Mar 4, 2014

Monetizing Apps - Insights from Jobaline.com

We had the opportunity to participate in a panel representing Jobaline.com to share our learnings on how we’ve made money with apps. My cofounder  and VP of Technology Miki Mullor was one of the day’s panelists - joined by Allrecipes.com, GameHouse and Glympse - allowing attendees a chance for a direct Q&A on how these companies took their concept from code to completion. 

After the workshop, Miki and I, co-founders shared our perspective on the key things to consider when it comes to monetizing apps.

The benefits of responsive web design vs. an actual app: Many developers’ first choice is to build an app, because everybody does, without first asking some tough questions:
  • Is an app really needed?
  • Will an app encourage adoption? Or hinder it?
  • Who are my target users and which devices are they using?
Unless the product is designed specifically for a mobile device - for example a picture taking app - going responsive/mobile web provides a quicker path to market. You’ll have less friction because nothing needs to be downloaded and shorter iterations because you’re avoiding the app store approvals and the required user upgrades.

Since 2013, there have been more people accessing the web from mobile devices than from personal computers. For start up companies, mobile web is key to staying agile with a single and simpler code base that is used across all devices. Less code to write, means less code to maintain and less engineers needed!

When is the right time to monetize?
It’s important to think about the user experience first and the monetization of your application second. Successful companies will optimize for great user experience and sustainable monetization is a consequence of doing do; it never works the other way around no matter if you’re building apps at a large Fortune 500 company or a startup. The principle is the same.

There’s no easy answer to the question: “When is the right time to start monetizing?” It all depends on the customer segment you’re trying to reach. In some cases a freemium model is actually conducive to a negative outcome, and in B2B there is such a thing as the "too cheap to be good" mentality. With more than 25 successful (and some not so successful) technology product launches we’ve led over the years, many times price increases will actually result in more adoption, even when it sounds counterintuitive.

In the consumer space, things are a bit different. Monetization often creates friction, even implemented in its most elegant way, but in general people are always happy to open their wallets if the user experience is pleasant and focused on delivering value. At the beginning, you want to learn about how well your service is addressing a core need and often monetization will evolve from there. 

Don’t put a good idea in a box: "advertising is the only monetization" or we have to charge per minute" or we have to charge per transaction", but rather let the user experience and frequent testing to best inform the monetization path... and don't be afraid to increase prices! as we have experience several times before, price increases can result in more traction!

Jobaline.com  has over 250,000 active workers in just 5 months and it is the fastest growing and most successful mobile-first, bilingual jobs marketplace that makes it easy for the more than 75 million hourly workers in the United States to find and apply for jobs from any mobile phone, tablet or computer.

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The Make Money with Apps Workshop is part of a nationwide App Strategy Workshop series complete with 15 events. Click here for future event information and to view related videos.

May 19, 2013

Mobile Technology to put USA Back to Work

As published by Venture Beat on May 2, 2013... Any business owner knows how difficult it is to recruit the right help. Finding the right workers is one of the many challenges companies have long-faced, especially when it comes to filling hourly jobs. Companies from Starbucks to the local gas station rely on hourly employees, which represent over 59 percent of the US labor force and more than 74 million workers, reinforcing the notion that hourly workers truly are the backbone of business in America.

While potential solutions to this recruiting problem should exist within our mobile devices, statistics show that businesses are still struggling to catch up with demand, as only 13 percent of corporate websites have truly mobile versions.

The even greater challenge businesses face is that of a pervasive “digital divide” that separates employers from hourly workers. Most of the population of the latter relies on simple cellular phones and flip phones, and does not have access to smartphones or even personal computers to access web-based recruiting tools such as LinkedIn.

So how are employers supposed to reach the talent pool they need the most?

The hourly worker’s dilemma

Most of the inefficiencies that affect small business owners and corporate America, with respect to hiring hourly workers, are a result of the digital divide. Long associated with the gap between those who have Internet access and those who don’t, today the digital divide has expanded to include the lack of availability of mobile-friendly Internet solutions.

We live in a society of mobile phones. Eighty-eight percent of adults in America have a cell phone, while only 57 percent own laptops, according to the Pew Research Center. A recent study by Potentialpark in 2012 found that 26 percent of job seekers use their mobile devices for career-related purposes, and another 59 percent could imagine doing so.

But in the hourly jobs economy, the technological divide between job seekers and the recruiting needs of business owners is quite pronounced. According to Nielsen research in 2012, people making less than $35,000 per year tend to forego purchasing the $250 smartphone and $100/month data plans preferred by mid- and high-wage workers. Because hourly workers use a large portion of their earnings to cover basic needs, they tend to gravitate towards mid- to low-priced feature phones and cheaper plans that allow text messaging, phone calls and some basic apps.

In addition, 57 percent of hourly workers prefer phone calls to other forms of communication, and text messaging is another popular option — both for smart and not-so-smart phones. The Pew Research Center in 2011 noted that text messaging and phone calls are the preferred means of communication among all demographic groups. Americans send and receive an average of 40 text messages per day, and this number is two to three times higher among the hourly workers demographic.

A simple step to maximize mobility

A huge segment of the workforce isn’t leaving their “basic phones” any time soon. Companies that want to recruit these people will need to reach out not only through web sites, but through mobile means, such as text messaging.

Right now, there are a few steps in the right direction. The recent launch of LinkedIn Mobile signals a response to market demand for mobile solutions, but it does not address the issue of the digital divide. Facebook Zero is also promising — as it aims to give people with feature phones access to the social network — it does not present a holistic solution for matching employers and hourly workers. Classified ads on Craigslist are fairly mobile-friendly, but they’re just simple information-sharing units, without much engagement.

My company, Jobaline, aims to enable engagement with hourly workers — via text message on smartphones and simple feature phones — and to start where Craigslist ends. By supporting employers in connecting with and pre-screening hourly workers via text messaging, we hope to aid in removing the implicit discrimination of Web-based or smartphone-only tools, which only reach people with a certain level of access to technology.

The relatively small step of widening mobile access will help enable workers to secure jobs they wouldn’t otherwise know exist. The same kind of text- and voice-enabled technology that Jobaline has designed can also be applied to other vital elements of work, such as learning about the availability of and applying for healthcare insurance (but that’s another hot-button issue for another post!).

Companies and hourly workers must be on the same page — technologically speaking — using solutions that enable engagement, much the same way that businesses are currently doing with professionals, for whom most mobile technology is currently geared.

Mobile access for job growth

Rather than focusing solely on improving online access, it is time to build interactive mobile recruiting technologies that reach people on all kinds of devices, even feature phones.

By developing technologies and policies that enable wider — even simpler — mobile access to recruiting capabilities that both employers and hourly workers need to survive, we can help bridge this gap, fill this digital divide, and truly put America back to work.

Read more at http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/02/feature-phone-recruiting/#bpiOJOD59yqVJ0kK.99 

Mar 13, 2013

Raising money for your startup

I had the opportunity to talk to a group of entrepreneurs and MBA students at Seattle University this past Monday. One question I frequently hear from entrepreneurs, and heard again on Monday, is How do I prepare my pitch to raise seed money?

While I have created successful (and not so successful) divisions at large corporations, managed M&A evaluations for large tech, educational, and media companies, and just in 2012 helped to raise one series A and raised a seed round for my own company, I don't think of myself as an expert. Each fund-raising event is a unique opportunity, and the unique players, economic environment, and business climate affect the dynamics of the process. What I have learned is that the pitch is really a basic exercise in Communications 101. You need to focus on the message (story), the target audience, and the delivery mechanism. The three elements intertwine and need to be adjusted depending on the occasion.

As I was preparing my story to share at Seattle University, I came up with the following four steps. These are not perfect or foolproof. They are just what have worked for me in the past, whether talking to investors in the Bay Area, Seattle, New York, or London.

1.- Understand your audience so you target the right investors. If it were only money, you would go to a bank. Trust me, money is the least of your worries. 
  • Find investors that complement you. You want experts that can balance your blind spots on go-to-market, business development, technology, etc. 
  • Go beyond your zip code, beyond your state. Get outside the echo chambers. 
  • Forget you are raising money. You are simply asking for feedback on your venture and for intros to potentially interested parties. The best (quality) money comes from those that align with your vision, and they will encourage you to take it from them. 
2.- Forget PowerPoint or Keynote. Seriously, forget it. Craft your story as just that, a story to be told. Once you have told your story, follow-up with a demo. A demo is worth 1,000 slides. If you really need some AV help try Haiku deck, Prezi, a short video (2 min max), or a simple whiteboard. 

3.- Create a leave-behind executive summary and save it in a folder in the cloud alongside reference material, team bios, and professional references.

4.- Focus your story on five key areas. 

(A) You. (This is a personal loan backed by zero assets but you.) 
  • Why should I trust you with my money? What have you done before? What have you completed, launched, created? 
  • How do you deal with ambiguity and quick decision-making? How do you deal with failure? 
  • What inspires you? What do you believe in? What are your motives? If you say this is for the money, I stop listening. Startups require passion and persistence, which flows from purpose. Find your purpose. 
  • Can you afford it? The first leg is an 18- to 36-month trial period. Can you and your loved ones afford it? 
(B) The problem. (Not a solution in search of a problem.) 
  • What is the problem you are looking to solve? Keep it simple. 
  • Do you have the problem? If you don’t personally have the problem, that's a major warning sign. I need to see who in the team is an expert on the problem area. 
  • What’s the opportunity? Not a hockey stick but a good sizing of the addressable opportunity and what makes you think it is addressable. 
(C) The solution.
  • Expand your idea of value. Define your value in human terms, not in business terms. Your real value is about what you believe in, what you’re trying to do in the world, and how you make others’ lives better. 
  • Can you describe it in a few words and is it easily understood? 
  • Are you addressing pain or providing pleasure? Talk about PEOPLE, not about users, and let them speak through you. 
  • Is it easy to try, easy to observe? 
  • What is your relative competitive advantage? 
  • How do you plan to take it to market? Have you done it before? Show me the numbers. 
(D) The financials. 
  • i. How will you make money? 
  • ii. What are the key metrics? 
  • iii. How much cash do you need and what for? 
(E) The team. 
  • What are your blind spots and how does the team complement you? How does the team complement each other?
  • What great teams have you built before? How will you build this one? 
  • Technical and marketing skills – find the balance. 
  • Finances and biz dev – always overlooked. 
  • Mentors and advisors – the real deal. Think value added, not a list of names.