When Vikram Kumar joined Kim Dotcom’s Mega, there was a collective gasp from the industry. Some of it in shock, other of it in awe; after all, go ahead and describe Dotcom as controversial and colourful, but don’t accuse him of being clean cut and universally respected like Kumar is. A month into the job, Techday rang up the former InternetNZ head honcho asked him a couple of questions. This is what he has to say.
TD: What were your motivations for joining Mega?
Vikram Kumar: There were a couple of things. I was looking for a new opportunity after InternetNZ; when Kim approached me, I initially said ‘no’, but on reflection, it does represent an interesting opportunity…
TD: Because it aligns with your ethical standpoints?
VK: …well, one of the things I did before InternetNZ did was the business case on iGovt, in which we took privacy as central driving point rather than a ‘compliance afterwards’ approach. I’ve always had an interest in privacy and security online; what Kim is doing is all about open internet and privacy. Also, Kim provides tools to protect privacy via a secure online process, so that is in a way a continuation of the same process [which started with iGovernment and which is pursued by InternetNZ].
TD: Kim has a background which includes some shady deals and even a few criminal convictions. Was this history a factor in your decision to work with his organisation?
VK: It does play a part. This is why I spent a month talking with him before making the decision, this was a factor to think about. However, after spending time him and the team, what emerged as important were the intentions that Kim has with Mega.
TD: What are those intentions and what is the significance of Mega to New Zealand?
VK: People underestimate how this demonstrates the ability of a New Zealand company to think and act globally. We don’t have enough of this big thinking on day one. The second thing that is underestimated is that Mega is, overseas, perceived to be an New Zealand company. That does a lot of good for the country’s image as a source for global internet services.
TD: But what about the potential for a stain on the country, given Dotcom’s past and current legal woes?
VK: To be honest, I think that is more likely to come from the activities of the government which were held to be illegal by the courts. Any stain is more likely to come from the actions of the law enforcement agencies. Secondly, the allegations made in US courts with regards to Kim’s extradition; what hasn’t happened yet is the Mega team providing their side of the story. The overall picture is an unbalanced one, it is one sided and I believe people will change their perceptions when this goes to court. However, some will not be able to look at Kim or Mega with anything else but a copyright infringement lens.
TD: Tell us some numbers relating to Mega: How many people actually work there?
VK: It’s only a handful of people and most are not being paid, they have a stake in the intellectual property being developed. Then there are arrangements with Instra, which has funded Mega so far, it provides customer support out of Napier, and a couple of people who provide services on contract…
TD: Can you tell us the investment to date to get Mega off the ground?
VK: I’m not sure, though there are returns filed with the Companies Officewith regard to shares and so on. It is also somewhat confidential to the extent of the investment that’s gone in; being an internet business which does not own hardware, that’s not capital investment. The big cost of Mega is the software that it has created, which is world leading, but there is nothing on the balance sheet.
TD: The latest numbers indicate over 2.5 million users?
VK: Actually it’s crossed 3 million and climbing every day. At peak, 3 people are signing up per second; that’s quite a sight to see in real time and is not something we have seen happen with any other New Zealand services.
TD: What drives that demand, 50GB free?
VK: Sure, Mega offers more and also it is really fast, one of the technical features is its multiple upload and download streams. But also definitely part of that is Kim Dotcom and his media presence.