Movers & Shakers
Bart Decrem's Soapbox Podcast About Tapulous
Bart Decrem, Founder of Tapulous
'I follow my gut on those things'
Tapulous is Bart's fifth venture after working in the nonprofit, Linux, and web browser worlds, including launching Firefox and more recently Flock. He was an entrepreneur in residence at a venture capital firm mulling different opportunities when the iPhone appeared on the scene in June of 2007:
"I remember sitting in a venture capital firm thinking about what I want to do next with my life and it was like, 'That's a great business idea!' And you sort of weigh the pros and cons and maybe you're gonna do it, and I'm sort of almost in one or two things.
"For me the way it worked for the iPhone was like, [smacks hand] 'I know this thing is gonna be big. I have to be there. I'm gonna be the first one there!'"
Weary of the years it takes to get a big platform off the ground (if they ever hit critical mass), the original idea was a more lightweight platform play, "like RockYou for the iPhone." Tapulous would be a family of widget-like apps with a social network underneath (a profile, friends list, and a feed).
Competing with Some Dude & His Hamster
What were the lessons for "RockYou for the iPhone" 90 days in? It turned out the market was all about games (not location-based services), the iPod Touch (not the iPhone), and a monopoly distribution channel that pits complex apps against throw-away ones for attention and dollars:
"The reason that the App Store is on fire is you've got a bunch of 12 year-olds that buy an iPod Touch--and before they might've bought a Nintendo DS... Now you can get this device for $199 that's almost as good as a Nintendo DS and you go on wifi once every couple of days and you get a farting app, and the next day you get something else, a wallpaper app, and every now and then you buy a game for $2.99 and you put some music on there and some videos. That's the App Store."
"Think about it this way: You're Steven Spielberg and you're building this great movie and the only distribution channel that exists for you is YouTube. Now you're competing with some dude taking a video clip of his hamster or a 15 second clip from Saturday Night Live."
People Don't Get Product!
Why not take Tapulous' success and make the leap from the iPhone to another platform offered by Google, Nokia, or Blackberry? Bart follows his gut on these business decisions too. To date he still doesn't get that same compulsion from any of iPhone's competitors:
"I believe that there will come a time when you have to be there, there is no obvious winner... It's not obvious to me who is going to nail it. And to me the thing that's somewhat shocking, if you'd asked me in June of 2007 when the iPhone launched, how long is it gonna take for Nokia to get their act together or for Android to launch as a competitive product, I would've said, 'Give them a year.' But it's been like two years now and it's like, 'What the hell?'"
Why has a company like Apple been able to maintain its market leadership without a viable challenge to the top spot?
"People don't get product! ... What I'm realizing is that it is hard to deliver quality product because there's so many pressures to make deals, to balance out various considerations. And I think Apple is somewhat unique in just sort of being ruthless about the user experience."
"And it's very hard if you're Nokia, cause you'd be like, 'Why don't they just freakin copy the thing, right? And put a Nokia brand on it and do the industrial design.' It's really hard! To have that commitment as a big company to go do that. And that has been a big surprise to me. I had no idea it was going to take that long to get a really compelling alternative to the iPhone to market. It might never happen."
This hits on a problem in both the software and mobile hardware industries--their organizations are not setup to do product design. Big companies skip design processes and methods and jump from business opportunity into implementation while giving product and interaction design short shrift. This prevents these companies from systemically turning out new products and leaves the door open for Apple to continue to lead in the U.S. mobile space.
A lot of companies struggle with the freemium model and get paralyzed trying to decide between ad-supported revenue and app sales. To Bart, it's obvious that free apps drive the traffic that sustains not only ad revenue, but provides the base of premium sales that form the bulk of Tapulous' revenue:
"If we only had paid apps, we wouldn't have a footprint. People sometimes say to me, wow, you've got 5 million users on Tap Tap Revenge. Imagine if you'd charged $0.99 for that, you'd've made $5 million dollars by now. It's like, No, you're crazy. Cause I would've sold 100,000. I would've made $100,000 and nobody would know that I exist. And we would be fucked as a company."
By continuing to invest in free games to sustain and expand their footprint, and by re-investing in premium games with fresh content like their upcoming Coldplay version of Tap Tap Revenge, Bart expects Tapulous to continue to grow and succeed as a company.
- Bart's Leaked Investor Email on TechCrunch
- I Wrote a Top 10 App... And It's Shit
- Pinch Media Article: Average Half Life Is Less Than 30 Days
- Download Bart's Presentation PDF
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