Archive for January, 2010

DemoCamp 25 Toronto Roundup

DemoCamp is a concept that started 4 years ago in the Bubbleshare office boardroom. It is a forum for startups to share ideas, code and development tips at a “safe” venue within the community. Now at DemoCamp 25, audiences topped 450 people as they filled up an entire auditorium-style classroom at Ryerson University – pretty impressive. Check out the Flickr photos.

The theme of this DemoCamp was social gaming, with a few other social applications thrown into the mix. All the presentations were very interesting, but I have selected a few that stood out in my mind:

Gurbaksh Chahal (gWallet)

Gurbaksh gave an inspirational talk on entrepreneurship to the crowd, basing the majority on his life story and how he sold his first two companies for $40 million and then $300 million respectively. CEOs, take a look at his 9 entrepreneurship lessons. His new venture, gWallet, provides the next generation virtual currency platform for social media including social gaming, virtual worlds, mobile platforms, abandoned shopping carts and microtransaction environments. Essentially, it is another offer network that is looking to diversify itself from the realms of OfferPal and the like. It was great to see gWallet in action in one of the subsequent demos during the evening.

Albert Lai (Kontagent)

It’s always good to see Albert. I’ve had a beat on Kontagent for a while now, and I still love what they are doing. If you’re developing a social Facebook app, there is no excuse for not using Kontagent, unless of course you have no desire to really know what your users are doing and how best to improve the growth and distribution of your application across the social network. Kontagent really drives down to better understanding the Life-Time Value (“LTV”) of a user based on your Average Revenue Per User (“ARPU”) less the cost of acquiring an individual user – and Kontagent gets very granular so that you, the developer, can determine which sources of traffic tend to monetize well across your social application. If you haven’t heard of Kontagent, check it out.

Greg Thomson (Tall Tree Games)

Greg seemed to be in fine form last night. He demoed their latest game called FishWorld, which was a stellar rip of Zynga’s (and other) aquarium-based games. It was stellar not because Zynga does it to everyone else, but because it went above and beyond other aquarium-style games. Greg and the company really thought through the game mechanics and the game player’s psychology to maximize revenue-making opportunities. One of the best quotes that he said during his presentation was to “Create a problem for your users and sell them back a solution.” For example, in FishWorld the tanks constantly get dirty, but the game offers a suckerfish for $2 that will keep your tank clean and will prevent you from having to do maintenance on the fish tank to keep it clean. Another very smart move was to sell a shark, a premium and monetizable fish that people think are “cool” to have in their tank, but the shark eats other fish that users will then have to replace through coins or credits. In short, great game mechanics. Check it out! You will learn a lot by studying this game.

Greg Balajewicz (Realm of Empires)

Realm of Empires looks like a pretty engaging game where users can build relationships with each other, strategize, and plan their schemes of “virtual world domination”. They have build the company without many game mechanics for increasing monetization, as that did not seem to be their motivating force; these nice guys actually created a “fair” game where users can genuinely compete on skill and strategy – you are not able to buy your way to the top. While very refreshing from a user game-play point of view, it will be interesting to see how this pans out from a business operations standpoint. I think there is lots of potential for growing revenues in this company and that a great business mind could join this team and together they can really cash-in.

There were a few other demos by Oz Solomon (Social Gaming Studios), Joel Auge (HitGrab), Mark Zohar (Scenecaster) and Roy Pereira (ShinyAds.com), and while interesting, they weren’t inherently social games, which I set out to cover in this post. Feel free to check out my reviews from DemoCamp 21 (July 2009).

If you’d like a more in-depth review of your game or game mechanics, flip me a note and I’d be glad to take the time chat, understand your game / mechanics and review it in a subsequent post.

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BASES: A Resource for Tech Startups

I have been a subscriber to the BASES weekly digest for several years now (note: BASES stands for Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students). It is an extremely valuable resource to any tech entrepreneur, especially if you live in the valley or travel to the Bay Area often. They generally include a section on upcoming events and deadlines; for example, below is a list found in their most recent digest:

Monday, January 25th – Learn Web Metrics from the Master Featuring Dave McClure
Monday, January 25th – British Consulate / Seedcamp Reception
Monday, January 25th – Nordic Entrepreneurs and Venture Spinouts
Tuesday, January 26th – Girls in Tech: Catalyst Conference – 15% off
Tue & Wed, January 26th & 27th – Web 3.0 Conference
Wednesday, January 27th – Vator Splash Competition – Applications are Due
Wednesday January 27th – Social E-Challenge Speed Dating Mixer
Thursday, January 28th – FounderDating – Where Founders Meet
Sunday, January 31st – Lightspeed Venture Partners Grant Program Application Deadline
Wednesday, Februray 3rd – Bootup Labs (Canada) Demo Days
Wednesday, Februray 3rd – Geo-Loco! The future of geo-location services
Wednesday February 21st – 28th – E-Week at Stanford University

BASES recently launched their “Help A Startup Out” section to more efficiently match the needs of startups with their large and fast-growing global network of entrepreneurs, investors, and top-quality service providers. Startups, give them your input to help make this a success.

I had a chance to work with a few members from the BASES group last year when I volunteered as a judge and mentor for a student team competing in the 2009 Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. They are a great group of people doing great things for the community.

Which subscriptions to tech/startup newsletters and RSS feeds do you read religiously? I’m looking for more sources…

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2010 Mobile Trends via Forrester

I finally had the chance to review the 2010 mobile trends predictions from Thomas Husson, a Senior Analyst at Forrester. The report hit on a fundamental concept: mobile performed exceptionally well during the 2009 economic recession. To reflect on this, the industry has really been bullish from an M&A perspective. As the year came to an end, the M&A market began to pick up with a number of acquisitions including the now-over-hyped Google purchase of AdMob as well as the Apple acquisition of Lala (music streaming service). Thus far, 2010 has seen continued M&A activity, with emphasis on mobile advertising companies including Quattro Wireless being acquired by Apple and Ad Marvel being acquired by Opera. Larger industry players are plucking companies to secure their seat at the table to reap the profits that the mobile industry is beginning to offer maturing companies. There is also a flurry of investment activity surrounding mobile games companies (which I will leave for another post).

The 2010 Mobile Trends report offers these high level statements:

  • More brands will start taking the mobile web into account in their strategies.
  • Innovation in mobile payments will accelerate.
  • Google will shake up the mobile navigation business.
  • Location will start enabling richer mobile experiences.
  • Social Computing and mobile phones will expand their love affair.
  • Live mobile TV will be hyped again.
  • The OS arms race will heat up.
  • Application stores will continue to flourish, but none will replicate Apple’s success in 2010.
  • Some operators will want to reduce their increasing dependency on Apple.

Read the Forrester blog for a deeper dive into these trends.

My $0.02 on the “Live mobile TV” Trend
If you’re a die-hard TV fan, getting live TV to your mobile phone has been around for a while from Slingbox, which allows you to stream shows from your PVR/DVR at home to a BlackBerry or iPhone. In 2010, I believe much more than live mobile TV is going to heat up in the mobile video segment. Since mobile carriers are now extending the capabilities of their networks beyond 3G, such as the multiple WiMax network deployments by Clearwire/Sprint, higher-quality mobile video finally has rails that can support its intense-bandwidth needs. This means more services that will bring consumers music videos, concerts, plays, festivals, live sporting events, tv shows (live and archived), movies (full length and in bite-sized snacks) — and my personal favourite — video-calling. I’m quietly keeping my fingers crossed that the iPhone 4G supports video calls! One last thing, mobile advertising networks will likely be the default solution to monetizing “lite” apps; as mobile video continues to build traction, watch out for hype surrounding mobile video advertising to heat up.

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Designing the Perfect Mobile Application Store

I briefly touched on application stores as part of my last post, Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience. After re-reading the post and reflecting on some of the comments, I felt that a more in-depth follow-up was required to discuss why the overarching design of a mobile application store is paramount to its adoption, usability and ultimately, success.

This post will focus on how I believe the design of BlackBerry App World (“BBAW”) can be improved for both enterprises and consumers.

BlackBerry App World for Enterprises

When BBAW was first released, many BES-connected users had problems downloading applications due to permission-based issues. RIM can’t do much to change corporate policies, but RIM can implement a highly-anticipated BBAW for the enterprise. I am proposing that RIM creates an enterprise app store, similar to the app store announced by MobileIron in December 2009. MobileIron’s enterprise app store allows enterprises to create a repository of approved content and apps, which employees can then download and use with the full blessing of IT. In addition, an enterprise can create device or employee categories with permissions for certain types of content. As mentioned by Kevin Fitchard of Connected Planet, “Salesmen, for instance, would find Salesforce.com’s app in their approved storefront, while a field engineer would not. Both field engineers and salesman could have access to vehicle navigation services, and while a desk jockey might be able to download that same application, the company could set usage restrictions limiting when he or she could use it (say, business trips) or require the employee to pay the monthly service fee in a separately generated bill.” To me, this concept sounds like an app store that would help RIM sell more BlackBerry devices to enterprises, help IT administrators and make employees more productive (and happy) when mobile. Obviously, a more tidy billing mechanism will have to be in place, since I’d reckon the majority of enterprise won’t want to pay via PayPal.

BlackBerry App World for Consumers

In creating v2.0 of BBAW, RIM has a lot of work to do. My last post discusses a few elements that need improvement including the billing systems, pre-loads and fewer bugs. I’d like to add a few more points to the discussion. To begin with, the billing system needs to be more dynamic and allow customers to attach credit cards to their profile for frictionless billing. The billing systems should also be flexible enough to power additional business models for application developers including subscription billing and in-application micro-transactions. Why not bring the minimum price-point to $0.99 as well?

Steven Berkovitz chimed-in to mention that with BES 5.0, there’s a full-blown web version of desktop manager; it uses an ActiveX control to connect to your Blackberry for operations requiring a physical connection and personal data is sync’d over-the-air (“OTA”). However, this functionality doesn’t yet extend to previously installed, licensed and configured applications. As a consumer, wouldn’t it be nice to buy your next BlackBerry, insert your SIM card, load your user profile from within an OTA-driven application and click “Restore Profile” to then have your data, applications (auto-detect new BlackBerry OS and download proper build for the new device) and configuration settings loaded onto your new device OTA? That is one step towards a BlackBerry device that can compete with future iPhone models in delivering the experience sought after by the ever-smarter and bells-and-whistles-seeking consumer today.

Many users are also confused by not being able to find certain apps in BBAW that show up for their friends or colleagues. By design, RIM only shows its users the apps available for their device. In a future version of BBAW, it would be nice to show users all the apps and allow users to be notified (by push, email, SMS, etc…) when the app is launched for their specific OS and device model. This could also give developers a sense of what devices are generating the most demand for their product so that they could focus their development efforts on the makes/models and locations that are going to yield that greatest financial rewards or user adoption.

Ubiquitous Access

BBAW needs to come pre-loaded on all (new) handsets. End of story. In cases where mobile carriers have a contractually dominant position over RIM on controlling content or applications available to mobile devices, RIM should provide those carriers with sufficient access and privileges to formally reject specific applications for use by their subscribers for their own reasons. In concert with these changes, RIM should enter into a formal revenue sharing agreement with carriers so that revenues generated from application one-time sales, subscriptions and micro-transactions can be shared. Once these deals are signed, RIM (or the mobile carrier) should push App World down to all BlackBerry devices. IMHO, this would be a win-win-win scenario for RIM, carriers and consumers.

If you were RIM, how would you design BlackBerry App World v2.0?

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