Vietnamese Groupon clones bandwagon: The Clash of the Titans? Counting: Groupon.vn/Phagia.com.vn, Doimua.com, Kenhgia.com, Muachung.vn (VC Corp), Muachung.com (Rebates), Cucre.vn (Vatgia.com), LivingSocial.vn, GroupBuy.vn… Anything else?
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In the past few years, there are more than 100 web 2.0 startups or projects appear in Vietnam cloning many successful international business models. However, results were mixed. The “Cloning to Vietnam” bandwagon, which I will term “C2V”, has a little bit slowed down recently, but is now hot again with many Twitter wannabes in the latest wave.
From my personal experience, I’ve “invented” some certain laws that can apply to predict a clone’s success probability. Just to share with you my experience in a quick and simple list that I call “22 Immutable Laws of Cloning to Vietnam” (my thanks to Al & Laura Ries for my own cloning of their “22 Immutable Laws” franchise!). Detailed discussions on each of these Laws will come in my following posts when I could find some time to write them down.
I’m quite confident with these laws, we can fix most of struggling web 2.0 startups in Vietnam (of course given enough time, money and resources, which are always scarcities).
In my opinion, it’s not bad or good being a cloner, but it’s how you clone that matters. Another thing is that there are always exceptions.
1. The Law of Anti-Cloning. Don’t clone at all, create your own.
2. The Law of Local Insights. If clone, start with local insights.
3. The Law of Differentiation. Differentiate yourself from original model or they’ll soon pass you in Vietnam.
4. The Law of Value. Your clone must offer its own measurable value proposition.
5. The Law of Opposition. It’s best if you can position your clone in opposition to the original model.
6. The Law of Focus. Find a laser focus for your clone and do not sacrifice this at any price.
7. The Law of Coolness. You can’t acquire early adopters if you are not cool.
8. The Law of Fads and Trends. Clone based on trends, not fads.
9. The Law of Laziness. Vietnamese consumers are lazy, so pamper them with functionalities for lazy people!
10. The Law of Engagement. Your product must engage users with one only first core functionality.
11. The Law of Virality. Add virality to your clone through different tactics.
12. The Law of First Movers. First movers today have an absolute advantage in becoming category leaders tomorrow.
13. The Law of Followers. Followers should play the role of “opposition party” to the market leaders.
14. The Law of Serial Trial. It’s ok to try thousand times to sharpen your one and only focus.
15. The Law of Controllable Dictatorship. Dictators made great products, but remember to keep that under control.
16. The Law of Prediction. The best way to predict your clone’s clear direction is to invent it.
17. The Law of Scale. Traffic scale is not the only answer, but your focus decides your scaling strategies.
18. The Law of Monetization. Find your own “monetization currency” for your clone to create a new industry and money will come in.
19. The Law of CEO Branding. Your CEO must sacrifice her privacy to stand out to represent your startup to the public and other stakeholders.
20. The Law of Founders of Two. Two founders is the perfect formula.
21. The Law of Product-as-Advertising. Your product is your advertising.
22. The Law of Seeking VCs. How low-profile you are, VCs will find a way to you right at the moment you became the category leader of a lucrative sector.
I also work out a number of other laws that well apply to cloning web 2.0 models in to Vietnam, however a list of 22 is more than enough, so here are some foods for your thoughts:
A reader named Mike Nguyen just left a comment on my blog stating that FaceViet has just filed for a bankruptcy. I’ve contacted him to confirm the news but could not receive any feedback.
However, a check at FaceViet.com did result that the site was down, without any official announcement! I tried to reach Thanh Le, CEO of FaceViet, to ask about FaceViet bankruptcy rumors through his email address but could not receive any answer yet.
If FaceViet’s bankruptcy rumors are for real, this would be a sad, but predictable chapter of Vietnam’s web 2.0 bubble. It would leave a lot of implications for web 2.0 Vietnam and more than 100 Vietnamese web startups still struggling to establish a sustainable business model in Vietnam, especially in the wake of the current financial crunch.
Good vision + Poor execution + Poor local insights = ?
It is a real calamity, actually. FaceViet was launched around August 2007 as the first truly, “authentic” Facebook clone as web 2.0 business was then at the peak of hype cycle in Vietnam. FaceViet has two weak Facebook clone competitors at the time, which are GuongMat (also overseas-based) and local Tamtay.vn. Giant VC Corp, quite successful at the time with Baamboo (music search), Sannhac (online karaoke)… was also busy preparing their own Facebook clone named Zoomban. VCs were so busy then looking for potential prospects to fill in their dealflows and raising new funds like there were no tomorow.
While Xiaonei and StudiVZ have scored it big with their Facebook clones in China and Germany for hundreds of million bucks, life has not been easy for Vietnamese Facebook clones. As I’ve pointed out very early that any Facebook replication for Vietnamese population would have to pay a pricy tag, a runaway success for Vietnamese Facebook clones has never materialized so far.
VC Corp. was very smart to stop Zoomban project to re-focus on their core assets, leaving the Facebook clone bandwagon to FaceViet, Guongmat and Tamtay. With no innovation, Guongmat is still experiencing a living death. Meanwhile, FaceViet after a series of changes and evolution has failed to craft an attractive differentiation & positioning strategy. As a result, all their improvements including venturing into online music, video, books etc. only further mystified their value proposition and dilute their focus.
FaceViet failed to gain enough traction and reach critical mass not because of their vision. A similar social networking utility like Facebook is still a real unmet need of Vietnamese Internet population. However, just cloning Facebook is never enough to address this need. FaceViet team could not tap into the local insights so that they can provide something of real value to the users besides what Facebook has offered. Their team seems to be so busy to evolve and adapt their model when there were problematic signals. Poor execution and a lack of thorough understanding of local insights cannot compensate for a good vision, adequate funding and a passionate management team. If FaceViet could address these issues in the beginning, I thought FaceViet would be very much different from what they are now, and this is a real pity.
Who will follow FaceViet?
FaceViet provides a good lesson for Vietnamese web 2.0 startups, who are facing unprecedented difficulties since the world financial crisis burst out. In the past two years, nearly 100 web 2.0 startups or projects were launched in Vietnam. Some most notable:
Blog.com.vn: teen social network, offering video, music, photo sharing etc.
- Caravat: the second LinkedIn clone in Vietnam, developed by Vietnamworks
- Chacha.vn: iLike clone, developed by Vega Corporation (owner of Clip.vn)
- Chuyendong.vn: another teen social network
- Clip.vn: YouTube clone
- Cyvee: the first LinkedIn clone in Vietnam
- Cyworld.vn: the Vietnamese version of South Korea’s Cyworld
- Gamevui: social casual games
- Linkhay: Digg clone, developed by VC Corp.
- Noi.vn: yet another social network
- PhunuNet: women social network, developed by Vinalive (where the author of this entry works)
- Sannhac: online karaoke community, developed by VC Corp.
- Tamtay.vn: a hybrid of Facebook and MySpace
- TeeVN: Zazzle clone, offering custom t-shirts & mugs
- Thehetre.vn: yet another teen social network
- Thodia.vn: Yelp clone
- Vatgia: online classifieds
- Vitalk: mobile social network, developed by Visky, the online arm of FPT Corporation
- Yeuamnhac: music social network
- Yume.vn: teen social network, inside Timnhanh Portal (a Yahoo clone)
- Yup.vn: another Yelp clone
- Zing.vn: teen social network developed by VinaGame
- Zooz.vn: fast growing teen social network, developed by giant SMS/MVAS & cable TV player VTC
Blah blah blah….
These are only the most notable ones, as there are more than 100 web 2.0 services in Vietnam so far. Most Vietnamese web 2.0 services are struggling to find a relevant business model, notwithstanding revenues and scale. The year 2009 will be crucial for them as many would face a similar situation like FaceViet.
New Year, New You
It is not very “Vietnamese” to start a lunar New Year post with a sad story like this. However, I think FaceViet did offer some good implications for us to start a difficult new year ahead. In this difficult economic time the fittest still survive. To my opinion, those are the ones who possess the following attributes:
HarryD’s list of the fittest’s attributes
Clear value propositions that address local needs and based on local insights
- Clear business model, and thus revenue model & roadmap
- Secure enough funding through the end of 2010
- Product near or in completion, with users growing organically and sustainably
- Dedicated, passionate, experienced, smart, visionary management team, with excellent execution capabilities
- Know and well establish core competencies, and can leverage these core competencies into product & business development
- Own a cool brand
- Develop above-mentioned attributes into a defensible market position, preferrably as the category leader
From these, you can make some prediction what Vietnamese web 2.0 companies would still weather the difficult 2009 ahead. If you do not possess these attributes, it would be worthy to start this 2009 Year of the Ox to develop those attributes. For the Facebook clones, they would suck until these are not addressed and they are still just cloning the “surface” of Facebook the authentic and original.
I would much appreciate if you my friends who are regular readers of my blog could share your experience to add into my list of attributes above so that other Vietnamese web startups can learn from you and have a better 2009. Thank you in advance.
Vietnamese Google killer Xalo still searching for a solid strategy with a new design, can other Vietnamese search engines advise them?
A lot of Vietnamese search engines hope to become the Vietnamese version of Google, some Baidu and the remaining Naver. It turned out a good vision and a lot of money cannot make a good product, not to say a successful, solid, sustainable one.
Brand it like Ya-who!?
Xalo.vn might be the latest example. After its launching with much fanfare and a claimed $2m investment, Xalo is finding itself totally lost on its highway. Today, Xalo launched a new homepage design, changing from a simple & clean style like Google and Baidu into a cluttered and confused reflect of Yahoo and Naver, which further mystified its brand positioning.
Is Xalo a search engine? Yes till yesterday, but today they look like a portal.
But is Xalo a portal? No, because it doesn’t produce, aggregate, or syndicate contents. Xalo the portal is only its front door, and every click will lead you to the “real” Xalo, which is a search engine.
You will even get more for less, because go to Xalo and besides search, news, music, classifieds, blogs, pictures…, you will also have translation services, weather forecast, exchange rate, stock quotes, and gold price, all on Xalo’s homepage!
Are you confused? Yes I am. Because I can’t figure out why I should use Xalo then.
Agreed that in many Asian cultures, a busy and informative homepage sometimes gain an advantage over the more simple approach. This might explain the success of Naver, and even the Russian Yandex.
However, this is only the “outsight”. A more careful look into the “insights” should reveal a good combination of user experience offerings, value proposition and competitive positioning. Naver and Yandex are successful not because of their busy and cluttered homepages but their core product offering, which is trully local language search. They do provide a better search results in their respective local languages than the mighty Google, and in the case of Naver, they even “create” search results through social QnA, in Korean characters of course. Google simply cannot compete with Naver in Korean characters, as they did with Baidu’s Chinese characters.
Fixing homepage should not solve Xalo’s problem. Multiply the product offerings on Xalo’s homepage only multiply their problem. But what is their problem actually?
Let’s beat Google with a “better” product for Vietnamese!
Yes this is Xalo’s problem. And sadly enough it is the problem of most Vietnamese search engines.
These search engines have tried to go vertical, drill down into music, video, blog, forum searches. Some went to jobs, classifieds, news searches. After domination of these satellite verticals, they plot, they will come back to beat Google in universal searches, and launch something like AdWords to monetize this. But there’s nothing more illusionist than that.
Google has 10 years of history, $20 billions in revenues, 60% of search share, $100 billion of market capitalization, 10,000 employees, and it already dominated search category in Vietnam, or a strong brand positioning in Vietnamese consumers’ mind to be more exact. Moreover, it invented PageRank, indexing, and owns a few hundreds thousand servers.
Can you think you can beat Google in Vietnam by a better PageRank algorithm, by faster indexing of all Vietnamese websites or un-monetizable verticals like music, videos, classifieds, blogs etc? Or by investing into more servers, “understanding better Vietnamese language” (this would be another illusion, as it turned out almost all Vietnamese users’queries are without Vietnamese intonation marks).
If Vietnamese search engines want to imitiate Baidu and Naver’s success, they should backward Vietnam’s language history to the “chữ Nôm” age, and luckily this is not a very practical approach.
Forget beating Google but try repositioning them
Look at all Vietnamese search engines, or so-called search engines that are competing with Google for user’s mindshare. Vietnamese search users can now choose from Socbay, Baamboo, Xalo, 7sac, Timnhanh, Zing… What are their value propositions, and do they provide a different, desirable search experience for Vietnamese users? I’m afraid not.
Instead of trying to beat Google, “outperform” them, “out-understand Vietnamese” them, Vietnamese search engines should look for ways to create a new search category by repositioning them. Google is so non-social, so “closed”, so “robotic”, so “un-human”. Position your search engine as something opposite to Google instead of imitating them. Social search, open search, semantic search, human-powered search are some options. It might be more difficult to execute on these competitive positionings, and visions, but might be the least risky way to compete with Google to win hearts and minds of Vietnamese search users, and to offer something different and of value to them.
Instead of becoming better, it would be easier to become different, or better yet unique.
It seems that the Fadbook for Vietnamese bandwagon has only just begun. After Guongmat, Tamtay, FaceViet, Zoomban (now stopped), new comer TheGioiBan.com (TGB) has just entered the market with some exciting features. It seems that TGB is the product of a group of overseas Vietnamese, as they revealed in a comment to my blog entry on Vietnamese FB clones.
I signed up for an account today and found the functionalities are quite well-developed and delicate. Graphic user interface is also cool, simple and elegant. Most of the basic Facebook SNS functionalities can be found in TGB, and they do provide a satisfactory user experience, from my perspective. However, I could not stay at TGB for long, as there are not many things to play around, or maybe my needs are different from those of their target audience.
Some profiles of TGB members has a themed background. Maybe these are TGB staff & management. It can be guessed that in the coming time, TGB will provides themes setting options for members, which follows Yahoo 306’s popular feature and differentiated from the authentic Facebook.
Still, most of the functionalities and user interface of TGB is just like Facebook, which lead me to question why user should use TGB while they can use the original, authentic, feature-rich (Apps, SNS functionalities) and well-rooted Facebook?
Here are some questions raised from TGB’s launch:
- How TGB can differentiate from FaceViet, Tamtay, and the FB Vietnamese itself?
- While the revenue model is not available until FB realize it revenue model in the next few years, how TGB can grow, and where to secure financing once IDGVV has invested in Tamtay?
- How will Tamtay.vn with some decent funding from IDGVV recently respond with TGB’s entry? My guess: the war would be brutal as Tamtay is the first (and maybe only) FB clone that received VC funding in Vietnam, while TGB is clearly going further in GUI, functionalities and coolness.
- Finally, how all FB clones create a revenue model while further financing has become more difficult given the current credit crunch?
My predict is that TGB will have to face similar difficulties that FaceViet, Guongmat has experienced, while Tamtay will not let them easily realize their dream. TGB has gone further FaceViet, Guongmat and Tamtay in terms of product functionalities and brand image, but their time of launching is not favorable enough. It is too late now for a complete FB clone for Vietnamese.
Would Vietnamese Internet users need another FB clones now? As the old saying, I think it all depends… I remembered once one of my staff came to me asking if he can work on a FB clone proposal if he firmly believes it would be successful, and here’s what I said: If there are still local needs that the original FB did not and would not well serve, then why not?
I recently checked the translation functionality of Facebook for Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese), and it was, well, really cool. The wording is quite accurate, and fits with the context of Vietnam. The community function is engaging, and they have gathered a bunch of cool enthusiasts getting translation for them for free just because these guys really love their Facebook pages.
It was a surprise for me that Facebook in Vietnamese could go that fast without any fanfare. Which may implicate a lot of difficult for Vietnamese Facebook clones, including FaceViet, Tamtay and Guongmat.
Last year, I predicted that Zoomban, the Facebook clone from VCCorporation will soon be come a winner once it is launched in late 2007. A lot of changes has taken place since then. Zoomban project was, to my surprise, canceled by VCC management. However, they were quite smart to stop this project in time, just imagine Zoomban’s position at the moment once Facebook Vietnamese version is launched. VCC opts for a painful but smart direction, so that they can have a better focus on what have made them different and well-positioned so far.
Which remains FaceViet, Tamtay and Guongmat in the battle again original Facebook-the-Vietnamese-language-version. Their worst scenario: Facebook launching the Vietnamese language in Vietnamese, and they even go further with a culturally relevant Vietnamese homepage and a Vietnamese domain name, Facebook.vn for instance! Worse even, Facebook, with the global brand awareness prowess, strike deals with major Vietnamese media owners, publishers and SNS to make them compatible with FB system and take them into FB ecosystem. Final move would be to organize a Developer Program for Vietnamese developers. By these initiatives, Facebook Vietnamese version would definitely dominate the local market and corner the local clones.
How are the Vietnamese FB clones performing? Guongmat is too slow in execution, so their opportunities have evaporated. FaceViet have been struggling for almost one year with many ups and downs, and now looks too much like other teenager-oriented SNS, which is a pity because of their excellent brandname and a young, dynamic management team. Tamtay is doing quite good on execution in terms of increasing their music and video inventory, but its core positioning is still not very clear.
Tamtay has video, photo, and all other social networking functionalities, but sadly enough most of these functionalities are so me-too and uncool. Its total registered users is more than 250,000, but it seems their DAU and MAU are much smaller, and a check with their traffic on Google Trends would show a not very impressive growth. The most problematic issue with Tamtay is its brand is “uncool”, while building a “cool” brand should be the must for any successful new brand (“cool” here should be understood as a combination of many attractive and engaging brand image attributes rather than a teen-oriented one, as a BMW is also consider “cool” in Vietnam though it is not for teenagers). But who knows with a (rumored) VC funding coming in, Tamtay would become more innovative in the future?
Can Vietnamese FB clones succeed? I stand by my view points one year ago that this is almost impossible. Vietnamese FB clones should not take the success of StudVZ or Xiaonei as their inspiration for a FB clone, but look thoroughly into the real insights of local consumers and develop innovative and disruptive products that can offer a differentiate value proposition from original international models. This would be a bit more difficult than cloning an international model, but a less riskier option once the authentic, original competitors move in and acquire Vietnamese consumers, who always prefer foreign brands to domestic ones if the followers are only imitators.
Cathy Catala, Top Vietnamese Tech Blog Posts - 2008 | Top Vietnamese Tech Blog Posts - 2008 - Công nghệ số, Karen, and 5 others are discussing. Toggle Comments
Vietnamese media reported on May 28, 2008 that DFJ Vinacapital has invested an undisclosed amount into SuperStar, the company behind the teen forum Yeah1. This has a little bit heating up the teen segment competition in Vietnam, but it seems there will be a lot of difficulties ahead for the players. It would be interesting now to look at the evolution of the teen segment in Vietnam and what trends are taking shape in this heavily competitive category.
Evolution of a hot segment
Vietnam’s first successful teen website would be Loitraitim (words of love hearts), which dated from 2002 from YoMost, once the coolest brand in Vietnam’s recent marketing history. With a very appealing tagline “A Very Yomost Style”, YoMost, owned by DutchLady/Foremost Vietnam, stormed the Vietnamese market with a wonderful through the line marketing campaign that quickly made YoMost the ultimate Vietnamese teen icon. Loitraitim, a teen website then, was quickly absorbed by YoMost branding team, then redesigned, and relaunched in a Valentine promotion campaign. Teen-oriented design with youthful color palette and entertainment news update, low competition and abundant marketing budget injection from YoMost branding team has quickly catapult Loitraitim to become the leading teen website at that time.
However, in the following years, Loitraitim was quickly dethroned by many amateur music sharing websites. Vietnamese teenagers flocked to these websites to listen and download online music, making online music the most trafficked segment in teen category. From 2004 to late 2006, amateur music websites made their names into most of the top 100 websites in Vietnam, with some representatives like Nghenhac.info, HoangClub.info, Nguoidaukho.vn and Vui.vn etc.
Then came in web 2.0 big players in early 2007. On one hand, music vertical search engines, including Zing, Baamboo, 7sac, Socbay, Uizaa with better services and user experience has gained most of the traffic from amateur online music. On the other hand, social networking services like Cyworld, Yobanbe, Timnhanh Cafe, MyLife has attracted a good number of teen users from web 1.0 players.
In early 2008, more bad news for Vietnamese pirate online music websites came when Ministry of Information and Communications issued a document requiring all pirate music websites to stop uncopyrighted online music services and strictly follow the law on intellectual property. So far only a few online companies which are heavily financed could afford the price tag by Recording Industry Association of Vietnam (RIAV), rumored to be in billions of Vietnamese dong per year, including Vui.vn (owned by 24h Group), Yeuamnhac (an invested company of IDG Ventures Vietnam), Pops Media (still in preparation for a heavily-clamored new online music service) etc..
Teen segment is a hard sell in Vietnamese online advertising space. Though teen oriented websites in Vietnam recorded a good user base, with monthly pageviews from a few hundred thousands to some millions, monetization from these website are still a far future. Major advertisers that have ventured into teen website in their media mix remains less than a dozen. Almost all teen websites are operating in the red, mostly financed by VCs or big Internet players. This is forecast to continue in the near future.
Social Networking is very popular among the teenagers worldwide and most of them spend on an average one hour daily to either post or read postings. In the United States, MySpace.com, Facebook.com, Xanga.com, Tagged.com, Friendster.com, Twitter.com etc. are the most popular social networking services among the teenagers. Video and photo-sharing websites like YouTube.com and Flickr.com are fast catching on with the teens, which are creating profiles and sharing their videos and photo collections. iTunes is another favorite of the teens. In South Korea, Cyworld social networking services was phenomenally successful with more than 20 million members. Similarly, in China the IM-based social networking services QQ (Tencent) was hugely successful with 2007 revenues of more than $523 million with net income of more than $214 million, which translates to a whopping profit margin of 42% and a $11 billion market capitalization.
Inspired by this worldwide social networking craze, Vietnamese teen segment with a 20-plus million population is a lucrative market for Internet services providers. I personally think the segment, though facing difficulties adopting international business models, building platform, bootstrapping, scaling and finding a relevant monetizing/advertising platform, will finally have their days in the next few years. Vietnamese teen websites are falling into the following categories:
- Teen Content Portal: These include Hoahoctro, the online version of Hoa Hoc Tro, Vietnam’s No.1 teen weekly magazine, with a circulation of more than 100,000 issues per week. Another newcomer is Kenh14.vn within the ChannelVN.net portal project by VC Corporation, the famous 2-million baby IDG Ventures Vietnam company. Since its debut early this year, Kenh14 has grown quickly with online fashion photo features and sensational sexual health articles. Other old players like Loitraitim are becoming obsolete, due to lack of innovation.
- Teen Online Services: These include online music and movies, with representatives as mentioned above.
- Social Networking: Players include Cyworld Vietnam, Yobanbe (within Zing portal from VinaGame), Timnhanh Cafe (another DFJ Vinacapital investee). Vietnamese facebook clones, including Tamtay, Guongmat, FaceViet and the incoming Zoomban and I-pro.vn from VC Corp. Disclosure: my company, Vinalive, after the biggest upgrade this year for women social networking PhunuNet in this coming June will also conduct a small facelift for the youth social networking MyLife.vn then. The competition therefore will only accelerate, especially when Friendster has just entered Vietnamese market this month (I will detail in an upcoming article).
It would be exciting to see what kind of business model DFJ Vinacapital investee Yeah1 will come up with. From my perception, Yeah1 looks more like a content provider (they are busy making a TV Show on Saigon Cable Television, a channel with very few audience and almost no advertising revenues). My prediction: with DFJV’s investment, Yeah1 will upgrade their platform to become a social networking services.
However, their current platform, which is much like an amater forum, will take them a lot of time and energy while other carefully prepared rivals are already running around in the street. For DFJV, this will buy them more on audience and media inventory rather than a strong, disruptive platform and a well-positioned powerful brand. Building these will not be an easy task for Yeah1.
As I wrote earlier that VC Corp is busy preparing their own Facebook clone, now its Zoomban.com is planning to go public, heating up the already crowded marketplace. Now it’s time to check the performance of the key players: FaceViet, Tamtay, Guongmat, and some predictions on the competition once Zoomban is officially launched.
FaceViet has just launched its new platform, upgraded its server capacity and adding more entertainment features. Its new interface is cooler, but less elegant than the former and, strangely enough, is somewhat like LinkedIn! I actually prefer the old interface, because of its simplicity and crystal convenience (or maybe I’m too old to like cool things). I guess FaceViet has changed both its source code and interface too. The most remarkable functionality of the new FaceViet is its “Entertainment” feature, which provides a quite big library of online music and movies. This has proved a good tactical move, as FaceViet’s Alexa ranking has rocketed in the past few days because of this entertainment function. However, as the Vietnamese government, i.e. Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, has recently requested all pirate online music websites in Vietnam to strictly follow the Law on Intellectual Ownership, FaceViet’s move will be very risky in the coming time. FaceViet also provides its own vertical search engine that helps users find music and movie files.
My forecast: With all these moves, FaceViet has regained good traffic improvements, but in the longer term, its business model becomes more confused. It seems FaceViet will continue its evolution with a focus on music and movie, and become a portal like VinaGame’s Zing.
Guongmat has made almost no progress since the last time I wrote about them in November 2007, except for a new interface, and again has a strikingly similarity to FaceViet, especially the silver-colored design template. It also allows users to customize background pictures and “themes”. Actually I quite like Guongmat’s simplicity and some of its very convenient features like photo uploading process, but Guongmat has became a little bit too boring and provides no differentiation among the Vietnamese Facebook clones.
My forecast: Guongmat need to look into its inner self to find where are its core competencies and what kind of value proposition and business model it is crafting, or other players like FaceViet, Tamtay and the upcoming Zoomban will put a full stop to Guongmat.
Tamtay.vn has made some good progress in terms of traffic and customer acquisition. It now boasts more than 100,000 registered users, but most of these users have very little activity on Tamtay. From my perception, most users coming to Tamtay are teenagers, and they came there mostly because of Tamtay’s good selection of sexy photos and updated online movies! This is a smart short term tactic, but in the long term “bribing” customers with sex will only diminish the long term value proposition and brand equity.
My forecast: I’m quite impressed with Tamtay’s performance, but again it will need to redefine a long term business model and a strong differentiation strategy, or it will trail behind Clip.vn in terms of online video and the upcoming Zoomban in terms of social networking functionalities.
Among the Facebook clones, VC Corp’s Zoomban would be the most exciting to watch. With VC Corp’s tons of cash, technology capabilities and smart marketing initiatives, I guess Zoomban will soon become the biggest player and cause a lot of difficulties for both FaceViet and Tamtay. A good, fun, attractive user interface combined with delicate social networking functionalities will make Zoomban outstanding among its competitors. VC Corp’s widely reached Internet properties, including Dantri, TTVNOL, Baamboo, Sannhac, ChannelVN etc… will soon help Zoomban with a lot of free media value that FaceViet and Tamtay could never dream of.
My forecast: It’s too early to make any forecast, but I guess Zoomban will score an early home run when it is launched in the next few months. However after that it will need to define a clear business model while the original Facebook is in its own difficulty finding an appealing social ad platform after Beacon has come to a full failure.
The competition ahead between Vietnamese Facebook clones is now somewhat not very intriguing, as we’ve already sketch out the possible market leader. The more interesting thing is how the winner will find a way to make money on the back of their social graph and justify a differentiation with the original, authentic Facebook. For my part, I would stick to my viewpoint that Facebook is a uniquely US phenomenon and any attempt to replicate Facebook in another culture and country are too much risky, with China’s Xiaonei and the likes as good reference.
Microsoft offers to buy Yahoo, and the implications for Vietnamese Yahoo clones: Timnhanh, Zing and ChannelVN etc.
Now Microsoft has offered to buy Yahoo at 62% premium over Yahoo’s closing stock price, I guess Vietnamese Yahoo clones should be wide opening their eyes seeing what way to go ahead.
Microsoft is at its best a very 1.0 software company, still earning most of its income from selling operating systems and office suite. Yahoo under Terry Semel has moving, perhaps too quickly, into a Hollywood-style media company rather than a technology innovator. Both are trailing Google in online search advertising, the most lucrative part of the online ad pie. Would this marriage have a happy ending? In my opinion, yes and no.
Yes because by integrating Yahoo into its online business, Microsoft can strengthen its position in online ads, especially display and rich media, which will grow at a CAGR of 18% compared with that of 16% of search ads from now until 2012, per JupiterResearch. Yahoo owns some of the best web properties so far, especially Yahoo Mail, Flickr and Yahoo Answers. This would be the most meaningful outcome of this possible marriage. Of course the newly combined Micro-hoo can still strengthen its online services like Yahoo’s decent Zimbra and Microsoft’s Office Live, but given the importance of Microsoft’s cash cow Office, I guess Zimbra would soon disappear.
No because apart from the only meaningful strategic move above, a combined Microsoft-Yahoo can only do that far. Both Microsoft and Yahoo are in their full bloom midlife identity crisis. Microsoft and Yahoo’s problems are not technology, or strategy, or leadership, or executional problem, but more a branding problem and to a larger extend, a vision problem. At its core, Microsoft positions itself as a software company. Yahoo’s positioning is an online media/content company. A combination of a 1.0 web company and another 1.5 online giant (Yahoo did own a number of web 2.0 property, notably Flickr, Upcomings, Del.ici.ous, Answers etc.) would do nothing to create a strong enough force to overcome Google in search and a number of other web 2.0 representatives, most notably Facebook. Google and Facebook’s positioning is amazing clear and powerful, i.e. organize the world’s information and help people best connect with their friends. Where is the newly combined Microsoft-Yahoo going, and is there something new in their positioning and value proposition, no one knows yet.
It should be noted that in the past two years, a number of Vietnamese Internet startups have deployed their resources to build their own “Vietnamese Yahoo”. Marquee brand names include heavily funded Timnhanh.com (by DFJ VinaCapital), and the recently launched Zing franchise from VinaGame. VC Corp., an ambitious web 2.0 startup with clamorous $ 2 million funding by IDGVV, is also quietly testing its own portal ChannelVN.net. This is not to mention hundreds of small web companies in Vietnam that are busy preparing their own Yahoo clones. The rationale goes like this: many US Internet models can be “translated” into Vietnam, just copy the model, the interface, tweaking a little bit, and you have a version for Vietnamese people that some day will become cash generator (perhaps through an IPO or an acquisition). Also in light of this rationale, the oldest US Internet model like Yahoo, eBay and Amazon should have the highest rate of success. Easy to understand this rationale has spurn out Chodientu, Timnhanh, and the likes.
However, things turn out not to be that easy. There are two reasons. First, Vietnam is not the United States, and Vietnamese consumers’ behaviors and psychology are not the same as those of their US counterparts. Second, Vietnam’s Internet landscape is also moving at a 2.0 speed like other countries, including the United States and the South Korea. That means if Yahoo is the hottest Internet company in the United States in 2000, then 2001 would be the deadline for a Vietnamese Yahoo clone to establish its footprint. A Louis Vuitton signature bag that is a trendsetter in the United States in 2000 would never become a hot item for Vietnamese fashion lovers in 2008. Another example is Cyworld’s Vietnam exploration. How can a hot fashion item in the South Korea in 1999 become a hot item in Vietnam in 2007? Are you so dreaming?
Things would be more interesting to know that web 3.0 are now well seeded in the United States, and only Vietnamese companies that are brave enough to fast-forward the 1.0 and 2.0 models would be better positioned in 2008. One thing about web 3.0 is vertical. Vietnamese Yahoo clones are so horizontal. Worse, their dreaming of an Yahoo acquisition now seems more unpractical. Perhaps instead of cloning web 1.0 and 2.0 stories, they should think of some 3.0 models that are not even going mainstream in the United States. However, discussion about web 3.0 Vietnam should be another long story, and might be a little bit early now.
This is not going to give a prediction on the looming TIME’s Person of the Year 2007 but a borrowing of their brilliant concept to Vietnam’s dotcom landscape.
If 2007 was remembered as a year that Vietnamese Internet startups going mainstream, then it is IDGVV’s activities and their “ventures” that attracted the most attention. No doubt IDGVV and its investee companies should be named Vietnamese Dotcom of the Year 2007.
However, this is not the total sum of equal parts: some of the companies in this team are highly successful, some has lost all its IDG halo effect, and some are half way checking direction to a light at the end of a tunnel. Hereunder is a brief scorecard of key players in alphabetical order.
This CNet clone is adding more exclusive contents to its technology portal with news articles, shopping comparison features, video clips, product reviews. Actually Aha.vn has created some really good contents. However, it is having difficulty attracting a critical mass user base and finding a relevant revenue model. Creating quality contents like Aha should requires a lot of capital spending and editorial competency. In 2007, Aha hasn’t made any considerable progress in terms of product and customer acquisition. Meanwhile, Thegioididong and other mobile phone/computer retailers in Vietnam with decent revenues are creating even more attractive contents than Aha.vn. Expecting quite a long time before Aha.vn craft a value proposition that is attractive enough to Vietnamese Internet users and advertisers, and strong enough to fend off mentioned competitors. Now DDTH is acquired by VinaGame, maybe Thegioididong should use some small change from its $4.5 million funding from Mekong Capital to acquire Aha.vn so that all Aha, IDG, Thegioididong and Mekong Capital can say aha all day.
2007 Scorecard: C+
Chodientu is finding a reality that replicating a solid business model from the United States is not an easy task. It has made almost no progress in moving mainstream and acquires more customers. Moreover, it is still not completely recovered from the Huy Remy hacking scandal that tainted its founder, the companies and its stakeholders. Now ebay has launched a Vietnamese version, the rumour that Chodientu is negotiating a 1 million sell out to eBay seems unrooted. PeaceSoft would have to work very hard or its ebay Vietnam’s dream will evaporate and it would become the most clamorous web failure in Vietnam’s Internet history.
2007 Scorecard: C-
Clip.vn has made some good progress in customer acquistions and product improvement in 2007. It has been experimenting with in video banner ads but with limited success and the clientele is only restricted to few small advertisers. However, Clip.vn should be careful with other YouTube clones that are preparing their inroads. Looking to China where there are hundreds of YouTube clones that no one has been successful and is desperately waiting for Google’s acquisition, Clip.vn would have many challenges ahead.
2007 Scorecard: A-
This LinkedIn clone had a solid business model, a good start, a promising platform, and more than adequate funding. Therefore, Cyvee is well positioned to become one of the most successful web 2.0 stories in Vietnam. However, Cyvee is having some challenges crafting a tangible value proposition to its core business executive audience. To preempt a slowdown in customer’s acquisition and traffic curve, Cyvee is launching heavy but costly advertising programs. So far it has recorded some early success, however the long term vitality remains to be seen.
2007 Scorecard: A-
Coming next: I will write on Cyworld Vietnam, Diadiem, GFM, SanOTC, VC Corp