Thursday, January 31, 2008

Under the Radar -Last Call for Nominations

Final selections are being made for Under the Radar's Business of Web Apps Conference scheduled at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View (CA) on the 19th-20th March 2008.

You can find the application form by following this link.

Under the Radar (Spring) plans to uncover 32 startups, that have launched within the year, showcasing the newest web apps created by developers with a quest for innovation and a tendency towards disruption. Having launched numerous companies into startup stardom, acquisition and beyond, Under the Radar bills itself as 'the most discerning and reliable platform today for discovering tomorrow's leading technology companies'.

The idea is for the companies to demo their product to a panel of industry experts in front of an audience of early-adopter technology insiders, with plenty of Q&A planned into the session.

This time round, the organisers are particularly keen to get stuck into the web backend and virtualization plays, so companies (especially disruptive ones) in these areas will be favoured.

Nominations close tomorrow, so apply now to get yourself on the radar.

Enjoy my Blog from your mobile device

Courtesy of, Ric Ferraro's Blog is now available to read on your mobile phone. Although my blog is available on most mobile web browsers simply by typing, following this link from your mobile browser may make it a more pleasant experience.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

KitKat France Viral Video Marketing Campaign

KitKat (Nestle') France & JWT have come up with an exquisite 3D-effect digital marketing campaign that is tied in to their 'Ultimate Break/Win a Trip in Space' campaign.Not only is the execution of this computer animated short by AkamaStudio wonderful, but so is the timing.

A stressed stockbroker executive facing heavy losses...see any connection to the (in)famous trader at French bank SocGen who managed to accumulate trading losses of $7bn only last week?

The campaign call-to-action is for consumers to access the promotional website or to SMS a code via their mobile handset. What is a little surprising for such a brilliant campaign is that no mobile application (be it a game or other gimmick) or mobile site was built to go with it. This shows that despite the inroads mobile advertising is making in general, big brands are still reticent to capitalise reaching out to consumers through this channel -in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

Maybe the CMO Forum, organised by Ogilvy Worldwide in conjuntion with the GSMA at next month's Mobile World Congress, will go some way to bridge the 'mobile gap' between advertisers and the mobile industry...

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the 'trip in space' prize offered is genuine and is apparently worth a cool €147,000...not a bad return on a few crispy chocolate sticks...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wake3 -Mobile Browsing made simple -One to Watch #7

PALO ALTO (CA) - No matter which part of the mobile community you question, the same issue keeps on popping up: mobile users need a simple, effective browser on their handset to get the most out of the mobile web.

Wake3, a Silicon Valley start-up, sets out to deliver just this. Their vision: 'to deliver a single standard across all the world's phones' via their Webkit, an open source web browser engine that received a warm welcome from the developer community last year.

Wake3 is now planning to launch a beta version of their browser 'in the next few months'. Barry Andrews and Daniel Zucker, both Stanford PhD's, recently announced they already had a top tier European operator lined up and that they would be looking to kick off their first financing round shortly (they are currently on bootstrap financing).

Both company founders will be present at the Mobile World Congress next month in Barcelona and no doubt will attract an eager crowd. At long last, simple and visually-pleasing web browsing on wireless devices could become a reality for all those non-iPhone users out there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Location, Location, Location - the Ulocate Widget Platform, One to Watch #6

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, is excited about the future of Location-Based Services (LSB): "...location-based advertising will be a very good business and useful to the end user".

This was his comment at a panel discussion held at the WEF in Davos last week (see Andrew Grill's blog for his excellent post analysing the key messages of the session). Many share Schmidt's excitement about the prospects for LBS's, albeit few are clear as to exactly how and when these prospects will materialise.

One firm that could be positioned to benefit from growth in this area is Boston-based uLocate, owner of the 'Where' GPS widget platform, capable of automatically porting programs onto GPS-capable handsets and publishing them on US-based networks with access to millions of users.

uLocate is hoping for location-based widgets developed on their platform to experience the same kind of viral growth that Facebook experienced for some of its applications.Already a number of practical widgets have emerged, ranging from the 'Zipcar Car Sharing' widget allowing members to locate and view the nearest Zipcars on their mobile screen as well as instantly connect to Zipcar's reservation system to select a nearby vehicle, to the 'Nearbio' widget, enabling users to quickly find the closest biodiesel pumps.

In addition, uLocate also offers "BuddyBeacon", a geo-social networking service that is reminiscent of Plazes (but however lacks the geo-tracker functionality of Ipoki, for example).

If uLocate's platform takes off within the developer community, then we could see the company expanding outside of the US and take advantage of the popularity of its platform to access an ever-growing LBS market.Its partnership with Twitter to track users' whereabouts could also fuel growth for the company.And for a subscription fee of $3 a month, uLocate appears to be delivering value to its US-based end-users.

It already raised $11m im venture capital in May 2007 in an over-subscribed financing round, so access to funding could further power its dash to grab global market share in 2008.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fugumobile -One to Watch #5

SHANGHAI -Mobile Gaming experienced substantial growth a few years ago, with many companies entering the fray and was followed by the inevitable wave of consolidation. Today, Mobile Gaming is hot again. The global mobile entertainment market is expected to increase from $20bn in 2007 to $64 by 2012, according to Juniper Research.Mobile games will rank second in terms of end-user generated revenues, boosted by rapid growth in mass market casual gaming. Revenues are expected to rise from just under $5bn in 2007 to nearly $16bn in 2012.

With higher bandwidth available for 3G, China is expected to fuel a substantial proportion of this growth, so it is worth taking a look at some of the companies active in the market there. One of the 'happening' companies of the moment is Fugumobile, which focusses both on the consumer game market (examples include 'Urban Combat') and in delivering customised gaming solutions for mobile advertising campaigns.

Fugumobile recently won the accolade of the Red Herring 100 Asia Award, in recognition of its cutting-edge mobile solutions. CEO Ranjit Singh also delivered a keynote at the recent Mobile Asia Congress in Macau, taking a seat with the top regional heavyweight in the mobile entertainment industry.

An important additional advantage of Fugumobile is that they have one foot in India as well as one in China, given its founders' Ravi Shankar Bose and Ranjit Singh Indian origins (they decamped to China 7 years ago to establish Fugumobile) -so could stand to benefit from both markets' future dynamism.

23 and me presents at DLD 08

MUNICH -I was chatting to a friend last night who was at the DLD 08 in Munich this week and he was telling me about a presentation from a company called '23 and me'. For a modest fee of $999, they offer to give you a full DNA test from a saliva sample and then, through various online tools, allow you to explore your genetic heritage (from whether you have your mother's sense of taste to whether you are likely to suffer from specific genetically-inherited diseases). They bill this 'your personal genome service'.

Whether you love or hate the idea, the business proposition is appealing-we are all inherently curious, so who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to say to their partner 'I'd love to help you with your chores/shopping/in-laws/DIY but I am not genetically pre-disposed to do so'....

You can check out this fascinating prospect at

It's India, Stupid!

MUMBAI-It is hardly news-India is the fastest-growing market in the world for mobile telephony, with over 240 million mobile subscribers as at Autumn 2007. According to The Economist, the average owner of a mobile phone there spends 471 minutes (8 hours approx.) on the phone each month and sends 39 text messages. India is also a mobile market marked by savage competition (during my visit to Delhi last autumn, it was hard not to notice the proflagation of billboards advertising various operators on each street corner) as well as a country blessed with an army of bright, young engineers.

Mobiance, was founded in 2004 by three such engineers in IIT's Mumbai's SINE incubator, and is a provider of Location Based Services (LBS) that don't use GPS -instead it uses triangulation from cell towers to detect the location of the mobile user (those of you into spy movies may be familiar with this method used on screen to track the bad guy's location).

Mobiance got their first break soon after being founded, by piloting their technology to track the fleet of a company that serviced gasoline pumps at various stations in the country. Having signed an agreement with one of India's leading mobile operator, Bharti Airtel, they now have the capability to track the location of any of their subscribers who gives them permission to do so (either for consumer or business applications).

Mobiance CEO, Deepak Srinivasan, recently gave a talk expressing how India offers unique challenges for LBS, including poor quality mapping. As anyone who has visited India's capital will know, getting around the city (or its suburbs) ain't easy, so Mobiance's value to its customer is clear to see.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Focus on Davos

DAVOS -It's that time of the year again! The world's greatest and brightest get together in Switzerland to address some key questions facing today's world at the World Economic Forum.

This year, the WEF was especially keen to get young entrepreneurs to participate in the debate and also invited several bloggers to attend the event. YouTube has a channel where users can post a reply to the Davos question: "What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?"

Well, I think the technology sector has a key role to play in general, with the mobile/web eco-system having a great opportunity to take the lead.The buzzword for me in 2008 should be: 'openness'.Open access to open networks and platforms will allow the world to connect to each other and address future challenges jointly. As a cynic, you could also argue that openness within the financial community could have avoided the US-led global credit crunch and fear of a financial meltdown. (No-one is being 'open' about the exact size of the sub-prime mortgage write-down and where the responsibility lies for it!)

Have your say on the official Davos online journal :

You can also follow Loic Le Meur at the WEF via his blog and catch up on videocasts of his meetings with interesting personalities over there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ipoki -one to watch #4

Ipoki, founded in Spain in 2006, believes users should have control over their location information and who can see it.

It is a GPS-based social network that uses Google Maps and Google Earth to track and locate friends and family.The system also allows you to record geolocated alerts and receive them in mobile terminals. It works via an Open Source plug-in compatible with a wide range of handsets. Mobile users without inbuilt GPS have the option of linking up via Bluetooth to their GPS terminal.

Ipoki is gaining fame for its 'Follow Me' killer ap, allowing users movements to be tracked or followed in real time.This allowed the company to win the Mashup of the Month Award last summer.The Ipoki widget is now also available on netvibes and igoogle with a future release planned for Facebook.

At the same time as a new improved beta version of the software is released, Ipoki is on the lookout for seed capital to finance its further expansion. Within one year of setting up, Ipoki had already received 100,000 visits and 20,000 downloads of its software. With their 'open' philosophy and global reach, this ambitious start-up has big plans for the future. I'll be covering their progress in the coming months -in the meantime, why not try their new release and feedback on your impressions?

POST-SCRIPT: I asked Andres (one of the Ipoki founders who was browsing my post earlier and whom I'd met at a Mobile Monday event) if he had a scoop for my blog readers. He announced that they were beta testing a new nifty feature for their plugin -a photo geotracker using Flickr. The idea is that as Ipoki tracks the user's position (at a point in time) it can also pinpoint photo locations by synchronising with the camera's clock and ta-dah! You have your photos automatically geo-tagged!

I also asked Andres how Ipoki's service differed to that of Plazes -he said that Ipoki is a true LBS, tracking people's position via GPS while you need to tell Plazes where you are all the time. This raises the question -if and when Plazes will shift to using GPS to automate its tracking process...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blue Ocean Strategy in the Mobile Sector

2008 will be an exciting year for developments in the mobile sector, a year in which we will witness the narrowing of the gap between traditional and mobile web, the so-called mobile convergence.

It is also a year that promises to offer economic challenges to new and existing start-ups, particularly in the mature western markets, as the trickle down of the US-led credit crunch will be begin to make its presence felt, especially to the middle-class consumer.

I would argue that this offers a perfect opportunity for companies in the Mobile 2.0 space to go for so-called ‘Blue Ocean’ strategies (W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, first published in HBR 2004) and seek new markets with little, if no, competition. This would represent a shift from today’s preference for competing in the ‘Red Oceanspace, where competitors abound and intense fighting between them leads to much ‘blood spill’.

Examples of web-based companies that succeeded in developing a blue ocean include e-bay and skype (their shared philosophy makes it easier to understand how they are now both under the same roof).

If we look at skype’s value proposition compared to that of the best voice communication alternative at the time (toll-free international calling cards), we can better understand the strength of its positioning (Value range, 0=lowest, 5=highest).

Admittedly, skype may not be as convenient as a calling card (easily available at retail points and used on traditional phones) but for all other value elements, it set itself completely apart and rendered its competition irrelevant. Not surprisingly, skype now gathers together around 10 million subscribers worldwide.

So, how can companies involved in Mobile 2.0 adopt Blue Ocean strategies?

  1. Stay clear of crowded markets –yes, they are tempting (other people are making money there!) but success is less likely than in the calmer waters of the blue ocean
  2. Think carefully about what value you are adding to the consumer above what is currently available to him/her –and make sure that value gap is as wide as possible!
  3. Ignore existing demand for existing services –dare to be different! Look at areas where existing products or services fall short of expectations and then offer something completely new to potential consumers. Turn that non-consumer around to bring him/her back into the market.

Applying these types of questions to existing business models will at the very least provide a litmus test of the intensity of competition a company may face. Applied using a bottom-up approach, it has the potential to generate genuinely new markets or industries we cannot yet even imagine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

YuMe -one to watch #3

REDWOOD CITY-BASED YuMe offers mobile advertisers an appealing proposition: focussing exclusively on video-based advertising, YuMe offers advertisers a tailored platform to stream or download video advertisements to specific channels with optional overlaying of interactive content.

Imagine, say, that you click on an advert for a Sony Playstation. Towards the end of the video, according to your operator subscriber address, an interactive overlay will provide you with the nearest store to purchase the item. Specific targeted promotions can also be included, so sales discounts can be offered at specific times of the month or year.

The company is very much in its infancy yet (it only completed its second round of venture capital financing in October 2007, raking in $9mUSD) and not on everyone's radar screen. However, in a recent Ad Focus ranking initiated by, YuMe managed to climb to number 37 in terms of US online consumer reach (just 3 spots behind Amazon).

If you have been following the story on Seesmic (see previous post) you will notice how YuMe is also going about monetising those yummy video channel revenues available in the future. Whereas Seesmic plans to do so via its community-led channels, YuMe is positioning itself directly at the service of advertisers through its syndicated video content channels.

Watch this space in the coming months to see whether these two models will eventually converge or whether the total revenue pie will expand sufficiently for both models to remain afloat.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Seesmic -one to watch #2

Loic Le Meur is no stranger to web enterprise -San Francisco-based Seesmic is the fifth such start-up he has embarked upon. Only that this time, there is a special touch, in that in a one-of-a-kind initiative, he is keeping a daily video diary of how the whole adventure unfolds.

So what is Seesmic? Loic describes it a community-driven video social software. Others have billed it a video-based twitter. The basic idea is for it to become a very open online video service with a high degree of interaction by part of its users. The company has not actually officially launched (this is expected to happen in February 2008 -aha, the month of the Mobile World Congress!) so only testers can access the beta version.

However, development of the site has achieved a crescendo of activity and it promises to deliver integrated social networking by linking in to facebook, skype, twitter et al. Channels will be created according to specific themes, like technology, hobbies, sports etc.

But what is the business model, I hear you asking? A high degree of user partcipation and critical mass within the channels is intended to act as a strong pull for sponsors and advertisers. Seesmic members posting some of the more popular videos to these channels will in turn receive a percentage of revenues from them.

Loic has a large following in Europe and is somewhat of a web evangelist, allowing word to spread fast about the seesmic initiative.5,000 testers are already helping Loic make his vision a reality and giving a welcome 'open' flavour to the whole project -in today's community-bound web, a sure-fire key to success.Loic has strong support from Niklas Zennstrom of skype fame- "Seesmic rocks -it is Web 3.0".

I will ask Loic what his plans are for seesmic on the mobile web and keep readers updated.Meantime, take a look at Loic's seesmic video-diary -you'll find it to be dangerously addictive!

Mobile Jam Session -Barcelona 08

If you are heading over to Barcelona next month for the Mobile World Congress, you'll notice how rapidly gaps in your agenda fill up.

My friend Rudy de Waele together with Caroline Lewko will be organising on Tuesday 12th February the first Mobile Jam Session, an event for and driven by developers to come up with new ideas and solutions to existing challenges.

Interestingly, the agenda is set by participants so is likely to remain fluid, but some of the topics appearing on the radar already are:

  • mobile web development frameworks
  • device adaptation, testing, porting
  • from Mobile Java to other platforms (Symbian, BREW, FlashLite, Android, PalmOS, Access Garnet and Windows Mobile, …)
  • widget platforms. MFoundry, Widsets, uLocate, …
  • mobile ajax
  • Open (ID, open source, handsets etc)
For more information on this event that promises to offer inspiration to participants (boosted by superb sea-views from the 20th floor of the Mapfre Tower at Barcelona's Port Olimpic), check out the link :

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mobile Monday Peer Awards come to Barcelona

Following the hugely successful Mobile Monday Global Peer Awards in Barcelona in 2007, excitement is mounting for the 2008 edition set to take place to coincide with the Mobile World Congress.

The start-up finalist presentations in Barcelona will be divided into two categories: 1) early-stage start-ups (founded in 2007, early- stage financing), and; 2) emerging start-ups (founded in or after 2005, between Series A & B funding).

The Awards event will start at 2pm at the Espacio Movistar on February 11th 2008, located just off the Avenida Diagonal on C/Pascual i Vila (Zip Code 08028).

If you were lucky enough to be present in 2007 you will be sure not to miss this opportunity to listen to presentations from innovative mobile startups from around the world and network with mobilists over a glass of cava. Over 500 people assisted last year, with the top jury award going to Realeyes 3D and the audience award to Plazes.

More info can be found on: Pre-registration is a must. If you are interested in sponsoring the event, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Truphone -the new Skype?

I'll be highlighting my choice of companies to watch ahead of the Mobile World Congress next month, and one that is worthy of attention is Truphone, founded by serial entrepreneur Alexander Straub in 2005.

Since then, the company has grabbed the headlines and has been labelled as the new skype, with its disruptive approach to the holy grail of cheap or free mobile calls. The Truphone wizard can be downloaded free from the company’s website or via text message, and ought to work on almost any Wi-Fi-enabled handset available on the market. Users of the Truphone service can make free calls and send free texts to other Truphone users. Since calls are carried via Wi-fi over the internet, the call need never enter a regular phone network – fixed or mobile – meaning no operator charges are payable.

Truphone is not without its critics though, some of whom cite the fact that there are innumerable issues with calls over wi-fi, such as service area, coverage and security that mean that Truphone may never make it into the mainstream, but whose main hope is to have its software incorporated within an existing platform.

In an interview in CNBC European Business this month, Alexander Straub exuded optimism and confidence that truphone is delivering on its business model and is here to stay. Given his successful track record with his prior ventures and a recent landmark victory against T-Mobile UK who were illegally blocking Truphone's software, it seems Straub's optimism is justified.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Nokia to drive mobile industry's green agenda

"Going green" has been popular for some time now, but it would appear we are now arriving at the inflection point for the mobile industry.

Nokia's CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallusvuo, has committed the company to drive trends in this area, calling for increased environmental sustainability in the industry. The company announced moves to continue reducing the amount of packaging used and is introducing more efficient phone chargers to its new handset models.It is also committing to include higher percentages of recycled materials in handset manufacture (part of your old car will soon be incorporated as steel casing for new handsets!)

Nokia's Eco-Sensor concept (pictured above)launched last December may be more of a gimmick than a response to actual consumer demand, but it does encourage an awareness of the local environment and pollutant levels (such as carbon monoxide).

Quite how the issue of environmental sustainability will be dealt with at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (MWC)remains to be seen, but signs are that operators will follow Nokia's lead and begin to raise awareness of the green footprint of mobile usage. Initiatives like mobile handset recycling are also likely to take a more prominent role at the MWC.

As "green awareness" builds up, new opportunities will also emerge for start-ups able to capitalise on increasing consumer demand for "green" mobile products and services. Is it realistic to expect a mobile platform for trading carbon offset credits to come to our mobile portal sometime soon?

Friday, January 11, 2008

2008 & The Rise of the Mobile Wallet

It's a popular time to make predictions for mobile trends in 2008 and there are some pretty good ones out there. I am going against the trend by not creating yet another list, but have to express my surprise at the lack of mention of the 'mobile wallet' in most bloggers' predictions.

FierceWireless published a summary yesterday that showed that the value of contactless m-payments in the US is expected to reach $820m by 2013 (according to ABI Research).

I believe that 2008 will see a leap forward in the development of the ‘mobile wallet’ and the launch of new handsets capable of performing the same transactions of a traditional credit card by using contactless NFC technology.This is backed up by ABI Research's latest forecast, where they predict a 10-fold increase in shipments of NFC handsets in 2008.

With operators, regulators, manufacturers and financial institutions scheduled to get together in Cairo in May at a GSMA Summit to thrash out a global framework for m-payments, a whole range of new services could become widely available in key markets by 2009.

Operators have too much at stake to ignore this opportunity to impose their own standards for m-payments and thus regain a modicum of control over their customer base in the face of increasingly open development platforms.

The question, however, is this: will a disruptive newcomer step in to offer an alternative should operators and other stakeholders fail to agree in May on a global deployment model?

Thursday, January 10, 2008 vs

The battle between and is heating up. I have had close contact with the consortium recently and witnessed their efforts to push their domain as the 'gold standard'.

I am noticing 2 things: there seems to be a decoupling of usage between Europe and the US, with the big guns (Yahoo, Facebook etc.) adopting the m. domain and the European operators (Orange etc.) opting instead for

Also, is struggling to communicate its added value, namely that it has defined (and offers as a framework) a set of development standards to improve the user experience of web on mobile.

At the same time as a gold rush is taking place to acquire the popular sites (witness the many online auctions), the key issue of enhancing the user experience of web on mobile is taking a back seat. Pity, as would have gone a long way in widening the appeal and useability of mobile web.

Ric's Blog now on Technorati

As a recent development, you can link through to my blog via the Technorati site:

Technorati Profile

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Snippets from First Tuesday Barcelona -08/01/08

BARCELONA 08/01/2008 - Interesting session yesterday night at FIRSTTUESDAY SPAIN where Bango CEO Ray Anderson gave some background to his entrepreneurial adventure at the company he founded in 1999 with €1.5m of his own money. He was very open in admitting that the venture required far more time and money to take off than he expected (he is still due to make an overall profit for the business) but that he was confident he would be in a position to exit via a buyout from a bigger group within 2 years should he wish to do so. The often repeated point about having to grow the company above all else in the first few years was backed up by Roberto Fernandez, founder of Spanish start-up Aztive Mobile (both Bango and Aztive will be exhibiting at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month).

Ray voiced the opinion (that is being repeated by several commentators) that mobile operators are becoming less important, increasingly allowing new companies to enter the fray and offer services independently of the operator restrictions.As operators are more concerned with protecting their revenue streams than with competing between each other, they have traditionally adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude and jumped on the bandwagon at the last moment.

He stated that it was an odd coincidence indeed that only once handsets were placed on the market with free wi-fi browsing capability that operators reduced their data transfer rates or how only once handsets with in-built GPS were launched that operators agreed to the release of location-related data for groups of customers.

He also stated that monetising revenues from the mobile web will remain an issue until operators are in a posiition to claim a substantial chunk of revenues from add-on services and he called for a Paypal-style new entrant to create a new global standard for payments that will stimulate new revenue models and open up new earning opportunities.

While talking about mobile site design, he stressed the need for developers to adapt web pages to the reality of the mobile screen (obvious but still not widely acknowledged!) with vertical navigation, simplified browsing, removal of flash-type graphics etc. Interestingly for me, he did not mention the whole movement spearheaded by the consortium of Nokia, Telefonica, GSMA etc. which is odd, as aims to do just what Ray preaches-viz.adapt web pages for mobile and create a 'gold standard' for mobile.

Ray also called for a simple and universally-accepted browser to be developed for mobile (i.e. Google for mobile) and circumvent some of the cumbersome browsers that are around today which reduce the quality of the user experience.