Nokia and MSFT: 2 Mobile Turkeys?

Rumor is that when Google’s Andy Rubin was told Elop spurned the Google opportunity he responded: 2 Turkeys don’t make an Eagle. Nokia is a tremendous engineering organization, just like RIM was, and Apple still is. What sets Apple apart? Marketing Genius and business planning that DRIVES engineering (not the other way around). When the “value” equation shifts from feature/function to “experience” engineering is stuck.. as few companies can lead the vision that excites customers.

Today’s WSJ Article

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303822204577465771376539532.html

My detailed analysis in April

http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/nokia-apple-android-and-the-stage-4-value-shift/

Rumor is that when Google’s Andy Rubin was told Elop spurned the Google opportunity he responded: 2 Turkeys don’t make an Eagle.  Nokia is a tremendous engineering organization, just like RIM was, and Apple still is. What sets Apple apart? Marketing Genius and business planning that DRIVES engineering (not the other way around). When the “value” equation shifts from feature/function to “experience” engineering is stuck.. as few companies can lead the vision that excites customers.

Elop needs to be taken out.. 92% of Nokia’s value has been destroyed … he has led them toward a huge miss in perhaps their last opportunity to restructure.  What a shame.  There are many growth opportunities in this market where Nokia could compete (if they still have any of those great engineers left). However the current path for Nokia resembles a HTC style contract manufacturer that only builds Windows phones (and low cost handsets for emerging markets).

What would I recommend? something distruptive.. leveraging existing handsets. Example:

– Leverage MSFT and Skype to create solid urban phones no longer dependent on carriers.  Enable local wi-fi providers to be paid for their bandwidth in early stage to encourage them to set up stations. Create integrated backhaul to ensure that the ISP Carriers to not influence pricing.

– Integrated Retailer. Big stores are a black hole for bandwidth… retailers don’t want to enable 3g/4g services as consumers only use it for price comparison (a slight exageration). How can Nokia/MSFT create integrated retail experiences.. example femtocells in all retailers (Samsung is market leader here), integrated into new mobile POS systems (MSFT does own  RetailDynamics) and some new ad platform.

– Integrated Home.

– Integrated Auto.

Thoughts appreciated.

 

Nokia, Apple, Android, Value Creation and Distributed Innovation

My firm belief is that we will start a mobile “boom” that will dwarf what we have seen with either the internet, PCs or the industrial revolution. How big? Will at the top of my list for calculating the basis of a “New Mobile” TAM is marketing.. With the US alone accounting for over $750B .. how much of that spend is targeted?

10 April

Description: http://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2011/10/29/48158-131993377233806-Stephen-Rosenman.jpg(Cool title…? You can tell I’m an engineer)

I was catching up on some reading this Easter weekend and saw one of my old MIT Technology reviews lying around. Article was on Nokia’s new CTO Henry Tirri (Dec 2011). Question came to mind: to what extent does technology influence Nokia’s future success? Is Apple’s current success built on technology?  Of course, although any CTO’s job gets harder when their CEO is forming alliances that are 100% potential and 0% market traction…. Oh I forgot Elop also sold your own OS to Accenture so there is “no way back”. (For more background on Nokia/MSFT see this UK Guardian Article).

What factors will influence success in Mobile? Obviously it is not R&D, as Nokia’s 2.9B EUR ($3.8B) budget was roughly twice Apple’s $2B (see global 2012 R&D Spending report from Battale). Most would agree that Nokia lost in connecting the phone to the internet.. No amount of internal R&D could have led Nokia to build an equivalent network.. yet they did not fully realize the value that consumers could unlock … at least not much beyond e-mail. (RIM suffered from a similar myopia.. security vs usability locked into the corporate environment).  Nokia’s R&D engineers thus toiled away with features they could control and build.. That is what engineers do.. Nokia thought the battle was in feature/function.. and hundreds of specialized designs for many global “segments”. However the consumer opportunity that Apple discovered was not in hardware, but rather in delivering new ways to connect consumers to all things digital… particularly networks (internet, home, social, entertainment, …  and eventually office).

Will “Apps” be the key to unlocking the value of mobile?

In the press last month, we saw the analysis by Flurry that Amazon is kicking Google’s rear in App store revenue (89%), and that Google itself makes 5x more on IOS than Android.  Other recent research from groups like ABI Research reported that mobile app revenue was $8.5B with 39% due to in app purchases (Gartner says $15B). Personally I find both these numbers a little hard to believe, given Google’s Android revenue is $550M and Apple announced back in July that it paid developers $2.5B (cumulatively over life of AppStore). Best guess for Apple’s FY11 Appstore sales is somewhere around $1.6B (see my July Blog)

Total App Store ECOSYSTEM revenue from these Big 3 is therefore approximately

$1.6B + $1.42 (Amazon’s 89% of Apple’s) + $0.55B = $3.57B

Could it be possible that these big 3 contributed less than 50% of global App Revenue? Not likely (sorry Gartner/ABI). As an investor, I’m not keen on Apps as a long lived mobile environment outside of entertainment (subject of another blog). Suffice to say my view is that “apps” are only a temporary technology metaphor for connecting clusters, goods and data. Although not a fan of “apps” I am very grateful that the App environment exists, as it is driving much innovation within a “developer community” (per Platform).  Having thousands of brilliant engineers from around the world work to deliver value benefits us all.  Which brings me to the topic of distributed innovation.

Open/Distributed Innovation

Open Source is a model most of us are well familiar with. (further reading… I ran across a very nicely done paper from 2 MIT students: Implication of Open Innovation and Open source to Mobile Device Manufacturers).  Given that mobile, advertising and payments are all networked businesses… it seems  business models supporting distributed innovation will advance at a faster pace than those where only a single entity controls the entire product or supply chain.  For example, Amazon, Samsung, Motorola, LG, HTC, Verizon, ATT, Vodafone, .. all make much larger investments in the Android platform (than in IOS). (I would love to see an analysis of combined capital investment in android platform)

However, this distributed innovation hypothesis is NOT playing itself out (ie Apple). Apple’s 1Q12 showed iPhone revenue alone was $24.4B, which is bigger than all of MSFT revenue combined.  Analysts have shown that Apple now garners 75% of mobile handset profits, with only 9% of handset market share.  So while Samsung alone has outsold Apple in Units this quarter (41M vs. 32.6M), and Android just topped 50% market share (vs Apple’s 30.2%).. Apple’s handset business PROFITABILITY dwarfs that of all of the competition (COMBINED).

So… What are the factors of competition today? Can someone else change the game?

Most would agree that Apple has won through a focus on design and customer satisfaction. Nothing looks as good, or works as reliably as an iPhone. It brings a consumer’s digital life together; it is also the channel by which we stay connected when we are not at home. Description: C:UserstomDocumentsPersonalblogmobile_os_satisfaction.gifApple’s unique ability to control design and manufacturing quality has obviously provided many benefits (which customers have proven willing to pay a premium for).

The big downside in distributed innovation is complexity, there is a need for a “channel master” or chaos reigns. Many Android users witness this chaos when an app won’t work on a new hardware/OS combination.. Distributed innovation is not something that established businesses are good at. It has proven most successful in product PLATFORMS where the pace of change in each component is changing at a rate where no one company can make the capital investment to remain competitive (ex. Moore’s Law, PC architecture through present day). Intel played a very important role in this process, as it worked outside the scope of the CPU in areas such as: Intel Architecture Lab (IAL, developed common standards like PCI),  stimulated external innovation (developer training, testing, Intel Capital), industry marketing, patent/licensing. Intel defined what the PLATFORM was.. something that is common sense to us today.. but rest assured it was not given to them, rather it was something that they stepped into and took leadership of.

As we look for where the form of mobile competition may change, it would seem to be outside: hardware, software and network bandwith. With respect to hardware, features have recently begun to surpass “good enough” . Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus is an excellent example of how focused hardware innovation has enabled them to surpass the iPhone’s capabilities. If hardware is good enough, and not the primary factor of competition, it must be software, services or data that will drive competition in the next phase…

If platform is decided on software only.. then software platform with most open standard and most users (ANDROID) should dominate as any connected devices (handsets and everything else) have lower cost and more ability to “specialize”, particularly if intelligence is in the network (not the device).  But software is currently not the point of competition either… If not DEVICE software.. then what?

Stage 4 – Shift from Integrated Platform to Value Orchestration

Keeping with the assumptions above:  hardware becomes “good enough”, platform/software become “ubiquitous”, patents are widely shared (ok this is a joke.. checking if you were sleeping), and the mobile phone transforms into the networked device “bridging” the virtual and physical world then value (and profitability) will shift from platforms executing transactions to entities coordinating interactions.  This interaction of entities is what I refer to as Value Orchestration, certainly not a concept I developed. A January 2001 Harvard Business Review Article: Where Value Lives in a Networked World put it this way:

In more general terms, modern high-speed networks push back-end intelligence and front-end intelligence in two different directions, toward opposite ends of the network. Back-end intelligence becomes embedded into a shared infrastructure at the core of the network (cloud), while front-end intelligence fragments into many different forms at the periphery of the network, where the users are. And since value follows intelligence, the two ends of the network become the major sources of potential profits. The middle of the network gets hollowed out; it becomes a dumb conduit, with little potential for value creation. Moreover, as value diverges, so do companies and competition. …. In a connected world, intelligence becomes fluid and modular. Small units of intelligence float freely like molecules in the ether, coalescing into temporary bundles whenever and wherever necessary to solve problems.

This orchestration hypothesis seems to have proven itself in PCs as margin shifted away from the integrated manufacture to component “performance” differentiation (ex. peripheral price/performance) then again to software finally transforming again to orchestrators and “connected” businesses that orchestrate network value (like Amazon, Facebook and Google)…. as hardware evolves into a commodity like business.

The long term investor risk for Apple is that it will not be able to shift to a value orchestration role, and its handset business (while excellent) will no longer garner 75% of industry profits. Where will the high margin businesses develop? If we take a network view, opportunities to create value exist in interaction between clusters (ex. Retailer to consumer, Facebook community to Retailer) and within a cluster (ex Supply chain, healthcare , …etc.).  Within this cluster matrix, l like to take a Clayton Christensen view: “what problems are there that the mobile phone can solve”? which each “opportunity” assigned 5 key measures:

1) TAM (Consumers, $ Volume, Growth, …)

2) Disruptive innovation measure – price/performance (ex. Mobile targeted advertising vs. Coupons)

3) Information Control. Who owns it, how is it obtained, accuracy, privacy,  (impacts pricing power)

4) Key Alliances and stakeholders

5) Execution risk (ex. Compete with Facebook vs. Building a mobile application for a retailer)

Much of Value orchestration is dependent on data. Consumer data is highly fragmented in the physical world, do consumers/clusters want it consolidated? What are the benefits? Where is it stored (node or cloud)?  The HRB quote above painted a picture where “small units of intelligence float freely like molecules in the ether, coalescing into temporary bundles whenever and wherever necessary to solve problems”. Perhaps it is my time as a senior director within Oracle that has ruined my views on data.. but if it floats freely …how on earth can anyone organize it? Doesn’t someone need a directory? for at least one side? How can intelligence be “self assembling” in business?

My firm belief is that we will start a mobile “boom” that will dwarf what we have seen with either the internet, PCs or the industrial revolution. How big? Will at the top of my list for calculating the basis of a “New Mobile” TAM is marketiDescription: C:UserstomDocumentsPersonalblogUS Marketing Spend.JPGng.. With the US alone accounting for over $750B .. how much of that spend is targeted?

Because mobile is at the intersection of both virtual and physical, the network is larger.. it touches every consumer, every business and every “cluster”…  it is therefore many orders of magnitude more complex.  In this dynamic environment, small companies are much better positioned to deliver “focused”, simple orchestrated solutions between clusters.

Examples of Cluster ochestration:

  • Machine-machine interaction (mobile to open hotel room door)
  • Person-Person interaction (health history, alergies to Doctor)
  • Consumer-Retailer interaction (ex Mobile marketing in brick and mortar retail)

As intelligence develops, it will aggregate (ex Google/Facebook). I covered this topic back my December post Building Networks “The network forms around a function and other entities are attracted to this network (affinity) because of the function of both the central orchestrator and the other participants”.  Given that each node and cluster is resource constained.. they maintain connections to a finite number of “efficient” orchestrators/networks. Early networks build very substantial momentum..

Summary

Wow.. this went on too long..  They say a blog over 2 min of reading is a looser.. hey.. you get what you pay for.

Given the mobile device’s unique ability to serve as a point of convergence between the virtual and physical world, a Stage 4 evolution will take place where handsets are cheap and ubiquitous and networks are high speed dumb pipes (both low margin businesses). This Stage may be the leverage point where Apple’s competitors gain differentiation. Perhaps if they had some cash.. and a few bright people they could respond. 🙂

There are certainly many scenarios where stage 4 could evolve from. Orchestration requires both back end “cloud” infrastructure and localized intelligence. Both entail a complex interaction of: data, distribution, platform, cluster relationships, business intelligence, control, regulation, trust, … to deliver value. Companies like Google, IBM, Oracle, Facebook…   should be able to succeed in the central function.  If any of them agree with this blog.. they should actively endeavor to build “interfaces” and standards by which small companies can deliver the localized intelligence.. much the way Facebook has started giving some access to data.

Sorry for size

Comments appreciated.

Nokia’s Opportunity: Building an NFC Ecosystem

Most of you have read Stephen Elop’s scathing internal assessment of Nokia yesterday: “Burning Oil Platform”. Today NFC software start ups are locked in by both handset manufactures and MNOs…. could Nokia leapfrog Apple by enabling companies to invest, and go to market, in NFC?

8 Feb 2011

Most of you have read Stephen Elop’s scathing internal assessment of Nokia yesterday: “Burning Oil Platform”.  Although I will probably get laughed at for this… I’m actually quite high on Nokia. At least the CEO knows there is a fire.. which is the last phase in the Kubler-Ross Five Stages Of Grief ( 1. Denial and Isolation. 2. Anger. 3. Bargaining. 4. Depression. 5. Acceptance). Now what?

Nokia and Motorola are very similar in many respects. Both have heavy (VERY HEAVY) engineering driven cultures. This engineering excellence has led them to their current market position, and these teams are just tremendous. The downside of the engineering focus is that areas like Marketing, sales, and alliances have always taken a seat far in the back of the bus. When handset competition was driven by feature/function this was no issue.. but Apple and Google have changed the nature of handset competition and how consumers perceive value. Beyond the number of apps available to consumers, it is the number of BUSINESSES that are investing in the platform. Google and Apple have created platform ecosystems that enable many businesses to enhance the platform at a pace that a single company can’t match (sorry Apple), in new dimensions (Apps, in app advertising, NFC, …et), with new business models (see previous blog).

Elop has the right background to change this, and has a number of opportunities to put Nokia into a position to uniquely compete. My suggested focus: create a platform ecosystem around NFC, with Europe and a few Asian markets (SG, HK, AU) as the launch pad… Find a model where you make Google a partner. Why? It aligns with your core competencies, and your competitors are failing in the NFC platform. Apple is seeking too much control, and Android has poor focus beyond the broken US market. What if Nokia was Google’s key partner outside the US?

For those outside the MNO world, what I’m suggesting is heresy to many in the Nokia Symbian world. Its like telling the French that they should throw away their dead language and force adoption of English. Elop’s challenge is creating a platform business akin to what he ran at Microsoft. This takes ability to partner…. partnerships mean deciding on WHAT you must focus on. In Smart Phones… where is the competition battle? If it is App Stores can Nokia get a critical mass of developers writing to its platform as it looses the US market?  Where is the revenue opportunity? Is it the handset?

I’m certainly not suggesting that Nokia completely abandon Symbian… but what about providing an option? What if their phones were the only ones that could support multiple OS? Run any application? In the NFC model I’m suggesting, OS should not be the competing factor.. what Nokia needs is other companies investing in its platform. NFC seems to be a key prospect given the trajectories of other efforts.

As an example.. handset manufacturers control the “keys” to NFC’s secure element. Industry insiders guess Apple is planning to keep them from the MNOs.. could Nokia take a more “open route” by creating an global independent TSM… a “java” kind of approach. Today NFC software start ups are locked in by both handset manufactures and MNOs…. could Nokia leapfrog Apple by enabling companies to invest, and go to market, in NFC?

Nokia is not a dumb contract manufacturer. It is one of the best handset engineering companies in the business. WHAT it is engineering to is the operable question. An OS generic NFC ecosystem approach seems to be supported by over 130 NFC Patents as well (second only to Sony). This NFC Communications World article does a tremendous job outlining Nokia’s NFC Platform business model. Beyond the NFC ecosystem, Nokia is already assuming an equally broad leadership role in LTE, a world where all of your consumer electronics will will communicate with each other and your phone. Therefore, I disagree completely with Venture beat that Microsoft is the partner of choice.. Nokia’s plans should be one that makes OS the commodity.. let the customers and the market decide.

NFC Patent Portfolio
NFC Patent Portfolio

The first challenge for Elop is cultural. As a generalization, Motorola is rather hierarchical and autocratic, where Nokia takes on the Finnish consensus driven management culture. Given that Nokia’s primary asset is people, it is very difficult for Elop execute a “Steve Jobs” type of vision and command/control without destroying his organization. Is the burning oil platform analogy the first step in building the case for change? I would expect his next announcement to be a big vision… how will the stars in the Finnish company react?

Thoughts appreciated

Obopay Update – 4Q10 (update on 3Q)

Given their poor performance to date, MA is starting to step away from them as primary MoneySend platform (example is recent RIM announcement). Obopay now seems to have a split focus: US and emerging markets.

5 Oct 2010 (Updated 12/9)

For those that don’t read this blog often, I’m an Obopay cynic. A company that is the very definition of a hype machine (and I came from Oracle). The company has many awards, and very few customers (<20k see site analytics below) and only $3.8M in revenue as of Sept 2010 (no wonder the CFO left).

Why am I so cynical? They are focusing on emerging markets, and the rural poor.. a group than can ill afford to buy into vapor. Press release above shows them targeting US banks now. Good to see them change strategies. Three years ago they wanted to build a direct to consumer brand,  investing in money transfer licenses in all US states and alliance with MasterCard. Now they want to sell a new a “white label” P2P bank service?

Given their poor performance to date, MA is starting to step away from them as primary MoneySend platform (example is recent RIM announcement). Citi has also moved on from the limited Obopay pilot it launched in 2007, into a great new service delivered by Cashedge (POPMoney). The press release indicates quite a dramatic shift in the Obopay business model back to the US, with very little press relating to emerging markets (UPDATE NOKIA bought Obopay India). The bank shift may have been driven by cash burn as the $130M in invested capital is not enough to compete against the likes of Visa and AT&T in marketing a new consumer payment service. This strategy shift, and resulting financial implications, may have been a driver of Obopay’s CFO departure (never a good sign).  Message to Obopay.. you may want to update your management team page as Tyler’s name is still there.

With respect to a new “white label” strategy, there does seem to be thoughful expansion of their transaction network;  Obopay announced integration to both NYCE and STAR (allowing PINless debit) . This network structure follows in the footsteps of PayPal, and is not a bad strategy at all (if you are stuck to a card based money transfer paradigm).  Cards have many advantages in P2P use, top among them are the facilities for authorization and “instant” transfer. The word instant is in quotes here because authorization and posting of the transaction can be near real time, but settlement is up to the bank (1-2 days) and settlement network. The downside for Obopay’s card model is cost, particularly sensitive in a  sender pays model. Of course these initiatives will bring down transaction cost, but they neglect to address Obopay’s core issues: no consumer value and hence few transactions.

The problems with a bank White Label strategy is that they are late to this game with sales team not geared for banks. They have set themselves up for competition with vendors such as Cashedge, FIS and FISV who host bank infrastructure. Cashedge is the clear leader in mobile P2P here, with the recently launched Citi service and over 100 banks (including Wachovia, BB&T and Bank of America). Chase’s QuickPay is another example of a bank led mobile P2P initiative. As I told one of the major banks last week, the Obopay business case for P2P may look better (because of interchange), but the price is steep (consumer adoption, behavior change and limited use). In other words, there is no proof point for a card based P2P model, as demonstrated by Obopay’s adoption over the last 3 years.

Emerging Markets

Over the last 2 years, Obopay has been active in attempting to penetrate emerging markets (particularly India – See previous Blog on Obopay’s failure). India is a very tough business for any payment players. RBI is well known as one of the toughest regulators on the planet, Obopay (and local MNOs) have been hamstrung in pursuing any model that is NOT bank led. Their YES bank pilot shows the challenges of rolling out a solution that is bank led in a card model… all best described in this Nokia presentation. It would seem that Nokia is taking the lead from Obopay on India (UPDATE 12/9 Confirmed), as it is key to retaining their 60% handset market share. The Nokia team is stellar, and their leadership of India efforts will put them in a much better position to execute against complex alliance and regulatory issues. As a side note, I expect to see Nokia focus on a handset “wallet” (bank/MFI/BC agnostic) with Obopay as the “switch” to IMPS (see related blog) clearing and bill payment (perhaps a future blog on Obopay as the Checkfree/Cardlink of India?). Understand that a government pilot on this approach is under consideration.

Message to investors: make some big changes. You have lost the early lead, and your partners are running away. The risk in competing against the big networks and banks in P2P is not within your investment hypothesis. Banks do not need your core asset (money services licenses) and you do not have the right team to sell and service banks. Emerging markets have limited revenue prospects, and MNOs are capable of building mobile payments from scratch (ref MPESA). MasterCard is making alliances with teams that drive network (either customers or merchants) expect them to develop alternatives.

Paypal at the POS?

PayPal is best positioned of any major player to link the virtual and physical payment worlds (see here for detail): they have a consumer base, merchant base and a phenomenal fraud/risk team of 300+ with commensurate tech and ops. However their ability to execute is not without challenges. For example, what % of their current merchant base does POS transactions? Will there be a need for merchant terminals? If so who will pay?

18 August 2010

Great WSJ Article TodayPaypal looks to real world commerce

First Draft…. final tomorrow.

As stated in my previous blogs about Apple, Bling, and the Mercury NewCo we are in the midst of a revolution in consumer payments, driven by large non banks, with new value propositions. For example, we see established organizations like AT&T, Verizon, and Discover collaborating (Mercury NewCo) with a payment value proposition driven by mobile advertising, Card networks attempting to develop PayPal killers (see Visa PayClick) and mobile handset manufactures attempting to create models for payments separate from banks (see Nokia and Apple NFC).

The worst kept secret in mobile payments today is: there aren’t any (except for MNO unbanked solutions). Efforts like Mastercard/Obopay have failed globally because they have focused on P2P (no existing volume). Alternatively, PayPal’s efforts are focused on the POS. Enabling any “merchant” to accept any card either at POS or virtually (see previous blog on PayPal’s virtual terminal). This approach is a win for banks (card acceptance), a win for consumers (convenience/loyalty), and a win for merchants (reduced merchant fees and interchange).

PayPal is best positioned of any major player to link the virtual and physical payment worlds (see here for detail): they have a consumer base, merchant base and a phenomenal fraud/risk team of 300+ with commensurate tech and ops. However their ability to execute is not without challenges. For example, what % of their current merchant base does POS transactions? Will there be a need for merchant terminals? If so who will pay? As discussed in the article above, Bling has been mentioned as a potential approach. Issuing Bling tags to PayPal’s employees is certainly a useful way of testing the consumer issues associated with issuing (and using) a payment tag.

My guess on PayPal’s “focus”?

Given PayPal’s strengths I would see a “phone as POS” approach as the most logical.  As consumers we focus on our individual accounts, but PayPal is one of the few “2 Party” payment networks (others are Discover, Amex) that also include merchant acquisition. 2 Party systems are uniquely positioned to control the costs and value proposition between the merchant and the consumer. One of the major NFC challenges is POS infrastructure: who will pay for it? The phone as POS would certainly address this Gordian Knot for small merchants. Small merchants are a group that also feels the most pain in interchange and card acceptance fees due to their lack of negotiating leverage. Oddly enough large banks seem to be supportive of PayPal’s efforts here with the view that their actions will help drive cash replacement. In other words, if PayPal’s innovation is indeed focused on NFC acquisition then they will be able to process all cards..

On the merchant side, PayPal has already completed much of the heavy lifting with its existing virtual terminal service. This service equips PayPal merchants with ability to accept any card at the POS (see Virtual Terminal blog). NFC or RFID form factors are just another abstraction for this card.  On the consumer side, I would expect to see PayPal working to link PayPal accounts to multiple form factors. Expect PayPal to make an acquisition in this space.

As of today, here is my view of the teams competing in mobile payments at POS

  • Mastercard/Citi/Obopay/Nokia
  • Visa/Monitise
  • Apple
  • AT&T/Verizon/Discover/?Google/First Data
  • PayPal/?

More to come tomorrow.

Obopay in VentureBeat (update)

Yet another strategy shift by the ever elusive Obopay, a group with around 2,000 customers globally.

What a complete waste of $126M in invested capital. My response to VentureBeat article is a picture from CGAP

Thats right.. 1000 customers in a Yes bank pilot.. that will make for a global total of .. 2000 !? I’ve also spoken to 3 of the major banks which hosted the Obopay team as they described their new services…. lets just say there will be few returned calls. In the US (retail banking side) The Clearing House and Cashedge already own this space, internationally it is Monitise (1M+ consumers). On the card side there are few attractive P2P models and card teams’ focus is therefore on POS. The problems that Obopay continues to face at banks:

  1. Branding payments Obopay
  2. Weak business case for P2P
  3. Technology is easy.. risk management and fraud ops is hard
  4. Card groups are focused on mobile at POS (NFC).
  5. Banks are not very fond of Visa or MA right now.. they feel that payments is their business (imagine that).

The American Banker Article is spot on in Obopay’s continuing evolution. The “salmon swimming upstream” from the Citi pilot is complete rubbish (bankers ask them to give you names, references and volumes). It would seem that there is an organizational tendency to tell a story and how that story led to product design. Whether it was Carol’s trip to Africa, or the only US Bank pilot. The real story seems to be that they can’t find any traction with anything they do.  Now they plan to create ” a mobile platform” for banks. Looks like that space is “a little” crowded already (back to the future?).

I would like to see Obopay take on a little more candor, they know their situation and will have a hard time finding customers while they blow smoke over their status, plans and platform. See Nokia’s India market evaluation here. Perhaps Obopay is launching the US services based upon the realization of the Nokia analysis…. there is no revenue in emerging markets.

Why am I so hard on Obopay? Because this team is focused on the unbanked, a group that needs protecting. Obopay has received far too much attention (and capital) that could be allocated to successful ideas and teams.  As they shift their focus off of the unbanked world, I will be less inclined to criticize as the large banks have the resources to clear the obfuscatory fog that is generated by this amazing marketing machine called Obopay. My hope is that Nokia and Mastercard restructure Obopay’s few assets and create a new organization without the accumulated baggage, perhaps  into 2 entities : one focused on the unbanked in honest partnership with NGOs, and the other focused on Nokia’s handset/wallet.

See CGAP Article http://www.cgap.org/gm/document-1.9.43424/CGAP_-_Building_viable_agent_networks_in_India.pdf

http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/obopay-india-another-failure/

Nokia Money/Obopay

Nokia’s selection of Obopay is very curious, given that Obopay is a hosted platform that currently requires online registration.. quite a difficult thing for an “unbanked” customer to do in rural India. We can safely assume that Obopay will invest resources to provide for service and beneficiary registration in a 100% SMS mode (or build a NokiaWallet embedded on the phone), but there are still many holes in the service that are left to be plugged and a big business challenge in incenting remote agents.

Oct 13, 2009

Also See post on 11/12 Obopay India – Another Failure?

Obopay, Nokia Money, MasterCard Money Send…  all are based on the Obopay platform. In the Valley, nothing invokes a quicker smile and shake of the head then discussion of Nokia’s $35M+ investment ($70M in round).  This shake comes from both VCs and payments executives. The banks are running from the service, just as the Nokia and MC are running in.

From a Venture perspective… Nokia overpaid and may have significantly alienated banks. Obopay now has $126M in invested capital, with no “value proposition” (hence less then 20k active customers),  no US success, an average team and very little product.  Estimating a Series E pre-money valuation of $200M, you are left w/ post money of around $270M.. My sources tell me Revenue is less than $5M which results in a post money valuation of 54x revenue for a service from which its major customer Citi is walking away from (MasterCard is TBD).

  1. Series B, 9/06 Qualcomm $7M
  2. Series C, 7/07 AllianceBernstein, Citigroup, Qualcomm, Redpoint Ventures, Societe Generale, Richmond Management $29M
  3. Series D, 4/08 Essar Communications Holdings, AllianceBernstein, Onset Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Olayan, Citigroup, Societe Generale, Qualcomm Ventures, Promethean, Richmond Management $20M
  4. Series E, 3/09, Nokia, TBD $70M

I must admit to feeling awkward in writing this.. given the names on the list you would assume that there is a sound basis for the investment.. but it seems to be “hedge your bets”  investing at best,  “swarm investing” at worst. The closest way to get to know what is real (and what is not) is to work with the customers. Hence my note.

I’m not saying that they can’t be successful, with the investors and capital listed here they certainly don’t lack a solid BOD. My point is that they have not had success to date in the US, have an average management team, and very little product. Nokia bought a bridge… lets hope it is to somewhere.  The amount of money going in tells me that Obopay believes they can build a mobile “switch” to create a visa like network. Globally,  financial services companies have learned a very important lesson with Visa/MC: never let someone else own the switch. Telcos I’ve worked with also clearly understand the control issue, not just in the US but in EMEA, and AP. Obopay’s most important network partner is MA, the entity which will drive network fees and transaction revenue. This brings up the question: IF Obopay is successful then what is their revenue POTENTIAL? Answer: a CUT of user fees from a SENDER Pays model.
It’s rather hard to compare Obopay to its competitors. Obopay is rich on marketing, alliances and user interface… and light on everything else (risk, operations and payment processing). Alternatively companies like Paypal and Cashedge have deep payment expertise, dedicated risk management teams (30-100) and 24×7 redundant operations.

UNBANKED or UNPHONED?

Nokia interest in “Nokia money” is less to do with the altruistic goal of bringing financial services to the “unbanked”, and more to do with growing “unphoned” subscribers. Take the MPESA success in Kenya. Safaricom/Vodafone have 99% of subscribers on pre-paid plans (aka top ups).

http://www.safaricom.co.ke/index.php?id=655

The challenge in growing subscribers in the third world is giving them a way to pay (top up) their mobile phone.  Nokia’s selection of Obopay is very curious, given that Obopay is a hosted platform that currently requires online registration.. quite a difficult thing for an “unbanked” customer to do in rural India. We can safely assume that Obopay will invest resources to provide for service and beneficiary registration in a 100% SMS mode (or build a NokiaWallet embedded on the phone), but there are still many holes in the service that are left to be plugged and a big business challenge in incenting remote agents.

The general consensus among executives seems to be that the challenge in mobile payments is 10% software,  50% risk and regulatory, and 40% qualitative issues surrounding “consumer adoption”.  Within India, regulators have been very involved in all pilots, setting an absolute Rs 5000 (~$100) limit on all providers in order to ensure that another run away “MPESA type” does not occur without a sound regulatory framework. It should also be noted that Vodafone/Safaricom was in a very unique place to address the “customer adoption” issue as it had 80%+ market share in Kenya. Most other markets have highly competitive and fragmented telecoms, each attempting to drive competing heterogeneous payment services.

M-Banking: Vodafone’s M-Pesa Hits Regulatory Roadblock | MediaNama

http://www.pluggd.in/mobile/obopay-india-to-launch-mobile-payment-service-1020/

Assuming Nokia’s objective is to provide this service to carriers, they will likely bundle discounted packages of low cost hand sets w/ service. The MNOs I have spoken with are NOT buying into Nokia’s vision and in fact are quite irritated that they are attempting to end run them through a direct sale to MNO agents.  Hence, most major MNOs are busy formulating their own strategy, and have a host of options.  If I had to bet… my chips are with the MNOs as people only buy a phone every 2 yrs (in emerging markets), they top up frequently. Nokia Money/Obopay will face competition from:

  • Vodafone. Unit led by Nick Hughes is active in Asia and ME. Repeating the Kenya success
  • Monitise. Provides same SMS services and integrates quickly to bank systems through ATM switch (Bank focused sale)
  • hyperWALLET. Software behind Enstream
  • Fundamo.
  • Sybase. Rock solid software play for Telecos
  • Akos Technology. Software/Service for telecos
  • …etc

Nokia Money and Obopay have a very, very steep hill to climb.

  • Software (No risk engine, Online registration required, hosted model, …etc)
  • People – Few international payments executives in team
  • References – No US success

As a side note… Citi’s trial of the service had terrible adoption. Less then 20k active users (much less). Obopay could argue this is due to poor Citi marketing (for those that argue marketing.. go use the service today).  I also understand that Obopay is telling prospects that Citi is still involved (which is true from a BOD level). I’ve also been told by 2 banks this week that Obopay is not taking any new US banks as its focus has shifted to India (Yes Bank).

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