Archive for October, 2010

An exclusive with… James Oakes, Founder and CEO, GeoSweep

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Tell us about GeoSweep? How does it work?
GeoSweep is a new national prize game that is based on locations rather than numbers. We use a Google Map of the UK as our game-board and allow our players to select their favourite locations, known as Geos, for a chance to win £1m every day. So think of it as a mix of a lottery with Monopoly and Foursquare and you won’t be too far off!

 

There are similarities between GeoSweep and the National Lottery.  How do you differentiate? Are you targeting the same audience?

We looked at the National Lottery and thought “there must be a better way”. So we developed a game that was cheaper to play at just 10p per day, with better odds of winning £1m, and more fun. I mean I am an economist by training and even I find it a bit tricky to get excited about 6 numbers – but searching the whole of the UK to decide what to own as my “ticket”, be it my house, my favourite football ground, or Big Ben, is a really fun experience. Once you have claimed your land you can even personalise it with a tag-line and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

 

In terms of audience we are obviously tapping in to the market of online lottery players that is currently at about 4 million in the UK and growing. This is naturally a slightly younger demographic than the 20 million offline players, so it is time that they were given a 21st century product, and not just some more old balls jumbling around in a washing machine!


There are two daily draws and you can win up to £1 million each day. Where does the money come from?

Every day your 10p Geo has 2 chances to win; the £1m GeoSweep draw and the Daily Guarantee. The Daily Guarantee prize amount depends on the number of occupied Geos on that day (although we seed this to be a minimum of £1000 every day) and selects one of those occupied Geos at random to win the cash. We also create a Prize Zone around the winning Geo that pays out 2nd prizes to nearby occupied Geos.

 

The £1m GeoSweep draw selects amongst both the occupied and unoccupied Geos every day. If the Geo that is randomly selected is occupied then it wins the £1m and there are some 2nd prizes as in the Daily Guarantee. If the Geo selected is unoccupied then there is no pay-out on that day. So early on whilst the map is relatively unpopulated the chances are that on most days the prize will not be won, but we have enough cash in reserve just in case our players have a very lucky streak and the £1m is won 5 days in a row! Over time as player numbers grow then the prize will become self seeding like the lottery draws.

With all the different games out there at the moment, why should we try GeoSweep?

Where else can you buy your dream house for 10p and win £1m every single day. I should add that pound for pound your odds of winning £1m on GeoSweep are 233% as good as winning the national lottery.

 

How did you come up with the idea?

GeoSweep was born out of an idea that my brother, and co-founder, Henry had whilst he was a penniless student in Brighton. It was one of those ideas that as soon as you heard it you thought “that is just so obvious, why hasn’t anyone done that already?” But we did all of our research and found that we had inadvertently stumbled upon something very new and exciting. So we rushed out a patent application and then got to work.

How is the business funded?

All of our funding has come from Angel Investors.

 

The business only launched very recently, how is it going so far?

We launched the site on 10/10/10 for our 10p Geos! It has been a great success and although we are yet to make our first millionaire we have already given out thousands in prizes. You need only go to London on the map and you will see that many of the top landmarks have already been snaffled.

What are your thoughts about the future; are you launching more products?

Going forward we have an awesome pipeline of new features and products. When you have a map as your game-board, and an awesome and inventive tech team, there is just so much that you can do.

 

Our strategy is to use the UK as our creative test bed and quickly move out and partner to gain access to new jurisdictions such as the US – wherever there is a Google Map we aim to give them a GeoSweep.

What is your personal background prior to Roboreus?

I studied Economics at the LSE and then worked as an economic consultant before becoming an equity trader. GeoSweep is a lot more fun than any of that….

As a first time CEO, what has been the main challenge so far?

I previously had next to no experience of managing people before so it has been a pretty steep learning curve. Something that I learnt early on is that making the right hires is about the most important thing that any business, particularly a start-up, can do.

Is the whole team located in London? In your experience what is key to building the best team?

We have the core team here in London and then use an excellent outsourcing company called DataArt that are based in Russia and the Ukraine.

 

To build the best team possible you just really have to go the extra mile, read that extra CV, do that extra interview, work with the very best recruiters….

What do you think is hot in the internet/mobile space right now?

Am I allowed to say www.geosweep.com ? It is obviously all about location right now, and the prevalence of location aware devices is opening up some really cool opportunities to look at old things in new ways.

 

Mobile Commerce: Are we nearly there yet? Insights on the future of mobile commerce from M&S, Grapple and Monitise

Thursday 21st October

So far for The Up Group this year has been busy.. really busy. The seismic shift in attitude from within the entrepreneurial community that came in January have led to a proliferation of senior hires being made this year across the technology space, and work coming at us from all angles; eCommerce, digital media, SaaS, Mobile advertising, location based services and gaming to name a few. With so much demand comes a need to get your head down and spend some time in the shorter term detail of searching. So when law firm Osborne Clarke invited Clare and I to attend an event on mobile posing the question ‘are we nearly their yet?’, it seemed a good opportunity to come up for air and remind myself of the longer term purpose of what all of this work has been about.

The event was a panel discussion at the impressively modern Osborne Clarke offices in the City. The panel was made up of the following industry experts: Mike Reid of Frog Capital, Richard Johnson; Group Strategy Director of mobile payments business Monitise, Alistair Crane; CEO of mobile app business Grapple, and Sienne Veit who, as Social and Mobile Commerce Development Manager at Marks and Spencer, offered the view from an incumbent retailer perspective. Whilst of course we were hearing from a host of mobile advocates, it was extremely interesting (and at times surprising), to get their views on how far we have come in terms of adopting mobile commerce and how far we have yet to go before it is core to consumer businesses.

Sienne talked at length about how much Marks and Spencer are already doing on the mobile web and shared some interesting insights on the way we transact via the mobile vs via the ‘fixed’ web. Apparently we really are creatures of habit and our daily mobile shopping patterns closely mirror what is happening online. We shop all day, but our favourite time is usually during Eastenders. And yes, whilst the average order value on the mobile admittedly is slightly lower, people really do buy sofas on their handsets. Though when you factor in in-store browsing this is perhaps not such a shocker.  Sienne fought the mobile web corner and explained that M&S, at this point, have no need of an app. They can far more easily and cost effectively target consumers by staying out of app stores and simply enabling their platform for use across all mobile handsets. Sienne argued that because the M&S customer base is largely female and their findings show most apps are downloaded by men, commercially it makes less sense for them to have a presence in app stores (a point which, as a target female M&S customer with an iPhone and an out of control app addiction, I found hard not to get inappropriately feminist about).

Alistair gave a broader perspective on the metamorphosising business aims in building a mobile presence: ” As the market evolves, the nature of applications will also evolve, becoming increasingly driven by the broader corporate market“. He argued that we are already seeing a shift in the perception of the mobile app from a flippant amusement to a valid business case and a means to really interacting with customers and ultimately, driving sales. He defined this as ‘closing the commerce loop’ and stressed that for an app to give an ROI it needs to take users through a four step process of awareness –> interaction –> enagagement –> sales.

Both Sienne and Alistair were at pains to highlight how important it is for businesses to remember the breadth of the mobile market and demographic relevancy, i.e. It’s not all about the iPhone. Alistair pointedly reminded us that iPhone do not have the majority share, and before businesses get carried away with the idea of building an iPhone app they need to remember who their consumers are and how they engage with the mobile, e.g Blackberry has recently seen a huge surge in sales on the back of the success of BlackBerry Messenger and this has been driven largely by the 16-24 demographic who require and demand afforadable and constant realtime access to their social graph. So, if this is your core demographic then you need to be thinking about the Blackberry too, or more so, when building your application.

Richard took the mobile payments view and gave us some insights on how seriously large financial servies institutions are already taking mobile access for banking. He talked about Monitise being at the ‘start of a revolution’ in terms of how the mass market manage and spend their money, citing their recent success with the Natwest smartphone app as an example of how vital the mobile is becoming as a CRM tool for banks. The app, which launched on O2 earlier this year, allows consumers to safely and securely access and manage their accounts via their handset. So far figures have come back showing users accessing their accounts via their mobiles up to 16 times a month, over twice as much as the figures for online web access, currently at around 6-7 times per month.

Having said all of this, the general view from the panel seemed to be that we still have some way to go before the majority of consumers, not comfortably bouncing around in the bubble of early adoption, feel at ease and safe enough to rely fully on the mobile for shopping and managing their finances. Mike was emphatic that, whilst many of the security issues have been solved, we must remember that most consumers are still instinctively fearful of paying for purchases on the mobile and we still have some way to go before it becomes commonplace.

Nonetheless the overarching message was unsurprisingly optimistic, and was perhaps most succinctly summed up by Alistair, who with the calm omniscience of The Voice in Field of Dreams, declared that ultimately consumers themselves always drive the speed of development and if, here and now, businesses focus on relieving their pain-points and building the best possible user experiences, then when they are ready.. they will come.

I am sure he is right.

 

Blog post by Gemma Hale, Consultant, The Up Group

Review of TechHub Fri 16th October – A Talk by Eric Ries on the ‘Lean Start-Up’

On Friday evening a swarm of entrepreneurs, bloggers and assorted members of the London tech start-up scene descended on the Tech Hub co-working space at “Silicon Roundabout” by Old Street.
The main attraction for the evening – which is now a weekly event organised by TechHub co-counders Elizabeth Varley and Mike Butcher (Editor of TechCrunch EU) – was to hear a talk by entrepreneur, author and tech start-up blogger Eric Ries.
Eric’s the creator of the Lean Startup methodology and the author of the popular entrepreneurship blog “Startup Lessons Learned”.  Previously the co-founder and CTO of IMVU, he currently works as a speaker, adviser and consultant to various startups, companies and VC firms. Perhaps more impressively than all of this, is that he’s an extremely personable and engaging speaker who had his Tech Hub audience interested, and smiling, throughout the duration of his talk.
Speaking of the TechHub crowd, three points of note came to light at different parts of the evening. The first, which was immediately evident, was that out of the 100 or so attendees at least 95% were male. Not a hugely surprising revelation, but given the recent criticism of Penelope Trunk’s TechCrunch post  “Women don’t want to run start-ups because they’d rather have children”* it does make one wonder exactly why it would be – even today – that so few women are interested in attending first rate talks like this one.
The second point to note about the TechHub audience came towards the beginning of Eric’s talk, when he asked how many of the attendees were currently involved in a start-up.  It’s hard to be exact in judging the response, but it did appear as though not more than 10 hands stayed down. So we can expect lots of start-ups to start popping out of Old Street in the next few months.
The third point is that for all of the talks, presentations, events and conferences aimed at entrepreneurs, it seems rare to consider how hard it can be to provide entrepreneurs with information that will actually affect how they think and, more importantly, how they go about building their companies.  Midway through his talk, Ries discussed a major – and often innate – talent of many entrepreneurs.  The talent is having a “reality distortion field”, which allows them to convince both themselves and many people around them that something is true when, often in retrospect, it is clearly false. When this notion is combined with the inherent single-mindedness and focus that many entrepreneurs share, it seems possible that many entrepreneurs at last night’s event may have hugely enjoyed listening to the talk, without necessarily having bought into much of what was said (if it contradicted their own thoughts on the subject).
And so, to the talk. Ries began his talk by clearing up what he perceived to be different, confusing misconceptions about what actually constitutes a “start-up”, and then provided his own definition:
“A human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.
The important part of his definition is that a start-up isn’t, in itself, a product or a service: it is the business (or people, structure and processes) around that product or service.

The unrepentantly direct slide entitled, “Don’t Waste People’s Time” kicked off a fascinating exploration of the myriad of Web 2.0 companies that have launched – often with extensive funding and involving long stretches of product development (5 years for one of Ries’s own start-ups) – only for the founders, management team and financial backers to then realise that the product or service was simply never one that anyone did – or probably ever would – want.  Which proved to be a compelling introduction to his main assertion: that the trick to start-up success doesn’t require just having a great idea, or executing it well, or learning from your mistakes.  It requires getting through each stage of the following (and never-ending) loop as as efficiently as possible:
IDEAS  → BUILD → CODE → MEASURE → DATA  → LEARN  → (IDEAS, ETC.)

Ries explained that for any start-up team struggling to answer a particular question of “should we do this” or “should we do that”, there will be a hundred examples of others who have answered such questions with a “yes” and been successful, others who have answered with a “no” and been successful, and hundreds more who have answered with a “yes” or a “no” and still failed. The point is that there will rarely be one decision that might make or break a start-up: teams simply need to become adept at asking themselves whether their answer to a question – whatever that may be – will get them through “the loop” any faster.
The question that Ries’ Lean Startup methodology essentially seeks to answer is a fascinating, but a multi-faceted and somewhat obscure one:
What makes a start-up become successful, and how can this be achieved without unnecessarily wasting valuable time, resources and talent?

Last night’s talk provided an interesting, thought-provoking and humorous introduction to how he answers that question.  However one of the final questions of the evening, “What proof do you have that your methodology works?” was, somewhat disappointingly, answered with a further discussion of how difficult it is to measure the relative impact on a business of doing things one way rather than another.
Ries has an exciting challenge ahead to develop and prove the efficacy of his methodology, which could provide entrepreneurs with a blueprint for having the most chance of efficiently establishing and developing a product or a service that people actually want.  Many of the entrepreneurs who were at TechHub last night will have learnt a huge amount from hearing Eric speak. Hopefully the “reality distortion field” of others didn’t restrict their exposure to the full impact of his vast experience and advice.

To read more about Eric Ries visit http://www.startuplessonslearned.com <http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/&gt;
*http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/09/women-startups-childre/ <http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/09/women-startups-childre/&gt;

Blog Post by Neil Frame, The Up Group

An exclusive with… Teresa Pereira, Senior Director, EU Market Development, Blurb

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Tell us about Blurb.

Blurb is a creative publishing platform.  We enable anyone with access to a broadband connection to become a globally published author.

 

We give our bookmakers access to a range of online tools, which include:

 

  • Free creation tools, such as BookSmart (our own software) as well as Adobe InDesign templates to enable professional designers to upload a PDF which they can print via Blurb to book format.  We’re always working on new creation tools.

 

  • An online bookstore at blurb.com. Our model is that you can keep your book private if you wish, but if you make it public, you can set your own price above your cost, and you will keep 100% of the mark-up.  So if your book print cost is £10 and you set a price of £20, Blurb sends you £10 for each book sold. Each author has their own book detail pages, with their profile information, hosted for free at Blurb.

 

  • Complete order and transaction management, fulfilment and distribution. The minimum book order is one. Blurb has 7 print locations around the world — when an order is placed, Blurb automatically routes to a location closest to the ship to address.  Books typically arrive in about 5-7 days.

 

  • Free marketing tools, such as BookShow, a widget that enables the author to share a digital version of their book (or parts thereof entirely selectable by the author) that can be embedded on a blog, Facebook page, website, etc.  The widget features a Share button, meaning people can Tweet, send to Facebook or email with one click.  The widget also enables access to comments, a Book Info button as well as a Buy button.

 

Our single largest target market are creative professionals, although in a typical day we will see everything from a baby book, to a How To Dogsledding book (not kidding) to design and photography portfolio books, event books, marketing books, bad (and good) poetry books, social cause books, cookbooks, vacation books — you name it.

What is Blurb’s business model?

From the outset we knew the business would only work if we could make money from a book order of just 1. We have 7 print partners around the world to enable our global distribution and keep shipping costs to a minimum. We work very hard with those partners to ensure our standards are met.

 

In 2009, we delivered $45 million in revenue, representing over 1.2 mm books.  At our peak volume, we were seeing a new book title come over our servers every 1.1 seconds.  This means that in less than 2 minutes we saw more titles than a midsize traditional book publisher typically does in a year. We have been profitable for the past two years and now do business in 74 countries on 5 continents.

 

Our market is split into three segments. First, personal book makers: people making family books, holiday books, etc, with no intention of selling them for profit. That’s about 40% of our business. Then 30% of our books are promotional marketing tools. Lexus does books with us, Ducati, Honda, Google and Microsoft. Each run will be a few hundred copies. Recently we’ve seen a spate of company books celebrating some kind of product launch or event.

 

The final 30% are absolutely for-profit books. One of the beauties of our online bookstore is that because we make our money on the printing side, you can retain 100% of whatever mark-up you’ve put on the book over and above your cost.

Traditional publishing models are struggling, where do you see the sector heading?

There are two varieties of books: books you want to keep and books you want to consume. For consuming, people will go digital. We’d predict that within five years, 50% of books will be digital. Then there are other books that you want to keep. These are objects of beauty. They might be reference pieces like a cookbook, or gifts, and you can’t give digital.

 

Because of the economy, there will be fewer books in bookstores and fewer bookstores themselves. They won’t go away, but they will become more social places. They’ll become more like a coffee house, a social place where you meet up with other people for book signings and events.

 

Traditional publishers are suffering from a legacy business model. This is often the case when there is a big disruption in the industry. We are a very direct model where there aren’t any of those people on the food chain. We are an internet company. We didn’t have all those legacy relationships. We don’t pay agents, we don’t pay advances and we don’t take the risk like big publishers.

 

The point of Blurb is not that we’re selling 20 books, each of which sell 30,000 copies, but we’re doing 30,000 books each of which sells 20 copies. Traditional publishing is really becoming a blockbuster business. The big publishers can’t afford to take on the rest of us that may be delighted to sell 20 copies or 2,000 copies. They just don’t have the finances to do it.

 

So Blurb becomes a really great outlet for those people who are trying to either break in to build an audience or are publishing because of personal passion and if they sell 50 copies they are thrilled.

How do the publishing industry and your competitors view you?

 

Two years ago, they’d probably wish we’d go away. That’s not true now. We’re being approached by publishers for partnerships because there are some book titles that are not economical for them, but they would still like to maintain the relationship with the author. People who go into publishing have a great love for books and it pains them when they’re just not set up to get something out. It may be skewed, but those are the ones we are seeing.

Why do you think some authors don’t like the idea of e-books?

I don’t think its e-books they don’t like the idea of; it’s the larger change within the industry that this new book format is opening up.

 

Earlier this year, when Apple announced its pricing policy for books sold through its store for the iPad, is when we saw most author commentary about what the dawn of ebooks means, and it seems to be mixed emotions. From concern over the ability for the retail channel to further squeeze publishers margins and in turn author royalties, through to a debate about getting your ebook into ‘print’ versus it being ‘published.’ So where Bnet describes it as an opportunity for authors to self-publish, some authors question how much support they can get with these efforts to ensure their books are successful.

Tell us about the difficulties of taking a successful US business and launching it in Europe.

The biggest challenge is local market nuance and of course, local language support. We have seen a lot of organic growth in markets where we’re yet to launch a local language version. Our challenge is really to understand what people are using the platform for and to understand how the market breaks down and what opportunities for growth are there if we do deploy a local language version. The next challenge is prioritising those markets; as much as it’d be great to do it all at once – if we’re going to do it properly and support our growing user base in the right way we need to step back.

How will the iPad impact on Blurb?

 

The iPad, along with other ereaders, are certainly going to impact our business and in our view, it’s all for the better. We are making investments in e-publishing and outputting to the various e-readers: Nook, Kindle, etc, as well as HTML5 for the iPad. We have one of every e-reader at Blurb and we’ve hacked books on to everything.

 

Very soon you will see output to e-book standards so that you can make your book available on Google or wherever and will be able to read your book on an e-reader as well as an iPad.

 

The reason why this isn’t already available from Blurb is up until pretty recently it was all e-readers, so black and white – which is only 10% of our business. Now it’s on the iPad, we’re in colour and for us it makes things way more interesting. In addition to printing copies of their book, many of our authors have iPad versions.

 

I think the iPad has changed people’s relationship with technology in a very intimate way. Your access to technology is not about producing, it is now about consuming media. Before, if your laptop or mobile phone was your consumption device, you had limitations. But on the iPad, if you want to consume video games, a book, or look at television, it’s brilliant. I think it’s going to change the distribution of print media and it’s going to change people’s fundamental relationship to technology.

 

What prompted you to join a small business?

When I first joined Blurb there were only 2 of us on the ground in the UK. The user base was only just beginning to grow and I knew I would be in for a great ride. The opportunity to grow a business across Europe was and still is exciting. Not many people can have such an active part in growing a business and I’m privileged to be a part of it.

Where would you like to see Blurb in five years time?

 

I’d like to see us as a household name, a company that enables people to create fabulous things – whether they’re memory books as gifts or dynamic and colourful ebooks.

 

What other ideas do you think are hot in the start-up world right now?

 

There is so much interesting stuff going on, but I have to say, the power of online and applications for crowdsourcing never cease to amaze me. I’ve just been reading about crowdsourcing being applied to food products; companies like Yellow’s chocolate bar and Vitaminwater’s flavour contest are great examples, but read recently about an ice cream company in New Zealand taking crowdsourcing into its supply chain! And Giapo Gelato is inviting consumers who grow organic fruit to sign up as suppliers for the store’s new “Giapo Certified Organic” line


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