Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's Square mean to you?

Image Attribute: Square

In the past few days there's been a lot of buzz about Square, the new mobile-phone credit card swiping solution. Point of Sale to the people, so-to-speak. Few peeps asked me of my thoughts, and how does it affect Adva Mobile, so here it is.
I think Square is a terrific little gadget that, more than it's own independent value to the world, the buzz it brings with it drives more awareness to the things one could do using their mobile phone. The more we can see from that, the better, IMO.
I admire their approach: I think that of the mobile payment solutions, they win on simplicity (to the end user) and reach. (almost) all other mobile payment solutions require pre-registration, which is a killer for the ad-hoc shoppers.
On it's own, I have my healthy skepticism how many people will end up owning and using the device. Requiring extra hardware? We've seen what happened to Zeemote. It will be interesting to find the payout rates, the installation process and other factors. Of those long-tail merchants, you need to find people with the right phone and plan, willing to pay for the gadget, and share their revenues with another party. For those people, Square complements the cash-only sales with cash and credit. I'm trying to think who those people are: Street artist selling paintings? Active musician next to the merch table? Do they really need this? time will tell.
Now if you contrast paying using Square and on a mobile website (with, say, PayPal), then I'd say it's hard to determine how many of the fans would rather use one or the other. Square wins in the consumer side, Paypal (I think) wins on the merchant side.

As far as Adva Mobile is concerned, again, the buzz that Square brings is a blessing. We'd like to see less and less "I didn't know I could do that". As mentioned, Square complements well the financial processing for products that entertainers would like to sell, say, on their merch table. It is important to note, Adva Mobile is a Mobile Marketing Service for entertainers. There are mobile sales tools that come with it, that entertainers can leverage, but our focus has always been helping entertainers acquire new fans and keep them engaged, coming to shows and participating in the "community" you're building.

Overall, Square is certainly an interesting solution that will stir things up for a while. It certainly brings a lot of buzz with it, which is great. I'm looking forward to see what will happen with it as time goes by.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Real World Connection: Finally in the US?

For the longest time I've been a fan of, working in, and following various attempts at Real World Location technologies. Whether Mobile Barcode Scanning (Nextcode, NeoMedia, Scanbuy and others), real 'things' picture analyzed (mobot, Pongr and others), there were many attempts at getting it right.
No doubt, with the current possibilities through image recognition technologies, a lot can be achieved.

The question, IMO, has always been one of two:
  • Who has enough power in the marketplace (exp. in the US) to bring together all the players, commercial and customers, to agree on one "Standard" or "Scanning Form" that translates from a real-world "Thing" to digital content, AND
  • Who has enough images and sufficient search, image recognition power to beef up an end-user acceptable performance
The answer, of course, is Google. For a long time I've been anticipating it, and now it's here: Google Goggles. Watch and enjoy. Good luck to all other players in this market, I think the market just got swept away from under your feet.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Tell A Friend", Mobile web version OR reverse mobile carrier lookup

One of the key components to enable word-of-mouth spreading of a good service, is the ability for one user to share the experience with their friend. Duh.
In mobile, how can you enable that? SMS your friend, Email your friend, Twitter, maybe others. Facebook connect has been anticipated for ages on mobile web, but they seem to like only iphone apps, for now.
Trying not to force a behavior change or forcing someone to type in a full email address on their phone, I was looking for a simple, and free way for users to "tell their friends" over SMS.
If you have a service that uses SMS, then you're working with an SMS aggregation, and, for the most part, they need to know the carrier as well as the phone number you're sending the SMS to. But, what if you don't know the carrier?? I mean, the user of the service may know the phone number of their friend, but is it realistic to expect them to know the carrier? No, it's not.
So, you turn to the aggregation and ask them about reverse carrier lookup.
News flash: On top of the $.03 the resulting SMS will cost, the lookup will be additional $.02-$.03 and some 2-3 digit monthly minimum. Right, the US carriers are starving and need to make more money.
Alright, Google search takes you into this terrific FREE White pages feature. You can reverse lookup mobile carriers by phone numbers, and, from my experiments, they have it right!
Next step: sign up for their API. But: the API returns completely different, incorrect results!

I asked their API people for their thoughts on this, and here's what I got back:
"The carrier information available through our free, developer API is the same information we display in our search results on WhitePages. So, in terms of search results for a reverse phone query, the information is the same. However, on WhitePages, we offer an exclusive “Mobile Carrier Lookup” feature. We do not plan on including the mobile carrier information available through the “Mobile Carrier Lookup” feature on WhitePages via the free, developer API."

I'm speechless. This is really valuable information that's available one place and not in the API. Easily fixable, but they don't seem to see the value. ugh.

Monday, November 23, 2009

To DYI or not DYI. That is the question!

Yesterday at MusicHackDay, I was listening to the "Starting a Music Business" panel, and two topics ran in my head:
  • DYI vs. centralized management service for artists: A discussion started about the value, and load that new 'DYI' tools provide for entertainers. Derek Sivers (whose truly an awesome dude) had a really great way of putting it: "DYI? great! and now there's this tool? oh great, and now 'more information'? oh boy...". He's spot-on, I think.
    We at Adva Mobile definitely see how artists check us out and some stay, some move on. There's just so many tools. That's why integrated serices like ArtistData are the right way to go, IMO.
    There's just way too many different offerings for artists right now, and consolidation of the really good ones is bound to happen, hopefully soon (Hopefully Adva Mobile will be one of them). The flip side, though, is that many artists who would never get heard or make any money (to make art) would never have been heard by anyone without those DYI tools. So definitely the DYI tools is not for those who aren't prepared to invest in the promotion bit to be successful, and it also depends on how big you are. Hopefully, those issues are handed over to a band manager of sorts when you grow big enough.
  • The other topic in my head (that was not discussed) was triggered by the inevitable "Now's a great time to start a business in the music space". Sure, Duh. But seriously, without going pessimistic about it, what do you make of the recent iLike and iMeem fire sales? Or Spiral frog shutdown or Qtrax needing add'l $50MM? I mean, these are all players who've been alive for sometime and have been trying to figure "it" out. If iMeem is worth $1MM, I'm asking myself what are we worth? A Grand latte? 

Reblogged: Music as the ideal virtual good

This weekend I was fortunate to attend MusicHackDay organized at Microsoft NERD. I was even more fortunate to ask Nabeel Hyatt about recruiting talent in the music space who will help us geeks find that moonlight on the bridge between technology and entertainment. Anyway..
Nabeels' post "Music as the ideal virtual good" is one to pay attention to, whatever your involvement in the entertainment space is. His illustration of the "music business state of affairs", if you will. is excellent. I recommend walking through his deck. I think the point is, for the creative community as well as the technology, there is a place to make money. It just needs to be found in places it wasn't there before. For Nabeel, it's music inside social games:
"While virtual goods are usually confined to conversations about pixelated clothing and weapons, music is by far the highest grossing digital good. A look at what makes music sell as a virtual good."

My take? If you're an artist, think through your revenue stream. Some of it always will come from straight music sales, no doubt. But people today are much more about the live experience in shows followed by the memorabilia that comes with the experience (that's another way to name your CDs or T-shirt). Of course music creation is the driver for all of it, but on it's own, perhaps is not what's going to get you money.

Chart Courtesy: Nabeel Hyatt

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Geeky wishes...

I wish...
  • There was a free way to do mobile carrier lookup from a mobile number. That way I could enable people on mobile web pages to share their favorite sites with their friends in a rifle mode (the shotgun approach is easily supported via Twitter). It cost way too much to do a carrier lookup and then send the SMS. Operators should want this more than me, because when I'll send that SMS, I will pay to send it, and the receiver will pay ~$.10 to receive it.
  • There was a way to find location on mobile web pages for all phone types, not restricted to whether those devices have GPS or not (cellid or wifi router mac address is better than nothing). OEMs should want this more than me, because it opens a sea of marketing opportunities for them.
  • There was a simple, easy way to bill people off-deck, from an app or mobile web pages. The current on and off-deck billing solutions in the US are unusable. Every time I hear news from the UK about PayForIt I become green with envy. If there's such a successful model, why can't the US replicate it?! *everyone* in the mobile space should want this. This morning GoPayforit announced that it lets vendors set up a payment service for their site by inserting one line of code.

If I got any of the above wrong, feel free to educate me!

Can Freemium Content Model Survive?

Image Courtesy: HypebotFollowing last weeks' rumors about MySpace starting to charge for streaming and this weeks'MySpace-iMeem possible acquisition rumors, there's a lot of (repeating) talk about the business model of free content. Of particular interest is Wireds' post "Music: Too Expensive to Be Free, Too Free to Be Expensive".

Here's some of my thoughts, and what led me to start Adva Mobile
  1. Licensing Music from the majors is a difficult financial commitment to recover. If you're small and nimble, prove your bus model with the long tail, or at least the smaller players before paying the huge upfront fees. Sure, you gain (if you're lucky) the major's marketing wind behind your back, but when the honeymoon is over, you start paying. Another Wired writer's comment is almost (but not) funny: "In the world of online music, you're nobody until somebody sues you"
  2. "Advertising was supposed to be music’s magic bullet". Not. In all metrics, advertising payouts are dropping fast. Even on mobile, even when you can provide pretty accurate fan profiles, the payouts are way below your operating costs or licensing costs (if you have any).
  3. "Fans don't pay/Expect free". Not (again). As Debbie Chachra explained in her insightful post, fans will pay for relationships with the artists they follow in a number of levels. From tickets, hard goods to funding artist recordings, fans will pay for the experience that comes with the music. You just need to find a way to leverage those.
What's interesting in the entertainment space is that there seem to be no big winners in the game. Big problems = Big opportunities. That's what I'm banking on, anyway.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Economy's turning?

Tough times these days. With Microsoft dropping 800 peeps, Nokia-Siemens dropping thousands etc. I have a sneaking suspicion that layoffs in the mobile location space are imminent, following Google's launch of the Android full featured free GPS app.

There's no good reason for rehashing all of that other than sharing my feelings about the recent one to bite the dust: Zeemote. To be honest, I was a bit cynical about the use case and liklihood for proliferation of their gadget. But, as we know, the gaming industry has gone places no-one has predicted. In any case, Zeemote was built by a true visionary, Beth Marcus. I cringe when I think of the people who put so much effort in, go home empty handed.

All those talking about the economy turning, and there's no better time like now to start something new, I'm not sure what you're smokin', it sure is great stuff!. Here's my advice to working people: if you have a day job, get some super-glue, and put a lot of it on your chair. And I mean, A LOT!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IODA gets iPhone app for artists from MixMatchMusic

Congratulations to MixMatchmusic and Alan Khalfin for getting IODA on the bandwagon for their artist mobile promotional tool. IODA is a key player in the marketplace and their recognition that promotion on mobile is important, is great.
I found the quote from Adam Rabinovitz (IODA VP Marketing) interesting: "The MobBase iPhone app is an innovative and low-cost solution for independent artists who want to participate in the explosively popular iPhone app market".

We at Adva Mobile asked ourselves the question whether an iPhone app was the way to go initially, or Mobile Web. It was fan reach vs. hype. Admittedly, an iPhone app has far more hype than mobile web. From our little research, it seemed like artists wanted to reach all of their fans in the crowd, using simple and known tools like mobile web and SMS. We ended up deciding that resident iPhone, Android and blackberry app would come second.
The 2nd question I'm asking myself, reading the article, is the economics of providing artists a tailored app. We all know creating and deploying an app is not an insignificant effort. What kind of revenue artists need to make to pay $20+$15/month just for this app. (BTW, the iLike iPhone is not free). What's gonna happen in a year when Android is expected to come close to the iPhone reach? Are artists expected to pay another $15/month or more? An artist who can justify this expense is a household name. Selling out big venues, music and merch. Again, this is a dilemma we've been discussing at Adva Mobile. We ended up deciding that by charging artists that much, you essentially give up a huge chunk of the market. Our service is currently free, and maybe in the future we'll add some premium services.

Overall, I'm delighted to hear these news. It means more people add mobile to the promotion toolbox, and that's good for everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mobile Location is here (now for real)

In the last couple weeks I've been playing around with new mobile technology. This time, I came across this nice piece that enables marketers to learn their audience location as they view their mobile web pages.
Mobile location, it seems, has been the talk of the industry forever. Devices that don't come out with GPS chips installed seem to be the minority these days. Many applications have some form of mobile location awareness to them. Even Google has stormed in with Google Latitude, although the availability of that database for commercial purposes remains unclear. Has the real time location awareness made a dent in how marketers think of entering the mobile playground? questionable, I think.

One reason for not making a dent is that the effort associated in creating a mobile application is not insignificant. You need to consider coverage, features, maintenance etc. There's not an obvious easy entry point for marketers to test the ('mobile') water if the options are limited to mobile applications. If users' location were available on the mobile web, then with the development of a small portal, marketers can get huge reach instantly, and figure out the next step.

It seems that the technology is becoming available to create location-aware websites, and more specifically, location-aware mobile websites. I am hoping that this will really open a new path for marketers that wasn't available before, it is certainly an exciting opportunity for innovation!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New England Mobile Sector

As I read XConomy's post on the top 10 NE Venture deals of Q3'09, all I can do is remember that only this last Monday, at Mobile Monday, I was inside a room full of mobile entrepreneurs, money people, business people and what not, everyone saying: Mobile in Boston is reality, look around you.

Well, maybe we can argue that there are people working in the mobile space in NE, trying to make a difference and make miracles happen, but at the bottom line, money talks:
NE ventures are about science projects, or late-stage successful businesses. Numerous NE VCs are uncomfortable about investing in mobile, as are the early stage angels and independents. They need infrastructure, health, IP, enterprise. That works.

Maybe it's a way to ensure mobile businesses in NE are stronger (whatever that means) because there are fewer who can survive w/o funding. Or otherwise, if you want mobile, go west.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monetization in Mobile

Image: TextMovers
Yesterday night's great Boston Mobile Monday had an interesting panel of speakers who were talking about Monetization in Mobile. The panel included a developer, carrier, OEM and a VC, perfect.
Anyway, the question on the table is, to me, a critical question to ask: How to build a profitable business in mobile?
The panel, IMO, went down the obvious path of:
  • Interesting content and services
  • Compelling, yet simple engagement
  • Powerful marketing, discoverability and distribution
  • Advertising is not it
All true, but, duh.
Duh because the free business model, as successful as it may be (is it?), should be viewed as a pathway to an upsell. That's the critical point people seem to forget. Users have money, and they are willing to spend it. On tickets, goods, experience, less so content but some, etc.
Once we figured that out, we come to the real question of, ok, how do you charge the user
  • In both scenarios: resident apps and mobile web
  • In a highly user-friendly way, that does not require you to pre-sign up on the web. Yes, I'm talking about a one-click checkout on-bill transactions. Like they had for years now with PayForIt in the UK.
If developers could answer that question, then the way the US mobile space looks would have been very different. Suddenly the Mobile option would seem like a money generating, obvious decision for marketers, who are today sitting on the fence. It's not to say app stores don't allow charging, and Apple just recently approved on-app follow-on charges. But it's not anywhere near being readily available mainstream technology.
What are the available options to bill the user, in the US, today? (this is my knowledge, please correct me)
  • Carrier billing
    Pros: very simple, user friendly and familiar checkout process. Does not require pre-signup on the user. Support for refunds etc.
    Cons: Expansive setup and recurring charges, to the degree that it is prohibitive for startups. Unimaginable transaction % left to the carriers. Service Guidelines (dictated by the carriers) change on a weekly basis (creating a massive engineering effort).
    • SMS Billing
      Pros: Works (almost) cross carrier. Users are comfortable and familiar with the SMS.
      Cons: see above.
    • WAP Billing
      Pros: Mobile web one-click Amazon-like experience, beautiful. Money savings (not sending premium SMSs).
      Cons: Definitely not cross carrier. Massive efforts required to maintain and add new services to conform with carrier guidelines.
  • Off-Deck billing
    The reason off-deck billing is very interesting is because in the US it has huge potential: In many world countries (the Philippines is a a great example), esp. where people's access to cash and banks isn't as easy, carriers identified the potential and provided mobile solutions for financial transactions, money transfers etc. In the US, there is a growing need for mobile financial solution, but the carriers do not have the silver bullet solution today. That's the definition of a gap that entrepreneurs can fill.
    • Pre registration solutions:
      So yeah, Amazon, Paypal, Google and others provide great solutions, with great payout as well. The only downside is that you either need to
      • Be a pre-registered member of the service: an Amazon signed customer, Google checkout, Paypal mobile etc.
      • Own and be willing to enter your full credit card details (including address etc.) on your mobile phone (these days, with an increasing number of phones that have full keyboards, it's not as bad).
      Bottom line: Mobile is about immediacy. If we can't enable real time access to shopping for a first-time user, it's a real limitation.
    • On the fly: I'm actually not aware of these solutions (enlighten me). On-the-fly off-deck solutions, to me, is exactly what is needed.
To summarize this long post (sorry), I think there is a gap in the US as far as mobile solutions for recurring user billing transactions. It could come from the carriers in the form of financially and technically reasonable ubiquitous solution (like PayForIt), or it could come from entrepreneurs who can figure it out as a service that plugs into apps and mobile sites.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Y Combinator startup TipJoy shuts down

"Concurrent with shutting down the site, the two co-founders have moved to the west cost, Ivan Kirigin told Mass High Tech in an email. Early this year, Y Combinator announced plans to close its East Coast program, formerly headquartered in Boston, and focus on incubating West-Coast-based startups."

Read more here.

Say no more. Sigh.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Ad-supported MVNO: Tomato Plus

I'm reading this morning about Tomato Plus, a new Ad-supported MVNO in Croatia. Those of you reading my posts know that I'm a believer in a change of the business model to have advertisers pay for targeting information happily provided by subscribers, who get value in return.

"The basic consumer offering is getting 50 free sms and 50 free minutes of calling every month, “in return” for receiving 5 or 6 sms or mms ads per day. I say “in return” because it doesn’t seem as if the consumer feels as if they’re putting up with unwanted ads, as this might imply. Quite the opposite in fact, with research showing that 92% of subscribers are very happy and most ads having high response rates - even higher than Blyk claim, which is already impressive."

Read more here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

our first partnership: ArtistData

I'm more than excited to announce our first partnership, with ArtistData. Not only because it's big news for Adva Mobile, but also because ArtistData's service is so spot-on: giving musicians a service that enables them to enter shows, news, blogs and other assets once, and automatically aggregate that information to other sites. It's the right approach for musicians, who are already sufferring from lack of time to deal with self-promotion on multiple sites.

This integration will allow musicians to bring their assets from ArtistData automatically to their mobile fan club on Adva Mobile. It will happen automatically daily (you need to set it up on both sites). 

I think it's very cool and hope a lot of musicians will benefit from it. Certainly a step in the right direction, for everyone.

You can read more details here.

Reporting content downloads: geeks area

Hi everyone,
here's a little contribution to the world from yours truly. This time, highly geeky (beware!).

I had a problem where I needed to report content downloads by mobile phones. Most mobile browsers I know do not allow download and redirect, or vice versa, which would have been nice, as I'd report on the download into the database before or after the actual download happens.

Then I turned to the generic reporting service that my hosting provider has. They have two services they use for reporting. One's a fancy service (smartstats), but in my host environment, their API wasn't installed.
The second option was to go to the raw log files. Easy peasy. Well, not that easy:
- The log files live in a hidden system folder
- The logs are zipped, and host (which is shared) doesn't have an unzipping solution installed in their GAC. You need a 3rd party (ideally free) unzipping utility (I'm using .Net) that can live in the bin folder.

Locating the unzip utility was easy, and I found a great one (kudos!) here. I didn't deal with the documentation and went right for the 'reduced' dll version since I figured if I'm only unzipping a file, that would be sufficient. looks like it worked.

The next piece was to grab the zip files somehow. That was a pain and a waste of time. I tried to go for FTP, but counldn't figure it out. Eventually I found this 3-line piece which did the trick.

Here's a snippet of the relevant pieces of the code for your convenience (below). It's missing one important thing: clean up the files once you're done.

Enjoy! (Hope this will save you some time if you're having similar challenges)
public static processZipFile()
        string zipFileName = "ex"+ t.AddDays(-1).ToString("yyMMdd"),
        // temporary folder the zip file has been saved at
tempPath = AppDomain.CurrentDomain.BaseDirectory + "templog\\";
        // get the zip file from the hidden folder on the server    
// open the file for unzipping
            Ionic.Zip.ZipFile zip = ZipFile.Read(tempPath + zipFileName + ".zip");
            foreach (ZipEntry e in zip)
// unzip the file
                e.Extract(tempPath, true);
// do what you need to do with the file

// get the zip file from the remote server and copy it to a temporary folder

    public static void copyOver(string fileName)
        WebClient wc = new WebClient();
        wc.Credentials = new NetworkCredential("username", "password");
        wc.DownloadFile("ftp://ftp.sample.com/httplog/"+fileName+".zip", AppDomain.CurrentDomain.BaseDirectory + "templog/"+fileName+".zip");

Monday, May 4, 2009

Trent (NIN) head butting Apple over iPhone app rejected: Can he make a dent?

(read hereTrent head butting with Apple over rejected iphone app
Finally someone with enough marketing power and following goes through what we've been seeing for at least half a decade: the senseless censorship that is mandated in the mobile world. It's unheard of and unbelievable for traditional web marketers. I've seen this for a while now, specifically in the independant music world: almost every band has some content that doesn't match exactly the rules. is the answer not to serve them, or even worse, their audience?!. As Rich Miner said recently: "Nobody protects me when I'm browsing on my PC, why are they protecting me when I'm mobile-browsing?".

The answer is that this is a problem that operators, specifically US ones, have created themselves. The notion of educating subscribers that they can, and should call in whenever something goes wrong and they're just unhappy and want to bang someone, led to a gigantic and hungry support system that sucks the budgets underneath the carriers legs. (When was the last time you called Microsoft or Intel because you got the blue screen?!). The next piece for the carriers, then, is to restrict things that could go wrong on phones, resulting with subscribers either hacking phones or unaware of their phones capabilities. In other words, "buy a better monthly subscription, but please don't use it".

The reason I'm relating this Apple story to the operators is that I'm guessing these guidelines came from their marriage to AT&T (I already wrote about how healthy it would have been if Apple went operator-independant and sold unlocked phones. Here again, they would have freedom to do what's right, not what's mandated). What's even more infuriating, and it explains the inconsistency in apple's approval process, is that the guidelines change frequently. And I mean, weekly. Who has the time to read a 100-page "new operator guidelines", adn then implement them every time?

It'd be great if Trent could make a dent in how things work in the mobile space. Make decision makers think about the realities out there and growing volume of diverse content available on mobile, and how to best present it (enable parental controls on phones?). The reality, though, is that this is geat publicity for both sides, NIN & Apple. When the app comes out, there's gonna be more interest and demand. Apple will figure a way to work with NIN, it's worth bringing them through the VIP backdoor. The rest of the musicians will need to see their art scrubbed.

BTW...to clarify, I'm not a fan of any of that language or visual, which is why I haven't posted the link to Mashable, where you could see the language in the comments. I think sometimes musicians use it to express themselves, and that's ok, but I'm unsure it's needed outside that world. Just my 2 cents.

I've just come across Sue Marek's (Fierce Wireless) post on "Why do distasteful apps sell?". It's well worth reading, she makes very good points. I'd say there's no write or wrong in this push-pull economy. Who keeps creating nuclear weapons, despite the knowledge these are overall bad news for everyone? Why they do it? because there's demand.
I think Sue is just slightly off in her conclusion "I'd like to think that most app developers are more interested in creating clever solutions to practical problems rather than selling distasteful apps". While the statement is true, IMO, developers are after making money, primarily. Everything else follows. Which is why the iFarts of the world will proliferate and drive more buzz than any genuinely useful app will.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mobile Shopping Taking Off In US

Mobile Shopping Taking Off In US: A survey of 3,305 online consumers in the US by Pricegrabber.com has found that nearly 58 percent of them own a mobile phone capable of connecting to the web (8 percent own an iPhone). "One in 10 online consumers said they purchase online from their mobile device, 16 percent compare prices and another 16 percent research product details/specifications," writes FierceWireless. Of those in the survey who did makes purchases from their mobile phoens, 58 percent have purchased digital content for their phone, 51 percent have purchased consumer electronics, 37 percent have purchased computers, 36 percent have purchased books, and 31 percent have purchased clothing.

Source: MocoNews

It's coming, finally.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Angel groups requiring entrepreneurs to pay to pitch

Where should entrepreneurs invest their resources?There's no doubt there are a lot of entrepreneurs with ideas that range from incredible to terrible, for the most part seeking seed funding with angel groups, who have to somehow accomodate them all.
Also, a lot can been said about northeastern investors being somewhat more conservative than their west-coast collegues, seeking more 'sciense projects' more than mashups.

Today I've heard of another northeastern angel group requiring startups to pay to pitch. It's not a 5-digit number, but it is a 3 digit number for one, and 4-digit for the other. I'm sure there's a very good reason for it, that I'm not aware of. I'm sure this is not an expense that the average investor group can not self-manage. Is it a tool to filter entrepreneurs? And if so, does this mean that investors think successful entrepreneurs are the ones who can afford handing money over to investors (which sounds to me somewhat reversed)?

It just strikes me that entrepreneurs need to focus on making progress at their business, and put every resource they can into it, including, or perhaps, especially money.
Angels asking entrepreneurs to pay to pitch is, well, beyond me. Sorry.

At the same breath I'd like to mention a highly popular recent thread that's talking about more focus into students who have great ideas (Here's one, two and there's more): (Scott Kirsner) "the biggest way to make Boston more competitive and innovative right now is to do a better job connecting students with our innovation economy"
I've nothing against that, given the incredible things that are coming out of the MIT's of the world. At the same breath, though, there is something to be said about experienced workers seeing something they could do better and pursuing it. One thing that stands for them, at least, is their experience and knowledge.
I don't think it's the one or the other, but the almost-exclusive focus on grads is slightly missing the point IMO.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Please, NO: Inflight Wireless slowly but surely moving down the runway

ABI Research has a piece today about how onboard wireless access is becoming mainstream. Yay. 
I haven't flown in quite a while, however I find the following quote inaccurate and frankly annoying:
"The inflight wireless market that has been trapped by a groundless sense of fear of being stuck next to a perennially chatty person who will not put the phone down. The reality is inflight communications charges will keep all but the very seriously wealthy off the phone for long periods of time."

This is SO wrong. You're right, not everyone and their sister would start jabbing, but the business travellers stuck in economy and able to spend more of the company's budget would love to "get productive". Kids with phones sitting next to their parents who, frankly, would pay for them to get occupied would start jabbing, and the list goes on. So great, you've identified a sector who wouldn't start jabbing, but you opened a world of jabbers for an red eye flight. Tomorrow's gonna be SO productive for you!

The next section is even better:  
"In this world of anytime, anywhere communications, it is maddening one cannot send txt messages or browse the internet and check email. Concerns over interfence and security have been shown to be without merit."
Oh, I'm sorry. Wifi anyone? Why do you have to provide a telephone communicaiton system? you can text (and recieve) messages from your PC, without interrupting your neighbors, and get productive. Why isn't Wifi good enough?

It's a poor decision IMO. I hope the airlines will pull it down before there's a passenger backlash. This is an intimate environment where many people have to get along. There's no reason to challenge that, to satisfy a technology looking for a business.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Too good to be true? MMA convinces carriers to merge best-practice playbook

Reading this morning's Mobile Marketer news from CTIA, MMA seems to think they can get the carriers to sign up for a single playbook. Healthy skepticism, but boy, if they do get the carriers to let go, just for a bit, then it's great news!

Read the article here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The devil you know

I'm reading this morning an outstanding productive brief from Mobile Marketer. The very first article is titled "Per-message carrier fees killing SMS marketing: CTIA panel".

Interestingly, the article ends with the right conclusion, which is that meaningful interaction with the audience is the solution to drive higher ROI from mobile marketing campaigns, especially those that require financial investment like SMS.

However, I feel the title of the article and the beginning of it does little justice to the context, the operators and the whole mobile marketing space. (And I'm not a fan of US carriers SMS policies by any stretch of imagination).

At the end of the day you can quarrel all day with the operators over pennies. Reality is, that those pennies actually make SMS still a highly attractive mobile marketing platform for brands as it has still not been invaded by everyone and their wives. Because there's a financial barrier (BTW, if you want to point any fingers, how about those outrageous financial requirements to get a dedicated shortcode by Neustar. $1K/month for what exactly?). If there wasn't one, you'd see growing number of automated and behavioral blocking elements similar to the ones we have today on email and web.

No, the revenue margin needs to come from brands and advertisers who are, in fact, seeking effective access to their audience with new tools like mobile. They have the money to spend, once seeing that this channel works. And so currently the expenditure on mobile advertising, compared to TV, for example, is experimental by nature. I heard someone say recently "I've never heard of anyone in an agency loose their job over spending their budget on TV advertising".

The question then, is whose job is it to bring the advertisers down from the fence their sitting on, show them the value and push this market forward. The answer to that question, of course, is the mobile marketers. HipCricket, iLoop, Adva Mobile and others.

And so it's not helpful to pressure the operators seeking for higher margins, we should create those margins on the other side. If anything, by applying pressure on the operators, we're asking them for a new business model that could be just as bad, if not worse.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Adva Mobile's 1st Newsletter

Adva Mobile 1st newsletter
Our first newsletter just came out, lot's of advice and insight on how to promote your band in these days where your fans are bombarded with electronic information they can't handle.

A highlight of this newsletter is an insightful interview conducted by Ariel Hyatt (founder of Ariel Publicity) of Helen Keegan on new mobile promotion tools for musicians.

We're featuring McAlister Drive as a leading band this month, who sold 10 tickets to their fans on their mobile phones this week (there's more here).

During March and April we are promoting tickets sales by paying the musicians $1 for every ticket sold through us...read more here.

Thanks to Ariel, Helen, Christoph and John for their help on this newsletter...we better start working on the next one :-)

Kudos to UserVoice

Ever seen that little feedback tab on the right or left of a page and wanted one? It would take you less than 5 minutes to get it, customize and install it!

Following a post on ArtistData, I turned to UserVoice and found their amazing 5-minute installation, free user feedback forum widget and tool. They really nailed this one: does it's job, easy to install, what a breeze.

Warm recommendation to you, and kudos to UserVoice.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kudos to PayPal

Integration with PayPalI've just finished integrating with PayPal. Although one would think it's a given, their developer program is really great. Although I feared from this integration initially (we're talking REAL money here, not some software fluff), their developer program helped me get through it quickly, effectively, and I feel great about it.

Specifically I want to point out their Sandbox program. That's a great tool to demo the whole payment processing without actually spending anyone's money. You can set yourself up as a merchant, setup demo customer accounts (and give them virtual money, yes that past was fun!) etc.

Two topics for improvement, I thought, were:
  • Documentation(of course) could be arranged much better with description of the APIs and programs, code samples, perhaps ready-made generated code etc. specifically, there are contradictions in the current documentation.
  • Arrangement of the Sandbox and developer site: arrange the program and materials for each program, for example, or a step-by-step tutorial wizard that takes you and shows you what you need. For example (just to show how short-attention I am) took me ages to figure out there's that PayPalBase dll that provides the required functionality that you need.
Otherwise, kudos to PayPal, the integration with you was easy and clean.

Next time I propose an SMS-based service in the US, slap me!

This is a rant-post about trying to build an SMS-based service in the US. You may say "Oh, this doesn't apply to me", but the bottom line of this is, whatever you do, if you need approval from the carriers in the US, IT DOES APPLY TO YOU.

To put into perspective, I'm building a "Standard Rate", "Dedicated Shortcode", "Multi-Program" service. (If you are interested in the details, visit the MMA site, they really do a great job at facilitating sanity in the Mobile Marketing space).

We needed to use SMS because we wanted to enable subscribers to interact with the service. to initiate and respond. Mobile email, specifically in the US, has taken off well, considering (avoiding the tangent), even with non-enterprise subscribers. The cost of email is obviosly more attractive than SMS. but not everyone is connected to mobile email, so depending on your target market demographics, you end up needing to use (and pay) SMS.

We've re-discovered that when building an SMS based service, you'll see the following:
  • Cost of SMS is unreasonable
    • You'll pay a few cents/SMS, couple grand/month for the service of the mobile SMS aggregator, and then couple grand more to USShortcodes/Neustar (in case you're using a dedicated shortcode).
    • Guess what? it's going to get worse: Verizon already announced their intention to raise the cost of sending an SMS to almost double. Guess what will be the reaction by the rest of the carriers.
    • The process of provisioning a dedicated shortcode is, of course, a few months, so plan on paying the above cost for a few months in a row before you can even claim you're live on the 4 tier-1's (Verizon, AT&T, Spring & T-Mobile).

  • The process of approving an SMS-based program is unreasonable
    • It's not a cookie-cutter: You'd think that whatever your program looks like, carriers and SMS aggregators done it a gazillion times. Think again. I don't know if there truly is a daily change in the operator guidelines, a heightened sensitivity or a job security thing. What I know is that my program looks to me like one that I know good and respectable players are using, and I'm surprised to hear new rules and guidelines daily.
    • You may need to operate two systems in the process: Do you have the service already running on a shared shortcode and trying to move over? You now need to keep serving your audience, and of course, in parallel, allow the carriers to test your service on the new shortcode.
      Carriers have this two-step certification+provisioning process. Certification means you can send and receive SMSs using the new dedicated shortcode, but please don't go commercial on it. Provisioning means the new dedicated shortcode is approved.
      Practically, you're trying to ramp up a business, so you're saying, I've got only a handful of users, I'll respond to their SMSs through the certified (but not provisioned) dedicated shortcode. That works well until one of the carriers sets a "White list", meaning only certain phones (which you, of course, don't know) will be able to interact with the certified shortcode. Go figure who sent you an SMS from the old shared shortcode (and respond from it) and who sent you an SMS from the certified shortcode, and respond from there. F-U-N!
    • The rules are set by the extreme carrier and thus, are unreasonable: Let me take you down one scenario. You have two programs running, involving standard subscription. Let's say there's a fan club for Shakira and a fan club for Aceyalone. A subscriber joins both fan clubs, and maybe more. The reasonable thing to do, is to tell that subscriber: if you want to opt-out of one club, do this, or if you want to opt-out of ALL programs, do that.

      That sense didn't work for one of the carriers, who demanded we promote only the word "STOP", which is an opt-out from all command. This obviously led to a waterfall of wrong workarounds. Here's one not-funny one: When the subscriber sends "STOP", send them an SMS back, telling them they're sub'd to several channels, and they need to send either "STOP ALL" or "List" to view their subscriptions. First, this will never fly as this changes the meaning of the fundamental command "STOP". But second, let's say that (poor) subscriber is sub'd to 10 or more programs. In a 160-character SMS, they might get more than a few SMSs back with their subscriptions and instructions. OH THAT MAKES A LOT OF SENSE: You wanted to STOP, and in return you're getting all those SMSs, on your budget. NOT FUNNY.

IMO, the process, cost and issues involved with SMS suggest that it's time has passed. We need to move on to find alternatives (see RIM's BB-to-BB IM solution, works completely independent of carriers and doesn't cost them a cent) for the mass crowds that would make sense to the crowds, the marketers and the carriers.
I'll just mention that I don't think this is unique to the aggregator I'm working with. I've worked with 2 others in the last 3 years, and had seen the exact same issues for US deployments.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Adva Mobile Launched

Adva Mobile launches the mobile fan club service for musicians
I'm excited to announce that earlier today Adva Mobile opened the service for musicians to sign up and start creating their mobile fan clubs. In the past two months we had the fan experience working: sending text messages, viewing mobile internet pages, downloading songs to fans' phones, sharing on twitter etc. Now we enable artists to control their messaging, mobile pages, content and more. For those interested, here's the press release.

The beta period was rewarding in that it taught us a lot about what's important to the bands and to the fans. We good great feedback and enthusiasm although we had no marketing budget. It was the power of the promoters, bands and fans to spread the word. THANK YOU FOR THAT!

Now we need to concentrate on the next challenge, and we could use your help: get the word out to as many bands as possible. We could use your help: if you know a band, or your neighbor's kid plays in a band, tell them about us: Adva Mobile, the mobile fan club service: http://www.advamobile.com.

On another note, Adva Mobile now has it's own blog: http://www.advamobile.com/blog. There is also a Twitter account: Twitter.com/advamobile.

Look for Adva Mobile stuff over there. In the mean time, I'll debate where each of my ramblings go, here or there :-)