Dienstag, 26. Juli 2011

Homo Ludens

News of the day: cryonics founder Robert Ettinger dies at 92, joins 105 other "frozen" patients.
OK, but what has this in common with, say, games.
The trick is, we are living in a (Western) world, where entertainment has the highest priority.

No one wants to have a boring time. Everyone wants to be entertained all around the day (and night).
And if anything goes so perfect, why the hell should we die at all.

Ettinger, the cryonics prophet, entered the game. It would be hard to lose, after all he is already "dead".
But probably he will win at the end of the day. Robert, I wish you good luck!
In the meantime we can play Angry Birds, CityVille or say Sherlock Holmes.

Let me mention also two other prophetical people who did a lot for our entertainment world.

Eric Berne described brilliant in Games People Play how we play our lives.  It seems comfortable for modern people to be the most time in the Child ego-state.

Johan Huizinga wrote in 1938 Homo Ludens (Playing Man).
He said that a play is free and is in fact freedom.

And this, my dear Apple friends, is exactly what we see today. Millions of people playing free or $0.99 games, all the time, forever. Please forget all statistics about apps and in-app purchases of virtual goods for iPhone, Android or Facebook. Apps are an euphemism. We are speaking about games. Sure, there are some AppGames around, like Foursquare, with a great in-app entertaining value. You can love gamification or not, it will be hard in our entertainment world without in-app game elements for "serious" apps.

Some scientists mean that games are great for peripheral sight of kids and at the end of the day for their mind and IQ. May be, long-term. 
I think, short-term we are moving towards a more stupid world, without old intelligentsia and with much more game experts in Child state. Homo Sapiens moves away. Homo Ludens, the Playing Man, comes.
The good news: You will be entertained! :)

Mittwoch, 20. Juli 2011

Marijuana, venture capital and tango dance

I just learned, Tango raised another $42 million of venture capital ( in addition to previous raised $14 million).
What makes great investors crazy? 
Is it that easy to get medical marijuana in California?
Dudes, please invest $41 million in Color, $56M in Tango and more, more, more. Revenue does not matter. They will scale and then monetize. Or not. But please don't forget on the other hand to spend money for Africa or homeless kids in Eastern Europe, they will need it.
And this is my view of mobile video and chat investments.

Montag, 18. Juli 2011

RIM BlackBerry and IM+ for Playbook: continued

OK, as I wrote in my previous post, RIM is an organization where a lot of nice people are working.
Shape's Development Head Alex and myself just had a talk with Tyler Lessard, RIM's VP, Global Alliances and Developer Relations.
Tyler was really friendly and helpful and we have now a hope that IM+ for Playbook will be approved within two weeks or so. We understand that to approve such an complex app can take the same time or more as the development of IM+ for Playbook itself. Just as remember, the app is now for two months in the testing queue.
And the best of the talk: after years of our requests to RIM we got from Tyler a promise to consider BlackBerry Push usage for IM+. It would make user experience on the BlackBerry platform the same kind of beautiful like on iOS.
Please continue to follow-up the story, it will really help to make things done. And to celebrate the moment we will offer to our friends from crackberry.com 25 free licenses of IM+ Pro for BlackBerry right now and 25 free licenses of IM+ for Playbook after release.

Freitag, 15. Juli 2011

How RIM BlackBerry works with loyal app developers

With the rise of iPhone and Android a lot of developers are thinking about, to do or not to do apps for RIM's BlackBerry and Playbook.
We at Shape used to love BlackBerry and ported our IM+ to BlackBerry as early as 2003.
A lot of nice and competent people are working at RIM (Research in Motion, NASDAQ: RIMM ). For instance, Tyler Lessard, Head of Developer Relations. But as a company RIM was never too friendly to developers. At least to developers of consumer oriented apps.

And now we feel really pissed off with RIM's behavior regarding our new app IM+ for Playbook.

This is the short chronology: 

On May 19th the first submission of IM+ for Playbook was sent to RIM.
We've got auto response from RIM  acknowledging the submission of a
new release.

Since we haven't heard from RIM back and the developer was working on
improving the app,
on June 2nd we have submitted an update and got second auto response
from RIM.

We have never heard from RIM about the status of IM+ for Playbook. There were numerous attempts from our team to reach people from App World.

After there has been some discussion on CrackBerry forums and other
BlackBerry related websites, some of guys have managed to get through
to RIM and received a response from BlackBerry representative denying
the submission. Below is an email:

RIM Incident number: INC000023319419

Hello Timothy ...,

I understand that you are inquiring about IM applications on the
PlayBook. Unfortunately, there is no complicated answer for this, it's
as simple as the developers for those IM applications have not created
one that is supported on the PlayBook as of yet. We have not heard of
any release dates for any IM applications yet. I'm sorry that I do not
have more information for you. But keep checking www.blackberry.com
for any new features available for the tablet. Sorry for the


BlackBerry Customer Support
Research In Motion Limited
Canada Toll Free: 1-877-644-8405
United States Toll Free: 1-877-644-8410
Puerto Rico Toll Free: 1-855-651-4936
Email: playbooksupport@blackberry.com
Web: www.blackberry.com


We consider it a scandal.

Now it's obvious for us that RIM doesn't want IM+ for Playbook to exist. (We learned also, other developers of communication apps for Playbook are in a similar situation).
May be they see it as a threat to their BBM. This would be very anti-competitive behavior.
Or is it just a chaos in RIM house? For an underdog competing on tablet market with Apple this kind of cooperation with developers is not really promising.
No response from RIM so far. Even from Tyler Lessard.
Anyway at the moment our development for Playbook is on hold and the key IM+ for Playbook
developer is temporary switched to IM+ for Android.

Please think about it: in all the years we developed a lot of apps for BB: Alongside with IM+ and IM+ Talk these are Business Card Reader, RDM+, Mobiscope, Mobiola Web Camera and xPlayer, VR+, Photo Translator...
Now we invested several man-months into IM+ for Playbook. Just to find out how RIM breaches their own game rules and steals our time and money investment. Nice. This is a good lesson for every developer or small companies considering development for Blackberry or Playbook.

And this is my forecast: if RIM will continue with their snob behavior against loyal devs, their company will be acquired as soon as 2011 or first half of 2012 latest. This will be the end of independent BlackBerry devices. And perhaps a start of new Microsoft or Android powered BlackBerrys.

Dienstag, 12. Juli 2011

Startups vs. Mittelstand

End of 2001, five years before Steve Jobs made the word 'app' popular, we at Shape started our first mobile app, IM+.
Shape was not a startup. It was, at least from a psychological point of view, a mix of startup and Mittelstand.
Mittelstand is a German word that stands for solid, innovation focused, mostly family-run businesses.
A typical life cycle of startup: raise money, scale as fast as possible, sale.
Most startup founders would consider a quick profitable sale as a big success.
This is not typical for a Mittelstand company. Most Mittelstand founders would compare a company sale to a death. Even if they would get out of business with some million dollars in the pockets. This was a business that they built for long-term, for generations.

A Mittelstand company has to be profitable from the very beginning. At the end of the day, the company doesn't have venture capital and must pay all mistakes on their own.
This was the way that we choosed with Shape. Instead of venture capital: family savings, friend and bank loans. Keeping private control is critical for a Mittelstand company. At the same time we cultivated in Shape the best of startup culture: young spirit, welcome to new ideas and innovations, horizontal management structure, quick decision making. And we were profitable from day one.
Mittelstand is a bit family like. Our key people often received very lucrative offers from competing companies. No one of the core team changed. Who would give up family.

2002-2004 IM+ won various international contests. First IM+ copycats opened the doors.
It was always amazing for us to see how VC funds pumped tens of millions dollars into projects similar to what we launched with some $25 thousands.
Then, 2005, Meebo started, with $70 million venture capital to date. We took a closer look at ups and downs of our competitors, experimented with new apps and technologies like mobile audio, video, OCR and, recently, check-in. And we kept profitable.

Sales like OZ Communications to Nokia or recently Qik to Skype amused us from dual point of view. First, the valuations, second, this was a death of competing products and companies.
We were always happy to see high startup valuations.
However, we thought that crazy investors that pump dozens of million dollars in apps like Color, are contra-productive and destruct the smart image of tech companies.

Perhaps the most controversial and famous valuation story is Facebook. No doubt, Facebook is one of the greatest companies. But how many users has Facebook? I'm not a Facebook user, actually I prefer LinkedIn and Google+.
Anyway, I have at least three test Facebook accounts. A lot of people I know have two Facebook accounts. So, I suppose, the real number of Facebook users is significantly less than 750 million. Perhaps 500 million? This is a big number. But does it really valuate Facebook ten times bigger then business networking oriented LinkedIn? Especially in times of Google+ rise. I wish, Facebook would have at least a bit of Mittelstand in their startup culture. I'm writing this from a friendly point of view, a few weeks before launch of free mobile Facebook video calls in IM+ Video.

Both of startup and Mittelstand cultures have advantages. To combine the best of two cultures could be a magic formula of success.
And please don't be surprised if Deutsche Börse is going to acquire NYSE, this is a Mittelstand - Startup battle, where a long-term strategy can win.