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10 questions for Noah N. Glass of Gomobo.com

Noah_mobo_1
Noah Glass is President and Co-Founder of Gomobo.com ("Mobo" – which is short for ‘mobile ordering’).  I made the rather British mistake of getting the timezone wrong in New York, so that when I finally connected with Noah, it was 43 minutes late.   He was gracious enough to automatically adjust his diary so that we had time to talk.  I sent him the following questions to answer last week and caught up with him on the phone to learn more about Mobo and find out how people were reacting to the service.

In short, Noah is stoked, full of energy and, as you might imagine, incredibly busy.  He and his team launched the service officially on 2nd May 2006 — and are already rocking and rolling across New York, having recently added five new take-out restaurants in the Rockefeller Centre — Dunkin’ Donuts, The Grill, Tossed, Subway, and Yummy Sushi.  I can just about remember their locations from when I was last there.  Cool, eh? 

It’s a compelling service. 

  • You register online at gomobo.com to setup your account (free). 
  • You browse the restaurant menus and create your favourite sandwich/meal configurations. 
  • Then, when you’re ready, you either use your mobile browser or text message to order your meal. 
  • You get a note back from the restaurant letting you know when to pick-up. 
  • No need to worry about cash.  That’s all handled by the Mobo system (which automatically debits the correct amount from your credit card, configured no your account.) 
  • Turn up at the restaurant’s special pick-up ‘Gomobo’ area, quote your name — and woosh — walk away with your sandwich. 

No queues. No cash to worry about, no need to repeat your favourite order over and over.  I love it, I think it’s a wicked concept. 

Thus I thought it would be interesting to pose a few questions to Noah.  I started off with the regular ones (‘first cell phone etc.’) then I moved on to a few more about Gomobo.com and the American mobile industry.   Here we go!

180pxzackmorris
1. What was your first cell phone? When did you get it?

My first cell-phone looked a little bit like a Zach Morris Saved By The Bell cell phone. It was a QUALCOMM DUAL BAND phone from Sprint and rarely ever got reception. That was the year 2000. I had no idea what a text message was.

2. What handset(s) do you use now and why?

Now I use a Treo 700W through Verizon, which…uh…looks a little bit like a Zach Morris Saved By The Bell cell phone. It’s got broadband connectivity, holds thousands of contacts, and keeps me organized. Best of all, it lets me go Mobo through our WAP-site at www.gomobo.com/go.

3. Are you the only founder of Mobo?  How did you decide upon going ahead with the concept?  Was there a defining moment that pushed you over the edge to start the service? (stuck in a queue of 25 hungry New Yorkers, for example?)  Did you need a lot of investment?

I’m the idea-guy, but the company was co-founded by several other innovators in the mobile software, e-commerce, and retailing arenas. I decided to go ahead with the concept when we built our prototype and saw the reaction of restaurants, customers, and investors. Everyone was asking, "when can I get this at the Starbucks near my office?"

I lived on Wall St. for two years when I first moved to the City. The Starbucks at 45 Wall St. (picture) was so packed every morning that I started refusing to go. A bit of caffeine-withdrawal made me determined to find a better, faster way that worked for users and restaurants at the same time. We raised an initial round of funding in June 2005 that has enabled us to build a world-class team and launch in New York City over the last couple of months.

4. How are you finding peoples’ attitudes to mobile services — is   there broad take-up or do you think New York (and in particular America) is still getting used to text messaging?

Text-messaging has truly arrived in the US over the past year or two. It used to be that only exchange students knew what an SMS was. Now it’s become ubiquitous.  And while Mobo is a leading-edge service, we’ve found fanatical users of all ages and all levels of comfort with technology.

Technology companies tend to create solutions for problems that don’t exist, especially in the mobile payments space. There are a lot of really cool mobile payments services that will never be used by the broader population after an initial hit with early adopters. I trust that Mobo is an exception to this rule because we built this service to solve a real-life problem. Mobo provides such a compelling time-saver value to users that it will become the standard way of ordering food.

5. How complex is it to integrate your service into a shop?  Is there  a lot of hardware involved?  How much are you having to change the  way they do business?
(e.g. do they have to assign a team to service Gomobo requests?)

We’ve found a way to get restaurants up and running on Mobo in 20 minutes and for under $100 of cost per restaurant. While that may not sound so impressive to the average reader, start to imagine the complexity of ordering a mere Latte. Size? Decaf or regular? Extra espresso shot? Type of milk? Any of our 31 flavor shots? Hot or Iced? Whipped Cream? See the complexity here? Now imagine a menu with 200 items. Mobo has built an incredibly scalable service and I think this gives us a sizeable advantage over the inevitable new market entrants.

6. Your company overview says you’ll soon be launching other time saving services (e.g. cinema/parking meters) — which do you think you’ll do next?

I’m very excited about listening to our users on this one. People have been really interested in the parking meter concept, but I think movie tickets and taxis are pretty cool applications, too. We’ll see.

7. Have you looked at offering the service in some of the ultra-text-obsessed nations in the Far East?

We’ve definitely looked at China, Japan, and the Philippines, but the US is our pilot market and one we’re hoping to make our name in.

8.  How often do you use Gomobo and what’s your usual order?

I use it at least three times a day. Checkout my blog entry called "Founder’s Faves" on the Mobo blog at
http://blog.gomobo.com

9. Do you think you’ll stay with text messaging as your primary medium or would you consider offering customers a java applet or a web/wap service that would give them the option to configure their sandwich on the fly (instead of at the desktop)?

The WAP service (www.gomobo.com/go) is actually the first thing that we built and what our team is most excited about. Through the WAP site, users can configure orders on the go. A rich client is something that we’ve been thinking about, but I think WAP is the best medium in the long-run.

10. Finally — what other mobile service or product has really caught your eye recently & why?

GPS technology will open up a whole lot of cool location-based-services (LBS) through Mobo, like our taxi application. Imagine a world in which you could hail the nearest available taxi from your phone, have it know exactly where you are and where you’re going, and pay through your mobile. When LBS hits, Mobo will be there…

And thus ends Noah’s Q&A.  Thanks for taking the time, Noah!   

As the son of a gourmet food author, you’d perhaps expect Noah to have some excellent suggestions of using Gomobo.com to order some gorgeous meals.  As per his answer to question 8, he doesn’t disappoint.  Do check out his recent blog on the subject for proof – my mouth was watering after the first sentence.  Here’s one that I could use right now:

New York Burger Co.:
I do The Big Deal with the Turkey Burger again and again and again.
"This is New York’s Best Burger" (AOL Cityguide 2005). With a salad with balsamic vinaigrette and Diet Coke for just $8.75, I’m full-bellied and happy.

I’ll have the above, please.  Oh, sorry – I meant two, please.   😉

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.

3 replies on “10 questions for Noah N. Glass of Gomobo.com”

Is this real? When defining the business case for any mobile based business NEVER restrict the business to footfall based transactions [transactions based on the number of consumers entering a shop or other public space]. From what I see with this business case is that the value chain requires an aquisition cost of $100 for each restaurant/business. Who pays for this? The restaurant or the mobile service?

If I was the restaurant, would I be willing to shell out $100 for an indeterminate numbers of ‘increased customers’ who firstly have to find the Gomobo service, become members, pre-determine what they wish to order and then visit the establishment to pick up the ordered goods.

To me it appears that the value proposition to the customer is to queue jump on a purchase transaction of $4.75 (based on Starbucks prices, New York). I do not think the convenience aspect of using the mobile for payment is a value in this as we have seen previous services such as this pop up in Scandinavia 5-6 years ago, and sadly they exist no more – not enough transactions.

Now presuming the business case for GoMobo is to take a small profit from directing the customer to the service (assume 15%, lets call it $0.75c per cup). SMS costs from the operators will need to be covered from this margin and from what I see at the web site, a credit of $5 is being offered to the first customers – which adds to the burn rate. So let’s assume a margin per transaction of $0.50c

Unless the company can secure contracts at corporate level (eg the whole of the starbucks chain) the numbers of transactions are restricted to possibly hundreds per restaurant/businesses. With the cost of selling this service to each and every bricks and mortar business added to the overall costs, I cannot see the scaling of this business in terms of SMS transactions which must be the effective revenue generator with margin per product sold. Also the business they serve (restauarant) will want to see increased footfall, not to have Gomobo as a cost for a portion of its existing footfall.

My apologies for being negative on this matter, but I think it is worth any mobile busines to research beforehand on similar businesses that have already been there, done that and proven not to be effective propogators of mobile revenues before exploring such avenues.

I do hope the entrepreneurs behind this business do well in their endeavours but I think the organisation will need to be bloated with sales staff to sustain organic growth of the model.

Noah Glass Interviewed

Ewan at SMS Text News is continuing his interview series by speaking with Noah Glass, President and co-founder of GoMoBo.com, a mobile ordering company.What was your first cell phone? When did you get it? My first cell-phone looked a…

Dear Shawpy,

Many thanks for your thoughtful comments on the Mobo business model.

Your points on past attempts at similar services in the mobile space are well-taken and certainly things that we’ve carefully examined in forging our strategy. We have modeled the business after successful online food ordering companies (Mobo is available online and via WAP as well as SMS) and mobile services and done extensive research on those that have failed to avoid the pitfalls that you address. I can assure you that Mobo will not require a large sales staff, and that we have found a way of scaling, operating, and maintaining the service with a small team and low operating costs.

Restaurants (both independents and chains) have been extremely eager to sign-up (covering our restaurant acquisition fees). Our existing restaurants have found that Mobo sales tickets are over 50% larger than average cash/credit transactions and that customer loyalty has nearly doubled when customers begin to order via Mobo.

I’d like to discuss this with you further over email, if you’d be willing to do so. I can tell that you’re quite knowledgable in this space and would value being able to continue communicating with you.
You can reach me by emailing info@gomobo.com.

Thank you for your valuable comments and input.

Regards,

Noah

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