it will not displace the importance nor influence of the VC industry which will be begging to ask whether any future valuations of startups in this region deserve funding after the HWZ precedent.”

Follow-up: For those frustrated with the development of Singapore’s web industry, help it grow at the BarCamp SG event on Jan 20.