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PC, Web, Wireless convergence open up huge opportunities for content and message integration services

Madanmohan Rao interviews Chirag Patel, CEO, Net4Nuts

Chirag Patel is the co-founder and CEO of Net4Nuts, an integration and distribution company for Web/wireless content/messaging. Chirag has an MBA degree from Loyola University, Chicago. Net4Nuts was established in June 2000, funded in part by Gujarat Venture Finance Ltd.

Q: What's your assessment of the dotcom bust and the current IT slowdown? What are we likely to see in the coming year?


The slowdown and downturn will see a shakeout that will separate the wheat from the chaff resulting in healthy and sustainable businesses. The last year witnessed an euphoria as never before; throwing caution into the winds, even traditional brick-and-mortar companies where chasing the mirage of the IT boom, that merely translated into a mythical valuation conundrum. The downturn, in my opinion, is an aberration of that non-existent euphoria. The slowdown process cannot be correlated to the opportunities that exist - if at all we have hardly seen the tip of the iceberg. What has happened in reality is a "Re-thinking of the Internet".

What has dawned upon us, is the fact that the coming year will see much more of drop-outs of companies which were not even destined to run because of lack of focus, consolidation through M&A and a clear path to profiability once the 'era of freebies' is over. We will once again witness the age old Darwinian theory of "Survival of the Fittest." If you ask me, the downturn is a blessing in disguise for futuristic technology propositions like that of Net4Nuts to emerge; as the new economy paradigm only warrants serious contenders - and such technologies will never go into obsolescence..


Q: What is your vision of what the Net can offer a country like India?


Barriers of distance and communication have been dissolved by the Internet, allowing the talented IT human capital base to service a global marketplace sitting right here in India. Apart from advantages of reduced communication costs, better faster information dissemination, governance & administrative efficiencies, the biggest opportunity the Net offers is for the knowledge based industries - whether it is through IT-enabled services, software, R&D leading to cutting edge technologies, or other IT services.

Q: What was the founding vision behind Net4Nuts, and how is the company

progressing today?


The founding vision at Net4Nuts is to build technology that allows existing disparate yet contextually appealing digital resources to collaborate, thereby enabling these information buckets to be leveraged in newer, more productive ways.  We have continuously focused on building futuristic global technology which has to be economically sustainable. This core philosophy has enabled us to stay current and ride the changing landscape over the past 18 months. 

Currently, we are a 30 strong, world class technology company with products and service offering that appeals to a diverse set of industry segments like wireless, online, telephony services, enterprise solutions etc. across a global marketplace.  Marketing and business development activity is well underway and we are looking at raising our next round of financing very soon.

Q: What are your offerings for the B2C and B2B space?


Net4Nuts focuses on providing URM (Universal Resource Management) solutions for the B2B2C and the B2C space. 

B2B2C: Based on our integration platform "InteGREAT", N4N can offer existing service providers the ability to integrate other resources into their service platform - thereby providing their users with a more wholesome solution and generating revenues in the process.  Current solutions include a host of information-lookup services for wireless platforms and service integration and data aggregation solutions for online service providers. 

B2C : A subscription based URM service, "Avtaar" in its version 1.0, offers users the ability to tightly integrate their best of breed services, allowing the user's various resources to collaborate, thereby complementing each other.  Future versions will enable the user to leverage "their Avtaar" on a host of different devices.

Q: What competitive space are you playing in, and how do you stack up against other competitors here?


Net4Nuts broadly plays in two competitive spaces: aggregation and integration.  In the aggregation space there is very little competition in the Indian market.  Here, N4N competes with global players like Yodlee, Clickmarks, and OnePage.  Most of the competition is focused on U.S. and European markets, while Net4Nuts is focused on the Pan-Asian region. 

The architecture designed by us (which supports both "InteGREAT" and "Avtaar") allows for almost instant addition and maintenance of content sources - giving us the edge when we need to aggregate localised content for non-U.S. markets.  In the integration space - competition is from the likes of MS .Net and SunOne.  These technologies are for system integration through publishing of Web services, requiring initiative from the service vendor as well as a significant lead time. 

N4N focuses on service level integration, based on currently available services requiring no initiative from the service vendor and minimum lead time.  N4N has the edge here since it can enable integration instantly at a fraction of the cost, plus N4N possess the technology to publish integration as a Web service -- something we can deliver today. Drawing upon its core product embellishments, the Net4Nuts endeavour is to take cognitive space mapping into the next stage.

Q: What are the key barriers to market growth for your services, and how are you planning to overcome them?


1) Acceptance of subscription based B2C services: Wait for others to take the lead, Show value to users with a 30 / 60 day free trial, communicate the savings in terms of time, effort and money to them.

2) Privacy and Security concerns related to sensitive information: Convince user on world class encryption standards, strict quality and process systems, certifications like ISO, VeriSign, Truste, NCST etc. to build faith in the N4N brand.

Q: What are your revenue streams, and what is the path to profitability?


Technology licensing, Revenue sharing from value-added services, customised personalisation-software development and subscription fees are our main revenue streams.  For P2P, we will focus on the lucrative & budding wireless data services market, and revenues from differentiator features in the online & ISP space.

Q: What are your alliancing strategies in India and abroad?


The strategy for alliances, both in India and in overseas markets is through value-partnering. Today, in a tremendously competitive market, each service provider is constantly upgrading its services' offerings in an effort to capture and retain market and mindshare. Net4Nuts would position itself as the differentiation tool in this endgame.

Rather than trying for end-customers to bite-the-bait, the efforts for Net4Nuts will be towards the B2B space wherein service providers would embrace technology solutions like those of InteGREAT and Avtaar in order to succinctly position their value propositions. This is what will drive alliances as each partner would see a quantitative and qualitative rise in their product positioning metrices in respective markets.

Q: What are the key impacts that the emerging wireless and broadband waves will have on your strategy?


Our technology makes it possible to provide not only content but real-time interactive service access for wireless needs across varied protocols and devices.  There is a huge opportunity for us.

Q: What are the most notable success stories you have come across of content and service integration companies?


Yahoo! and MSN.  However, both companies are able to integrate only their proprietary services and not the user's best of breed.  On the content aggregation bit, Yodlee has carved out quite a niche for itself in the financial aggregation space.

Q: If you could go back in time and start everything again from scratch, what you would do differently in India the second time around?


If we were to go back to the drawing board, we would only focus on sharp-chiselling our core product offering and bringing our philosophy into a sharper focus so that it hits the eye of the service providers faster, quicker and in a more dramatic manner.

Q: Any other parting thoughts for Internet professionals in India?


Never loose faith in the power of the Internet - the greatest invention of our times. Stick to your core fundamentals and always try to marry over-reaching profit motives with utility. If this is accomplished there will never be any cause for worry.

And in downturn, don't demonstrate herdish behaviour. Believe in what you stand for... Rethink the Internet!


The writer can be reached at madan@techsparks.com


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