Monday, April 25, 2011
Interview with Scott Lahman, GOGII
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Scott Lahman is co-founder of Los Angeles-based GOGII (www.gogii.com), the developer of group text messaging application textPlus. Lahman is also one of the co-founders of JAMDAT Mobile, the immensely successful developer of mobile games, which had an IPO in 2004, and eventually became part of Electronic Arts in 2006. We spoke with Scott about GOGII and textPlus, the shifting mobile market, and also what lessons he's applied to his new startup.
What's the story behind GOGII?
Scott Lahman: As you know, we did really well with JAMDAT and mobile games. We loved the mobile space, and when we sold Jamdat we felt that market was just getting started. However, we were a little burnt on all of the porting that has to happen to get games on worldwide distribution on a phone. We literally had 5,000 to 10,000 SKUs to get our products out worldwide. We felt there had to be an easier way to reach a broad audience in mobile, so we started looking at messaging. We knew messaging was early in the hockey stick here in the U.S., and already had been there worldwide, but that there had been no innovation in 20 years in text messages. That was our basis for doing something in text messaging. So, we really built some innovation into our platform, to make it ubiquitous in the mobile space. We called the company GOGII--literally, our short text code of 60611, which you can looks a little like GOGII.
What's special about textPlus, versus other mobile apps looking to do similar things?
Scott Lahman: When we first put it out in early 2009, free texting was just a huge offering. We launched with the ability to offer free texting, launching with group messaging. Today, there is just a fever around group messaging, which is something we've been offering from day one, and is part of our growth. At the end of the day, what we're doing with textPlus, is we're offering a better texting client for your device, better than the one that came with your phone. We're really competing with the product that came with your phone. Those apps really do nothing--there is no group messaging, there is barely picture support, there is no rich interface, nothing.
Having build JAMDAT completely in the pre-iPhone and Android days, what do you make of the shifting mobile market, and the impact of iPhone and Android?
Scott Lahman: It's funny, but I joke we made apps before they were called apps. We started JAMDAT in 2000, and we endured a lot of ridicule about even having the notion of games running on phones. People we talked to either really found that idea to be humorous, maddening, or frightening. They've give us a hard time. I remember several phone manufacturer executives telling me that there would never be a time when someone would buy a phone, based on a game, or the ability to buy a game. That was in 2000 and 2001, which was not all that long ago. Of course, it became a carrier driven business, as carriers started carrying color phones, and they needed products which would take advantage of those phones. Around 2005, those of us at JAMDAT thought Apple would disrupt the application space, so we approached Apple. Most people don't know it, but JAMDAT, and eventually EA Mobile, helped launch the iPod game channel, so we saw what was coming. By 2007, when we started GOGII, we really wanted to break out of the mobile ecosystem, and we were one of the first five companies funded by the Kleiner Perkins iFund. It's really changed from what was then perceived as a joke by the industry, to a carrier growth business, to something now that is completely disrupting the world due to the genius of a device manufacturer.
With this new world, is that issue of having to port to everything going to go away?
Scott Lahman: I have been under the belief for the last decade that it will never go away. That said, it's easier today thank in the past. If you think that it is easy, however, you'll be disappointed. With Android, things are still more fragmented that on the iPhone, but I think porting is always going to exist. Even though write once and run anywhere has been the holy grail, I think it's the false prophet.
Back to textPlus, tell us where you are now with the app?
Scott Lahman: We wanted to build textPlus on a foundation of utility. That utility is unlimited, free texting, with picture messaging, everything you want in a text client. That's how we launched. Last year, we spent lots of time migrating into more social features, including things like user profiles. The app allows you to create profiles, and you can also search for other users. That feature alone more than doubled our traffic within a few weeks. Likewise, we started with the utility of group testing and group messaging, and last year we build those into user groups and communities. Those are almost like little social networks built around a topic. You can find those topics via a search engine within the app. There are now thousands of communities around things like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Justin Bieber, and other topics you can discover. Features like those have been a big part of our growth in the last several months.
What kinds of lessons did you learn from JAMDAT which you are applying here?
Scott Lahman: You've probably heard this many times from what venture capitalists say, but it all starts with the team. I fell that that is by far the most important element of a company. It's the quality of the team. I learned that from Bob Kotick, when I joined Activision to work with him, and we did that when we put together the team at Jamdat, and we're applying that same philosophy at GOGII. Our three founders have been working together for almost 20 years, since Activision. Part of that, also, has been identifying new, incredible talent, from both the engineering and business side. Number two, I think something I've learned in business is you can be a growth company and have revenue. You can have success in both revenues and growth, which makes life a lot easier when building your company. Obviously, you know the Twitter and Facebook story. But, in the case of Twitter and its 100M users, you've got to convert to revenue at some point. It's a great story, but you've got to channel your Marc Pincus, and build some revenue traction. It makes it a lot easier.
Finally, what should be we watching from you guys?
Scott Lahman: The thing about texting is is mostly social, and really fun. We've already done a lot to unlock the social element of texting, with our profiles and ability to discover other users. It's all about fun. We also think texting is in many ways a game itself, and we'll be exploring that notion and taking that out to an interesting conclusion in the next few months.