Monday, May 15, 2006
Interview with Eduardo Sciammarella, PROTOMOBL
I recently ran into Eduardo Sciammarella, CEO and founder of PROTOMOBL (www.protomobl.com) at AlwaysOn Hollywood, where he was demonstrating his company's mobile social networking application for cell phones to the audience. Eduardo told me a bit about his company's mobile application, and a bit about his firm.
Ben Kuo: Tell me a bit about PROTOMOBL--what does your company do, and what's your value proposition?
Eduardo Sciammarella:: We're building a mobile social service to capture the imagination of the 18 to 34 year old IM generation, in terms of a better user experience and to integrate what they're doing today--with multiple applications, and different services--into one integrated offering.
BK:Who's your target customer--I know your application targets consumers, but who do you sell the product to?
We've got different strategies for that. The mobile industry has been going through a lot of change, as you probably know. The carriers are definitely in a dominant position right now, but that's not clear that's in the case in the mid term. We're trying to develop a strategy that allows us to be both cross platform and cross-network. In order for a social network to live and breathe and really be healthy, it can't be constrained by a specific platform or a specific network. So we're trying to build this to be as flexible as possible. In order to go to market we obviously have to think about talking to carriers from the get-go, but we think our service will be compelling enough that the end user will give us a stronger base to take our social network to other platforms and other networks.
BK: So can users just download and run your application?
Yes, we're going to make it available for download when our beta is available. It's going to be a J2ME application to start with, so it will run on Nokia handsets, which are carried by Cingular, also on their new N series. It's definitely a high end user experience, but we think there's a strong, passionate, youthful audience that wants a better mobile experience like the one we're developing, which is going to get us a leading position in this space. There's lots of point solutions in this space in the mobile social networking space, but we think the user experience is quite lacking. My background is ten years at Sony developing consumer interfaces, TVs, mobile devices, and I have over 40 patents in the wireless industry and user interface. We think that this product is going to be very attractive to that market that is focused on having a better user experience, with an integrated set of features.
BK: For those who haven't seen your application, what are some of the main features?
Well, the application is built around a buddy list. The idea there is to say that the most important thing on your phone is your contact list. Not a grid of applications. On most phones you have a menu of applications. The idea of our service is you turn on your phone and you see the people who are most important to you. And you get an instant overview of what they're doing, what they're seeing, where they are, what's happening. Around your buddy list are four services. One is around blogging--we see that taking shape more around picture blogging, rather than the way you see it on the web with text. The idea behind that is as you scroll through your buddy list you see the latest pictures that your friends have taken with their camera phones. So you see an immediate context of what's going on. That's that aspect of that. We have a location aspect--you can see where your friends are, if they're nearby, and any interesting places based on their profile. A third service is much more focused around consumer media. In the same way you can browse around photos that your friends are taking, you can see what music they are listening to, or what ringtones they've downloaded. It's kind of seeing their current media/music profiles. You can also browse past archives of that. All these things relate to the idea that there is a digital lifestyle people have, and people want to express that digital lifestyle by sharing the photos and music they have. The fourth service is around events--what events are going on, what events you friends are going to attend. With this we've been approaching club promoters to have them distribute their events to this application, as well as across the web. It's like a new kind of distribution channel for event information.
BK: Is that a big part of your revenue model?
I think a bigger part is the media part. What I showed at the OnHollywood presentation was GearOn, which has the potential to be a quick hit engine. The idea is you can browse through your friend's music, and if I like it, I can download it. Once I download it, whoever else has me in their contact list, they will see that I have done that--that I've made that purchase, that I've listened to the music--if anyone else starts to do that, you can see the potential to spread via word of mouth. And anyone who is in the media industry knows, the best way to create a hit is thorough word of mouth, and having that be authentic. And that's really what this is about, adding a layer of authenticity to the services that will be on mobile devices, through the people you care and trust the most. In the presentation, we end with this slide that said -- who do you trust? Brand and friends. But not in that order. When I look out at the mobile service landscape focusing on brand. Building brand, trying to promote their brand, as a value proposition to consumers. I believe we're well past that. People are really keen on getting information from who they care about. That's what our platform really excels around. It really provides that platform to provide personal trust, to be the filter for the services and media that people want to consume. The blogging side is also about user generated content--the fact that 60% of content the IM generation consumes is self-generated. That's something we're addressing as well. In terms of the blogging, event creation, and in terms of marking up your environment--posting new places you've found and sharing that with your friends.
BK: Let's talk about the company, and where are you in terms of funding and your lifecycle?
We're angel funded right now. We have five or six people depending on the day working on this. There's three people here in Santa Monica -- myself, another designer, and a technology person. And we have a CTO in China because we have development going over there with a few engineering Beijing. We're also doing some development in the Ukraine with developers over there. We're funded and will be releasing this beta in August for download. We'll probably run a private beta in July with a social community like a university or something like that. We also have a sales and marketing person in Korea and one in Japan--it's interesting how you can do business these days, it's so global. I worked in Tokyo for two years while working for Sony, so I have some good contacts in Asia. The mobile market over there, especially in Korea, is more advanced than it is here. So we're talking to carriers and handsets makers over there about our value propositions, and pursuing strategic partnerships with people in Japan. There's an opportunity to launch this service in multiple regions. One thing I didn't highlight earlier that I wanted to mention is that this project originated from designing a better interface from phones. It's a big part of it, and that's in the background. We're very focused on this social networking service, but I think if think "what's the game changing thing here" it's the way we thought about the interface. That could be game changing. The interfaces on phones today are just terrible. There's borrowed metaphor from computers. If you think about the potential for redefining what a mobile phone user interface should be, that's a pretty huge opportunity.