A Yotta Insights on Making Money in Mobile, from Dan Shapiro of Ontela

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this evening: getting funding. What would need to be in place for Len Jordan of Frazier Technology Ventures to write a check? Len gave us a list of his “turn ons” and “turn offs” in mobile. Turn-ons include working product, passionate users, and a space that’s underinvested, like mobile enterprise services and security. Turn-offs were application development shops, charging consumers a fixed fee for software (rather than content or a service), and companies that didn’t have a growth strategy to take them to millions of customers.

A rousing Q&A session from the audience followed, capped with a search for the embodiment of our hypothetical entrepreneur. Was any audience member willing to step up for a challenge: give the panel a 30 second pitch for a killer mobile app, unrehearsed and impromptu? The reward was tantalizing: instant feedback from everyone who mattered in the mobile ecosystem… carrier, analyst, wireless executives, and VC.

A hand shot in the air: Justin Wilcox. Justin was 29 seconds pitch-perfect: an iPhone app that lets you take a picture of text in a foreign language, then translates it instantly. Want to read a menu in China, or at your favorite spot in the I-District for that matter? Snap, and the translation pops up on screen. This $4.99 app is slated to go live in a month, and he wanted the panelists wisdom.

Len led the charge with strong praise. He pointed out that language translation is one of the areas people do pay for in mobile, and said the app sounded genuinely useful. Shiv seconded the motion, explaining that where there’s real need in the ecosystem, there’s money to be made. John suggested that there were real licensing and sponsorship opportunities as well; companies like Rosetta Stone sell products for a huge premium and would probably pay handsomely for new customer acquisition. Sajal was strongly supportive but cautioned him not to oversell the application’s capabilities; apps that overpromise and underdeliver are punished in the instant-feedback world of the app store. Brendan followed up with a cautionary tale about translation and machine vision companies that have to fall back on legions of manual workers, but thought that it was an excellent approach for quick-and-simple, noncritical tasks like translating a street sign or menu.

The information dump left Justin looking happy, if somewhat dazed; he told me afterwards that he’d almost left early, inspired by the discussion to get to coding, but couldn’t have been more glad he stayed. It was a great night for everyone, and no one more so than me: as the moderator, I had the luxury of being the only person in the room who had all my questions about mobile answered by the wisest experts in the field. It was a great night.”

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in Chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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4 responses to “A Yotta Insights on Making Money in Mobile, from Dan Shapiro of Ontela”

  1. Ron Diver says:

    Great narrative. Wish I could have been in two places at once. I’m impressed that Justin Wilcox is rolling out a compelling iPhone app while still running a tight ship during his day job as CTO of http://www.nimbushealth.com!