One of the more interesting trends we have seen develop in the media industry is the development of content and action-based programming for the smartphone / advertising vertical. Every smartphone is a bit of mental and emotional real estate belonging to its owner; it's a device where so much of a person's life and communication goes. Yet, so much of it is barren of any commercial interaction, and this is something that advertisers have thought about.
The founder of FoneSense, Christian Nicholas Ryder, has thought about it to, and seen a 7.2 billion euro market for smart and appropriate integration of advertising messages with the smartphone. We sat down with Ryder, a BizSpark member, to talk about this market, his startup, and what he's learned about building a company that uses pieces of the Microsoft stack, especially Windows Azure.
FoneSense is using Azure for almost everything in their solution. This includes:
According to Ryder:
FoneSense is new platform that advertising and marketing agencies can bring to their large corporate clients that want to fully leverage the €7.2bn pa and growing mobile advertising market. It utilizes music/jingles on smart phones to build brand recognition in desired demographics and pays end users - the smart phone owner - a fee every time the phone rings and the jingle is used. It is a profitable win/win solution. FoneSense is leveraging the exploding mobile advertising market that is anticipated to grow to €18bn by 2016 (Gartner). FoneSense is giving advertising agencies a completely new and very targeted advertising channel and a solution to one of their biggest headaches - How to target new consumers that are moving away from traditional channels and increasingly using mobile media for their entertainment.
FoneSense is designed to take advantage of the perfect storm that is:
FoneSense is a new platform that advertising and marketing agencies can bring to their large corporate clients that want to fully leverage the €7.2bn pa and growing mobile advertising market. It utilizes music/jingles on smart phones to build brand recognition in desired demographics and pays end users, the smart phone owner, a fee every time the phone rings and the jingle is used.
Microsoft technologies that you are using in conjunction with the development of your application (and if you’re using Windows Azure, please highlight that):
FoneSense is built on the Azure platform taking advantage of its various aspects. Azure provides the environment for the RESTFUL services to communicate with our mobile clients. FoneSense also utilizes the Azure worker roles, queue storage, table storage, blob storage and SQL database storage.
We are currently in the process of adding the Azure Android SDK to our Android app and are also investigating a Windows Phone version of the app. However, some of the features of the app will require access to a special Windows Phone API. We need to partner with a telco or OEM provider to gain this higher-level access, so were working on getting that.
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
Revenue first with scale in background
FoneSense was built for revenue first, but with scale in mind in every decision. The revenue first approach helps us to focus on our market while keeping scale in the foremost part of our thinking. This ensures that we are not building a solution which will need to be completely re-developed if our required usage escalates. For a startup company everything has to be cost effective. I guess the honest answer is they are equally as important as each other in our solution.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
FoneSense was started by technical members and as a result 90% of our team have, at some stage, been some kind of software developer. FoneSense is a logical design, in every aspect. Technical members have had input in every step, I believe that’s part of the reason the business model is so straight forward.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
In coming up with the idea we discussed it among ourselves for a number of weeks. Next we put the idea onto paper and started developing the concept out. Then we started talking to people from different backgrounds including local entrepreneurs and marketing professionals to get their feedback. Once we realized that they easily understood the concept and gave us really positive feedback, we got really excited about the FoneSense concept and felt it had huge potential. At this point we started developing a prototype and we even flew from Ireland to the US to get our hands on the first commercial Android handset, the G1 on T-Mobile in 2008. However, it wasn’t until we got an angel investor in 2011 that we realized we were “startup material”.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
FoneSense hopes to change the mobile advertising landscape for the better, giving the user complete control of their device unlike the existing mobile advertising channels such as banner ads and SMS advertising. The user would select their favorite audio jingle, and could opt out any time by turning their phone on silent or changing their ringtone manually.
FoneSense also wants to develop a fundraising channel so that good causes and charities can benefit. Users can select a charity / good cause that will receive a donation every time the user’s phone rings.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
We are completely passionate about what we are doing; a completely new concept, a disruptive technology and we believe we can make our vision a reality! Each of us has a sense of ownership in the FoneSense idea and we are committed to getting the product to its full potential.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
Microsoft has been absolutely amazing; the BizSpark program has provided all of the tools, Azure training and even technical support to progress FoneSense from an idea on paper to an innovative product. They have provided us with the resources and environment to build a scalable cost effective solution that meets every standard expected.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
The BizSpark program for us is absolutely fantastic, it’s just brilliant; getting all the software we need for 3 years not just for one developer but for the whole team. It provides us with the tools so that we can work remotely from anywhere in the world, all we need is an internet connection. It has also enabled us to build a scalable, low cost solution that can easily handle load and can increase in accordance with the market share we acquire.
How did you get excited about Azure?
Two things really excited me personally, the first being the response times from the Azure SQL database was faster than our local network database. The second being the combination of the queue storage and the worker roles makes doing any task a pleasure.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
The scalability & redundancy features were major factors in building on Azure. We need to be able to provide our users and clients with a professional service and Azure does that out of the box. It lets us worry about our system, not the environment it sets on. This simple fact makes it a simple decision especially when you consider the BizSpark program and the speed of the performance.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Firstly weigh up the time, expertise, monetary cost and potential of in-house failure of hosting the solution on-premise. Compare this to the vast amount of benefits and reliability from utilizing a cloud provider. If the cloud is the winner then identify the core features of your product and compare the offerings of each cloud provider to select a suitable one.