Now, this is a big one. It’s a two-in-one with both founders (Ed & Tom) answering the questions. Masbi is a secure mobile development company — I’ve used a screenshot from one of their recent Playtech mobile casino games there to the right.
Let’s take in a bit of background before shooting into the interview:
From their recent press release: The company is the leading developer of transactional software for the constrained environments of today’s mass market mobile handsets. It also has world leading experts in the fields of mobile usability, networking and security.
Founded in late 2001, Masabi began by launching a range of mobile phone games before moving into the mobile application sector with its ground breaking viral distribution and web interaction technology – as seen in the applications Pick the Prez (www.picktheprez.com) and the Iraq War Cost Calculator (www.iraqcost.com). The company has a number of high profile clients from across a range of industry sectors, publicly announced examples of which include: Playtech, the Tote, the Liberal Democrats and Vodafone WildLive!. Based in London, Masabi is wholly self-owned and self-funded.
That last bit got my attention 😉 If you’re looking to invest in mobile games developers…
Anyway, I put my favourite questions to both Ed & Tom. First you’ll see my question, then you’ll see their responses underneath. Let’s kick off with the first question!
1. What was your first mobile handset?
Ed – It was the Ericsson T10, nice size but as it could only display about 5 characters on screen at once, reading texts was a nightmare…
Tom – some kind of NEC analogue brick, I really can’t remember the model – the next was the Nokia 3210 though, an excellent phone which looked good and was easy to use.
2. What is your current mobile strategy? (i.e. Handsets, devices, networks)
Ed – I currently use a Samsung D600 on O2. I’ve had it for about a year and am due an upgrade, but haven’t seen anything recently that’s made me go wow.
Tom – in general I always advise other people to go Sony-Ericsson, but after my old K600 I switched to a Samsung Z400 hoping it would be as nice as my old D500 – sadly it isn’t, with terrible battery life. I agonised for ages about an SE W950 for the 4Gb flash, but bought an 8Gb iPod nano instead and I’ll wait until something gets me excited – like Ed, I haven’t seen much recently that’s really cool and I get to play with pretty much everything that comes out. Contract is with Orange, who I’ve stayed with since the NEC for no particularly good reason…
3. What price plan are you using right now?
Ed – err, I’m really not sure I think it’s a business price plan which weighs in around the £50 quid per month mark.
Tom – some business price plan which covers a few company phones and some test SIMs. I try not to look at the bills…
4. What’s your background?
Ed – I started working in PR and Marketing consultancy for mobile tech companies at an agency called AxiCom straight out of uni in 2000. My clients included the likes of Symbian, Real Networks, Trigenix as well as whole bunch of companies which make core network and RF technologies. In 2001 I saw a prototype Nokia 7650 at Symbian (their first smartphone) and thought that 1980s home computer games could work pretty well on it. From there I called up Tom (who’d just completed a computer science degree at Cambridge) and together we signed up the Rights to a number of titles from Superior Software who were the top publisher on the BBC Micro – making games like Repton, Galaforce, Strykers Run – and so Masabi began.
Tom – I started in IT with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in my gap year which taught me that it wasn’t just amateur programmers who made mistakes. Then computer science at Cambridge, some great experience in the US at the tail end of the dot com bubble leading to my first redundancy (along with half the rest of the company), started an IT consultancy with some friends looking for a market we could tackle, got the phone call from Ed and here we are as Masabi.
5. What sites do you regularly read to keep up to date with mobile?
Ed – SMSTextNews is obviously a given 😉 also:
Tom – stacks of them, from the obvious big IT/mobile sites through to more specialist feeds like Akihambra News and all the ‘new release’ sites and feeds I can get hold of like PhoneScoop, GSMArena etc. GSMArena need to do an RSS feed, that would make life much easier…
6. What was your mobile bill last month? What do you think is a fair amount to pay for your mobile service each month?
Ed – It was around the £50 mark. I think it’s pretty reasonable, as I do make a fair amount of calls and use a decent amount of data. Although I’m not particularly price sensitive on such things.
Tom – honestly no idea, it’s all mixed in with our test SIMs etc. The bill is pretty fair except for the roaming charges – I cannot see how anyone can justify £1.50/min when roaming in Estonia, it is just ridiculous, so I’ve got myself a PAYG SIM there too which is very cheap.
7. Pick 3 people that you admire and rate in the mobile industry and give us 2-3 lines about each.
1. The folks at Issuebits who make AQA – I think this service is really neat because it just works across all handsets and anyone who uses SMS can use it. It’s also kind of ironic that it came from ex-Symbian folks as it’s basically the antithesis of a smartphone application.
2. Richard White at AxiCom – I worked with Richard for about 4years and he is still there working with an ever growing team of clients and his knowledge across the industry is massive. The funny thing about the mobile world is how everything interconnects and effects other pieces of the ‘puzzle’. He is completely connected to companies in everything from billing to mobile search to UMA and he’s my first port of call when I’m wondering what services are possible and what will and won’t work.
3. The Masabi Dev team – without wishing to make this sound like one big love-in, I’m constantly amazed by the quality of the apps that they make and how they get them to run even on phones like the Nokia 3510i.
1. Michael Mace at Mobile Opportunity is very switched on and writes very knowledgable blog posts which I generally agree with, and he knows his US bias and acknowledges it. Too often people assume the entire world works the same, and when it comes to mobile it doesn’t.
2. Tom Hume runs a good blog, and FP put out some good stuff so I think he can code. He’s also a very nice guy and he knows akaido, so it pays to be nice 😉
3. Steve Jobs. The man redefines paradigms. Before the iPhone, battery life was important – after the iPhone, we will all be happy with a fixed non-changable battery that dies after 16h of music (less with a few calls). Did you hear them cheer when he said how great this was? And he pulled it off whilst offering a mammoth 1 year warranty on a $500 phone that requires a 2 year contract; trully the paradigm has shifted and we should be very grateful 🙂 Though I’m probably just bitter we won’t get to develop for it; my big hope is that the iPhone forces the incumbents to actually bring some innovation into phone interfaces, I see the unit itself probably selling several hundred thousand units which means it will go down in history as a niche phone with reasonable sales.
8. Do you have any pets?
Ed – nope.
Tom – no. I did consider trying to buy a robotic fish once because I could just drop in new batteries if it died…
9. What one issue or technological advancement would you like to see with the mobile industry? What are you looking forward to?
Ed – There are some neat handset things, which have been demoed for a couple of years but have yet to make it into a phone, stuff like micro-projectors and the wireless power thing that the Splashpower guys have. Also it would be good to see some innovation in user inputs/user interfaces – I think this will be the one thing that the iPhone will force the likes of Nokia, Motorola et al to do.
Tom – I would love to see JavaME properly integrated into phones, which would be an extremely difficult feat to pull off well but would allow it to break out of the Java/Games/Funbox Sub-menu ghetto and lead to serious improvements in phone functionality. SE seem to be making most progress in this area as their Java Platform 7 features true multi-tasking MIDlets and support for almost every API, but we need a whole step up to really fulfil the potential.
10. What’s your ringtone?
Ed – Airwolf – I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed by that.
Tom – always on vibrate. I have considered adapting the intro of Pitchshifter’s Microwaved but I don’t have the sound skills to do it properly…
11. What’s the last movie you saw at the cinema?
Ed – Mission Impossible 3
Tom – Borat, in Estonia so we got no translation for the Russian bits 🙁 We don’t get so many films in Tartu, but I really wanted to see A Scanner Darkly as I enjoyed the book ages which I read in one session on a balcony in Positano when I had insomnia. Normally I pick stuff up on DVD though, which after the first 200 films is starting to become a storage problem…
12. What services do you most use on your handset?
Ed – It would have to be voice. I do use a wide range of other apps and services, but I think voice is always going to the main thing for me.
Tom – for me voice, SMS, Java. I use my EOS or my Ixus for photos (depending on how much alcohol I’ve consumed) as phone camera’s just don’t cut it yet, and after much deliberation I decided 8gb is the minimum amount of space I can get away with for a music player because I can’t be bothered with the hassle of swapping over songs on a daily basis – I never know what I want to listen to.
13. What’s the hottest mobile service to catch your eye recently?
Ed – Well I’d have to say the secure mobile casino apps we built for Playtech which are available from www.centrebetmobile.com and http://www.casinotropezmobile.com 😉 However, shameless plugs aside, I’ve also been impressed with Spinvox’s stuff.
Tom – Google maps Java client was nice.
14. When did you last send a picture / video message — and who was it to?
Ed – 2003 to my girlfriend. She still hasn’t received it.
Tom – I’m sure I sent one once, but I’m struggling to remember when. I did receive one the other day from a friend in Geneva, who was buying me a Ribcap skiing helmet substitute (http://www.ribcap.ch/) which you can’t really get outside Switzerland – I wasn’t sure whether to go with a Palmer or a Marley so I needed to see them on someone… that is a valid use for MMS, but I never really could think of many others. I went with an anthracite Palmer, if you’re interested, and it’s very nice but too warm for this season 😉
15. What new mobile companies have caught your attention this year?
Ed – The mobile search and ad serving folks seem to be the folks getting the most attention at the moment. I think in this quite an interesting area, although it will be interesting to see how they all compete in the long term when faced with the likes of Google and Yahoo.
Tom – plenty have caught my attention, but not always for the right reason so I won’t name any. A lot of people are piling in to a number of industries (2D barcodes, SMS-via-java, …) and some of the ideas are good but they are hitting the same barriers we have always fought – not every idea can be achieved in the mass market, and one of our core philosophies at Masabi has always been that if you have a product that can only be achieved on Symbian/Windows Mobile you better have a very good reason why you want to throw away 90-95% of the potential marketplace else we won’t build it for you. We’re not interested in products which we know will fail and a lot of our work involves guiding clients through the options, even if we end up without a sale at the end of the day.
16. What is the best thing and the worst thing about the mobile industry?
Ed – The worst thing is Java network settings, but I’ll let Tom go into detail on that more eloquently than I can. The best thing is the opportunities for small, self-funded companies – if you take Masabi as an example, we founded a company with literally nothing more than time, effort and some computers and we just announced a deal to build a complete mobile solution for a listed company with a billion-dollar market valuation.
Tom – I’m not sure I have the energy to go into Java network settings in any more detail I’m afraid! Suffice to say, if you have spent many billions on a mobile network infrastructure and employ many hundreds of people doing… whatever it is they all do… I genuinely do not understand how you could fail to ensure that the phones you sell work properly. I could go on. Best thing? I love working in a market moving at such a pace, that can potentially touch every person in the world.
Absolutely fascinating! Gents, thank you both for taking the time to answer the questions!
By the way: If you’re working in mobile — or a related area, drop me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s put the same questions to you?