Team GOGII Takes the Charts!

Congrats to iFund company GOGII for reaching #4 in the AppStore with their app TextPlus just in time for WWDC.  They have built a powerful platform for text that enables a host of applications in SMS, the first of which is group text.  The team is scaling quickly, listening to customers’ new feature requests, and scrambling to meet the tremendous demand on the AppStore!

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The Next Steps to Accelerate the Tectonic Shift in Mobile, Part 3

Part 3: Revenue scalability: Taking mobile advertising from a multi-million dollar to a multi-billion dollar business, and jumpstarting virtual items and mobile payment

As described in a previous blogpost, we need

– Usage scalability

– Revenue scalability and

– Truly mobile services

to unlock the full potential of the mobile device for consumers and to turn cell phones into the massive interactive platform opportunity for developers that exists.

Today’s topic: revenue scalability.

Mobile advertising is happening, despite popular opinion that it is not. Millions of dollars are poured into mobile advertising already today, and billions of impressions are delivered every month (e.g. for Coca-Cola, P&G, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, IKEA, travel sites, …). However, what is not happening is billions of mobile ad dollars, despite cell phones being the medium that allows true “1-to-1 mass marketing” – something that used to be a contradiction in itself – and “cross-platform integration,” as the cell phone the only medium consumers carry with them while they are using other media platforms, from TV to outdoor to radio.

So why not billions? Advertisers need three things in order to shift substantial amounts to mobile: Simplicity, scale, and score.

Simplicity – mobile advertising has traditionally been too difficult to buy for agencies – one phone call needs to be enough for them to buy. The rest is our industry’s problem, not theirs.

Scale – the largest advertisers want to be able to reach 20, 30, 50 million people (uniques, not repeats) before they commit millions of dollars. The iPhone is likely to soon emerge as the first big platform that allows smooth and media-rich integrations into apps and mobile sites with massive scale.

Score – mobile is by definition a highly individual and therefore measurable device, even more so than the internet, as cell phones are rarely handed from person to person (at least in the developed countries where most of the ad dollars are spent), the return path is hard to change, the localization is added. However, only recently, with the mobile web and iPhone app explosion, have good measurement technologies emerged. Now they need to become accepted; that is the real challenge. To advertisers it matters more WHO measures the ROI than the granularity of the measurements.  That is no different from the online and TV worlds.  Very few online research institutes are accepted as the common “media currency” providers that provide a stamp of approval on media data.  In TV broadcasting, it is even fewer (one ;).  In mobile, the current situation is still in the chicken and egg phase: Without large-scale advertiser demand, an undisputed currency provider is hard to create; without clear currency providers, advertisers are hesitant to scale their ad investments.  The way to cut this knot is once again with a highly attractive platform like the iPhone, which can attract substantial ad spending despite a lack of clear currencies for CPM and branding effects etc, because of the obvious user engagement proven by (easily measurable) direct responses from apps and mobile sites.

Virtual items. Virtual items have been a soaring market in Korea and Japan, both online and mobile.  That success has yet to be transferred to the U.S. and other Western markets, but the new, media-richer mobile games on smartphones will offer lots of opportunities to open that revenue stream.  This could be a more significant market than one-time mobile game download revenue.

Mobile payment. For developing countries, the question is not “if,” but simply “when will it be really large.”  Traditional banking is used much less there, and most people do not have PC-based web access, so their cell phone will be their banking and electronic payment terminal.  The more interesting question is developed countries.  Here, the question is “how.”  Mobile payment will only be a serious replacement for cash or credit cards in instances when it is a) simpler, or b) safer, to use.  Paying the taxi with a cell phone will be the less likely use case; cash and credit cards will likely remain easier when you can just hand either one over to the cab driver in a hurry.  But for example,

– on e-commerce players’ mobile sites (think Amazon, travel sites, train tickets), the hassle of typing in the same credit card number again and again is one key holdback for consumers to use their cell phone to buy;

– premium text messaging is a very costly way of buying mobile content (steep charges);

– and online classifieds can be pretty unsafe when you meet your seller in person holding a bundle of cash in your hand.

In other words, to unlock new revenue streams like mobile payment and virtual items, the use cases have to be…  truly mobile.

So in one of the upcoming blog posts, we’ll talk about what creating “truly mobile services” means and why they hold such potential for new startups.

The Next Steps to Accelerate the Tectonic Shift in Mobile, Part 2

Part 2: Usage scalability: How to reach billions of cell phone users beyond the millions of iPhone users

As described in a previous blogpost, we need

– Usage scalability

– Revenue scalability and

– Truly mobile services

to unlock the full potential of the mobile device for consumers and to turn cell phones into the massive interactive platform opportunity for developers that exists.

In other words, we need rapid growth of open platforms for usage growth; mobile advertising, virtual items and mobile payments for revenue growth; and creative thinking around new services that goes beyond the cell phone as an extension of online platforms.

These three factors combined, will unlock the full potential of the mobile device for consumers.

The good news is, each of the three factors can be driven to at least a significant extent by developers themselves.

Today, let’s talk about usage scalability.

The world has 3.3 billion cell phone users; the U.S. has 263 million subscribers, i.e. less than 10% of the world; and the most recent numbers showed about 12 million iPhone users globally, and maybe about 7 million in the U.S. (there maybe a few million more now).

What about all the others? The opportunity is tremendous, if we “unlock” it right. On a recent trip I took to some developing countries such as India, Nepal, Bhutan, South Africa and Brazil, I saw in daily life how cell phones are used as the no. 1 interactive platform globally, far above the use of the PC.

Take India. About 60 million people use online PC’s, less than 4 million have broadband access. But 300 million use a cell phone. Every month, 7-8 million new subscribers sign up. That’s 80-90 million new users per year. Up to 600 million more customers could be connected in India in the next few years, in a country of 1.1 billion (assuming a group of 200 million people that won’t be able to afford it). The majority of them use Nokia phones. The iPhone remains a luxury item.

And yet – the floodgates for “open mobile” have been opened by the iPhone. 300 million iPhone app downloads in under 150 days eliminate the old (and popular) discussions about whether or not mobile users really want to do anything else but talking and texting on cell phones.

Speed of open standards deployment and a few platforms to focus on. Now the next question is how fast the open standards will become more widespread, beyond the iPhone. How quickly will Google’s Android mobile operating system gain traction? The carriers’ biggest power still is in their decision making about which cell phones with which operating systems they sell and promote in their retail stores, which is where most consumers choose their device. In other words, how many Android phones will make it to the stores of the major carriers around the world and how quickly? And how quickly will Symbian (Nokia) phones be truly open? And when will all the other proprietary systems go away? The developer community needs 2-3 platforms they can focus their development efforts on – not 20.

Powerful browsers for low-end handsets. The next step needs to be the move from “smartphone apps” to “anyphone services.” Good browsers on low-end handsets will be a key to unlock the huge latent demand in developing nations around the world for mobile web services – given that online web services are hardly mainstream due to the lack of PC’s.  Handset makers may want to consider subsidizing powerful browsers in low-end handsets, and open revenues streams on the services side.  This is especially useful in developing countries where some handset makers hold large market shares, but carriers have less control in the market.

In one of the upcoming blog posts, we’ll cover revenue scalability.

The Next Steps to Accelerate the Tectonic Shift in Mobile, Part 1

cyriacCyriac Roeding joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2008 as Entrepreneur-in-Residence, to focus on next-generation cross-platform mobile and online venture concepts. Previously, Cyriac was EVP of CBS Mobile, CBS Interactive. He launched CBS Corporation’s (NYSE: CBS) mobile businesses across CBS Entertainment, CBS Sports, CBS News and The CW. In partnerships with technology start-ups, he created U.S. industry firsts such as location-based mobile advertising, mobile video breaking news and sports alerts, and avatar-based mobile games tied to major TV shows. He grew CBS Sports Mobile into one of the Top Ten highest traffic ad-supported mobile websites in the U.S.; created the first virtual reality video gaming experience across TV, online and mobile with “CSI: NY”; and launched the first Alternate Reality Game with full primetime TV drama episode (Numb3rs) and outdoor billboard integration.

Is the iPhone the answer to all prayers and complaints in the mobile startup world?

No, it is not. One phone alone cannot deliver that.

But it is the kickoff to a tectonic shift. Away from an industry structure based on structural and size advantages to an industry structure driven by innovation, consumer choice and software developers. To date, the players owning the customer billing relationship and the infrastructure have been favored (carriers/operators). The iPhone AppStore and its ease of web browsing kick off the shift to an industry structure that unbundles billing and infrastructure from the services running on top of those.

Part 1: The independent developer community for the first time is becoming the mobile innovation powerhouse

Let’s be clear, we are certainly a long way from the form of perfect competition found on the internet, where the best one (or the one kicking off the network effect first) wins, regardless of size. But for the first time, we are truly on our way.

The Silicon Valley developer community is quickly becoming a center of innovation for mobile. That is nothing new for the online world, but it is completely new for the mobile world. In the last decade, mobile innovations came mostly from Europe (especially Finland), Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and some large U.S. companies outside Silicon Valley. The Valley didn’t get into the game because Silicon Valley developers did not have a platform to work with that allowed them to fairly compete against large sized players. The iPhone AppStore changes that dramatically. While an approval process for new apps still exists on the iPhone, the time to deploy apps went from about 18 months to a few weeks. Consumers are responding to the ease of use as well. 200 million downloads occurred in little over 100 days. Suddenly, we are past the (previously very popular) discussion “Do consumers really want to do anything else besides calling and texting on their cell phones?”  The mobile web is also becoming significant. Apple has only been on the mobile market for 16 months, and the iPhone’s web traffic is already exceeding that of the most established smartphone makers.

This is all good. But there are more key steps that need to happen. We need

– Usage scalability

– Revenue scalability

– Truly mobile services.

In other words, we need rapid growth of open platforms for usage growth; mobile advertising and mobile payments for revenue growth; and creative thinking around new services that goes beyond the cell phone as an extension of online platforms.

These three factors combined, will unlock the full potential of the mobile device for consumers.

So, the kickoff to the tectonic shift in mobile has already happened with the iPhone; now it’s about accelerating the shift further.

More on each of the three factors above in upcoming blogposts here.

Touched by iPhone?

neil-205x300Neil Young is the CEO and a co-founder of iFund company ngmoco:) a developer and publisher of games for the iPhone and beyond.  Prior to founding ngmoco:), Neil spent 11 years at Electronic Arts, producing and managing the company’s first MMO Ultima Online, the industry’s first ARG, Majestic and two of the most successful game franchises in EA’s history – Lord of the Rings & The Sims 2.

It’s an important day in the life of our company as we’re announcing Rolando, MazeFinger & Topple – 3 of a dozen games that we have in development at ngmoco:)

We started our company with the commitment to make Apple’s handhelds the leading platform for games through killer, native software. What you’ll see from us is a range of games, available at a range of prices from free to premium, that are fun, beautiful and compelling. We’ll strive to raise the bar for gaming on the platform and our commitment to customers is that we’ll always try to give you great games that showcase this amazing device in a broad range of categories. Over time you’ll see the games and the framework that they are a part of evolve into a network that connects players together both with new games and with one another in new ways.

The iPhone can give you all the gaming goodness from arcade to adventure, from puzzle to platformer & from shooter to sudoku, but it can also give you games that you’ve never seen before – alternate & augmented reality games, mobile social experiences, games that use multi-touch, accelerometers, gps, the camera, your media and your friends to bring you amazing new experiences.

We’re embarking on the next phase of our mission to make the iPhone & the iPod touch the great gaming machines they deserve to be – we hope that you enjoy our games and are as touched by the iPhone as we’ve been.

Looking for Killer Apps

I have found it useful, when adventuring after killer apps, to use 5 thought filters.

Ship early
It is no accident that so many defining applications launch in the first year of a new platform. The “feeding frenzy” of press and early adopters makes it easy to get ink and word of mouth. These people are hungry to sell magazines and gain street cred by being the first to discover the “new new thing.” For these people, there is nothing better than demoing to agape and envious others.

Most customers feel more intense emotion about their hardware “investments” than their software “consumption.” So the second need of new adopters is to justification. “Look how smart I am (how dumb I am not!); I got this new (insert hardware model here) and it can do this!!!”

The strategy for a developer aiming at early adopters is to get to market first. Of course, the problem is that most software shipped into the first holiday season of a new platform is not good enough to last. The software rushed to market in August and October can feel very stale by March.

Some games that were “first to market” with proven game types on new platforms include John Madden Football on Sega Genesis; Need for Speed (driving) on 3DO and Playstation; Battlefield 2 (combat) for PC online; Godfather for Xbox 360. On the iPhone, some notable “feeding frenzy” successes have been Super Monkey Ball and Tap Tap Revenge.

For those of you who misses the first month of iPhone app downloads, this is still a useful lesson. The earlier you ship your first app, the sooner you can get to great. And there are still new territories, new languages, and probably new hardware and software releases to be early against.

Be first to digitize a hobby
In the history of videogames, it has been new game categories, not new technology, that has attracted new customers. Pilots bought computers to play Flight Simulator. Paint Ball fans went online to play Doom. Sci fi movie buffs installed CD-Roms to help Mark Hamill succeed in Wing Commander. Doll housers got into gaming for the first time to play The Sims. Dancing Queens bought floor pads to play DDR. Rock fans bought plastic Fenders to play Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The best development strategy is to build a team with to fans, and trust their decisions. A self-described “girly girl” designer was key to the success of The Sims. Ultima Online was designed by a core of experienced text MUD designers (multi-user dungeon).

But a little research never hurts. I recommend a simple “concept test” approach, which consists of giving potential customers a list of 10-30 one line concepts of a game, and let them rate or circle the ones they think they would “definitely check out or try.” EA Sports “NBA Live” was conceived when “5 on 5 NBA Basketball” was the number one pick two years in a row in the mid-1980’s.

Popular vertical interests usually have their own communities, opinion leaders, magazines, web sites and blogs. Software that delivers the first “authentic” digital experience of a hobby wins the community and the word of mouth quite handily. It certainly seems to have been the case with iBeer!

Discover a new demographic
Geez, I remember when “all gamers” were anti-social male loners…nerds…way back in the 80’s. Then Nintendo and Sega happened, and overnight, junior high school presidents were into gaming. “Cool” games like Punchout and Test Drive, Road Rash and Skate or Die, Desert Strike and Doom were killer apps for popular boys.

In the 90’s, the Playstation went after 20-somethings with its “You are not Ready” challenge, which, along with Sega CD, opened the door to more grownup themes like Twisted Metal and Resident Evil, Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, and eventually all the way to the mature content of Grand Theft Auto.

Pre-teens swarmed to Pokemon and Neopets in the 90’s. Casual games from labels like PopCap and Pogo brought gaming to women in the past decade, with titles like Bookworm, Lottso, Bejeweled and Snood. And then the most surprising of all, Brain Age and Sudoku on the Nintendo DS brought videogaming to grandparents. It is a lot cheaper to get a story in AARP magazine than buying a commercial spot on the Super Bowl. But who can prove that the latter is more valuable?

No one seems to have mined a new demographic among iPhone fanatics, in the US at least. Does iTunes usage define a new audience class? Is Is iPhone the first application platform for people who want to game away from their couches, desks or backseats?

Harness New Tech
While new tech garners more headlines than new hobbies, it tends to inspire new features, instead of altogether new categories. In other words, it is a good, but not great, development strategy. “16-bit” brought us sports simulations with real statistics, and grew the sports category. CD-Rom added “interactive movies” to story games, but didn’t expand that segment. Internet and 3-D video cards turned shooters into FPS, helped RPG’s become MMO’s and turned car racers into “virtual item” games, but again, replaced existing markets. Analog controllers led to “Freestyle” in NBA Live rather than a new sport. Motion controllers gave us the full-body swings and touchdown dances of Wii Sports and “Family Play”, but within football and golf themes.

iPhone brims with new technology for mobile gaming, from the multi-touch interface to accelerometer, always connected wireless, proximity and light sensors, web browser and smart typing. The physics of the GUI is breath-takingly cool, and must be considered. We’ve seen lots of tilting to date, and Spore is great, but so far there haven’t been many apps that successfully use multiple iPhone tech advances. There are hints of new discovery categories using maps, and new social innovations using contacts, but we can only hope for untold surprises ahead.

Align with the Brand Position
The platform owner/manufacturer is very likely to have its own positioning bias, that arises from the corporate personality rather than the technology. Xbox went after core gamers and so Halo was a killer app, literally. Microsoft pushed CD-Rom capabilities in PC’s and was the launchpad for Wing Commander. Nintendo wanted gender balance with its lighter, pinker DS, and so Nintendogs won the show. Sega wanted to position around speed with Genesis, and so Sonic the Hedgehog grabbed the brass ring(s).

What does that mean for iPhone developers besides dressing your avatars in black turtlenecks? Beauty and style matter on iPhone, perhaps moreso than on any previous interactive platform. And of course, an iPhone app should leverage the best of iPhones new tech and interface, be intuitive, gorgeous and polished to a superior luster. It must be pleasing to touch, playful to tilt and twist, puckish to pinch. In short, your iPhone app should be “insanely great.” But if you’ve read this far, you probably already knew that.

Killer Platforms, Killer Apps

bing-2Bing Gordon joined KPCB after 26 years at Electronics Arts, where he was Chief Creative Officer from 1998 to 2008. Bing joined EA in 1982 and helped write the founding business plan that attracted KPCB as an initial investor, later heading EA marketing and product development for 16 years. Bing’s blog posts will focus on the gaming and social opportunities of this new platform.

I worked through the launches of several dozen meaningful game platforms since 1983, from the Atari 800 and C-64 to Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii…as well as some bumps in the road, like PC Junior, CD-I, Sega CD and Dreamcast. The iPhone 3G launch was as good as it gets. You go, iPhone!

Apple seems to have learned from history:

  • The “first party” must be the Market Maker, as spokesperson, evangelizer and brand driver. No platforms succeeded when brand owners faltered.
  • Critical mass or die. 20 Million units sold has been the minimum US audience for a meaningful game machine. Pretty good start with the 3G!
  • 3rd party software provides creative breadth and energy. I believe Apple invented 3rd party “evangelism” with Guy Kawasaki several centuries ago.
  • Best “Frenemies” Forever! When their game platform takes off, console companies have historically battled their 3rd party developers for market share and profits. Apple’s early and open support of the Dev community is a veteran move, and commendable.
  • Early is usually expensive… and lame. iPhone’s development tools have successfully reduced early development costs. But it is typically the “second generation” titles which are memorable and lasting.
  • It takes “Killer apps” to attract new customers and define a platform. The App Store is definitely killer. Now it is up to developers to invent some never-seen-before game and social experiences.

This is a spectacular new era for gamers and developers. Apple and other open platforms have unleashed a creative fervor that reminds me of the first days of computer games, with software being programmed in garages, dorm rooms and spare offices.

Let the games begin!

Launching the iFund Blog….

Today we’re launching the iFund blog. The purpose is to share (and hear) perspectives around the iPhone and emerging open mobile ecosystem. We’ve been blown away by the amount of entrepreneurial activity in mobile since launching the iFund on March 6th. In 6 months, we’ve received over 2700 plans. To put it in context, that’s about 20x what we received in a similar period last year. Out of that group, we’ve funded five companies totaling more than $30M of investment:

  • Pelago – social discovery and location sharing through an application called Whrrl which is live on the AppStore
  • iControl – a home automation and monitoring solution available in Q1
  • ng:moco – iPhone games launching its first titles this month
  • GOGII – A new social interaction and marketing platform, launching in Q4
  • An unannounced venture launching in Q1

We’re excited to be working with these five iFund companies and we’re in active conversations with many others.

The purpose of this blog is to create a forum for dialogue around the impactful trends and observations as the promise of open mobile is being fulfilled. From time to time, we’ll have various KP partners and execs from our mobile companies contribute to this blog which should broaden the scope and perspective.

This first entry seems timely as we come out of CTIA Fall. It’s a good time to reflect on the last year and the dramatic changes we’ve already seen and those afoot across the mobile industry.

  • First and foremost… the iPhone. In a word, “Wow!” 1M 3G devices in 3 days and an estimated 6M in 7 weeks.
  • Second, the astonishing success of the AppStore. “Double Wow” and an even more impactful event for the industry that demonstrates the promise of simple discovery and consumer choice. 60M downloads in 30 days. And hot off the presses 100M in 60 days! According to our estimates and M:Metrics data, that’s more iPhone application downloads in 30 days than all US carriers combined have in a quarter.* That means a relatively small base of handsets (~12M, mostly US) is dramatically outperforming the other 250M.
iPhone App Downloads vs. Rest of US Market

Is it the early adopters? Is it the iPhone’s great UI/screen/device? Is it the AppStore? Is it the developers and draw of a great development environment? It’s all of the above, but most importantly it illustrates what is possible. The impact of openness is now undeniable. The keys: open the mobile eco-system, solve the discovery problem, and deliver great apps…users flock to download them.

Developers for the first time have been given a great SDK and powerful platform to deliver to, but the bigger impact is the direct access to consumers with a clear set of business rules (free = free and 70/30 revenue split). This leads to developers coming forward in droves. No more building apps and spending 12-18 months to get carrier business deals. On the consumer front the data is dramatic. When you give users choice and solve the discovery issue (make it easy to find, read reviews, and quickly download) we’ve seen people downloading on average ~8 apps/user for every user in the first 30 days! This compares to <25% of users downloading apps on other devices and downloaders on average having 2.5 apps/year.

Is it game over for every one else? It depends on how others respond. The opportunity is even clearer, but reaching that goal is the hard part for many industry participants. Apple has set the bar extremely high with a beautifully integrated hardware, software, and distribution system. The iPhone is a driving force that is finally pushing others in the mobile ecosystem (from developers to handset manufacturers to carriers) to move faster. Ultimately this is better for everyone as users do more on their phone, buy data plans, transact, etc.

Telecom CMOs are getting pressured by CEO’s asking what their answer is to the iPhone, where are all our cool apps? Brand and media companies CMO’s better have an iPhone strategy as their CEO’s are calling too. It’s been interesting to see brands as varied as Chanel, Lenovo, and Audi develop iPhone apps to address consumers. A different, but very interesting form of marketing.

While these changes have been dramatic, we have only seen the first few pitches of a 9 inning game. The iPhone has changed users’ expectations of what is possible in a mobile device and UI and the AppStore finally showed the promise of mobile data applications. This is good for the mobile industry at large and particularly for the consumer who has never before had the choice the iPhone now provides. As investors, we’re enthused to see developers and entrepreneurs embracing mobile knowing there is a clear path to the consumer. As long time partners with carriers, it’s great to see them moving faster to embrace open models such as T-Mo’s application store, VZ’s developer conferences, AT&T’s partnership with Apple, Sprint’s open developer program, etc. All industry constituents are innovating faster. The choice of applications and how to access them will be the fastest evolving area over the next few months.

The next waves to watch are: 1) the execution of incumbent operators as they embrace open and deliver application stores and 2) an even more sophisticated set of applications from developers on the iPhone.

#1 was the hot topic at CTIA and we were impressed with how fast many carriers are “saying” they’re moving to a model which allows any app developer to reach their subscribers. Now it’s about following through. The risk is that many elements have to come together well for them to achieve success (handsets, OS, UI, effective storefront and merchandising, etc.). In addition, working with closely with developers has not been a core competency.

#2 is already in evidence as the recent apps on iPhone are already half a generation ahead of the apps that launched in July. After all, the iPhone SDK has only been available for 6 months! We know some of the apps in the pipeline will take things to a whole new level. And the volumes are clearly there, with some apps in these early days already reaching 1-2M downloads.

Stay tuned for a future conversation on mobile monetization and navigating the trade-offs of free versus paid applications.

* (250M devices X (20% downloading games + 5% who download apps) X 2.5 apps/phone) = 150M downloads/year = 37.5M/Q; excludes ringtones, music, and wallpapers – content that is more similar to iTunes purchases than AppStore downloads. Sources: M:Metrics, 1/31/2008 Survey of U.S. mobile subscribers, n = 31,389 and Apple Inc.