Sunday, November 23, 2008

If I was a VC I won't give any penny to...

Today I wanted to post about a though I had about Search and Online Communication BtoC markets. After 2 years of work on Yahoo! Mail and a previous experience in Search Area at Convera, something suddenly became very obvious to me:

If I was a VC today, I won't be likely to give any penny to a startup creating a BtoC Search engine or an advanced Webmail, especially if they tell me that their objective is to switch users from big providers... No matter how cool the product is in terms of features. Sorry for Ciul or others really cool and talented start-ups but I think that's actually right to say.

Some of you might think: "this guy is telling me S###" so let me explain.
Google search as Yahoo! Mail (or Gmail) are currently delivering a good level of satisfaction to more than 50% of online users worldwide.

What are the main expectations that Search and Webmail users share?
The service needs to be fast and reliable at anytime.

Just think about 2 situations:

- You're in a store, and you need to quickly check a product price online with your mobile before buying your next digital camera, you do a search and find out that your search engine site is currently down...

- You're late to take your eurostar, your booking reference is in your booking confirmation email, right in your inbox... You need it to get your ticket and take your train. You try to access your email with your Laptop at Saint Pancras station, your webmail is not accessible...

In both case, I'm pretty sure you'll be pissed off with your provider, and will probably churn at some point. Communication and search are two area where productivity and reliability becomes more and more essential. The day Ciul went on, ... their delivery was really poor... How many times did you see Google search having downtime?

As far as I remember, I've seen Google having a downtime one time only in close to 10 years, (maybe i missed some... or not). Note that even Google is not doing that great with Gmail reliability, they have large scale outages frequently.

Those markets will remain dominated by big players, cause you need the scale, a huge network and a terrific architecture to deliver the basics right. When a startup is innovating in that area in terms of features, bigs players just have to deploy the same idea to a far bigger scale.

If I don't see any opportunities for those kind of startups today, you could maybe get acquired if you do a very good user interface. That's probably your only chance to scale... You won't success without a big player infrastructure here.

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