Ah hah! A new series from SMS Text News!
A mobile operator is a kingmaker, when it comes to mobile startups. If you can pitch your application or service successfully to a mobile operator, very quickly, you could find yourself with hundreds of thousands of customers — if not millions. They’re a lot more accessible nowadays too. Chances are, you can probably get a meeting with an operator to talk about your idea.
That’s where it all screws up for most people, though. Who exactly do you pitch to? CMO or one of the tech guys — or someone else? How do you get an operator’s attention? How should you craft your message to the operator? What kind of revenue share should you look at? When you’ve arrived in the mobile industry with $5m of funding from a top ranked valley VC and a business plan that depends on trying to sign up 3 international mobile networks to reach a 20m paid subscriber target by the end of the year, that’s when the challenges begin. Getting the money and knocking up the funky brand was the easy part.
And although 100,000+ people have downloaded the iPhone SDK, this does not, alas, signify a revolution as yet. The vaaaaast majority of handsets will remain contract, low-spec J2ME-if-you’re-lucky devices that customers will not be able to or cannot be arsed learning how to add apps to. Thus the MNO is still the on-device pre-installed kingmaker. Analogy time: Geeks like to think that as handsets become more open – Linux, Android, the iSDK – there will be a sweeping wave of mobile app democratisation, and soon every mum with a pram will be choosing her own IM client and ringtone editor.
Look at the most open, customisable mass-market device today – the humble Windows PC. Hundreds of thousands of free apps out there, that will do everything from tell you the time in Peru to track the latest shuttle mission. Yet most PC’s remain bog standard, with users using the pre-installed Microsoft apps because the alternative requires just too much nouse, spare time, risk of the thing going tits-up etc. As a species, most of us like Vanilla. In one kind of cone. With only one price. It’s easy.
So. Pitching mobile operators?
There’s a chap I know. I’ve been calling him The Operator or Mr Operator in the recent SMS Text News podcasts. He’s a little known gem that almost every mobile startup needs to talk with. Or, ideally, hire. Indeed, if you’re not talking to him at the moment, or if you’ve never heard of this service, talk to me and I’ll see if I can introduce you. He consults to a maximum of five mobile startups at any one time. His job? To rip their services to pieces. To rubbish every slide, to bludgeon the startup’s business plan. To slap the VC sitting on the startup board. To bring reality. Yes! His job is to help you craft a winning strategy to pitch a mobile operator.
How do you know he’s any good? Simple. He is that man. He’s the guy you pitch at one of the world’s largest international operators. Hardly a week goes by where he doesn’t send me a text privately ridiculing yet another high profile startup that’s just been sent marching, tail between their legs, from his office. He does the best he can to help smooth rough diamonds but, geez, the stories he tells me. He doesn’t ridicule them for spite. It’s frustration. He’s hugely frustrated with the total lack of understanding displayed by most entrepreneurs trying to do business with operators.
For example, I sent him a text a few weeks ago about a new service I’d come across that I thought his company should take a look at it. “Download it,” I wrote, “Just met the founder and they’re looking for operator contacts?” I sent. Later that evening, he replied: “Installed it, looks nice, drained my N95 battery in 60 minutes. Piece of shit.”
Soooo I won’t be introducing them. This is the biggest frustration I have when I’m sat in the middle between an audience of mobile startups (and established developers) who naturally want to pitch their services to mobile operators. If you can’t deliver a product that meets a few basic criteria, there’s no way you can get in the door.
Just what are mobile operators looking for at the moment and how should you present your services to them?
Well, I have some answers — in the form of a new semi regular series for SMS Text News: Mr Operator.
If you’re a mobile startup and you’re hoping, or your business is relying on getting into an operator, this series is most definitely for you. I’ve sat down and managed to comission Mr Operator (or, Mr Gatekeeper) to write a regular commentary about pitching your business to a mobile operator. In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to ask him to shine his razor sharp wit and experience on a number of mobile startups that I know are hoping to get into operators. (If you’d like your product or service ripped to pieces by a mobile operator (hopefully, prior to doing it for real) and if you’d like to save yourself his Â£5k/month consultancy fee, drop me a note, otherwise I’ll be picking randomly, soon.)
To begin with, I asked Mr Operator to give us an overview of how the average mobile startup pitch goes with him. Here we go….
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So you’ve got a cool app.
It does something Webby, something 2.0-y, but in a new, exciting way that people will love. You have sweated blood over it, sold the dog to pay the Symbian signing fees, and your partner now refers to you as ‘that guy with the bloody phone’.
You have a PowerPoint.
You have agonised over the fonts. Your designer friend knocked you up some business cards with a snazzy windswept and interesting* motif. You have a brand ending in one or two consonants, or possibly a Scandinavian vowel. If you are really lucky the whole name is Scandinavian. It actually means ‘wet shoes’ in Norwegian, but who cares?
Norway is not the prize.
You are Ready. Best suit on, checked the phone 5 times to make sure it’s on vibrate, got 5 copies of the office location printed, plus postcode loaded into GMaps on your new N95 8GB in case the cabbie has never heard of the destination.
You have your app on 3 different handsets, all reflashed to Nokia default, all with spare batteries.
You are going to Meet The Man From The Mobile Network Operator.
The meeting was set up following a 20 second passing blurt at a conference a few months back – you got The Man’s card, and have slept with it under your pillow ever since. You have him on speed-dial, even though you have never spoken since. You have sent increasingly nervous emails suggesting times / places / dimensions where it might be convenient to meet. Finally, there’s a 15 minute slot. You are IN my son. They will love you. Your MoMo mates are so jealous they can’t code straight.
You sign in at reception. He’s still on a call with the states, so you wait.
Read the FT.
And wait. Read Forbes. Check your phone’s on vibrate.
And He’s Here.
Big smile, firm handshake, business cards, etc etc. Up to the 5th floor, meeting room double booked so you camp out in a spare office. He’s only got 10 minutes now because of a call with Australia, so off you go. Out with demo handset one. Straight into it. Wait for S60 to boot up. Smile weakly. Realise battery is flat. Out with demo handset two. It’s a go-er.
Fire up The App.
Of course you’ll get rid of that Symbian pop-up message….and, er, that one too. Of course the UI will look much better when you hire that Flash developer, but, heh, you know start-ups, budgets, etc. Smile weakly again. Slides, did you say? oh, Christ yes, here, hold that, hang on, I’ll just boot up the laptop…………..Windows, eh?….weak smile…. Oh Jesus is that me sorry must have chosen Outdoor instead of Silent sorry….What’s that? Business model? er, well, A round is looking promising.
Oh, long term?
Well, we thought we could get three Euro per month per subscriber….
:: tumbleweed ::
:: crickets chirp ::
:: Fade to grey ::
* with apologies to Billy Connolly
– – – – –
Thank you, Mr Operator.
Standby for more, soon.