Posts Tagged ‘startup’

Here, and defending your trademarks

I read: Nokia threatens London start-up over ‘HERE”.

It’s all about Lowdownapp (I’ve not heard about it before this), made by David J Senior & crew. I think the crux of the problem is that they have also released an app called HERE and Nokia is obviously pissed because of HERE Maps.

Apparently Nokia has spent USD$12m on creating the HERE brand and are now defending it.

I’m not surprised this startup hadn’t heard of it. I’m also not surprised that unless you’ve used a Windows phone, you’ve probably not heard about HERE Maps either. There was a release of HERE Maps on iOS, but I’m sure it never got the attention that Apple Maps or Google Maps got (I’m including Apple here because laugh as much as you want, being a default, really helps).

A few months back, I spoke to an entrepreneur doing indoor mapping, and mentioned to him that Google Maps is starting to encroach on that space as possible competition (he knew that). I then said that the best indoor maps I’d seen so far had come from HERE Maps. He had never heard about it, and he’s deep into mobile and mapping. 

It’s a sad fact of life that $12m is money not well spent, because no one at the moment really cares about the Windows phone platform; so if that is your app showcase, you’ve screwed the pooch. To make matters worse, you can’t even find HERE Maps on the Apple App Store today (it was pulled down in 2013, but apparently will make a comeback in early 2015). It is still available as a beta in the Android Play Store. I liked this thread between Benedict Evans and David Senior, because while its clear that Nokia does have a trademark, and its clear to Benedict Evans since he watches this market, its definitely unclear to the masses that Nokia has anything to do with Here.

Should all startups perform a trademark search before naming their companies? I’m not sure — its already hard to get a good name with domain/social media presence these days. Plus its time consuming (not to mention costly) to do a trademark search in multiple jurisdictions that you care about (or maybe you can use a service like this?). Not something the average startup wants to spend costs on.

Heck, even established companies like Microsoft end up doing a rename of SkyDrive to OneDrive to please BSkyB. So it’s not a startup rookie mistake either.

What happens next is likely that the folks at Lowdownapp will rename their Here app; the functionality I’m guessing will remain the same, it will just be called something different. Do I like it? Absolutely not. However as a bonus, it looks like the app only launched in Dec 2014 so maybe it will be easier giving in to this battle.

English rules

I just read: Unseen gap in ecosystem, and techies in their cocoons. English is brought up as an issue. 

English is the medium of communication. You can code in whatever computer language exists, but if you can’t write your weekly reports, you can’t write commit messages, you can’t write proper comments in your code and you can’t communicate with the rest of your team via email, you have failed at communication. 

Malaysians can excel if they improve their English. Period. You learn English in school but its not enough. I’ve seen Malaysian Computer Science syllabi that teaches English at university level. Apparently it is not enough. 

This is a policy decision. The government is choosing to push their agenda forward by ensuring that the people cannot converse in English. English is like teaching the man to fish. As long as you are given fish, you are going to be dependent on the ruling regime.

English is key. If you can’t get your message across, you will destroy whatever pitchdeck you have. 

So are non-English speakers are severely undervalued? No. Not even in a team of non-English coders. Let’s say they all speak Bahasa Malaysia. When they hit a problem, can they solve it by Googling it? Can they read documentation in another language and comprehend it? (Note: this is different if your team of coders speaks Russian, Japanese, Korean, etc. where there’s plenty of local language content being created).

At a previous company where we hired people from over 30 countries, and 70% of the people worked at home, what we did was pay for English language lessons for employees that couldn’t communicate in English. You were hired on the basis that you were a good coder, but you also had to complete English to be able to communicate with everyone involved.

I’ve taken this lesson to heart. Anytime I’m consulting with a company where the level of English is subpar, I ensure that the key people get tutored in the language. Not only does it help them grow, it helps in my planned obsolescence – they are empowered to solve more by themselves as I teach them more technically, and as they can now find solutions themselves as they grok the English language.

On startup factories

I read with great zeal the article about Y Combinator in the NYT titled: Silicon Valley’s Start-Up Machine. I think there are a few important takeaways, especially with people trying to build this kind of thing elsewhere.

  1. People take the $100,000 at a 7% stake because of the whole experience. Advice from seasoned entrepreneurs (like pitch improvements, etc.). The importance of the network they bring (which is hugely underestimated by many clones). Dumb money remains dumb.
  2. “The general public doesn’t understand start-ups at all,” Buchheit said. “They’re mystified how a company with no revenue can be worth a billion dollars. It’s because of this power law: If a company has a 1 percent chance of being a hundred-billion-dollar company, then it’s worth about a billion dollars. That kind of thing doesn’t happen in your normal life experience. If I get a cup of tea, it’s a cup of tea — there isn’t a chance that it’s actually made out of solid gold. But that’s how this works.” – direct quote from Paul Buchheit
  3. “One of the reasons,” he said, “is because there’s nothing else to invest in. If you have money, there’s nothing to put it in. Bonds return nothing. And the stock market — what public company do you feel reasonably assured is going to go up at historical norms of 8 percent a year? It could all just fall apart. . . .” If, on the other hand, you discover the next Google, you can increase your investment by “a thousand X.”

Nothing else to invest in. Interest rates in the USA are low. In Malaysia (or Singapore), you have property as an investment that should return more than 8% per annum. Refer to my old post about the startup ecosystem in Malaysia.

Its nice to see lots of funds and accelerators pop up, but without the experience, the lack of vision, and other investment vehicles that return sufficiently, I’m not sure how even the angel incentives help.

Tax incentives for angel investors in Malaysia

Today there were some incentives for angel investors announced in Malaysia as part of Budget 2013.

Who qualifies as an angel investor? Your annual income must exceed RM180,000 per annum and you must be a tax resident to qualify for the deduction.

What do you get? Total investment as an angel will be allowed as a deduction against all income.

When is this valid? From Jan 1 2013 to Dec 31 2017, and you need to apply via the Ministry of Finance.

Some details: as an angel, you must hold at least 30% of the shares in the company you’re investing in for 2 years, and you must pay up for the shares in cash. The company needs to have at least 51% Malaysian ownership.

What do I think?

Quite simply, the qualification income is something I see some people complain about, but this is similar to what America calls an accredited investor. I have no issue with the RM180,000/annum income. Feel free to hit up all those people you know with Visa Infinite, World MasterCard, Premier banking, etc. ;-)

Application via the Ministry of Finance (MoF) seems a little dodgy. The potential of red tape here is high. This is definitely a turn-off.

Does this benefit startups? Angel investors shouldn’t be making a 30% investment in a company. It is ridiculous. Consider giving away 20% of the company in an angel round, sure, but with just one angel walking away with 30% of the shares for 2 years?!?

Angels in Malaysia typically make RM20-50k investments (for up to 20% on the high side from what I’ve gathered). Very rarely do they hit the RM100k mark. Most accelerators are taking up an average of 6-8% for about RM15-18k investment already for 3 founders.

Startup founders are also not going to want to give away 30% of the company for a small sum of money. Many believe they are worth more. I guess you have to thank the media hype cycle for this.

Alas, it is a good start for Malaysia to be looking out for such things. Possibility to help boost the startup ecosystem.

Update: I thought about this a little more and realised that I applied a very myopic view to this piece. Reason is simple: I focus on tech startups & the angels that go with them. In this day and age, software (be it mobile or web-based) doesn’t take much in terms of cash to prove yourself. In other industries like manufacturing, biotechnology, film making, etc. you might look at much higher investments for 30% or more, but it isn’t something I know much about.

Malaysian censorship doesn’t cross borders but what if you’re a Malaysian startup?

The White House did ask YouTube to check if there was a violation of terms of service for the recent video that’s causing the Muslim world to go up in storm. It seems like there isn’t, and the video continues to stay up. Good on Google, good on YouTube, and here’s a win to freedom of expression & speech.

Today I see Dr. Rais Yatim, Information Communication & Culture Minster of Malaysia ask for YouTube to remove the movie. Its just smart that he realizes that YouTube isn’t controlled & created in Malaysia so its not “without our technical capability” to remove it.

There are some problems with this line of thought.

  1. If you are a company in Malaysia, hosting user generated content, you may be subject to censorship. Will it make a difference if you’re an MSC status company as there is a bill of guarantees? Or does it not matter?
  2. Rais continues on that Malaysia is an Islamic nation. It is a secular nation with Islam as the religion of the federation. It is a great pity he chooses to skew facts on what is supposed to be Malaysia Day today.
  3. Censorship without due course. Malaysia has many obscure laws that are passed as acts of parliament while the current ruling regime has been in power since independence. They have been so used to just sending notices for removals that they’ve forgotten that they need to consult the law. And chances are there are many laws that affect freedoms of speech & expression, even though they may be constitutionally protected. Companies incorporating in Malaysia need to take this into consideration.

Its good that Google isn’t simply buckling under pressure (another):

Google Malaysia communications and public affairs head Zeffri Yusof said they received the official request from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and that both parties were discussing the next course of action.

“Google adheres to the laws of the land in every country it has a domain in. So, (we) will act based on official complaints from the regulatory bodies,” he said.

Zeffri added, however, that the regulatory body had to cite the relevant laws or bylaws which were breached when making its complaint.

Now the onus is on the MCMC to show what laws the video contravenes so that YouTube can block it for all those coming from .my domainspace. 

What does this do to already poor investor sentiment? What does this mean for startups? What happens when some zealot finds a subversive message in Gangnam Style that may cause all the follow-ups to be deemed anti-religion?

YouTube has a message questioning if you should really be looking at the video. Adults should well, learn to behave like adults.

Muhammad Movie Trailer - YouTube

People to follow: Zeffri Yusof on Twitter is @zeffri. There’s also @GoogleMsia. Google+ account for +Google Malaysia.

On the term “go global”

KLCC Park and PoolIn my recent rant about my thoughts on the startup ecosystem in Malaysia, I mentioned:

Its amusing when I see programs titled “go global”. When you start your business, especially if its a web shop, you’re already world-wide. Why are you building locally?

My intention for that was very clear. If you’re a tech startup, think global from day one. Don’t “Malaysianize” your product because we’re not Vietnam or China. Or we just don’t have population masses like India or Indonesia. Or language differences like Thailand.

It seems like a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a little over three years, Doc Siva took a little offence to the statement. Doc Siva is an amazing guy, fun to chat with and is a prolific writer (lots of articles in net@value in The Edge). He works tirelessly to help entrepreneurs, and is even running an accelerator now.

The problem stems from the fact that the term “go global” is just too generic a term. Everyone uses it. From the genuine to the dodgy.

There’s the Cradle Coach & Grow Programme which helps you to go as far as IPOing. Doc Siva also has the Go2Market/Go4Growth/GoGlobal/GoIPO programs via Proficeo, his company. TeAM (disclosure: I’m currently a council member) also runs marketing missions that help your business “go global” in the region.

I believe all the above help to some extent. Kudos Cradle, Proficeo, TeAM. I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of others that are doing a wonderful job. Programs like this are awesome for an entrepreneur since there’s no cost to the company and you get to other markets faster.They’re addressing the entrepreneur who finds it difficult to get his product in the hands of others, so that deserves a big kudos. They’re helping the entrepreneur grow.

The original post was never meant to be flamebait. It was never meant to point a finger at any one party. If you/your organisation took offence to something I said, that was not my intention. Much apologies. I parted with sage advice for the entrepreneur:

Don’t blame the government. Don’t blame the VCs/angels/investors. There’s an old English proverb which states, “If there is a will, there is a way”.

It was just meant to list problems that seem to be endemic in Malaysia. If time permitted, I could come up with a well researched tome with ideas on how to fix things. But its not like I do this for a living, right? ;-)~

A quick thanks since this post was read by Doc Siva before I posted it up online.