New site, new organization

I have not had much time to update this blog recently.  Work has been busy.  I have also been working on a new way of organizing my blogging entries.

One of the things I am doing is migrating off wordpress.com to a hosted wordpress.org instance.  There might be hitches and problems as I get going with this.  As of today, you can see the old postings on health IT or healthcare IT under http://svfruitstand.com/healthit. I hope to add more posts to it soon.

I also have not abandoned commenting on what’s new in IT and trends in social media and software.  Those blogs have been migrated over to http://svfruitstand.com/swblog.

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Yodlee, a shrewd platform strategy or missed opportunities?

For those not in the business of financial software, Yodlee might not be a familiar name.  However, if you use online bill pay or one of the popular online personal financial management software, you probably have been using Yodlee without knowing it.  The issue I want to explore in this post is whether Yodlee has missed a great opportunity to provide vertically integrated solutions that end users use or that they have been smart to stay away from the trench warfare in the end consumer products space.

Yodlee has spent over over 10 years to build out its business relationships, technological capability and dominance in the financial data aggregation space.  It makes little sense now for anybody building personal financial software to go sign individual agreements with each of the likes of Citibank, Fidelity and Chase.  As the go-to platform, Yodlee now earns a platform tax from every Personal Financial Management software provider that needs to integrate with banks, credit card companies and investment firms.

At the same time, one cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Yodlee’s end user facing business was a lot more successful and most people actually subscribe to Yodlee to do their bill and financial management, as opposed to doing it through their banks or using services like Mint.com.  Given the number of new product launch and M&A activities across the US, UK and India in the news, Mint.com, Artha Money, Kublax and MoneyDashboard, DebtGoal are just a few of them, there must be significant opportunities to be realized.  However, it appears that Yodlee will not become a dominant player for end users.

Yodlee is in every one of these Personal Financial Management software but it is staying in the background.  That might well be a very comfortable commercial position.  However,  this article from bankingtech.com, Where’s the money in Personal Finance? indicates that Microsoft (after killing its MS Money software) is teaming up with Citi to build a vertically integrated solution to rival Mint/Intuit called Bundle.  If they are successful, they will have a platform that competes with Yodlee as well.  I said earlier that it made little sense for anybody to replicate Yodlee, but then Microsoft is not anybody.  It has cash and it needs growth stories.

This just goes to show no matter where you are, you cannot stay still with a successful product.  What do you think?

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Managing debt with Web 2.0

I took some time off from blogging to get started on a new project.  I am still far from fully ramped up in this new space.  However, that’s a story for another day.

This entry is about managing personal debt, especially the credit card kind.  I think we can agree that the American society is on average not very savvy financially.  Add that to the credit card companies and banks that chased profit without any ethical compunction, we have brought on ourselves a global financial crisis.

Regardless of what the government is doing around better disclosure by credit card companies, people really should know what kind of impact their credit card debt and other loans will have on their financial health long term.  For this, I think DebtGoal.com is a valuable resource and worth checking out.  As Newsweek pointed out in an article, you’ve got to Bail Yourself Out.

Some of the interesting facts that they might not have shared on their website:

  • These guys are not software engineers.  Rather they are former bankers who decided that there is a business opportunity in helping people save money.
  • They have not really spent their money on marketing.  Instead, this is really guerrilla marketing at its best.  You can see it by simply typing DebtGoal into your favorite search engine.

Given the recent acquisition of Mint.com by Intuit, I wonder if there are further web property consolidation in the personal finance space.  Obviously the credit card companies can generate some good will with congress by purchasing such technology.  At the same time, providing this kind of utility would reduce their profit since they have always count on you not knowing how much those cash advances and coffee are costing you.  A knowledgeable consumer is an unprofitable customer.

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Zoho, an unassuming success story

I am late to the party on this one but hey, it is better late than never!  In talking to Sramana Mitra recently, the profilic writer and thought leader on entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, I discovered Zoho.com and their whole slew of applications.

Apparently you can log in to Zoho.com using your Google Docs account.  They offer free access to a bigger collection of Office-type applications than Google, including mail, word processing, presentation and spreadsheet.  In addition, they also offer polling, web conferencing, CRM, etc for both personal and professional use (at a fee obviously).

What intrigued me the most is the story of how the founder, Sridhar Vembu, runs the company.  I have not met the guy personally but would love to some day, because he is showing the software business a different way to run the business and is very successful at doing it.

A few of the things I learned about him from my conversation with Sramana:

  1. Zoho (formerly known as AdventNet) is fully owned by Sridhar Vembu.  He grew the company organically.  VCs have approached him but he had no need to for their investment given the millions of dollars of cash flow the business generates.
  2. Vembu has over 1000 employees.  Many of whom he recruited directly from high school and trained into programmers in the university that the company runs.  He recruited from candidates pools that were traditionally underserved by local universities and got unwavering loyalty from those he offered the opportunities to.   He definitely has the guts to think differently and do it.
  3. With his success, Sridhar Vembu remains understated and does not call much attention to himself.  They have fewer than 10 employees in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As Microsoft starts to put part of their Office offering online and Google continues to push Google Apps, many people have actually been using Zoho’s product offering.  Here is another article from ReadWriteWeb titled Zoho: The Little Engine That Could (Take on Both Microsoft and Google).  These guys are certainly something to watch.   I suspect that Zoho might actually be making more money than Google Apps but I do not have any data to back up that speculation.

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Simplicity is Usability

Simple Product Design versus ???

Simple and Functional

So classic!  Thank you to my friend Aloke of iXiGo.com for twittering this.

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Faster page loads may be hazardous to your revenue

At the Lunch 2.0 that Kosmix hosted today (Aug 6, 2009), the panelists from Kosmix, Mozilla.org and FriendFeed shared a few pearls of wisdom on Postcards from the Edge: Shaking up Markets, Mindsets and Media with the 200 people who showed up in Kosmix’s Mountain View office.

Bret Taylor from FriendFeed said (and I paraphrase) that the rules that the experts espouse are not always the golden rules to run your company with.  He once helped a friend to improve the page load times as every web expert can tell you, pages need to load fast or else the users will go elsewhere.

However, the site’s advertising revenue went down drastically after this fix.  It turns out that when the pages were loading slowly, the users were actually looking at the ads.  After the page load got faster, the users went straight to the content and clicks on ads went way down.

On the topic of experience, the panelists all agreed that it can be a blessing but also a curse.  Breakthrough is often achieved by those who didn’t know that it couldn’t be done.  An advice that the panelists gave for those who feel they already know too much to do this:  if you have a ton of experience, swing for the fences and don’t be afraid to fail.

The folks at techpulse360.com provided more detailed reporting of this event.  I have just written down a few points that I find poignant for those of us who are product builders.  I will post another entry on this event later.

Lunch 2.0 Panel @ Kosmix

Lunch 2.0 Panel @ Kosmix

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Free resources for bloggers

I found this article on Mashable, titled 26 Places to find Free Multimedia for Your Blog which lists resources that bloggers can use for no charge.  As some others have pointed out, these resources can also be used for general websites.  The terms vary but if you are using any of them to derive profit, you probably want to read them more carefully.

These resources include

  • Creative Commons Search
  • Free Stock and Public Domain Images
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Free Audio Sources

Thank you to Barb Dybwad for putting the list together.  Following is an example of a free image I was able to find on morguefile.com.  If you aren’t blogging for profit, it might be hard to justify buying from iStockPhoto.  This is just a great alternative.

Picture of the Golden Gate Bridge

Picture of the Golden Gate Bridge

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