All posts by Mark Dabbs

Originally from Washington State, Mark has lived in Odessa as a permanent resident for the past 8 years. Involved in online projects and publishing since 1996 starting with webmaster for Primestar Satellite TV by Continental Cablevision. Since then, he has served on the board for several non-profit organizations, co-founded CyberCraft Corp., and enjoyed three years with Amazon.com. He found his way to Iraq in support of the US Marines from 2004-5 with Lear Siegler and EG&G heading up the corporate newsletter and promotions program. New with Opera Mobile Store, developers can expect to see useful, wide-ranging information on the new Global Mobile Internet.

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In the old days, back when people watched television and had to sit through countless laundry commercials on the horrors of static cling and “ring around the collar”… 

Well?

Well, that’s the point. Back then, there were television commercials to promote all manner of products. The more visibility the product got, for the most part, the better it sold in the stores.

But that was then and this is now. Or is it? No. Times may change, but most things remain the same. The more visibility you get for your product, the better it will perform. The one BIG difference is that back then, producing and running television commercials involved a good chunk of change – a chunk of change that most app developers do not have… and should not be spending on television commercials.

App Developer and Famous Movie Producers?

Today, we have all manner of cheap cams, free video editing and screen capture software, and sites to place them on, like YouTube. There’s even free special effects with the likes of Looksery and voice modification.

I’ve even been able to produce a few amateur test videos, and while not bad, nothing worth showing off – but with free resources and a nominal investment in time. That is to say that anyone seriously interested in producing a video could have something nice for show with a few weeks of effort. Or, you may already have friends able to assist you – no expensive, professional video shoot or studio required.

That is to say with virtually no money you can produce a video and get it distributed “for free” to anyone and everyone willing to show it. Odds are that this will not generate a lot of traffic or downloads for your app, but it could. Under a completely free, bootstrapped scenario, it will be a matter of a focused effort or the chance it goes viral – but fundamentally, you will be relying upon someone with viral capacity to make that happen.

Providing Content for Content Players/Providers

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of players have channels on YouTube where they feature reviews, walkthroughs, tutorials, explain game mechanics, feature game play, show-off different “builds”, so on and so forth. Some of these players have thousands of channel subscribers; some of their videos have hundreds of thousands of likes. Nothing precludes you from contacting these video-savvy players to give your app a review or some playtime – if you are confident that your app has merit.

This approach can be taken several steps further to include hiring a player to play and produce videos. That would not be too different from how things used to be. Being open about the video being a paid production or that the player is being paid to show the game play is important for transparency. Reviews should be impartial, and usually are if they are free, but paid reviews must carry a disclaimer.

Featuring Celebrities?

While anyone could produce a video, obviously high-profile gamers, game reviewers, or even “celebrities” will prove more effective.  Most major brand names have been doing exactly this in one form or another for as long as anyone can remember. Point is that anyone who endorses your product, even on a paid basis, most likely considers your product worthy enough to not be detrimental to their reputation and future earnings potential. It’s about as simple as that. Endorsements carry a lot of weight.

For as much interest as there is in games, there is as much interest in “What is the Best …. ?” and “What are the Top 10 …. ?” There are countless versions of these types of videos spanning most game genres on YouTube and other video hosting services.  People listen to what others recommend:

In short, that’s lots of extra free advertising to boost your apps – going from a very broad perspective to very niche specific – sometimes on a monthly basis.

Stay Tuned for More…

Coupled with this is the additional need to promote your videos via your web site, in-app messaging, emails and newsletters. Videos presenting new features, demonstrating interesting or complex game mechanics, superior plays and “funny stuff” is a great way to get inactive or infrequent players to come back and play your game some more.

 

A target market, simply enough, is the group of people you focus on reaching with your app, product or service because you believe they are the most likely to pay for it or use it. Your target market is the cornerstone of your marketing strategy. Some clarifications and notes are appropriate as many businesses really have a hard time defining a “viable target market” – in relation to a good Product/Market Fit.

This infers an audience of end-users that:

  1. Will like and pay for (or use) what you offer (Product Focus)
  2. You can reach AND has an interest in what you offer (Market Focus)
  3. Is large enough to be profitable for you (Business Model Focus)

Note that many developers relying upon in-app advertising for their revenue only need people to use their product, not necessarily pay for it.

Most companies heavily focus on only one of these points, A or B or C. Profitable and successful companies do their best to address all three A, B and C. Note that while this is written mainly for mobile app developers, it also applies to almost all small businesses, too.

Product Focus

Most developers, most companies, focus heavily on product – constantly striving to improve their product, always trying to improve their product’s fit to the market. Product Focus is heavy on tech focusing on improving Features, Interface, Price, and other items intrinsic to “The Product.”

Product Focus naturally comes first – it is The Idea and The Solution to a Problem that prompts starting a business in the first place. It is, equally, a natural result of looking at what someone else has done and thinking you can make it better, faster, or cheaper. Improving your product makes it more competitive, more attractive, more likely to compel people who see it to buy it or use it.

The benefit of this focus is to improve conversion rates in your target market.

This is all good, but it could be better by having a larger target market.

Most new businesses do not fail for technical reasons, but for other issues ranging from lack of preparation, funding, marketing, lack of revenue diversification and management.

Market Focus

Generally speaking, a poor product with great marketing will perform far, far better than a great product with poor marketing. That is why we are surrounded by fast food chains. There might be some argument there, but it is an analogy that will keep me out of too much trouble.

Good marketing engages to reach either the largest possible OR the most profitable pool of consumers while remaining true to its product.  There is a lot to marketing, suffice that it comes down to maximizing either your Quantity or Quality – in both product and customer base.

  • A million non-paying customers is on par with a million dollar product with no buyer.
  • A million people paying $1 is on par with one person willing to pay $1 million.

Remaining true to the product is the common denominator.  This is where your Unique Sales Proposition (USP) comes into play. While your USP could be product-specific, it affords you the potential to differentiate yourself beyond your product.

  • Better Tech Support
  • Better Customer Service
  • Better Engagement with Customers
  • Unique Market Presence
  • Language Localization capabilities
  • VIP or Industry associations

As long as you have a functioning product and intend to continue improving your product, then the people who could use it become the center of attention. 

Let’s take the case of a utility app for accountants. It’s designed for accountants. That might be your core target market. Or not. Who else does accounting? Small business owners? Tax advisors? Moms with households on a budget?

Leastwise, if you are able to produce very sophisticated accounting apps, odds are darned good you can make simplified, watered-down accounting apps that every day mothers could use, too.  Marketing, at least, can help define areas of opportunity that could fit the product.

Target market is important, it is the cornerstone of your business – but defining it too narrowly will, in most cases, reduce your revenue potential unnecessarily.  Again, in most cases, if you are in business you are looking to create opportunities, not eliminate them.

There are exceptions to that rule – and they usually pertain to premium and prestigious products and brands where the minimum customer commitment is outside the average (think Golf Club Memberships and having a representative from Goldman Sachs as your personal investment advisor).

That level of premium placement is not typical for most small businesses – even if they might like to be there, the odds of starting there are slim to none.   It is almost always necessary to build up to that.

Business Model Focus

This is where the REAL fun is – as it concerns You and Your Company encompassing your Products, Marketing, Networking and Making Deals. Here is where you are able to turn what you have into far more.

Revenue models are one component involved here – free (with in app advertising), freemium with upgrades or in-app store, premium, subscription sales, subscription-based distribution programs, package bundling, content partnering and more.

Which is best for you? Well, that takes some research to determine. Many online companies have switched from subscription models to free-to-play models with in-game store options. We are also seeing companies going from free-to-play back to subscription models, too.

A focus on business models could you lead to look at any one of the following possibilities to help build your business and maximize your revenue, too:

As a special recommendation, see Ash Maurya’s “10 steps to Product/Market Fit” (on Slideshare.net). 

 

The Black Sea SummIT underscored that it would be a good idea to provide some tips for your next public presentation. These points would apply to expos, conferences, or simply delivering presentations about your company – whether in a B2B, investor or public format. Whether you are an app developer or pretty much in any business, the same factors apply.

Most conferences, trade fairs and expos 1) rent vendor/exhibit space, 2) openly accept guest speakers, and 3) offer great opportunities for meeting others in the industry, networking and making deals. It is always worth attending local events relevant to your trade. Costs of admission, travel, lodging and the time involved warrant prioritizing any non-local events you attend. This warrants doing some research in advance on which events best match your interests and desired opportunities. It also mandates a budget and establishing goals that will contribute to some kind of return on your investment.

The focus here is on three things to help you get the most out of your next conference.

One – Research Event Participants

Knowing who will be participating at an event provides an open door to business opportunities. They are looking for opportunities, too. If they weren’t, they probably would not be attending. Make a list of participants and try to define what you have to offer them along with what they may have to offer you.

  1. List the people and companies you want to meet.
  2. Define what you can offer them or what they can offer you.
  3. Where possible, make advanced arrangements to meet with those on your list.
  4. Seek out everyone else at the conference to set up a convenient meeting.

Depending upon your business, product or service line, possibilities exist for negotiating special terms for advertising, distribution, cross-promotions, software trials, training, perhaps sharing of market data. There could also be opportunities to initiate agreements with mobile device manufacturers to ship with your app pre-installed. In some cases, there may be opportunities to form joint ventures or special purpose vehicles to enter new markets.

Knowing who will be there and having desired outcomes for each will transform the event into a high intensity engagement where really big deals are possible.

Two – Preparing Presentations

The difference between a good presentation and a bad one comes down to three fairly simple factors.

  1. Have an Awesome Elevator Pitch. You are competing with lots of other companies to grab people’s attention and memory. Your product or service is not “important” to them – the REASON why they would want your product or service IS very important to them. Aim for one sentence that succinctly defines what you do and why they need it.
  2. Ability for the audience to “See what you show” – If you plan on delivering a PowerPoint Presentation – Simplify and use BIG Text so people can read it 200 feet away. If necessary, provide free, high-quality handouts of additional important or detailed information to your audience that they would not be able to read from the projection.
  3. Stick to Three Core Points – the most important parts of your product or service as they relate to the audience you will be in front of. Your audience is being inundated with information. Structure your presentation according to those three points – 1, 2, 3 – relative to the time you are allotted which may be 5, 15 or 30 minutes.

Three – Press Packet and Press People

Most events are covered by several press agencies – newspapers, television, bloggers, industry magazines, etc.   All have the intention of producing at least one article or story about the event.  Take advantage of this for free press and publicity.

One vital step in preparing for the conference is to have a press packet tailored for the event and the kind of media exposure you want. Note that for these events especially, your press packet should include some “quotes” from your CEO/CIO/CTO/CFO, co-founders, president or vice-presidents.  These are as good as gold to journalists writing stories.

This should include any recent app releases, upcoming releases,  beta tests, calls for beta testers, search for investors, a story about your company or endeavors that is fit for a broader audience, or something more creative.  It could also be useful for letting the person know you are someone who can help source information for them.

Make it a point to find the press people at these events and you could be handsomely rewarded with free press coverage and possibly a long-term relationship with a media venue.  Odds are you helped make their job a little bit easier.

These points are good whether you are a mobile app developer, in tech or not.  If you intend to deliver a presentation in front of a large group of people, spend some time rehearsing in front of others.  The advanced preparation is likely to help you stand out and deliver a better, more memorable impression to the people you want to reach.  These are events where people are looking for deals, the worst thing they can do is say no.  Get the right people to say yes, and you won’t ever have to worry about hearing “no” again.

 

The Black Sea SummIT took place last Saturday, the largest IT conference in Odessa. While I rarely write on events in Ukraine, this provides a special opportunity.   While the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, it is mostly a “contained situation” which does not much impact the rest of the country. It could be said that the conflict has served to catapult Ukraine into the forefront of a lot of investor interest.

Ukraine is a tech-savvy country, having the fourth largest population of certified IT professionals in the world following only the United States, India, and Russia – all with much larger populations. There’s a lot that can be said for Ukraine (favorably), but Odessa is of specific interest as a strategic logistics hub and for its “historical” relationship with corruption and organized crime. There’s a lot more that can be said about that, suffice that it is now center stage in an ongoing aggressive anti-corruption war. To facilitate its economic realignment, a considerable effort is also being made to attract foreign investors, businesses and start-ups.

So, that’s a bird’s eye view of landscape behind the Black Sea SummIT – and “all of that” under the auspices of the EU-Ukraine “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (the DCFTA) likely to go into effect January 1, 2016. Opera Mobile Store maintains an office in Odessa started by former Vice-President Victor Shaburov, who started Looksery (also with an office in Odessa) – making the news this past weekend for getting picked up by Snapchat for $150 million.

SDC10797

Getting back to the SummIT, it was partitioned into three areas – 1) Main Speakers, 2) Start-ups, and 3) Tech, each covering a lot of ground making it impossible to cover everything here.  Some will make into future posts.

Here, I want to highlight a number of business incubators and accelerators available to aspiring Ukrainian and Eastern European entrepreneurs, with some follow-on notes.   Each of these were participants of the Black Sea SummIT.

Simply – these are the people and types of organizations you want to connect with if you are looking to seriously start a business.

Business Incubators and Accelerators*

*Google Translate is used for the English links to otherwise Russian web sites.

Business Incubators and Accelerators help start-ups with office space, facilities, networking, collaborative development, classes and work groups led by experienced business people.   Connecting with an incubator or accelerator is almost always a good step for developing your business.  These groups help you develop your business plan, refine your products/services, can facilitate access to investors and definitely help with all manner of professional networking.

Access to facilities, including high speed internet access, high quality printers, copy machines, conference rooms, work space and more helps minimize your earliest startup costs, but these all pale in comparison to their networking functions.

While not exactly an incubator, I would like to give a shout out to the Hillel IT School in Odessa (English and Russian) – as a great place for picking up a wide range of tech skills – java, iOS, web project management, QA testing, CC++, Android, etc.  For investors and businesses looking to start an office in Odessa, that’s probably a school you want to have on your short list for hiring your entry level technical staff.

Two Ukrainian Start-Ups

Many startups were present, but two of them have my avid, personal interest.

SDC10795Educator.io – A Learning Management System (LMS).  I was pleased to meet Pavlo Grebeniuk, CEO of this start-up, and learn about his company.  What makes his idea and company especially promising relates, in part, to the EU-Ukraine DCFTA.  A large number of companies will need to educate a very large number of people, rapidly – across a combination of English, Ukrainian, Russian and other European languages.  This will involve everything from ISO compliance to language-specific training across almost all business professions.  His company has the platform, the specific languages, and the networking backbone most capable of supporting Ukrainians assimilating the relevant portions of the 2,135 page document — and everything else associated with it.   Best of luck Pavlo!  I will be following allowing, attentively!

MMOne Company - Virtual Reality, 360 Degree, Full Motion Machine.  I’ve been following this one for a while, and it is getting significant traction.  Ubisoft has gotten behind this start-up and the machine will make its primary debut at the 2015 Paris eSports World Cup featuring game play with Trackmania² Stadium.  These work with Oculus Rift to take VR to the next level.  In addition to entertainment uses, I see these as being useful for a variety of specialized training for civilian and military applications.  Seriously, considering the number of drone crashes we’ve seen over the past year alone, we might want to make sure that the drone pilots have a freaking clue about how to navigate.

The Evil Geniuses took the top prize in DOTA 2’s “The International” 2015 – $6.6 million.  Meanwhile in Pro-Golf, Jordan Spieth brought home  $1.8 million for winning The Masters.

Metagaming is basically using “real world knowledge” for in-game benefits to include such things as raid strategies, making in-game money, game add-ons to improve efficiency, etc. Metagaming is natural, logical, exceedingly common, perhaps unavoidable, but only really discouraged in the old-school roleplaying game genre.

Mega Metagaming, as I’ve coined the term, makes use of “real world knowledge” for in-game and real-world benefit: real money, notoriety and influence in addition to in-game benefits. It is also very common, but still with considerable untapped potential. Online gaming is an ever-evolving “market” wherein eSports is but one component; albeit the largest and most lucrative, presently.

The Monetization of eSports

The prize pool of The International 2015 – the fifth DOTA 2 championship tournament amounted to $18 million dollars. Compare this to Pro-Golf’s Master’s Tournament for 2015 where the prize pool topped $10 million, for the first time ever. Going further, we can look at the payouts:

DOTA 2

  • Evil Geniuses – $6.6 million
  • CDEC Gaming – $2.8 million
  • LGD Gaming – $2.2 million

The Masters

  • Jordan Spieth – $1.8 million
  • Phil Mickelson – $880 thousand
  • Justin Rose – $880 thousand

Call of Duty, League of Legends, Turbo-Racing, Starcraft 2, Counter-Strike, World of Tanks and countless other games have also had tournaments with high-stakes prize payouts. This is not limited just to games, either. In 2013, Kapitall, a company oriented to investor education offered $100,000 as the top prize for its Market Tournament.

Behind the Scenes

There are a lot of people engaged involved in a lot work behind the scenes in making these tournaments happen.  The creation of a professional eSports Team to compete for millions of dollars is similar to everything that goes into forming, managing, training and financing a real-world sports team.

Beyond the eSports teams, someone has to organize the tournaments, coordinate the technical and streaming/television components, create the web sites, sign the sponsors, conduct the marketing and advertising, get the vendors to sell burgers and pizza to thousands of people attending the events – just to support the tournaments.

Tournaments represent a fairly small portion of the collective gaming ecosystem.  There is much more to gaming than tournaments.  There are many opportunities to make money from gaming the more one understands the broader gaming ecosystem.  That’s not to say that they are easy or as simple as getting paid to play games.

Guilds and More

In the lead up to this article, I addressed how to make a great gaming guild.   At its simplest, a gaming guild is a group of players who cooperate toward common goals (like Raiding, Crafting, Roleplaying, etc.).

The Syndicate is the best example of a gaming guild that evolved into something far more than a guild. With over a 19 year history playing games, The Syndicate has an influence on game developers (having several in its own ranks) – as they specialize in game and system testing, strategy guide writing, consulting and feedback.

That entails a lot of hard work – but it is work that would not be possible without “a game” or game developers wanting their services.

But, just as there are gaming guilds there are niche markets to go with them.  Gamerlaunch.com and guildportal.com specialize in providing guild web sites. The monetization components here include not just web site hosting, but advertising, affiliate programs, sometimes gaming guides, and app development of their own. There remains plenty of room for localized expansion (by country, language and even by game genre).

On top of this, there are game review sites, magazine and video channels on YouTube – all of which can have an influence on a game’s development and player community, too.  What developers and players should know by now quite well is that game reviews can and do have a significant impact on the life of the game.   While written for developers, an earlier post on “Super Users” would also be useful for gamers aspiring to get more from their gaming activity or seriously interested in Mega Metagaming.

Gold Farming

Reselling in-game goods and currency for real money is, if not illegal, against the terms and conditions of most games. I don’t want to get into this too deep here as it is a topic of its own.

More and more game developers are experimenting with a variety of currency conversion models to address a wide range of issues to include making it possible for “free to play” gamers being able to access premium content.   Others, like Entropia Universe actually do have a real to virtual conversion model.

It is also appropriate to note here that both Congress and the Internal Revenue Service of the United States has examined taxing MMO-derived income.  Leastwise, there are many, many issues complicating the entire real vs. virtual goods and currencies exchange to warrant a separate examination.

With that discussion and perhaps as an expansion upon it is the future of digital currencies, in general.

Nevertheless, there are games that do permit you to plunder your way to enough in-game currency that you can swap it with the game developer for “real game time” – i.e. their paid subscription rate and other premium content.  Having a guild – a group of people to help you with that brings advantages for everyone in the guild.

Games as Tools for Education and Professional Training

This is a big pot of stew waiting for more and more people to stir it.  As the classroom itself becomes ever more digital, we will see “games” adapted for additional purposes.  It is an old concept, in fact, going back to the old 1983 movie “Wargames” with Matthew Broderick.

There’s the obvious correlation that when forming a professional eSports Team, some will employ others to provide professional training.  As computer games in general are becoming increasingly realistic, they begin to provide professionals low-cost, convenient access to hands-on application and training in realistic environments not likely to be found elsewhere.  This includes military training where it can be extremely expensive, is not always convenient and can have broader implications (real or imagined) in live training exercises.

In this direction, we might also look at wargaming (conflict simulation) as it takes place at King’s College London, quite possibly the most prestigious wargaming environment in the world.  One might even say that’s “very old school” – compared to what is available today, even with conventional smart phones.

Over the Top?

Certainly, some will assert that elements of this article are somewhat “over the top” – that it is improbable that end users, people who play games, may earn anything like a living wage doing so. A look at the past and present, however, points to that being an inevitable outcome in the not too distant future.

The core catalyst is the increasing affordability and availability of smart phones, globally. The electronic game industry can be traced back to arcade games of the late 1970’s into the 1980’s. By 1982, the arcade video game industry in North America alone generated $8 billion in revenues (equating to over $20 billion in today’s dollars).

With the proliferation of personal computers, global sales of computer and console games in 1994 amounted to about $35 billion in today’s dollars. Continuing through the early 2000’s, the vast majority of this market comprised mostly North America, Europe and portions of Southeast Asia.

As a reference, in 1997 per the US Census Bureau, only about 1 in 3 Americans had a personal computer. The smart phone of today has greater power, functionality and graphics than what was available in 1997. It is accessible and affordable to billions of people. Internet.org and other initiatives aim to guarantee that everyone on the planet has access to the Internet with some Android-capable devices going for under $40.

I realize this posts skips around and is perhaps a bit disjointed, perhaps not fully embellishing upon the idea of mega metagaming.  It is a broad term encompassing many different things, almost all of which relate to or are an extension of the games we play.  The main point considers that for how large the gaming industry already is (and will become), that there are plenty of opportunities to use the games you play for your real world benefit.

Again, I won’t assert that such is easy, but probably no more difficult to earn a living by playing games than the effort to become a professional football player or pro-golfer, a doctor, or any other career out there.  It does not necessarily mean that you will get paid to play a game directly, but that it could very well prove an instrumental part in making money.