Wednesday, May 28, 2008

VC Watch: Better ROI Available on Bank Account

The good thing about bank accounts is that, whilst they don't offer much interest, you're unlikely to lose anything either (even these days). Not so the latest $13m investment in Skyfire, a company which makes a Windows Mobile browser.

With Opera doing pretty well with their Mini Java browser, and the open source WebKit gaining traction with Nokia and Apple, where is the potential money in another brand new browser? The Windows Mobile market, whilst allegedly growing nicely particularly in the US (otherwise known as: not selling much outside the US), is pretty tiny and already relatively difficult to gain traction in, with the (poor) IE Mobile bundled and many devices also shipping with the mature Opera Mobile. It would be interesting to know how many downloads that first round of $4.8m bought.

The company now plans to expand into other platforms with its browser, that supports "Java, Flash and Ajax". That means the browser is top-end only, so they can only be planning to port to top-end smartphones - maybe S60 (which already comes bundled with a confusing pair of browsers), and possibly Android (current shipments: 0). It has become increasingly less fashionable to predict that smartphones will become the mainstream, in fact many commentators are saying the opposite these days, so again it's interesting to see where the users will come from.

Having got on a handset, where's the revenue? Web sites already deliver ads and frown on people upstream wrapping their own advertising around the content (Opera have got away with it, but other more intrusive players haven't). The whole point in the web becoming the platform is that the browser, if it works nicely, becomes invisible - and free. Mobiles don't have enough screen real estate to show many sidebar ads, and Google referral fees will only pay so much.

So I'd have to say, without knowing any detail about the company's business plan, that this is yet another utter waste of cash by a VC who doesn't know anything. Though I'd love them to tell me why my assessment is wrong.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. Nice post.

5:06 pm

Blogger antyx said...

Opera have got away with it

Have they? They used to put ads in the desktop browser, but got rid of those (which was a good move that got them a nice chunk of market share). My understanding is that Opera's revenue comes from manufacturers who want their devices to roll out with Opera on board - my S40 Nokia came with both Nokia's own web browser and Opera Mini already preinstalled.

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