Introduction to Mobile Advertising

Many in the mobile industry see advertising as a dirty word, something to be avoided, a necessary evil – at best. This view is, perhaps, driven by the fact that the most successful games don’t have advertising – Minecraft, Clash of Clans, and lately Candy Crush Saga.  Of course it’s easy to promote life without ads when you’re making $2.4 million in revenues daily.

dr-evil

I’d argue this view is mistaken.  Advertising when done well can add a significant percentage onto a developer’s bottom line.  The most famous example of integrating ads seamlessly with your product is, of course, Google – who now earn massive profits from returning ads along with search results.  Why can’t the rest of us integrate ads in a way that enhances or at least doesn’t alienate users and players?

Many people still associate mobile advertising with cheap Banner Badgering.  However, the mobile ad industry is evolving at an extremely rapid pace, there are now all kinds of affiliate, interstitial, video, offer walls, to take into consideration.  Developers have reported that when done well ads are adding $500-$3000 onto their daily revenues – a figure not to be sneezed at.

To that end I put together a presentation for the team at Tsumanga Studios, where I work.  To introduce some of the terminology and options that are available to games and app developers, I hope you find it useful.

Best Practice

Of the current crop of top games, take a look at Gameloft’s Minion Rush – the way they have integrated ads is very clever, rewarding users with tiny amounts of currency in exchange for watching an ad.  Similarly Disney’s Monsters University have integrated an offer wall in a way that doesn’t spoil the game at all for those uninterested in ads (note this is a paid for app).

Placing interstitial ads at appropriate points, ie at the end of a level (like Fruit Ninja) or rewarding the player for watching ads should not destroy the user experience, and may help your app break even faster.  At the very least, you should use ad networks to cross promote your other content.

Conclusion

The mobile app and game space is still pioneer country.  No one knows anything.  There are plenty people doing well with and without ads, but you need to make up your own mind and run your own experiments.  There are a number of competing business models out there, clearly if you can get your game or app right vast profits can be made.  That, however, is not an easy task.  Until you get it right, perhaps, ads can help?

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Entrepreneurial Spark – Life’s a pitch

This week I completed Entrepreneurial Spark’s  Acceler-8 TM Start-up Bootcamp.  Note the trademark.  The trademark implies a confidence, an unwavering certainty, that the program will be successful, globally recognised and copied.  A useful metaphor then, for Jim Duffy, and the E-Spark’s team’s, entrepreneurial mindset.

Entrepreneurial Spark’s proposition is a deceptively simple one.  Teach Scottish start-up business founders to:

  1. Think and act “entrepreneurially”.
  2. Teach them how to pitch their business

There’s much more on offer than that.  There’s support, advice, networking, access to individuals like Sir Tom Hunter, and Lord Willie Haughey, there’s free office space, everything you need to bootstrap a business.  But it always comes back to entrepreneurship, the pitch and the individual.  Get that right, they say, and success will naturally follow.

I’ve been involved with E-Spark for around 10 months now.  As a natural cynic and know-it-all I was happy to take Jim’s free office space, I grudgingly attended network events, inwardly cringing as people stumbled through their pitches, but slowly, something started to change – I got it.  Not overnight, not immediately, but I started to see the point.  I saw the change in people and their businesses.  I got what E-Spark were doing.

King of the Pitches

At E-Spark there is an unrelenting focus on pitching – the Elevator Pitch, the 3 minute pitch, the 10 minute pitch, pitch it and they will come, you get the idea.  But of all of them, the Elevator Pitch is King.

Initially I railed against the idea that you could boil a business, any business, certainly not our business into a 60 second sound-bite.  But the power of the pitch, it’s evil genius, is to force you to strip out all the fluff and identify and focus on the core central pillar of your business.

The exercise may make you realise that you don’t have a core, what you thought was important isn’t, it’ll make you understand what makes your business tick and what numbers are important, it will make you realise a dozen things.  But through constant refinement you get to that core central pillar.  Congratulations, you know your business – everything else will flow from there.

A fine line between confidence and hubris

If there’s a criticism to be levelled at E-Spark it’s that it may lure the unwary into the belief that a slick pitch, and a confident demeanor is enough to get by.  By forcing people out of their comfort zone and to be competitive, there’s a danger that from the outside looking in it appears like an extended episode of the Apprentice.

There’s been a number of occasions when I wished someone had thought before opening their gob, or acted with a bit more humility.  One particularly unedifying moment, during Bootcamp, had 3 people scrambling for a tenner.  Which led to a spate of people trying to outshine and be noticed more than others.

Confidence and knowing your business are key, but arrogance and showing off will make you look like a fool in front experienced business people.

Frequent reference to the Founder’s Dilemma – a Hobson’s Choice of Cash versus King was presented as the only possible reasons for starting a business.  I’d argue both are side-effects of success, and believing-in and selling-others-on your vision.

In the long-run, however, these are minor criticisms regarding what is a truly revolutionary concept and program.  In fairness you’re encouraged to question and disagree with what is being presented.  Additionally the program includes checks and balances in the form of the formidable enablers – who provide advice and guidance to keep you focussed and on track.

Winning

E-Spark has been inspired by, and modelled on Boston’s Babson College and the  Mass Challenge program where businesses pitch for a prize fund of $1million.  Incredibly, in less than 18 months the E-Spark team have managed to set-up a similar sized pot of cash and competition in Scotland know as the Edge fund.

This summer 16 out of 18 winners, of which we were one :-), had come through the E-Spark program.  E-Spark businesses have created more than 50 new jobs, since the program started.  Irrefutable evidence that the program works, and is making a real difference to the Start-Up scene and the economy of Scotland.

Anyone who is thinking of starting a business is Scotland would be crazy not to join the program.  The support, the energy, the network and the enthusiasm of all involved will get your business soaring.  There’s a mantra that is frequently seen and heard in the office that sums it all up.  If you’re starting a business in Scotland – GoDo at E-Spark.

Startups – The Importance of Momentum

I’ve been working in my present job in a mobile games studio for about 6 months.  It’s been pretty intense, but we just shipped our first game.  I produced it, I’ve got my name in the credits, and it got 500 downloads within 24 hours of being launched, so I’m very pleased, and I expect things to only get better 🙂  Not bad for a bunch of guys with limited experience in the gaming industry.

I wanted to blog some thoughts about lessons I’ve drawn as we’ve gone along, before the nervous breakdown hits.  First up – The Importance of Momentum.

Shark dive, UnderWater World

What it felt like on my first day

The technology industry attracts a lot of smart people, which can be pretty intimidating when you’re starting out.  How can we compete with EA, how can we compete with Microsoft, but you can – as long as you keep moving quickly and get your products into the marketplace.

Here’s the top 10 ways and rationale for acting like a shark, and keeping on swimming:

1.  Stick to the Plan – At least once a day one of the team will say “Stick to the Plan”.  You can only move fast if you have a good idea of where you’re heading.  Plans need enough detail so you can spot when things are starting to wobble.  When things are moving at 90 miles per hour, as they do in a startup, there are all sorts of variables that will be thrown at you.  If you have a plan you can easily say No – we’re sticking to the plan.

2.  React – The corollary to Stick to the Plan is – don’t always stick to the plan.  Over time you’ll inevitably be presented with evidence that your plan isn’t working.  Feature X is bogged down, Team Member Y is struggling with task Z etc etc.  React to this evidence and change your plan, make a new better plan and hit the accelerator again.

3.  There’s a fine line between order and chaos – The corollary to the corollary is being sensible enough to hit the brakes and drive within your limits (to push the metaphor).  Don’t change everything at once, prioritise problems and learn to live with uncertainty.

4.  You ain’t going to get it right first time – Most startups will probably have 3 years, or less, to demonstrate they can make money, so the earlier you can get some traction in the marketplace the better.  Spending 2 years in development, is a big risk, much better to ship 4-6 products or significant updates in that time (see the MVP).

5.  If in doubt, keep it simple – When faced with a choice, the safest bet is to go for the simplest solution.  If you’re wrong at least you’ll find out sooner, and in my experience simplest is best 9 times out of 10.  Large estimates and complex solutions have red flags all over them. (see YAGNI)

6.  Shipping teaches tough lessons – A feature we spent a number of weeks developing was rejected by Apple.  If we hadn’t shipped early we’d have wasted additional man-hours on a feature that we had to remove.

7.  Perfect is the enemy of good-enough – It’s comforting to gold-plate features, nail another bug, spend another few days in QA, optimise a bit more.  But if your product is good-enough, ship it, then react to real-world data, rather than second guess.  We went live with 20 known issues, but they were all issues we could live with.  If no-one downloads it, you’re much better to know after 3 months, rather than 6, as you could have spent the previous 3 months doing something different.

8.  Play to your strengths – It’s important to recognise where the strengths and weaknesses of your team lie.  Over time what you thought was a strength may prove to be a weakness, so change your plan.  Where you have gaps, either hire, or better, partner and use freelance resource until you can demonstrate you have the need/resource for a full time employee.

 9.  Don’t wish for what you don’t have – Don’t waste time on toying with the latest fads.  If you have a team of PHP programmers just write PHP as much as you might wish for a team of hipster Rubyists (see play to your strengths).

10.  My rushed site got 30,000 views – One of the first things we did was launch a website which we’d be the first to admit isn’t going to win any design awards.  However, we’re working on an updated design that addresses some of the original’s shortcomings.  In the time version 1’s been live we got 30,000 visitors and 3000 sign-ups, a 10% conversion rate that gave us some confidence we had a market.  If we’d waited until everything was addressed we wouldn’t have the confidence or the numbers (see perfect is the enemy of good enough).

10.1 Investors like momentum – If you can show your investors something tangible that they can see and play with, their confidence and happiness will increase (and you WANT happy/confident investors).  They can’t take a burndown chart to the bank.

So in summary, ship early, be agile in the truest sense, and keep moving.