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Mobile Developer Titan profile: AlwaysOnMessage

I’m delighted to introduce the first part of the Developer Titan Series here on Mobile Industry Review, kindly and enthusiastically supported by the BlueVia team. In each post of this series, we’ll be featuring an executive from a noted mobile developer firm. Don’t necessarily expect to see the usual suspects from the consumer technology headlines, instead expect to read about an array of companies doing smart things in the industry.

You can find out more about the series in this introductory post.

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Our very first Mobile Developer Titan is AlwaysOnMessage, one of the leading mobile agencies in the United Kingdom.

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Not for nothing does the company’s roster of clients boast luminary names such as Channel 4, BBC, Endemol, IPC, Universal and Glenfiddich. Remember the Jamie Oliver 30-minute-meals Egg Timer app that brought together television programming and practical usage? (you may have seen it on a billboard in the tube!) That was one of Peter’s. Do you remember the movie Bruno (featuring Sacha Baron-Cohen)? The Bruno app was one of the company’s first projects and it hit 400,000 downloads in days and went straight into the #1 slot on most App stores.

I first met the company’s CEO, Peter Swain, at The Big M event in Bath earlier this year. We had corresponded briefly beforehand and managed to take some time together at the event. I was struck by his fervour, excitement and experience in the mobile marketplace. He’s a true globe-trotting digital pioneer.

Right then, let’s get on with the questions.

1. Who are you and what’s your background?

My name is Peter Swain CEO of AlwaysOnMessage. I’ve spent my life running digital agencies and have been involved in digital since 1995 and specifically mobile since 2009.

My digital career has spanned the globe, with time in Dubai as the founder and MD of The Concept House, a specialist web and digital agency that helped facilitate the evolution of the digital industry in the UAE and earlier in London where I worked on the first Yell.com and web work for Sony, Williams F1 and The Cure (amongst others!)

2. What is your job title and what are your general responsibilities?

As CEO and Co-Founder, I oversee strategy and direction with the goal of understanding where mobile is and where it may go. I specifically keep responsibility of user experience and app direction, both of internal apps and client offerings, as well as working closely with platforms, MNO’s, and certain clients in advising strategy and mobile roadmaps.

3. When did your organisation begin trading?

2009.

4. Why did you/your founder(s) start the company? To solve what problems?

We launched into mobile after I purchased an iPhone, “the iPhone represented the first paradigm shift since the Internet arrived in the early 90’s”. This was / is a fantastic time to be in mobile and watch how it affects each and every part of how we work, eat, sleep, play & consume.

5. How are you funded?

We are largely self-funded, although we did take a small loan from the EFLGS [Enterprise Finance Loan Guarantee] when we started trading.

6. How do you generate revenue? Who are your customers? Or do you sell directly via App Stores?

All of the above. We have 3 principal business lines:

  • Client work: during the last 2 years we’ve worked with brands including the BBC, Jamie Oliver and Universal Pictures.
  • Revenue Shares: we explore brands with great IP that we can utilise to generate revenue for both parties. We have 5 major apps due for release later this year across TV and Magazine IP.
  • Handsets and Operators: We work with a fair few platforms and operators helping them ensure their app offerings are up to scratch. We find it amazing that more mobile agencies don’t focus resource at talking to the operators … They have a unique position of controlling distribution, even if they don’t realise it yet.

7. Who are your principal directors/team members? Could you give us a few sentences about each of their responsibilities and backgrounds?

Gideon Roberts is my Co-Founder and our Operations Director. Gideon’s main goals at AlwaysOnMessage (AoM) see him overseeing all aspects of production: from design to implementation and deployment, to the smooth-running of all in-office processes; including the daily operations associated with app development and in ensuring the company has access to cutting-edge solutions that deliver expert apps on time, and on budget.

Richard Collins is our Chairman. Richard’s main duties are to ensure the company remains on task. Working closely and openly with the CEO, Richard’s overarching goal is to ensure the company has a clear strategy that encompasses both style and tone, and promotes constructive debate and effective, commercial decision-making. Having been involved in the internet since 1995, Richard first started in digital marketing when he set up Tempest, one of the UK’s first digital media and search marketing agencies (which amongst other accolades was Google’s first European agency client). He sold the business to global giant WPP in 2001, and went on to run OgilvyOne and Mindshares’ digital media businesses in the UK, working with some of the world’s leading global brands.

Harlan Davis is our Commercial Director. He’s responsible for commercial strategy and development. His focus areas are marketing, sales, product development and customer service, to drive customer satisfaction, business growth and market share. Harlan’s knowledge of the mobile apps industry, along with strong marketing and business development skills enable him to take ownership of customer relationships to ensure that the organization is functioning in a way that will enable it to meet its short, and long-term goals.

8. Could you give us some key turning points or memorable moments from your perspective regarding the development of the mobile marketplace?

It has to be the iPhone release for me above any other moment in mobile. WAP and other mobile innovations were key to growth, but Apple redefined what mobile is.

9. Can you remember back to some of the first applications that caught your attention? What were they? How do you remember responding to them?

The iPint and Skype stick out … One showed a unique marketing opportunity, the other how “old” businesses could find a new home and revenue stream.

10. What was your first application launch? How was the development process? What was the biggest learning experience you derived from your first application build?

Our first app was for Bruno … It received 400,000 downloads within a few days and was #1 on most App stores (Austria weren’t too impressed!!)

Development wise we used our own methodology (SLIM) which allows us to scale up as and when required.

The lesson we learnt: Have the platform (in this case Apple) involved in the build as soon as possible.

11. At what point did you think ‘this mobile thing has legs’? Did you know from the inception of the business? Or did it take a little while before you felt confident with the marketplace?

We launched knowing mobile was about to change the world and we wanted to be one of the first there.  We were confident from day one and I would say our first app, Bruno, put us on the stage.

Profitability can’t be ignored as a success criteria, but the companies that trust us with their brands are validation that money can’t buy.

Operators and platforms that want to validate their businesses by working strategically with us speaks for itself as well.

12. Do you ever work directly with mobile operators?

Wherever possible … I’d go as far as to say we’re frustrated that some carriers don’t seem to understand the app economy and how big an impact it’s having / going to have on their business.

13.  What current or existing mobile operator capabilities would you like to see made accessible to app developers?

I’d like more carriers to follow BlueVia’s model and start interacting with their developer audience. We’re very impressed by BlueVia and firmly believe that initiatives such as this represent the future of how MNO’s shift from infrastructure to business partner.

14. What application platforms are you focusing your efforts upon? And why?

We’ve operated across most platforms and can’t perceive that changing anytime soon … AlwaysOnMessage is a mobile agency … How can we advise our client base if we don’t understand each and every competing technology?

15. Over the next few years, where do you think your focus will lie?

Broadly as it is now … The daily shift in mobile dominance will no doubt continue and we will adapt to fit. The only guarantee to some degree is the continual change and we for one intend to stay ahead of this.

16. What innovations are you most looking forward to in the mobile marketplace?

NFC and the further proliferation of QR Codes … Anything that can bind the real and mobile worlds together. We’re also excited by TV Apps and seeing how “second screen” approaches become a reality over the next few years.

17. What handset(s) do you use currently? What’s your primary mobile network of choice and why?

I’m on O2 and currently use an iPhone4 as my primary handset (although the company owns a host of handsets so we stay mobile aware across the full ecosystem)

18. Can you remember your first handset and network?

A Motorola Flare, although the network escapes me.

19. Could you highlight 3 mobile applications (and/or developers) that you seriously admire and explain why?

  • Addison Lee – one of the best integrated experiences out there
  • MPeso – Having given 24% of Kenya the ability to perform commerce is an amazing feat.
  • Apple – if you want to see amazing user experience in play, Apple’s the place to look … I’m STILL bowled over by visual voicemail (I can’t believe I used to go through an IVR to get my voicemails!)

20. And now let’s talk BlueVia: Have you had a play with the API? What did you come up with?

We’ve had a look at the API and there are several things we’re interested in … the concept of both functionality and revenue is exciting.

21. What features of BlueVia are you most excited by?

That would be telling! We have some cool ideas we’re looking to build on the back of BlueVia and we’re looking to announce a fairly major project in the near future. So, watch this space!

22. How do you react to the revenue possibilities presented by BlueVia?

It’s exciting and shows that O2 have a genuinely different offering for the market. AoM has talked about the app economy and its affects on MNO’s for the last year and its good to see a viable roadmap being presented. If MNO’s want to move beyond being regarded as infrastructure they need to partner with developers … BlueVia does exactly that.

23. What’s missing from the BlueVia offering at the moment? What would you like to see?

The word “missing” seems harsh and pre-supposes that BlueVia is finished and (from our understanding) there is a roadmap of new functionality being delivered.

Our top 3 requested features would be:
– SMS / MMS refunds … user confidence will drop if charges are applied next to a service we can’t deliver.
– The ability to change settings as well as read them e.g. changing a voicemail recording or call forwarding rule, not just reading the rule
– Cross network support … I’m not even sure this is possible, but limiting features to O2 customers is a real hindrance to adoption.

24. Would you like to see more operators adopt a more open framework similar to Telefonica and BlueVia?

See above! MNO’s MUST evolve if they want to protect the customer base (and profits) they have. The prospect of developers being able to influence the entire ecosystem is very appealing. However, we’re concerned this will lead to another set of fragmented standards being applied vs. a cohesive approach across network.

25. Finally, let’s talk predictions. What trends do you think are going to define the next few years of mobile application development?

We’ve long held the belief that the current state of mobile is very similar to the internet in the mid 90’s. We’re currently seeing platform wars (browser wars), native apps (flash, shockwave etc), a lack of analytics (a lack of analytics!), handset fragmentation (browser, monitor, PC proliferation) etc. If that holds true, we’re going to see plenty more change before things stabilise.

Specifically we think:
– Microsoft / Nokia will be the new Apple
– Blackberry will be the new Nokia
– Android will be hit by security and virus concerns due to fragmentation
– Several rival NFC programs will be launched to the utter confusion of the consumer
– The dotcom bubble will be back with us, with VC funding exploding quarter on quarter
– Apple will be Apple 🙂

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Peter, thank you very much for taking the time to answer the questions. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what you’re cooking up with BlueVia!

Standby for the next Mobile Developer Titan profile coming soon.

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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