I Can Haz Telco: The Ins and Outs of Partnering with a Goliath
So you have the latest whiz-bang smartphone app. You got mad coding skills. You have a monetization strategy that would slay Larry and Sergey. Naturally, you want to partner with a large telco to maximize your distribution and get some do-ray-mi flowing to your coding teams and get that VC monkey off your back. Right? Or at least do a throw-down press release to solidify your B-round. Ummmmm.
Playing the telco game is tricky for a small company. As someone who works inside one of the world’s largest telcos, I have watched a number of startups travel down the partnership path with various degrees of success. Here’s a quick guide to playing that game without getting crushed, drowned, or fried. Telcos are not inherently evil. To the contrary, they actually want to build things their customers use and love. But they view the world very differently than you do. To that end….
1) Map That Org - If you have decided you want to get into the game, you need to understand the decision makers. This is common for many large companies but is a bit more complex with telcos. First line of defense is usually biz dev or partnership team. Next will come a product team. Then will come a technical due diligence team. Then comes the executive sign-off. And last, oddly, will come the guys that actually could make you money - the sales and marketing teams. You will have to train them up to sell your product, or at least to give you decent distribution and marketing push. All boxes must be checked to get to a final deal. If you don’t know which box is which, or who owns what box, you could talk in circles for years without getting anything done. Equally important is to get an inkling of potential competitors that have talked to these folks and where alliances may lie. You can have the hottest product in the world but if the unit you are talking to feels most comfortable with an inferior product from a large company, then you have to sell around that obstacle. And if you don’t know it exists, you are selling blind. So map that org and learn who the players are as well as their relationships and preferences.
2) Speak Their Language - Mobile startups (and let’s be honest, in telco land we are mostly talking mobile startups) love to come and talk to me about MAU. Now, I know what MAU means. But most of the folks inside my org do not speak MAU. They understand ARPU. Anything that can jack ARPU is inherently GOOD. This hints at what is a major problem in speaking to telcos. If you talk like to a telco the same way you talk to a venture capitalist, you will have serious problems communicating both your value proposition and core aspects of your monetization strategy. My advice? At first, speak plainly. Do not try to use industry jargon or metrics terms. Learn the telco language and then apply it to your business in a coherent way to explain what you do. When in Rome…
3) Be Patient - For a large business unit inside a major telco, two new product launches a year is a normal amount. Sure, app stores are different. But, in general, the process moves far more slowly than may be comfortable for most startups. This Is Normal. Telcos move slowly because they are designed to be careful and not break things. If your game app goes down, nobody dies. If something a telco has added to its ecosystem causes problems and brings down infrastructure, probably no one dies but they may - and other really bad things can happen, like bank ATM networks going dark (witness the recent madness in South Korea). So to get to a firm agreement, you should expect to spend more than a year, in most cases. Three is actually not unusual. Be patient, grasshopper. It’s not you. It’s them and it’s the way they are built to operate. - safety first.
4) Always Maintain a Plan B - Large telcos are political organizations, like any other large org. While getting a new project or product approved can run years, killing that project or product can happen much more quickly. For a startup, absorbing such a catastrophe can be difficult, particularly when you have built your monetization, distribution, or funding strategy around that Big Shiny Telco deal. For the telco, too, deciding not to pursue a deal with a smaller company is just part of doing business. They mean you no harm but that’s the way the game is played in the Big Leagues.
5) Plan for the Firehose - I don’t mean the huge rush of customers. Rather, I am talking about the implementation and negotiation phase. Every process you touch will likely require a lot more time and effort than doing a deal with a small, nimble partner company. Lawyers get seriously busy with big docs. Technology teams rip your product down to the studs. Business Development and sales teams will hit you up hard for potential revenue numbers so they can update their business cases and revenue forecasts. You’re not in startup Kansas anymore. In the big city, process is critical. If you can’t handle the process, think twice about entering the deal.
If you are thinking of snuggling up to a major telco and follow these guidelines, you will increase your chances of success significantly and minimize brain damage and frustrations. So think big, code fast and stay thirsty.
Percepi: Learn, Know, Understand, Perceive
We’re super excited! Our initial work on Percepi is proving to be fruitful. After many hours of conceptualizing, learning, designing, and programming, (on our own time) we felt it was high time to begin revealing the goods.
Let’s just call this the “Discovery” stage.
The first step we chose was to publish an Achievement Card out on Geeklist, “Placed Percepi on AngelList (our new startup)”. In reality, this move was a sweet double shotbecause Percepi was also simultaneously pushed out to AngelList.
Out on Geeklist, the Achievement card immediately began generating Views and High Fives. At present, there have been close to 600 Views and 5 High Fives! (Props to Reuben, Chris, and ALL of Geeklist’s geeks!)
However, several days went by, with no activity on AngelList. Then, on day 3 or 4, we began receiving followers. Granted, the numbers aren’t necessarily skyrocketing, but to gain a little traction at such an early stage is more than welcomed. The seed has been planted and Percepi is on its way!
So, there you have it! We’re ready for anything and everything… looking forward to the challenges on road ahead!
Welcoming Jon Keating!
Please join us in welcoming our newest full-time member of the team, Jon Keating.
Jon has been with us since very early on. A few months after we launched (Last year), he reached out to help with Geeklist on a part-time basis. His first project was the card headline / rename project, which he quickly completed in a few days; he later took on the “non-member” invite process which he also completed successfully.
For the past few days Jon has been working on getting to know our entire stack as part of him taking a bigger role in the company. Jon will join our community as a Senior Software Engineer. His tasks will include coding, spending some time looking after our production environment and limited product management.
We can’t tell you how excited we are to have Jon join the engineering / product team. He has an amazing background, loves to build things and gets along with everyone in the team. One of the characteristics that makes Jon such a great asset to Geeklist is that he never backs down from a challenge, he is always looking for a solution no matter how complex. Jon also has a great eye for product, always adding value to new initiatives with great feedback including non engineering type projects like SEO.
His latest work was the full implementation of our new instagram feature when we were at SXSW. From backend to the front end, he did it all in just a few hours (spread out in three days while still working full-time for another company). What made this project unique is the fact that Jon had to deal with an API (Instagram) that wasn’t working as expected. He was able to debug and quickly fix the issue. The sign of a great coder!
We are so pleased to add Jon to our community, he will be a great asset to our already amazing team. Next on Jon’s plate is helping us launch Convos and then “My Community”.
Please join us in welcoming Jon to the team!
You can see some of his work here: http://geekli.st/emostar
Renting the Spotlight
I’ve been interested in geeklist after hearing about it from a friend and wanted to try it. I still think it has potential but I absolutely HATE how they’re promoting their service.Details
For me, social networking is nice way to get information that is interesting to me. The social aspect increases the potential for interesting content to me because I trust people that I know that whatever they deemed worthy is worthy of my attention too.
Simple, right? Things that are truly good will spread to people that are the most interested because people with same interests/tastes are more likely to talk to each other.
Not everyone sees it that way. We see a trend of promoting on social networks more and more. Sometimes, it’s the disgusting yet very obvious “Tweet/Like this and you’ll get X”. Sometimes, it’s contests (even ones involving skills) that require some kind of promotion on facebook/twitter to be eligible. I’m pretty sure most people are like me and hate this. Some might still do it because it’s easy and does no harm (or so it seems).
So far, I’ve stayed far from organisation/individuals involved in such practices. Enter geeklist. A trusted friend tweeted about it and I went and looked at their thing. The idea was nice (a site for developers to post micro-achievements) but there was this again, they wanted me to tweet about them as I was signing up and told me I would get quicker access to the private beta if I followed them, tweeted about them, etc. I was starting to get annoyed but I still found their service intriguing. I didn’t start following them right away. However, after speaking with my friend about them, I got more curious and I followed away.
I started being flooded with tweets about people being granted access, quick invitation for people to tweet about them to get access, etc. I was more than annoyed but I figured I shouldn’t dismiss their otherwise promising application just because their marketing techniques were irritating. I even went so far as to tweet an honest, originally composed tweet about them. I got some of their attention but no access. I thought meh, I could just wait for it to be open to everyone. I was still following them. That’s when a trend of insignificant “cards” being retweeted by the geeklist folks started pouring. I started losing confidence. When their winner for the 100th card of the day was announced, I gave up:
I created the 100th achievement card 19th September 2011
It seems that they’re not just promoting badly on twitter, they’re also promoting the less interesting usage of their service.
Ok, rant over. Sorry guys.
writing here after a long long time, though not writing anywhere for a long time, geeklist opened up private beta and every one in a while their newsletter comes in, recently they have been campaigning a lot about adding networks, i am not following anyone and there’s nothing for me there except watching but that too becomes restricted as i don’t have full access, well the thing is Robert Scoble posted 10 hours ago on facebook about geeklist, he writes what he likes, and what he is not doing wouldn’t be in his writings, he wrote that’s where he would be picking people for his interviews (building43, rackspace). not many have shown interest but then again it’s still private beta.
few things they need to improve is UI, as Chris in Scoble’s facebook thread on geeklist said, the process that follows from registration is not as good, large font size and light, design is good designwise, but it should be more user friendly, filling up too many forms that too in steps is a bit difficult, it’s is not that a developer designer is crafting his portfolio, things are standard and it becomes similar to twitter, better responsiveness is required, what are they using? i don’t know! but something like bootstrap would be good!
and hovercards well i can’t say much but not every product should follow the same things others are doing, something new and innovative is what’s needed
My Opinion About The Geeklist Sexism Case
During the week the awesome social network for bad-ass programmers, Geeklist, suffered because of the video they published at the beginning of their project. Some GitHub users were discussing that the video was sexist.
My opinion is sharp and straight forward. All I see on that thread and everywhere on the internet about this case is very simple: People (not the ADA Initiative, they are a serious group of people that know what they are doing, I’m referring to random people that think they are activists by posting on their Facebook about things like this) talking shit about some shit they don’t understand pretending they give a damn, just to be politically correct and blah blah blah. I agree that a lot of things on YouTube and around the internet are very bad to women, but that video isn’t.
If you make a simple search on YouTube for brazilian commercials you will know what sexism is, and if you don’t like the video, just empty your Geeklist account and start complaining about it on Twitter (or your blog).
To test my opinion I showed the video to 6 persons (3 mens and 3 women’s) and I had this results:
- 2 mens liked the video
- 1 men thought it was awkward
- All the women’s liked the video
The interesting part is that 2 women’s thought it was funny because there was a nerd with the girls.