Posted on July 14, 2008
Filed Under Commercial Interruptions |
, the lead sponsor of The Drama 2.0 Show, launched this past Saturday. Registration is open and MySites is offering 10GB of storage space to all users.
MySites founder Ramine Darabiha welcomes all feedback so if you try MySites out, feel free to post comments here.
When MySites purchased its sponsorship of The Drama 2.0 Show, Ramine expressed interest in having me provide an objective, no-BS review of his business and I’m pleased to post that today.
- The information used in this review was obtained in multiple discussions I held with Ramine.
- I have not signed a non-disclosure agreement with MySites and did not because it would have created a conflict of interest.
- After writing this review, I provided Ramine with excerpts containing material facts that he disclosed in our discussions and requested that he check them for accuracy. None of my analysis was provided to him for review and thus, he is reading my opinions for the first time here.
The Service & Technology
MySites’ purpose is quite simple: provide a place online where users can put all of their “stuff” and handle all of their “needs.” From photos to movies to music to documents to forums to calendars, MySites wants to provide all of the key online “services” users have become familiar with in a single location.
In the words of Ramine:
MySites is a single place for all your online needs.
You can create and customize a website, save and share any media, decide who can view it, embed anywhere, and use any device.
Privacy has been a key consideration in MySites’ development philosophy and the company attempts to give users control over who can and can’t view their content.
The company also places great emphasis on making content available on multiple platforms - not just via a web browser on a desktop computer. It is working on functionality that will give users the ability to access MySites through mobile phones and mobile consoles. There is certainly potential here, as evidenced by Apple MobileMe and Microsoft Live Mesh. Of course, the fact that companies like Apple and Microsoft already have initiatives like this is a double-edged sword for startups like MySites.
MySites’ AJAX-rich interface has been designed to mirror that of the Mac and Windows explorers. According to Ramine, this has gone over very well with early users - especially those who are not “first adopter” types (despite my initial skepticism).
MySites, like a growing number of Web 2.0 startups, believes in the concept of a “platform” and Ramine informs me that MySites will be releasing a development platform and framework that enables third parties to extend the functionality of MySites and to create new “services” that MySites users can leverage.
Ramine explained to me that the MySites “platform” is differentiated from the “platforms” many Web 2.0 services offer because MySites plans to offer more than just an API - it plans to open up “everything” to developers. In essence, Ramine sees MySites as an example of a Web 3.0 service as Google CEO Eric Schmidt Web 3.0.
I like Ramine’s vision but would point out that for MySites’ open platform - however expansive - to gain traction, MySites will have to provide an audience and business opportunity that makes its platform appealing to developers. Without those two things, an open platform is useless.
After touring the MySites service two weeks ago, I can say that there are parts that need to be polished up but I have generally been impressed with the progress made since I was first given a tour of MySites several months ago. In my initial tour, stability was an issue and while things “worked,” I have seen a considerable improvement in this area since.
That said, MySites really isn’t the type of online service that I would be inclined to use personally and I’m not the type of user MySites is targeting, so it’s difficult for me to provide an accurate assessment of whether or not MySites offers the type of functionality that its target markets will demand.
In theory, I like the concept of “one stop” offerings but they are practically very difficult to make work and thus, I have significant reservations about these types of overarching services. In my experience, more often than not, they’re not compelling enough and users end up using multiple services that are more focused.
The simple fact is that it’s hard to do a lot of things well and more focused services have a better ability to devote the resources necessary to do one or two things really well. Thus the question arises for MySites: can it do multiple things well enough to compete with other services that do fewer things very well?
I naturally have my doubts. For instance, as a satisfied WordPress user, it’s impossible for me to state that there’s any functionality offered by the MySites blog “service” that can compete with the functionality that WordPress offers. I suspect that this same dynamic will exist for other MySites “services” (i.e. a current user of a service like Flickr will probably be hard pressed to find a compelling reason to switch to MySites for photo sharing purposes).
Of course, none of this is to say that MySites is trying to compete with WordPress or Flickr. Just as much of the functionality MySpace offers, for example, is acceptable to its target market, MySites only needs to prove that that the functionality it offers is sufficient for the kinds of users it is targeting.
Who are those users? MySites is targeting two markets initially:
Both markets are quite large, young and are obviously generally considered to be “tech-savvy.”
Ramine has contacts within the gaming community and student unions in Finland, so attacking markets he knows and has relationships in is a smart move in my opinion. Far too many startups target the wrong group (i.e. Web 2.0 “first adopters”) so I was pleased to learn that MySites has no intention of trying to woo the overvalued “first adopter” crowd.
Geographically, MySites intends to focus on the European market with expansion to Asia possible in the future.
The United States is not a market that MySites plans to focus on initially. Ramine recognizes that many of the individual “services” MySites offers can already be found in the more fragmented and saturated American market. Additionally, because the United States lags Europe and Asia in mobile technology, Ramine feels that the United States is not an ideal market for its technology and strategy at the current time.
All of this said, the key question for MySites is: can it attract enough users in its target markets to reach a critical mass and to use that critical mass in those markets to “bridge the chasm” to a larger mainstream audience?
Like with most startups, I have concerns here. Growing a userbase is rarely easy and in the case of MySites, many of the “services” it offers have been commoditized - even outside of the United States. While MySites is wise to focus on less-saturated markets, it’s still unclear whether packaging all of the services it has into a single destination creates a compelling enough value proposition in these markets as well.
In talking with Ramine, the offering of functionality that has “viral” properties was mentioned a number of times but as I have pointed out before, viral growth is the exception, not the rule, for most startups today. Statistically meaningful viral growth typically requires some sort of “critical mass” and thus, in my opinion, MySites’ early growth will be most dependent upon Ramine successfully leveraging his relationships and translating them into users.
The Business Model
Given that business models (or more appropriately, lack of them) are a frequent point of discussion in my posts, the analysis of the MySites business model was perhaps the most important part of my review. It was indeed the longest.
On Wednesday, July 9, Ramine requested that I withhold posting this part of my review. While I personally believe that the information MySites has provided to me about its business model was very general and would not reveal any material details that would reasonably be useful to competitors, I have decided to respect MySites’ request.
I did inform Ramine that I would disclose the request and reiterated that such a disclosure would certainly raise questions about MySites’ business model and naturally result in skepticism amongst readers of this blog. Ramine maintained his request.
In my opinion, MySites’ core strength is that the company is targeting markets that it understands and has relationships in. In today’s environment, I believe that pursuing the “first adopter” audience that so many Web 2.0 startups bet the farm on is a recipe for failure. As such, I think MySites is taking the right approach in going after a different audience.
MySites’ two primary challenges, however, are:
- Attracting a significant enough userbase.
While MySites requested that I withhold my analysis of its business model, I will point out that even the most popular Web 2.0 startups have been largely unable to translate their popularity into profits despite having no shortage of capital and brains.
While I cannot discuss the specifics of what Ramine revealed about the MySites business model, I will state that it’s currently difficult for me to express confidence in MySites’ business model until it demonstrates some real-world validation.
I’ve spent a bit of time chatting with Ramine and our discussions leave me with no doubt that he’s passionate about MySites, has put a lot of thought into what the company is developing and is working hard to build a business.
All of that said, at the end of the day, as with any other startup, MySites’ success hinges upon:
- Developing the right strategy.
- Executing it well.
- Receiving some help from Lady Luck.
We will, of course, see how it plays out and I look forward to providing brief updates on any important developments at MySites in my twice-monthly sponsor shoutouts.Print This Post