Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Taxi Peer to Peer Networks

This innovation courtesy of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). When SARS hit Hong Kong in 2003, the economy basically went to bed. There were no visitors, no shoppers, nothing. Taxis in Hong Kong have long had one of the best reputations in the world, in terms of availability, pricing, and service (OK, that last one was a stretch). Like other parts of the world, taxi's in HK depend on dispatch services to get fares (our HK way of saying passengers) during off-hours. With SARS, off-hours essentially became all-hours.

Enter the TPTPN, or Taxi-Peer-To-Peer-Network. Here's how it works. A bunch (usually around 20) taxi drivers band together to form a network. Drivers take turns at being the dispatch operator. Together, they print and hand out namecards bearing their cellphone numbers to customers. Customers call the cellphones and get forwarded to the number of the on-duty dispatch operator. Dispatch operator takes down the particulars (name, pickup location, destination, cell phone number). He then uses CB radio to identify himself and notify his group of the pick-up request. Closest driver picks up fare. In this process they don't have to rely on the standard dispatch service to wait for their calls, which inevitably are much more contested among a much larger audience of listening cabs. Cell phone costs are low enough to make this worthwhile. All you need is a cellphone and 19 other fellow taxi drivers.

Necessity is certainly the mother of invention!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

酒店预订 机票预订 旅游�务 - �程旅行网

Bubble Bubble, Toil and Trouble

What a way to open up the IPO market again. CTrip, China's Expedia, went public and the punters ate it up. Stock price doubled immediately...when was the last time we saw that? Transmeta? The difference perhaps is the nature of companies accessing public markets now. A cursory glance at the summary numbers show that CTrip is profitable with great looking margins. The multiples still cause vertigo, though at least they are multiples of EARNINGS. The markets may go up or down but good business will thrive. From an investor standpoint, with the right time horizon, there are fewer arguments for not investing in China than investing.

I remember reading an article in the mid 90's talking about the fallacy of overseas direct investors dreaming of capitalizing on the 2.6 billion armpits in China that need deodorant. It looks less fallacious by the day.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I can't help it, I know it's not "new" business exactly, but I just have to weigh in on the current H-share fever.... does it make anyone else nervous that Great Wall Automotive was so oversubscribed in the retail market that people are comparing it to the Tom.com IPO? Is there a bubble in the works? A friend of mine once said, about HK, as soon as people start queueing up for things (Snoopy's, Maria's bakery coupons, Tom.com shares), start selling them - whatever they are!

However, the bright side of the H-share fever is that it shows that, although everyone seems to be an aspiring currency speculator, the general sentiment is that up North is where the growth is. I can't tell you how many people have just associated "cars" with "China" and come to the conclusion that Great Wall Auto is a good buy.... I think that we'll see a raft of start-ups now, riding the wave of investor bullishness on China. I was just in New York last week, and investors are extremely keen on funding China-focused ventures - I think we may see some light at the end of the VC tunnel in the not-too-distant future......

Friday, December 05, 2003

Northward, Ho!

Been up to Shanghai couple of times now...amazing how many people you bump into there who recently parachuted into the glittering land of gold. The business activity is amazing, with new restaurants, ventures, partnerships getting launched. There is a degree of recklessness that makes blood rush to one's head, in a way similar to the feeling generated by being in an ever accelerating car. A friend of mine who has been there for 10 years is similarly affected. Having been in the manufacturing sector all this time, he recently opened a restaurant, signed up national distributorships for two major european brands, and is in the process of launching more ventures. How is it possible that one can have enough resources to do all these things, competently? Perhaps that's not the question to ask. The point is, there is business to be done there, resources or not. And people are therefore taking the approach that says throw it against the wall and see what sticks. If there's a viable venture, the thinking goes, money will come after it. Opportunities attract resources...not a bad perspective.

I'm working on an opportunity in Shanghai that I hope to be able to share with you soon. Should be exciting...and this time it has to do with food...my favorite topic!