Saturday, December 15, 2012

UrGift.In is a reality!

An Update for UrGift.In (www.UrGift.In)

Since its foundation -soon after my first post, @vickyricaurte and I (@marceloburbano) have dedicated part of our lives to our Start-up. In May, we won a spot on the 2012 Wayra class. Wayra is an accelerator created by Telefonica.

In December 2012, We launched our iOS app and closed our seed-capital round. 2013 is going to be our year. Wish us luck! @urgiftin

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Crowd-Reviews for Services that Need to Be Reviewed Almost Daily


I have been suffering from very poor cellphone service in Colombia. It appears that there is no good cellphone provider in Latin America, all providers are regionals and every provider has some type of problem with its infrastructure. When I am in Bogota it is very common to hear people complaining about their mobile providers but despite complaints there is NO other choice. The biggest problem is that you actually do not know which provider is better. This is a huge problem because you end up choosing a provider because of a specific discount or promotion or even worse because of an anecdote by a friend.

There is a clear need to have a platform that can compile reviews for services that are really hard to measure. This is not about a specific product that reviewers can buy and just comment on it pretty quickly. This is about reviewing services that can change on daily basis. Services that need to be reviewed every day of the year.


Imagine if we could have a platform that can compile review for specific services. These reviews will be generated by the same people that are complaining about the service on a very specific format that has to be reviewed by an internal team from the platform. 

Let me explain it better by using an example. I want to know which cellphone provider is the best in terms of quality of calls, quality of data connection and customer service (just to mention three very relevant topics). The platform will be open to collect reviews under a very specific format. In this case I can see how to be able to upload a review you need to have three other friends with a different cellphone provider. The review will be relatively easy to make. It is a video of the three friends trying to call someone from the same location to test quality of calls. Then a video of those three friends trying to use their data plan (e.g. using skype, or sending a large file on whatsapp, etc.). Then a video of those three friends trying to call customer service to claim the same problem. People can upload just a video per topic, do not need to cover all topics. The idea behind the video and the simultaneous reviews is to guarantee the veracity of all reviews.


The business model is probably similar to TripAdvisor, using the platform to sell services or charging for advertising. In terms of numbers I do not have a clue but it feels that it can be a big market. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Coordinate the less sophisticated public transportation


I have recently noticed that there is no app to coordinate the bus system in places like Bogota where the system is NOT all centralized. I have to explain how the system works here in Bogota for everybody to understand. There are two bus systems in Bogota, one that is coordinated by a private-public partnership (TransMilenio) and the other that is a collection of private providers with their own buses (Lets call the second one TransOld for easy understanding). For TransMilenio you have a couple of apps that can tell you about how the system works but nothing that actually tracks where the different buses are. For TransOld is even worst because there each provider has their own way to coordinate the buses. That means that you will find a person hired by the provider every X kilometers controlling how the bus drivers are doing in terms of  time-to-the-next bus. As a user you do not have a clue about when is the next bus going to arrive. Keep in mind that buses from the TransOld system stop wherever they want not at your usual BusStop making the entire process even more desorganized.


The idea is pretty simple. Build an app that can help both private providers of the TransOld system and users of the system. For the providers the app will help them track their own buses and coordinate them via cellphone. For the users the app will show them where the bus is on the map. The app will allow specific searches so you can find out which bus you need to take to go to X location. Then it will tell you where the closest bus is and how much time do you have before it gets there (probably with some connection with Waze for traffic). We can probably do some type of similar app for the Transmilenio, not to help the provider but to help the users in real time. 


I am actually not sure about the business model here. We can probably charged the provider some amount that can be less than the salary of the people he hires to do the job now. From the users perspective, we can probably charge for the premium app giving them a basic app for free. The business model is limited to the amount of people that have smartphones (I am guessing) and the amount of people that will invest in the premium app. Assuming that the TransOld system transports half of the passenger of the Transmilenio that means 2.5M people in Bogota, the revenue from app sales will be at probably around US$1M. We will probably need to charge US$0.99 every year to give the users the necessary updates. The revenue from the providers is a little bit more difficult to calculate. Assuming (a) that each provider has at least one person controlling the process right now at minimum salary (US$250/month), and (b) that TransOld has at least the same amount of the buses that Transmilenio (~2K), the subscription revenue will be US$6M a year. Now, imagine in how many cities you can introduce this system and multiple our US$7M by that number. It is probably a US$100M business just in Latin America.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Enterprise App for the Masses


I have been reading lately about the new trend for 2013 in app development will be Enterprise Applications. As the Weopedia describes it: "An enterprise application is the term used to describe applications -- or software -- that a business would use to assist the organization in solving enterprise problems. When the word "enterprise" is combined with "application," it usually refers to a software platform that is too large and too complex for individual or small business use."

There is a big argument about how Enterprise App are going to become the norm in the future given the raise of Digital Natives (Update Nov 2012: Read this for an explanation on Digital Natives). Read this article (Digital natives and enterprise consumerization? It's simple as ABC) by Jonny Evans at CITEWorld about how (and why) the new generation (Digital Natives) are going to require a different type of Enterprise App, if you want more explanation.

I believe there is a big need for a simple plug-and-play Enterprise App that any medium and small business can implement. The need that I am describing is for small or less sophisticated business (i.e. Businesses in the developing world).


Imagine a tablet enterprise app (probably starting with iOS) that any IT guy can connect to the database of the company to extract few but key metrics from the company´s accounting system. Maybe even something as simple to converting an excel file to a beautiful dashboard in your iPad. Something that the executives, leaders and managers at the company will appreciate to see everyday in their tablets. We do not need to start with something very sophisticated (e.g. do not try to have an app that automatically links to the company´s database). If we make it pretty simple (e.g. linking the app dashboard to an excel that the IT guy can configure himself and linking it the app), the price for this app can be really inexpensive (thus my title: For the Masses).


Lets assume that we can charge something like $1 for each "client" app and $25 for each "server" app (Client–server model). The company will need one "server" app that is managed by the IT guy and multiple "client" apps for the managers. Lets assume that in average each company will have one "server" app and five "client" apps. That makes it $30 per company. If we think we can capture a million companies with this app we can generate $30M in revenues.

Now, it may make more business sense to sell it as a SaaS instead of a one-time sale but I am not sure how use to buying SaaS are small and medium business in developing countries. This business model will probably make more money if it ramps up. I am just afraid that it won´t catch fire without a large investment in marketing. The other model (one-time sale) it may more sense to have it catch fire. Maybe after it catches fire we can implement some additional services to the mix.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Start-up Mentor Network

(Update 08/19/2013)

I just heard about another service that is not that old that provides a very cool service: Clarity ("Make faster & better decisions to grow your business. Clarity is your lifeline that instantly connects you with battle-tested advice from entrepreneurs..."). Here is a link to a TechCrunch article that gives a pretty good explanation about Clarity:

(Update: 02/19/2013)

Interesting enough I just run into an initiative that is trying to do exactly what I was suggesting (HighTable). HighTable is not a new company, is actually pretty old (I believe it was founded before 2011) but I did not know about it until know. HighTable is a subsidiary of GLG.

(Original Date: 8/4/2012)


Clearly with the new wave of start-up accelerators there is a need for quality mentors. Some accelerators have their own networks to tap into their quality mentors but as this space grows, getting quality mentors across different fields in different geographies gets more and more complicated.


Similar to the expert network created by Gerson Lehrman Group, there is an opportunity to create a Mentors Network that will follow the same rules.

From the Mentors Perspective

  • You sign up to the platform and are evaluated to determine your field and level of expertise
  • The platform will share with you the "projects" that require your field and level of expertise
  • You negotiate and get pay for your time

From the Accelerator (or any other entity that needs mentors) Perspective

  • You pay a small subscription fee to get access to the platform
  • You search on the platform for the right mentor
  • You negotiate and pay your mentor
The business model is simple. The platform gets the subscription fee. The mentor gets the payment negotiated with the accelerator. The accelerator gets a quality mentor in any field in any geography.


I am going to forget about the payment for the mentor given that the platform does not get any piece of that (as of right now). If what you read in Wikipedia is true, there were around 200 accelerators around the world in 2011. That is probably without counting the small local accelerators that nobody writes about (another 100). Lets imagine that the accelerator world has double since then (that is what has happened in Latin America at least) that means that there are 600 accelerators with classes of ~10 startups. 

Now there are some established companies that probably need mentors too to innovate, change directions, safe the company, etc (yeah! like a consultant for hire... but lets just bare with me). From the non-sophisticated to the very sophisticated, from the tiny to the huge, from the simple to the complex, companies are always looking for someone that can help with change in a very specific field. 

Lets assume that you can charge each client a fixed annual fee of $10K (probably it makes more sense to have different prices for different type of companies but lets just assume this so we can do the math quickly).

In the worse case scenario you the market is just $6M ($10K x 600). But if this model can capture more than just accelerators it can be a billion dollar market.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Why a ZipCar when you can have a ZipTaxi?

[Update: January 2013]

After the recent announcement of AVIS acquiring ZipCar,  I have to assume that management thought that the best outcome for the company was to sell itself to a bigger company and not to continue to open cities around the world. Why is that?

[Originally Published: July 2012]


Some developing countries are considering implementing the ZipCar model to improve mobility in big cities. I believe that in certain cities like Bogota, implementing a ZipCar model could be too complex and costly for the investor. Nevertheless there is still a need to move around the city for periods of time that can be more than just a ride in a taxi.


What about if we create a subscription model for taxis? Instead of paying for a ride you pay a subscription a months for certain amount of time. There has to be some capabilities that the model needs to provide to be successful in a city like Bogota:

1. Security: the start-up has to provide secure rides for passengers. The model will need a system that provides this features (e.g. like a code or something)

2. Reliability: the start-up needs to make sure that taxis are always available even at peak hours. I believe you can achieve this if the system relies in technology to be more efficient in terms of number of taxis available in a specific zone and trying to match previous historical patterns. I believe that if you take a set of passengers and analyze their taxi usage you are going to find that the majority of their trip were to/from the same locations.

3. Simplicity:  the subscription model has to be pretty simple and you should be able to manage everything from your smartphone. The subscription model will probably have two parts to the equation: One that covers the "taxi base" (i.e. amount of money that you need to pay the taxi driver to have him/her participate in the program and connect to the system) and the other that covers the actual system (i.e. you probably need to develop an app and maintain some type of system or platform, that will cost you money).


Let me just calculate the potential only for Bogota (then you can assume that there are X cities like Bogota and just get the overall world number for this idea). In Bogota there are 8M people. Lets assume that the same wealth distribution exist in Bogota than in the country. Following government data 1% of the population in Colombia makes between US$1000 and US$3500 a month. I believe this group will be our core group (plus students) given that they do not have enough money to purchase a second car (to avoid "pico y placa"). That means that there is a potential customer base of 80,000 people.

Lets assume that this people have to taxi every other day (because of the "pico y placa") and that they pay for a round trip. In average cab fares should be around US$5 per trip. That means that this people will spend around US$1,560 a year (52 wks x $30 -assuming that some weeks you have more than 2 days of "pico y placa")

80K x US$1.5K = US$120M a year

Friday, June 01, 2012

An Armored Car for Developing Countries


Recently I have been thinking that the solution that we have arrived in cities like Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Bogota, etc., of transforming a normal car into an armored car is suboptimal. First, I am not talking about the armored trucks banks use to move money, nor the hummer-like cars used by the military. I am talking about your usual car used by diplomats around the world.

The need is simple, people with security concerns (e.g. the wealthy or the political class) need an armored car in these type of cities in developing countries. The current supply of armored cars is basic: Take a normal car and put on armor of different caliber.


Instead of transforming a normal car into an armored car why not design an armored car from scratch? I am sure you can design a better armored car if you start without any restriction and knowing exactly what are the essentials. There are some features of a normal car that are not aligned with the functionality of an armor car (e.g. windows that do not go down). Why be bound by this misalignment? Why not design and create the perfect armor car with the style of a BMW, optimizing for performance and weight.

The same way Miguel Caballero developed bullet proof fashion and created an entire company around high quality/top design bulletproof clothes, there is an opportunity to design and manufacture new armored cars. If this ever happens I think it will come from a country like Mexico, Brazil or Colombia. Or maybe Miguel Caballero reads this post and starts a new line of "products".


I am thinking there is two ways of measuring the potential of this market. Lets assume that 0.1% of the population in countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have an armored car. That means around of the 350M people living on those 3 countries you may have 350K people or maybe 100K households. At a price point of US$100K per car the market for armored cars in those 3 countries is US$10B. Assuming a purchasing cycle of 5 years, the market is US$2B a year. 

Another way of thinking about this is that Miguel Caballero can have around US$10M in revenue per year in bulletproof clothes. Lets assume for simplicity that each item has an average price of US$1K that means he is selling 10K items per year. Lets assume that each person buying at his store purchases 2 items. That means he has 5K customers that could purchase an armored car. Again, at US$100K per car that means US$500M a year. 

So my market size is around US$500-$2B a year. Pretty good.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The App that helps parents educate their children

[Update: April 2013]

I should have updated this post long time ago. Just a month after my post Agnitus launched its App Trailer. I recently found out about this App (currently on the Apple AppStore) and I am thrilled about its capabilities. My 2-year old daughter is using it every other day and I can see her progress on the scorecard.

Another game studio that has a promising product is Mapache StudiosMapache Studios is an Edutainment Media Company that develops games for mobile education. They use the game mechanics of the most popular games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope to make extremely fun and engaging games.

[Originally Posted: May 2012]


Parents nowadays do not have the time to learn how to educate their children. In the best cases they may have the time but are sometime clueless about the latest tools or techniques to educate their children. In the worse scenario (and in most cases) do not have the time to research or be efficient about where to focus on their children education. Parents leave a lot of the education to the daycare or school.


Similar to the market that you can find in Brazil with the famous learning systems (or Sistemas de Encino), we can create a Sistema de encino for parents in an app for all tablets. This learning system will have different parts. It will have the level of detail for the parent to understand what are the key milestone for children of different ages. It will have what type of exercises is (or should be) doing his/her child at school given age (and maybe other variables). It will have what type of exercises should be doing at home given the previous information (how long the child should do the exercise and ways to make it fun and engaging). Finally, it will recommend other apps that can help with engaging the child into doing the exercises. The idea is that the app makes the parent a better teacher, depending on the type of child and the type of parent.


Probably do not charge for the app, give some content for free and then start charging for extensive or additional content. Let's assume that the parents ends up finding the app so useful that they buys the content for every age stage. Let assume that the app provides stages from 1-5 years old (and maybe older) and charges for each stage $20 (less than a good textbook). That means that a parent may spent $100. Multiply that by the number of parents that can be millions depending on the success of the app. This easily can become a billion dollar market.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Perfect Car Seats


Some parents nowadays have the big dilemma of having two young kids and one normal (i.e. not a van) car. The problem is when you have to put two car seats in your normal car. You will fit them fine but the middle seat would become useless for any normal-sized adult. 


Create an option of two car seats that will fit in a way that will allow for a third passenger on the second-row seat. These car seats have to follow the security standards (of course) of other car seats. They also need to be useful for the different age stages of a kid (i.e. convertible).


I believe Evenflo has revenues of $300M selling car seats and strollers. Maybe expect a $10M company with only this product?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Ranking Your Favorite Actor for a Book Character


I will love to be able to match book characters to movie artist and have everyone due the same. That way everyone that has read a book and love a character can tell their perspective about which movie artist should play that role if the book becomes a movie.


This will be a simple website that lists all the best sellers. You find the book and roll down to the characters that you want. When clicking on the character you can type the artist that you find more appealing to play that specific role if the book becomes a movie. The website accumulates the votes and shows the most voted artist for each character.


Not sure about the business model here. Maybe only show the top 3 so the website can sell the entire list to movie producers? Hmm... Maybe IMDB should just do this themselves.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

UrGift.In is Born


Who is not tired of getting gifts that they do not want for their birthdays or special occasions (e.g. Xmas)? I have had some embarrassed moments in my life when I have regifted something to the same person that gave me the present in the first time. Can we try to coordinate ourselves (i.e. friends and family) so we all know what each other wants for their bdays and special occassions like a wedding registry?


Connect friends a family through Facebook and share with all of them a wishlist. Have a website or app where people can be reminded of their friend´s special occasions. Through the same website or app people can buy whatever there is in the wishlist. Have a reliable logistic partner deliver the gift. Communicate the process so there is social benefits for both sides.


The gift industry is $200B in the US. Just capturing a small % of this market would represent a big opportunity. Clearly I need to refine more my numbers for this one.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Ultralight Startup Tools

There are a couple of tools for those ultralight startups out there. Here is my list (as of now):

IDEATION AND BIZ PLANS : How To NOT Write A Business Plan.

CREATING MOCKUPS : LaunchRock helps you setup a social launching soon page in minutes. : A lightweight app to make photorealistic mockups on real objects. Choose a template, upload your design, mock it up in 3D, save your image. Showcase what your design looks like in the real world! Everything from apparel, hats, posters, business cards, billboards, iphones, ipads, and just about everything else. Made by Go Media, so you know it will be good!

PRESENTING and COORDINATING : Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides. The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them. The result: visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery. : Asana is an effort to re-imagine how teams get things done. We’re building the modern way to work together, through a web application that connects everyone with what’s going on, their shared priorities, and who owns each part of the effort.

FINANCING : AngelList is a community of startups—started by the dudes who do Venture Hacks. : Dividing Equity Between Founders and Investors

OUTSOURCING : Hire expert programmers, designers, writers, translators, marketers, researchers and admin contractors with tested skills : StackMob's mobile platform helps developers create a mobile business by letting them easily build, deploy and grow full-featured applications : Offers a solution to deploy and host rails applications with git