Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Catching Up With Rahul Sonnad, Geodelic
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Recently, Santa Monica-based Geodelic (www.geodelic.com), the venture backed developer of location-based, mobile apps, has sharpened its focus to provide real-time offers, and has partnered with mobile operators like Verizon and Korean Telecom to offer up its services to those firm's customers. The firm has pivoted from an earlier focus on malls, theme park operators, and other venues, and instead has targeted the mobile operators themselves. To get some insight into how the firm has decided to focus in on the carriers with its product, we caught up with Rahul Sonnad, the firm's CEO and founder.
What is Geodelic's focus on nowadays?
Rahul Sonnad: When we started, we really focused on the idea of enabling publishers to create location-based content. Examples of that are Clear Channel at airports, theme park applications, and city guides. We were really mobile focused, focused on content, and wanted to really be able to push that in a very contextual manner to your user base. People were interested in that, and to people it sounded great, but it turns out there's a lot of work to get that content together and figure out how we get money. So, from an ROI perspective, we didn't really have a product that addressed the publisher's need to make this minimally cash flow positive, and hopefully, also create a revenue source. Given that, that very much led us towards a different product, which could provide that monetization.
How did you decide to concentrate your efforts on international customers?
Rahul Sonnad: What we're seeing is obviously, the smart phone is hitting the world fairly synchronistically. I think we're finding a lot of opportunity, especially in the large mobile operator space. Mobile operators are kind of in the center of the crosshairs in regards of trying to figure out how to leverage their existing assets, networks , and users, and how to start creating revenue around that. That's certainly the case in the U.S., and we're finding lots of interest in Europe and now in Asia.
Has it been harder to work with the international market?
Rahul Sonnad: It is a little bit more expensive to fly to Europe than New York, but I think, absolutely, that it's been surprisingly not difficult to serve the market. There is a general trend in the space--whether that's from operators, big partners, or other people, just trying to make things a little simpler. I think that two years ago, it might take you six months to get a contract signed and through German laws, now things are much less involved and intricate. I think so far the experience has been that the international stuff has been easier than the domestic stuff.
Can you talk a little bit about where your products have rolled out so far?
Rahul Sonnad: The big rollout we've done is in Dublin, Ireland. We think Ireland is a really interesting market. Specifically, there is a really heavy density of merchants on both sides of the river. I'd equate it to the (Santa Monica) promenade, but stretching for two miles and 10 blocks wide. The other thing in Ireland, is both the consumers and merchant base is fairly sophisticated. We're finding that is a really good kind of test market for us. Unlike the U.S., where if you're doing anything with mobile commerce in the U.S. you're competing with an entrenched deal company and another fifty startups trying to do some flavor of deals, outside the U.S., the situation is very different. You might have a couple of competitors, but not fifty. It makes it possible to do things in Europe without having to deal with all of that noise in the system.
How did you make the decision to shift from operators to venues?
Rahul Sonnad: I think what we've realized, is that there are lots of people who want to do commerce on mobile phones. But, from a sales perspective, it tends to be a similar amount of effort whether you're dealing with a mall, or a theme park, or a multinational carrier. So, our feeling is that mobile operators, who have millions of customers, makes the opportunity versus the time invested a much greater return. I think that's what has focused us on that. The other thing we've seen an interesting market dynamic around is mobile payments. We see that financial services institutions, credit card companies, anyone doing merchant acquisition are saying payments are interesting, and it's going to be a great, billion dollar business. But, there's a lot of download pressure on the margins. Because of that, many companies feel that if they're doing payments, they need to have ancillary revenue streams, which ties well into what we're doing. We believe that as things happen, a year or two out, we're setting up a system that is able to trigger user engagement based on their purchase activity. We find that both operators and financial services firms are really interested in mobile payments.
Having now been in this market for a few years, what's the biggest lesson you've learned about the market?
Rahul Sonnad: Three years ago, the mobile market was like a different vertical from the desktop. But, the way we look at things now, if you look at an Internet service, is there is no longer mobile and non mobile. You have got to figure out your service, and it needs to behave well for mobile scenarios, and it also has to behave well for the desktop for desktop scenarios. If you have a downloadable app, it should give a great experience, but if it you don't have an app, you still need a great HTML5 experience on the mobile phone. Otherwise, your conversion rates will be relatively low. You don't want to turn people who won't download your app away. So that's the big takeaway and big change in our business--where we've been focused on mobile scenarios, but there are also tons of desktop, email, and other scenarios which are part of supporting an overall consumer experience.