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10 questions to Michael Tchong of Ubercool

Michaelt
I first came across Michael Tchong in 1998.  At that time, Michael was running a weekly newsletter called ICONOCAST – founded in 1997, it was a cross between marketing, media, the burgeoning web — and quite a bit before the whole dotcom period.   I read it for about 4 weeks before plucking up the courage to send an email into Michael.  He encouraged people to send in enquiries, requests, notices and so on, so I thought I’d see if I could get connected to some smart people to help me grow the business a little more.  At that time I was running, amongst other things, a big teen community site. 

Here’s what it said in the email:

Myself and my colleague Alistair founded and operate the UKs largest teenage and student community site, called The Junction ( www.the-junction.com). Were gaining impressive hits (75,000/day) and av. user session time of 20mins; with an audience of around 175,00 a month. Were both 20, and both full time students in London UK. How would we grow this operation to something rivalling that of the big boys like Excite, Yahoo, TalkCity? Sponsorship deals? Venture Capital? Something else?

The next week I was shocked when I saw that Michael had included the request.  Dumbfounded, actually.  Within moments of the email hitting my inbox, I had a note  from a chap called Nick Denton saying we should talk. Wow!   I later briefly met him and another guy called Adam Gold — they were cooking up this ‘FirstTuesday’ idea.  Heh.  I went along to the first.  I think I was the token student.  😉  Then I had a mail from Sean Malatesta (See ‘Yack’ on this Wired piece) — which, a year later, led to us raising $1m in venture capital.

Shocking, eh?  So I’ve obviously been keeping track of Michael and his work.  Iconocast, from memory, became part of Business 2.0.  Then, again from memory, he launched TrendSetters which tracked wickedly interesting trends, not just dotcom but across industries.  I found it fascinating.  More recently Michael launched Ubercool:

Ubercool is a media and
entertainment company that provides trendwatchers and trendsetters with
the latest updates on all that is ‘ubercool” – outstanding examples of trend-propelled products and services.

If you’ve any interest whatsoever in what’s going on in the world and what’s coming soon — I strongly recommend you sign up to the Ubercool newsletter

I emailed Michael and asked him if he’d be able to take the time to answer 10 questions on mobile – I was delighted when he said he would!   I was really interested to see what themes he’d pick up on.  So here we go….

———

1. What was your first mobile handset and what network?
I bought a Panasonic in December 1985. It was a two-piece model with a small heatsink with antenna as base. The keypad was on the back of the handset. The heatsink got quite warm. The unit cost me $1295. The network was GTE MobilNet. I was certainly the first with cellular phone in the publishing industry in San Francisco.

2. What is your current mobile handset strategy? (e.g. what are you using now?)
I finally, after many years of carrying two separate devices, I simplified and settled on a smartphone. I bought a new BlackBerry 8700g from eBay, which turned out to be an almagmam of O2 outside branding and T-Mobile inside. Nevertheless, it’s a great phone and I totally love some of the cool themes you can now get for this staid business machine. My favorite one right now is called "Overlord" — which adds a complete videogame machine dimension to my CrackBerry. Of course, I do miss the svelte formfactor of my RAZR V3, but not my BlackBerry 7230 I used before.

3. Which features do you use most regularly on your mobile? (e.g.calling/texting/pictures and so on)
In order of popularity, it’s e-mail, texting, calling, surfing the Internet. I love Google Maps, but the IM+ program is simply too slow for me to do any mobile IMing. I can’t MMS, because the BlackBerry has no camera.

4. What’s the background to Ubercool?  Can you outline the service offering?
I’m building a media company that’s focused on the business of trends, either from a trendwatching perspective or trendsetting. I’ve launched a newsletter, called Ubertrends (get the newsletter here), that serves marketing and business industries. And on August 1 I also launched Trendsetters.com, a discussion forum for trendwatchers and trendsetters.

5. Give us an example of a mobile-related Ubercool feature/story?
I like the fact that texting is compressing the romance cycle, I think that type of story is perfect for Ubertrends.

6. What’s your ringtone?
On my RAZR I have Crazy Frog Axel F. On my BlackBerry, I have a classic from 1985, "Pump Up The Jam."

7. Pick 4 people you rate in the mobile industry (or mobile related industries) and say why?

Well, I think that we first need to congratulate Andreas Wicklund, who wrote Crazy Frog Axel F, for creating the first ringtone to cross over to the pop-charts.

Then there’s Roger Jellicoe, the Brit who led the Motorola design team that came up with the RAZR, the world’s most popular phone at 50 million sold.

The other two people I don’t know by name, but it’s the guy in Malaysia who sent the first SMS divorce message.

Then there’s that 13-year-old Scottish girl who handed in her essay written in text message shorthand, because, as she explained to her teacher, it was easier than standard English.

8. What mobile service(s) do you use on a regular basis?
I use 411 to google addresses, etc. I also like to watch mobile videos, which I watch on another mobile given to me by Sprint. If we had a service like Shazam in the U.S., I would be a heavy user of that service.

9. What one mobile service would you really like to see developed?
I think it would be a service that would make things faster to use, particularly for busy people. We already have speed flirting, so think along those lines.

10. Putting on your Ubercool glasses, what key themes do you think we’ll see in the mobile industry in the future?
More fashion phones, all smartphone-based, of course, and with the ability to conduct mobile payments, all made accessible by a fingerprint reader.

———

Michael, thanks very much for taking the time to do the Q&A! 

I’ve added Michael to the Who’s Who under Visionaries.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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