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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.
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.
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:
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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.
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.
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