TiEcon 2008 panel on 'Taking on the incumbents'


Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures


Chris Larsen, Prosper Marketplace, Inc.

Peter Luethi, Jet Airways India Ltd.

Sanjiv Malhotra, Oorja Protonics

Marten Mickos, Sun Microsystems Inc.


This is the first time that I’ve ever heard or seen Guy Kawasaki in person. He sure is funny and sharp as heck. Overall, the panel wasn’t all that interesting but Guy was extremely entertaining with his quips on how ‘German service is an oxymoron’ and in this web 2.0 world , ‘nothing’s a secret but there’s no verification either’. Most hilarious was when he kept trying to get Peter Luethi (Jet Airways) to confess which airline he would use if he were flying to London. I think the discussion would have been all more interesting, if he was on the panel rather than moderating it. Here are my key takeaways from this discussion:

Operate under the radar.

Incumbents usually have the attitude that the newcomers are not worth bothering about. This works in favor of the newcomers, who can fly under the radar and grow quickly until they get to a point when the competitors start noticing them but they are big enough either to thwart them or get acquired. Marten Mickos (formerly of MySQL) was very entertaining and offered some great insights. MySQL approached Oracle and Microsoft both to find an ally in its effort to take on IBM. (MySQL was acquired by Sun Microsystems).

If you can’t kill them, partner with them.

If your market has multiple incumbents. Consider partnering with one competitor and offer something that they are not able to offer. In other words, complement an incumbent’s existing offerings rather than taking on the incumbent head on.

Your enemy’s enemy is your best friend.

Don’t try to go it alone. If you have multiple incumbents, partner with one competitor to take on the other. Understand your market’s competitive dynamics and leverage that to create synergies that help your growth.

Rally support from your customer.

Find the underserved need in your target market and fill that gap. Go to the customer directly and create demand for your product by focusing on that. Jet Airways is trying to fill the need that no other airline currently, which is to bring back the ‘luxury’ in aviation by offering amenities and facilities that make air travel more enjoyable.

TiEcon 2008 panel on 'Creating Buzz'

Scaling: Building Buzz and Winning Customers



  Matt Marshall, VentureBeat


  James Joaquin, Bridgescale Partners

  Krishna ‘Kittu’ Kolluri, New Enterprise Associates
  Dave McClure, Stanford University
  Indu Navar, Serus Corporation


This was a great discussion on how to create buzz and acquire customers. Here’s a brief list of key takeaways from this panel:

Influence the influencers. Invite bloggers, analysts, reporters, and your other key influencers into your world, share information on your business/product so they can evangelize your business for you.

Let the metrics lead your way. Most people agree that marketing is a combination of art and science. Having clearly-defined metrics will ensure your costs are in alignment with the projected returns. Pick a few key conversion metrics that represent your customer and that increase value to you and increase your value to your customer.

Use analytics to make decisions. Test different pages, messaging, keywords and use conversion metrics to determine which ones are working and which don’t.

PR is often overrated. Find creative ways to create higher returns on a low budget. PR can be very helpful but it comes at a steep price and it’s ineffective if your product is not ready or it sucks. WOM is extremely effective for marketing on a shoe-string budget. Some quick and dirty (and cheap ways) to build buzz – daily blogging by employees, hire out-of-work writers to write up your PR, hand out funky t-shirts, or any other creative giveaways to get folks talking about your business/product.

– Make sure your product is ready and your marketing campaign is effective. Get statistically relevant data on your customer, iterate, and go to market quickly. Depending on how large your audience is, use the most effective medium. Word of Mouth is extremely effective in driving adoption on a bootstrap budget. Design your marketing campaigns to hit as many of these as following – High Volume (#), Low Cost ($), High Conversion (%).

Great buzz isn’t everything. Last but not the least, remember that great buzz doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate to online activity that you want. So don’t go crazy on just creating buzz, make sure you focus on whether it also translates into activity that you want.

PS: Check out Dave McClure’s blog for some great content (He’s brilliant!!!) 

Does Second Life need a corporate makeover?

I got on the virtual world bandwagon a few years back and tried Second Life, but it didn’t stick. It was too much work, too confusing, not enough motivation, so I gave up. Recently, I decided to give it another try, so I logged back in. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the UI is sleeker and it’s not as confusing as before, that being said, the learning curve is still darn steep.


LA Times recently did a great story on companies who are on Second Life and they all seem to be veteran technology companies. It’s obvious from the home page that SL is serious about pitching to businesses, and they have managed to get some well-known brand names IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Intel among the major brand names on the platform.The marketing/business strategy for SL is to bring on businesses who leverage it for internal communication and drive traffic by pitching the site to their employees and customers. However, in order to make it a sustainable success, SL needs to bring more businesses on board.

Few years back, SL had created a huge buzz as the coolest place in cyberspace and consumer companies were flocking to it in droves. However, the companies soon realized that the virtual world audience was more extreme than the mainstream. The LA times story says,

Where people are, marketers want to be. Two years ago, companies such as American Apparel and footwear maker Adidas started filling Second Life with stores and buildings. The virtual world’s early inhabitants, who largely disdain anything with a corporate tinge, rebelled by launching terrorist attacks and starting gunfights in the shops. Faced with empty storefronts and ridicule, many companies pulled out.

The first time I logged in a few years back, I was confronted by a gal who asked me if I had any money. Then I ran into another gal who warned me against hitting on her boyfriend. WTF?! This time around, I got invited to a sex dungeon and I don’t even want to know what’s coming the next time I log in. Since organizations have their own private island/location, they are ‘protected’ from the riff-raff of the surrounding worlds but it doesn’t help the site’s image, if it continues to be associated with insidious content.


I think, Second LIfe would drive a higher rate of adoption if they cleaned up their risque image. There’s a serious disconnect between the audience they are trying to woo and images portrayed on the site. The tattoo-covered gangsta-looking dude right above their pitch on ‘Your Organization in Second Life’ on the home page doesn’t exactly evoke warm-fuzzy feelings. How conducive are corporations to let their employees slink around semi-nude and replete with piercings, even if it is in the virtual world?

I think someone at SL should take a serious look at:
a) Make it easier for mainstream businesses (the non-geek companies) to get started on SL
b) Yes, sex sells and that’s what made SL so notorious in the first place, but if that’s not the business it wants to be in, SL should either get rid of the sexually explicit content or launch a new brand/site with a cleaner image.

Creating separate worlds/islands helps corporate-types avoid having to deal with rest of the chaos that is SL, but until it cleans up its act, SL’s risque brand image will always work against it, especially when it’s trying to bring on new businesses.