This is where I express my opinions when they're longer than 140 characters.

You can see examples of my short attention span on Twitter: @kerskine

You can also send me an email

16th February 2012

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Hanging out at Google+

It turns out that most of my daily posts are going to Google+. If you’re interested in what I’m up to day-to-day, you can follow me here.

Thanks

8th December 2011

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The Awesome

Any product going against entrenched competition needs “The Awesome” - that one set of features that make it head and shoulders above them.

Driving back from a gig last night, I was talking with friend Mike (former Apple engineer) about the webphone. We discussed what would be “The Awesome” of a new phone platform, a feature that would make a new product stand out. I use the term “feature” loosely because it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the product, but can also mean its pricing, support, and distribution.

The iPhone wasn’t the first phone to surf the web, play music and make calls, but its combination of style, design and usability appealed immediately to peoples vision of what a phone should do. Up until the iPhone, you had to figure it out on your own or worse, read a manual (note to self: no manuals).

Maybe the feature is distribution? Instead of going to a carrier phone store, or Best Buy, be helped by logo-polo-shirted sales people hard selling every conceivable ancillary service, you just go to Target and buy a phone (if it’s clad in a Missoni pattern, so much the better). If so, a lot of attention to the startup and provisioning process needs to be done (and no manuals).

Again - you can go to Target today and buy a Boost or Virgin Mobile phone today, but my experience with getting the phone on the network and getting productive with it leaves a lot of room for innovation. Focusing on the distribution of a phone isn’t going to win any awards on the tech blogs or with the “speeds and feeds” phone enthusiasts but maybe that’s the point.

7th December 2011

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Wholesale Carrier

Because of Verizon Wireless’ recent boneheaded move, I feel it’s time to turn either Sprint or T-Mobile into a wholesale carrier. This would make their MVNO business into their primary revenue maker and enable likes of Google, Microsoft, and anyone else brave enough to develop a phone platform to deliver a great product without being second guessed or blocked by the wireless service provider. The carrier can still keep their consumer facing business, or it might just sell it to another company that sees value in the brand. Savings from running advertising could be plowed back into captial improvements (note: need to check this out more). Running Wholesale would possibly make it easier to get additional investment from partners using the network.

Now I know that the possibility of this happening are both ‘slim’ and ‘none’, but the current chess game that the US carriers are playing is due for a huge rock to hit the board. 

5th December 2011

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Don’t tie me up with a contract

Small talk sometimes yields an insightful gem of an idea. Today I had one of those encounters where someone asked what I did for work. The best I could come up with that early in the morning was “I’m trying to build a new kind of cell phone.”

“Well, make it so I’m locked in a contract for two years” she said.

I must have looked confused so she went on. “It took me $500 to get out of my AT&T contract. We’re all on Verizon now, and we all want iPhones but I can’t see spending $30 each to add them to the plan (meaning the additional data charges).”

So here I was talking about a device (phone) and she sees it inseparable from the service. While I shouldn’t be surprised it does reinforce my current thinking that any new platform will have to bundled with an out of the box ready service (provisioned when the customer turns on the phone). If the platform can be delivered profitably without having to lock customers into a multi-year contract, so much the better.

1st December 2011

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AT&T/T-Mobile was all about the subscribers

When an internal AT&T email said they could build out their network for $3.9 billion, it’s no wonder the Department of Justice and the FCC barfed all a $39 billion merger. This deal was all about 1) AT&T paying $1,000 per T-Mobile subscriber to get future contract revenue, and 2) Deutsche Telekom trying to get out of a US market that’s too competitive.

Why AT&T thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Not only would they have to spend billions aligning wireless infrastructure (remember, AT&T and T-Mobile use different frequencies for 3G data) but they’d have to keep the 25% of T-Mobile subscribers that are pre-paid from bailing out for a better deal.

I’ve done deals in my career (million $, not billion) and I can attest that sometimes the deal gets done despite the some glaring questions in the business premise. Somewhere in the org chart of AT&T, someone said “we got to do something HUGE!” Adding 33 million new subscribers in one deal is HUGE. Spending money to build out a network isn’t.

The Carriers are driven by subscriber numbers and ARPU. Maybe it’s time to pick some more metrics to measure long term success. The Oil industry doesn’t get more valuable buying other companies wells. They get more valuable by drilling new wells.

16th November 2011

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Prepaid subscribers are holding up the numbers of the bottom tier of carriers

T-Mobile’s Q3 Earnings continued to show that prepaid subscribers are growing and contract subscribers are shrinking. T-Mobile’s prepaid subscribers grew by 312,000, offsetting a loss of 186,000 contract customers, bring a net overall gain of 126,000. Compared to the top two carriers, Verizon and AT&T, this net gain is essentially breakeven.

Prepaid subscribers are of increasing importance to the bottom tier of carriers. Sprint prepaid customers are now 40% of total subscribers while T-Mobile’s make up to 30% (MetroPCS is 100%). Our troubled economy is to blame for some of this growth as prepaid contracts offer more flexibility in payment. Coupled with more inexpensive phones, this will continue to be the good enough solution for most people

In the ROW, prepaid is the norm as is buying your phone without a carrier subsidy. The growth in prepaid in the US suggests consumers are getting used to the idea. This doesn’t mean that high end phones are doomed. Apple is going to do very well selling the best and brightest product. It’s just that there’s now room for a ‘Chevy or Ford truck’ type phone

7th October 2011

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Partners are your 1st investment round

The angel/seed/first-round investment isn’t the most important pitch you have to make, it’s finding the people that will help you create your idea and be in it for the 2-4 years to make it happen.

So I have to write a 1-2 pager to some people outlining what I think is the Next Big Thing®. Having done this exercise a lot (at these guys will attest) it’s probably the hardest 250-500 words I’ll ever write (again). I’ve got to get the idea out in a clear enough message to get them excited and hopefully get them involved.

A lot has been written of the startups that were created in a weekend, gotten a lot of enthusiasm, and have been acquired for a significant amount of money. I’m not going to belittle those efforts but for the vast majority of new enterprises, you need a team of people that can work, talk, argue and execute during a very tumultuous endeavour. You’re going to get to know these people on a very personal level - good and bad - and that’s why you have to spend more time on building and managing the team as you do courting investors.

6th October 2011

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On Design and Steve Jobs

Before I had heard of Steve Job’s death yesterday, I had looked up the announcement date of the original iPhone (Jan. 2007). The iPhone has defined the look, feel, and function of all subsequent smartphones for the last five years. Whether it’s Android, Windows Mobile, WebOS or any other platform, they’re all measured against the basic actions people experience from that original phone.

Five years is long time in this business where the average replacement time for phones is between 13 and 17 months. One question that keeps coming back to me is whether it’s time for a fundamental change in the way a phone interacts with its owner. If you’re going to change the way services are delivered to a person through the phone, but keep it in a “familiar” user interface, does that make it distinctive enough for them to buy. In other words, if just looks and behaves like an iPhone or Android clone, why not just buy them instead.

This brings me to Steve Jobs. The words “fundamentally change” are an accolade that you maybe get once in your lifetime. Jobs has gotten that many times in his life:

  • He redefined how we use a computer with the Mac
  • He took a computer graphics company, Pixar, and created some of most heart warming stories through its movies
  • He got everyone to think of music as ‘songs’ and not ‘albums’ through the idea of “Rip, mix, burn”, pissing of the music industry in the process
  • He got the same music industry to enable people to download music instead of buying a CD
  • He got people think of their phone as something more than calling and texting people
  • and, He got everyone to think of their computer as a flatscreen you touch instead of something with a keyboard.

I can’t think of many people that accomplished so much, and still the most important point in his passing for me was that in the end he was surrounded by a loving family. We should all be so fortunate.

5th October 2011

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@Twilio, @Heroku, @Phonegap - Selling pick axes to gold miners

Twilio, Heroku, Phonegap and others will be remembered as the companies that sold the pick axes to the plethora of me-too startups mining for liquidity-event gold. When the next shakeout of seed funded company starts in the next six months, we’re going to igure out why all those “Air bnb - for cats” startups didn’t make it to the next level of growth and why the infrastructure businesses survived.

Not that this is all bad. These three companies have done an excellent job of simplifying the creation and deployment of web and mobile solutions (I’ve used Twilio and Heroku). They’ve also been the basis for some startups that have recently sold for hefty prices (GroupMe for example). The challenge for me in figuring out the value in a mobile web application market is where will the sustaining, repeatable business occur.

25th September 2011

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Trip Report - Using Mobile Web Apps for the Weekend

I spent the weekend just mobile web apps for my online activities. My goal was to see the current state of these apps and determine what might need improvement. My phone is an LG Optimus V (Android 2.2) on Virgin Mobile. Here’s what I found out:

Using mobile web apps with current mobile browsers can result in serious performance problems on the phone. If I had three or more ‘windows’ open in the browser, I found the phone to be sluggish and unresponsive. This is a major issue in that it prevented me from picking up a phone call as phone froze during screen unlock. I found the only way to manage this was to make sure only one or two windows were open at all times.

Notifications are important. Even though I was using mobile web equivalents, I was still getting notifications of new email, messages, etc.. from the installed native app processes. Frankly, this is the big value of a phone - alerting you to new information in addition to texts and phone calls. Providing developers a way to send notifications is going to be key to long term success. I haven’t seen much discussion on how this will be done, but it’s somethings customers will be expecting

Some web apps are great! Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter do a good job of making their web apps easy to use. While I had to go one or two more finger clicks to get what I wanted, I didn’t feel that they were much different from what I’m used to using.

Some apps not so much. Foursquare’s mobile web app is horrible, maybe because the first message you see on the site is “download the app for your phone”

Some apps not there at all. Neither Google Voice nor Skype have a mobile web app. I needed to see some voicemails I received via Google Voice and had to use my native app.