Jason Ball's TechBytes

Technology & Venture Capital. Early stage venture capital news mixed with personal views and comments

Investing in Rockpack

Earlier this summer, I posted on why I led our investment in Wrapp. I promised as part of that post to circle back around with a post on a seed investment, to compare the two since they’re clearly at different stages. Here then, are my thoughts on Rockpack, and how they relate to my previous posts Three P’s of Venture Capital and Terminal Velocity. Looking at each post in turn:

Three P’s of Venture Capital

1) People. First off, Sofia Fenichell is female. That means, as a tech entrepreneur, she’s already the top 2%. You have to fight hard, and after you meet her, you realize she’s top 1%. Always on, always connected, always pushing, always asking questions. Very intense. She’s managed to assemble a list of rock stars to help her build out her vision. She possesses a rare ability to get in front of people for meetings as well (Stephen Fry, Jamie Oliver) and get them on board with her vision. There is a reason Rockpack has been featured in both the US and the UK App Stores the day after launch, and featured by Wired. That reason is Sofia Fenichell (and the Rockpack team).

2) Product. Simple, clear use case. The company has designed away as much of the interface as they can – but when we invested, there was only a vision of curated content. As I tweeted a while back – “in the age of the infinite, curation is king”

3) Potential. Video is a huge market. If Rockpack can crack it with a great UI/UX, they will be very successful. That, or they will fail. Customers will decide.

Terminal Velocity

a) Lots of funding. $2M seed round, it’s a good start.

b) Office in the US. Not yet. NYC is on the horizon though.

c) Connections. I’m not even going to start- there are too many to list. And they’ve all been drummed up since we invested in December, even though the list of contacts started before then.

d) Chutzpah. I think if you look up Chutzpah in the dictionary, you see a picture of Sofia. She’s charming though… and super smart.

That’s it. I took a view to write a relatively small check pre-product, when there were only mock-ups of what it would look like. The product that launched last in June looks *nothing* like what I invested into. So, that means I invested in People. I realize this post is focused on the CEO vs the team – and that belies the huge effort they’ve put in to make Rockpack a reality. Without them, Sofia would only have a vision… but without Sofia, I wouldn’t have invested.

Filed under: Mobile, Venture Capital

Investing in Wrapp

As part of an ongoing effort to be more transparent and open about venture and investing, I thought I’d set out a few reasons for why I led the effort behind Qualcomm Ventures’ recent investment into Wrapp (great interview with Carl where he discuses product and roadmap).

Looking back at my recent posts, The Three P’s of Venture Capital and Terminal Velocity, let’s look at how Wrapp fits those criteria:

1) People. The team has a vision, is passionate and can execute. I’ve known co-founder Andreas Ehn for many years, I’ve worked with Creandum at Videoplaza for the past 18 months, I knew Hjalmar Winbladh, Niklas Zenstromm and Reid Hoffman by reputation. All star line-up of team and investors.

2) Product. Simple, clean app with a razor sharp mobile focus. Easy to use and easy to like (really, who doesn’t like to get a gift?). While considering whether or not to invest, I talked to quite a few users who didn’t like the product- they LOVED the product. (I also talked to quite a few users that hated it. Everyone has an opinion.) I listened to the 1 million+ people that have downloaded the app, and the 15 Million gifts that have been sent.

3) Potential. Wrapp crosses the digital/physical divide- they can move people into stores, gyms, restaurants, etc and convert those feet into purchases. That is potentially huge. It’s still early days, but that conversion cycle is very compelling for brands and retailers. The market for gift cards is $110 Billion in the US alone- disrupting that market is a major opportunity. Marketing is a hard space to be in… and it’s not getting easier. Brands and companies need to engage with customers, and Wrapp offers them a great way to do that on a deeper basis.

4) Terminal Velocity. Subcategories were:

a) Lots of funding. $15M Series B. Check.

b) Office in the US. Wrapp is roughly split between Stockholm and San Francisco. Check.

c) Connections. Spotify, Microsoft, Skype, Linkedin,Creandum, Atomico, Greylock, American Express. Check.

d) Chutzpah. Being Swedish, not so much… they’re too understated, but there’s certainly a lot of charisma and charm.

Clearly, the company’s metrics and performance were very compelling as well – growth, retention, engagement, etc.

I could go through this exact same list for our investment in Waze back in 2010 and have very similar answers for each point above. Critically, Waze had hit the 1 million user mark; that’s a fundamental milestone that’s very indicative of a company’s success. Granted, you need many, many green lights to all work in your favor to get to a successful result, but the raw materials for success were there.

Also, I recognize this is for a Series B investment, so I’ll do the same exercise for my latest seed investment once that’s announced in a few weeks.

Filed under: Mobile, Venture Capital

The Desktop is Dead

Just to qualify the title, the desktop is dead if you’re under 20 years old.

Screens are migrating from living room to desktop to tablet to mobile. Depending on which generation you belong to, one of those screens is your home screen.

I made a heretical statement 2 years ago in this post - “Facebook is going to be irrelevant in 10 years”, which was true, but the unspoken part which was omitted was “Facebook ON THE DESKTOP is going to be irrelevant”. FB positions itself as a mobile company – they are doing their best to remain relevant in a post PC world. They bought Beluga – one of the companies I predicted to overtake them. Instagram was another good choice- so smart acquisitions by FB. (Although you could argue that FB will be irrelevant irrespective of anything it tries to do to change it’s fate- but that’s a separate post).

Another stat that I tweeted last fall was that Qualcomm’s market cap had passed Intel’s – another sign that the desktop was dead/dying. The two firms are at parity right now – but over the next few years term, mobile wins…

The key take away here is that we’re in the middle of a major transition (no real surprise) but most people out are still thinking web – in design terms, product terms and functionality terms. There are more third wave of mobile companies being launched, and they will be the ones to succeed. They aren’t written for the web, and aren’t written by or for generation web.

I realize some of this is stating the obvious- but if you’re reading this on your desktop/laptop “go directly to jail; do not pass go, do not collect $200

Filed under: Mobile

What’s next in Mobile?

I joined Qualcomm Ventures 5 years ago because I thought the newly released iPhone would herald in an era where the web met wireless – and what a 5 years it’s been…

The first wave of companies, when I first started, were “mobile only” plays – they were remnants of the dumbphone age. I couldn’t have cared less – I was only interested the next wave: web services where the handset was the window into the service. One investment based on this thesis was we7 – a cloud based music service which became “a personal DJ in your pocket” a la Pandora for the UK market (we exited last year). Spotify is an excellent example of this type of business that more of you will be familiar with. We didn’t make many investments here, but lots of good companies came out of this space.

The following wave was mobile-only or mobile-first companies. Foursquare springs to mind immediately- and is an example I’ve used many times. They launched with a mobile-only offering, and have only recently added a website. We’ve made quite a few investments in this space – Viddy is probably our best known, launching on iOS only, growing to 25M+ users and then opening up content on the web to continue to develop the product and expand reach.

Things have continued to evolve, and I’ve basically stopped looking at apps and started looking at services – delivered via an app. A great example of this category is Citymapper – a London based company that crunches data in the background to optimize your journey using a combination of bus, train, tube, overground etc through London. I use the app every single day to navigate London. One of our better known companies is also in this space- Waze, which helps users “outsmart traffic, together”. And it really, really works. It’s saved my neck in San Francisco, L.A., San Diego and London as well – I wouldn’t think about driving in L.A without it. Waze takes all active users (drivers) at any given moment in time, and optimizes their route based on that data. It’s a lot of crunching. It’s an awesome service that’s made possible by millions of mobile devices. 34M users and still rocketing up. More users = more data = better service. I love it. Google Now is the last example that I’ll highlight – if you haven’t had a chance to experience it, have a look at this Google Now video.

And this is where we are now, smart, predictive services. They are what’s next in mobile- we’ll be seeing more and more of them.

Filed under: Mobile

If you can’t take it with you, it’s not yours

I picked up an Android device earlier in the year – I’ve been watching the platform and app ecosystem develop, and decided it was time to make the jump…

That’s a huge deal for me, the Apple Fan Boy, bought a non-Apple piece of hardware. Turns out, the hardware switch wasn’t as critical as the software switch. And I don’t mean the OS.

I stopped buying any content from Apple a long time ago. Sure, I used iBooks to test it out, but that’s all. No Apple content lived on my iPhone. When you buy digital content from Apple, you don’t actually own it, so getting your iTunes library, iBooks library, etc onto an Android device is a no go.

Having options (for portability) is very important; owning your data (or content) is more important. And, as we all know, if you can’t take something with you, it’s not yours…

In many ways, I now care less and less about owing content, and more about content portability, or more importantly accessibility. Cloud services like Spotify and We7 have made my music life so much easier. Password = Music. What could be easier?

Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader is all about accessibility (and circumnavigating the 30% Apple App Store tax). Via Amazon’s Cloud Reader, Password = Book Collection. On my iPhone, iPad, Android and Desktop. Easy.

Photos are slightly better than purchased content, but Apple still makes your life difficult. Photos on your photo roll in iOS will live there (mostly) thanks to restrictions by Apple. The new iCloud sync means they get backed up, but online access/sharing would be better. Password=Camera roll restore, which great, but… for Android, Lightbox is pioneering the way with an awesome “connected photo roll”. Lose your phone, log back in, and all your pictures are there.  And there’s a great online gallery where you can edit and share, so Password = Photos. Easy.

Everything else I use lives in the cloud anyway…  which I can get ubiquitous access to. The implication there is, data security will mean everything in the future. Both Google and Facebook (!!) will allow you to export and backup the data you’ve stored with them. Definitely a good alternative if you’re storing all your pictures and memories online.  Look for a future post  on data security-”it’s 4am, do you know where your data is?”.

Filed under: Android, Apple, iPhone, Mobile, Music, Software, Technology

The Android Wars

I was lucky enough to unbox a G1 yesterday. Pretty neat phone, it doesn't outshine the iPhone in my opinion, but it's a great device. Definitely 100x better than any other phone out there (minus the iPhone).

But what makes the G1 great is the apps that take full advantage of *everything* the handset has to offer. Wikitude (worst name ever for the coolest app I've seen to date). Just watch the video.

It doesn't really give the same effect as standing on the 9th floor in a Qualcomm building looking out over the mountains towards Phoenix – seeing your field of view populate with POIs in the area for miles around, but it gives you a pretty good idea… More info/background on Wikitude is available here.

What's clear is that Android is going to be a serious contender- and is a fully functional Battleship.

Filed under: Mobile

The Web is winning (go figure)

Opera_stats
Right after the mobile world congress this year, I posted that this was definitely the Year of the Browser. Opera have just released some pretty interesting stats on mobile web usage for Q1 2008 through the Opera mini browser:

Social networking stands supreme
Almost 40% of traffic worldwide is to social networks. In some countries, such as the United States, South Africa and Indonesia, the social Web accounts for more than 60% of the traffic.

One Web will triumph over WAP content
Full Web surfing comprises more than 77% of all traffic. Content on WAP and .mobi sites accounted for 23% of mobile Web traffic. This share continues to decline as more consumers both use Opera Mini to access rich Web content and become more comfortable browsing the Web on their phones.


Data Consumed

As the content available to mobile phones improves, data consumption increases. Last month, those 11.9 million Opera Mini users generated more than 33 million MB of data for operators worldwide. This represents an almost 88% growth over the previous quarter.

88% Growth, and they’re just talking about OPERA. Nevermind the iPhone, Series 60 phones or Blackberries…I’ve recently realized that I’m clocking in at circa 100MB of data monthly through my iPhone these days.

The mobile web is definitely gaining momentum. Start your engines.

Filed under: Mobile

Geotag it

One of the areas I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at is All Things Geo. Three headlines caught my eye today:

Eye-fi Explore -auto geotags your photos before uploading automagically via wifi.

Sony Ericsson- have patented geotagging songs “Proposed technology for a “location dependent music search” would use
GPS or a similar mapping method to determine the phone’s location and
promptly find music associated with the area, whether on the device or
on an Internet server. The feature would let users cue songs they
associate with favorite areas or download songs from local artists.”

SnapthumbMIT Android Demos- a list of recent apps developed on Android- all of which incorporate geo/contextual awareness. My favorite was the last one: snap

It’s kind of like Digg on a map. People can tag certain places and then other users can vote that particular attraction up or down.

So if you’re in a new city, you can pull up your current location and find things around you that other people think are interesting.

If there’s a particular user that’s uploaded a bunch of cool stuff, you can subscribe to his or her stuff. Arrows on the map change color the more popular they get. Very cool

Any other cool geo-related apps out there you’ve seen? (btw, if anyone has a fire eagle invite, pls ping me)

Filed under: Mobile

Jajah on spamming spree… [updated]

[Update, April 9] Just had a call from the guys at Jajah. They were very apologetic and stressed that they had not begun spamming their user base. Some background investigation is currently underway to determine how/where this message got sent…(watch it be my fault)

Even if it did come from Jajah, a call to rectify definitely things puts it right in my book….Jajah is again my favorite voip service. :-)

What is it with tech companies these days? First Bebo go and spam everyone and now Jajah (my now ex-favorite voip service) goes spamming my contacts WITHOUT my consent:

Hi!

Do you want to talk to jason@emailaddressremoved for FREE?

Initiate a regular phone-to-phone call with JAJAH at www.jajah.com.
Between registered JAJAH users telephone calls are free of charge. I am
already registered, so effectively we can talk for FREE. Even before
you register you get 5 free minutes. No download, no installation, no
headset. Try it out now!

jason@emailaddressremoved also left this message for you:

Initiate a regular phone-to-phone call with JAJAH at www.jajah.com.
Between registered JAJAH users telephone calls are free of charge. I am
already registered, so effectively we can talk for FREE. Even before
you register you get 5 free minutes. No download, no installation, no
headset. Try it out now!

Curious? Check out www.jajah.com, get 5 free minutes and register to talk JAJAH too!

Note: Your Email address was only used for this message.

Talk JAJAH! http://www.jajah.com/

WHAT?! I was floored when I got a response to this email. Very naughty Jajah…

 

Filed under: Mobile

Yahoo OnePlace- An Intelligent Mobile Agent?

1p_overview_2_1

Continuing with the theme of The Next Web, Yahoo has announced Yahoo OnePlace today:

Yahoo! onePlace brings together all your interests, passions and important information into a single location, creating a rich, highly personalized experience around it for you. Everything is instantly organized, dynamically kept up to date, and served up to you the way you want [to your mobile]…

…News feeds, websites, videos, images, emails, search queries, etc.—all can be linked into Yahoo! onePlace from anywhere across the Internet with a single click [and delivered to your mobile]….

and

…Yahoo! onePlace will list each of these for you as well provide a preview of the underlying content, which is continually refreshed throughout the day.

If they pull this off, this is going to be an exceptional service to bring the internet to the mobile. Before you dismiss Yahoo out of hand, pick up your iPhone and search for anything inside safari. Look at the google results. Then go to prefs and change to Yahoo as your search engine, and run the same search. Then, sit back and admire Yahoo’s implementation of mobile search…

Filed under: Internet, Mobile

Twitter Updates

wordpress
stats

Contact

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,427 other followers