Lessons from a BlackBerry App Developer

I just finished reading a very interesting article/story written by Marcus Watkins, who is the creator of PodTrapper. The article discusses his experiences and lessons learned in developing, pricing, marketing and selling his first mobile application on the BlackBerry platform. It was published June 22, 2009; so it’s still recent and very relevant.

Here is an overview of what it covers (taken from the article):

BlackBerry Platform
Look and Feel
It’s the Network
Background Apps/Memory
Pricing the App
Selling the App (Retailers)
BlackBerry App World
Initial Sales
Sales Post-App World
Dealing [or not] with other companies
My Customers
Topic Outline

For all those BlackBerry developers out there. I hope you have had the chance to check out the App Store and apply for distribution through it’s channel; it can be extremely valuable. If you want to learn more about it, check out my blog post on the BlackBerry Partners Fund Blog called “The Next Wave: Mobile Applications and the BlackBerry Application Storefront,” which discusses some specifics about developing for BlackBerry App World.

Some BlackBerry developers (and outside observers) have recognized that there are some kinks in the process of getting onto BlackBerry App World. Kevin Talbot, co-manager of the BlackBerry Partners Fund, identifies some key issues plaguing BlackBerry App World and invites developers and others to comment and add their thoughts about what RIM can do to fix App World.

If you have just submitted an application, or are planning on developing an application soon, make sure to apply for the 2009 BlackBerry Partners Fund Developer Challenge.

Happy developing!

Top 100 Networked VCs

As a follow-up to a prior post, Global VC Blog Directory (blogs written/managed by over 100 VCs), I found an excellent on TechCrunch that discusses the Top-100 Networked VCs.

If you’re fundraising, or thinking of fundraising, I highly suggest that you take a look at these firms.

Here are the top 10:
1. Draper Fisher Jurvetson
2. Sequoia Capital
3. Accel Partners
4. Intel Capital
5. First Round Capital
6. Dag Ventures
7. New Enterprise Associates
8. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
9. Benchmark Capital
10. Ron Conway

(via TechCrunch; full article here.)

Apple Keynote at WWDC

No doubt there is some excitement going on at the WWDC. So far (and I will do my best to keep updating this post) this is the list of notable feature upgrades they have made to the iPhone OS 3.0:

iPhone OS 3.0
3.0 Software is FREE for all iPhone owners and $9.95 for touch owners (and available on June 17th)

New Business Models (entrepreneurs, take notice) — In-Application Billing! Finally!!!
Push Notifications!
Cut/copy/paste. Works across all apps
Tethering is now supported.
MMS now available.
Want to undo? Just shake the phone.
Adding Spotlight: now search across your entire phone, apps and details within apps!
iTunes: Rent and purchase movies right from the phone!
iTunesU now also on phone.
HTML5 support in Mobile Safari. Javascript 3X faster.
Users can play your own music (from your library) inside applications
You can also send a “remote wipe” command to wipe your data remotely! (with MobileMe)
Login and it will show you a map of where your phone is located! (with MobileMe)

Random Stats:
40,000,000 iPhones/touches sold already
1,000,000 SDK downloaded

iPhone 3GS
“s” stands for “speed”
Up to 3 times faster than the 3g model
iPhone 3GS has a new camera (3.2 megapixel)
Video capturing is now possible on the iPhone 3GS!
30 frames per second with auto focus, exposure control, and more

Oh … and either iPhone 3.0 can show you real-time health information (with proper accessories, of course):

Viral Marketing Whitepaper

Viral marketing can be a huge asset to the launch and sustained growth and success of any product or business.

I am in the process of creating a whitepaper that brings in proven strategies as well as specific case studies of successful viral marketing efforts. The whitepaper will also cover more specific strategies centered around mobile App Stores and effective utilization of Facebook Connect and Facebook application pages. Lastly, it will contain a bible of social media strategies.

I kindly ask all of you to share any viral strategies that you have used to-date, along with key dates and timelines, screenshots, verbiage used in messaging, and key metrics (user growth, #downloads, etc…) achieved from the strategy.

Please leave comments below, or DM/@ me on Twitter with links to your story, my username is @jsookman. I will be tracking posts with the #UbiquitousVC hashtag, so please use it!

Building Businesses

Sitting down to write a whitepaper, I figured I’d find a good model to start with first! I was told to check out some of the whitepapers over at Khosla Ventures — and it was a gold mine of great information. I thought I’d go ahead and share it with you.

They have 2 main sections for “entrepreneurial resources:” (1) industry views, and (2) building businesses.

There are some fantastic whitepapers in these categories:
– entrepreneurship
– people & management
– product management
– sales effectiveness
– risk management

If you know of any other publically available sources of great whitepapers like these, I invite you to please leave a comment below, or Tweet it with the hashtag #UbiquitousVC

USSD: Lost in the Crowd?

All day long I am surrounded by BlackBerry and iPhone apps and business models. After listening to an intriguing talk by Nathan Eagle, a Professor at MIT, I started to think about how a single application can be developed to reach everyone in developing countries (a much larger proportion of mobile phone users than those in developed countries). Nathan mentioned that some applications in developing countries use USSD protocol as opposed to SMS or data-rich applications. I wanted to learn more.

Here are some of my findings:

USSD (“Unstructured Supplementary Services Data”) is a mature core mobile-network technology similar to Telnet; it is session-based. In fact, it is as old as GSM technology — and guess what — it works on EVERY GSM-based handset from a Nokia 1100 to a BlackBerry Bold.

Mobile software developers are constantly trying to find a way to write (code) once and reach many (different handset models). USSD can work for some application types, but not all. USSD will not offer feature-rich capabilities, but it can send and receive data through sessions (no data is saved on the device), allow for navigable menus, and it can interact with billing accounts on-file with wireless carriers.

After doing some research, it seems as though this technology is predominantly being exploited in developing countries, where there have been some very creative uses of USSD applications.

Here are some of the many uses this technology can provide (at a much cheaper cost than SMS messaging — a huge consideration for communication in developing countries):
– Mobile banking and payments
– Point-of-sale banking (using your mobile prepaid account as the source of payment)
– One-time password request notifications
– Weather services
– Menu-based navigation of corporate or city services
– Advertising
– Voice Chat
– Roaming

As it stands, USSD technology is being underused primarily due to a lack of available applications and content providers, a lack of understanding, and a lack of motivation at the operator level. Only recently, Bharti and Vodafone have productized this medium by launching USSD portals; largely however, this technology is under-developed and under-utilized.

Comments on a LinkedIN thread about USSD showed the following benefits of USSD technology (post from Gaurav Sarin):
1) Handset agnostic – 99% compatibility of active handsets
2) Easy Surfing – browser based experience for customers
3) Free content discovery for customers – since most operators do not generate CDRs of USSD sessions
4) Real Time session with the server – faster & more secure than SMS
5) Higher reliability as compared to SMSSMS has a 70 -80% successful delivery rate

What are your thoughts on USSD?

Global VC Blog Directory

Attention all entrepreneurs and start-ups!

A comprehensive list of VC-authored blogs have been compiled by Larry Cheng, a Boston-based VC. The list was ranked by number of Google Reader Subscribers as of May 2009.

If you’re getting serious about pitching for venture dollars, I suggest that you start subscribing to some of these blogs (just add them to your Viigo feeds).

It’s important for entrepreneurs to know about a number of things before pitching for dollars:
1. Understand the psychology of VCs
2. Understand the business models of VCs
3. Understand how to pitch VCs
4. Understand how NOT to pitch VCs
5. Understand WHEN to pitch VCs
6. Pitch VCs with a focus in your business sector
7. Don’t pitch VCs with your competitors already in their portfolios
8. Know your pitch cold
9. Spend a few extra minutes on the slide deck
10. Know the risks associated with your business (model) and suggest mitigating strategies
11. The list goes on…

Many of the blogs listed in the index will give you lots of tips in these areas. Happy reading!

Google Wave

Google announced “Google Wave” at the Google I/O conference last week. Google says that their technology is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year.

After watching the video and speaking to a friend at the event, I think this product is going to be hugely successful for a few reasons.

1. VERY Open API
2. Widget architecture to allow plug-ins like Firefox allows for dynamic functionality
3. Multi-faceted use cases (consumer, prosumer, enterprise)
4. Google already has a massive reach
5. The technology allows real-time updates to multiple locations (i.e. edits or updates to a wave will be shown in real-time to friends, colleagues, and places that the wave may be embedded such as blogs or a website)
6. Drag and drop from desktop to web
7. Ease of adding and removing(??) Wave participants
8. Playback functionality of Waves (I am excited to see how this gets further developed)

If you are reading this, and are from Google, I would love an invite to the Wave sandbox to give it a trial pre-launch!

Watch the video at http://wave.google.com/

BlackBerry Developer Challenge

This morning we launched the official call for entries for the 2009 BlackBerry Developer Challenge. We’re pretty excited about it, and there are some great prizes lined up for BlackBerry Developers!

Here is a summary of the prizes to be won at this year’s challenge:

Finalist Prize Package worth approx. US$5,000:
– Featured Placement on BlackBerry App World carousel for one week;
– One BlackBerry Developers Conference pass;
– One BlackBerry smartphone;
– Invitation to demo at “BlackBerry Sweet 16” event at the BlackBerry Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, where final judging will take place;
– Publicity via monthly press release announcing finalists.

Grand Prize Package worth approx. US$100,000:
– $75,000 Cash Prize;
– $25,000 Value Package.
– Value Package includes:
—- One Elite BlackBerry Alliance Membership for one year;
—- One Day Mentoring Session with RIM in Waterloo, Ontario, providing analysis, review and insights into how to best improve the application on BlackBerry;
—- Press Release and Featured Interviews with Media;
—- Two additional weeks of BlackBerry App World Featured Placement on the carousel;
—- Potential investment offer from BlackBerry Partners Fund.

Runner Up Prize Package worth approx. US$25,000:
– $10,000 Cash Prize;
– $15,000 Value Package.
– Value Package includes:
—- One Select BlackBerry Alliance Membership for one year;
—- One Day Mentoring Session with RIM in Waterloo, Ontario, providing analysis, review and insights into how to best improve the application on BlackBerry;
—- Mention in Press Release;
—- One additional week of BlackBerry App World Featured Placement on the carousel.

More information can be found on the official challenge page.

Kevin and I will be Tweeting about the challenge; for real-time updates add @ktalbot and @jsookman.