Rolling in an Uber for the First Time

I’m fortunate that I don’t have to travel all that much for work because I don’t particularly enjoy waiting for an airplane to take off.  Recently, I had to get a ride to the airport though and I decided to try out Uber for the first time.  I pulled up the app and saw on my iPhone screen  three little black cars driving near my current location.  It looked more like a game of cat and mouse and kind of fun to watch for a bit.  I hit the button to call an Uber to my house.

I knew when my Uber car was arriving because I got real-time updates on how far the car was from me (4 minutes away!).  When the car arrived, I discovered that my driver was female around her 40s.  I hopped into the front seat because I wasn’t sure if I should sit in front or back.  Then we chatted all the way to the airport.

  • She works for Uber during her free time when she’s not doing her other part-time work.
  • There is car insurance just for Uber when she’s clocked in.
  • She prefers to drive outside of SF because SF has too many short stops although she did say for long drives one way that she loses money if she can’t pick up anyone on her way back.
  • You don’t have to tip Uber drives, but can if you want, most do not.
  • One time a passenger “hit” on her, but nothing she couldn’t handle herself.
  • She carries mace with her just in case.
  • She has tried working with other startup delivery services, but still likes Uber.

Then, before I knew it, I was at the airport.

If you’re interested in becoming an Uber driver check out these articles about how much you can make.



GigaOM Mobilize 2012: Square and Starbucks

I was going through some of my draft postings and ran into this one about Square from GigaOM Mobilize 2012 conference.  The talk is not fresh in my mind, so I’ll piece together what I can remember, but thank goodness I documented some good notes.

The then COO of Square, Keith Rabois, did a one-on-on interview on stage and talked about the landscape of mobile payments and Square’s latest customer win with Starbucks.

At the time, Square had 400 employees and an unconfirmed evaluation of $3.25B when they raised $200M (date not sure).  From a COO perspective, Keith said that people keep him up all night.  He wants to be sure that everyone is aligned (strategically) at the company.  Square is “building a vertically integrated a payment system” that can scale for every person and treat every person as a VIP.  Back in late 2012, 35M total Americans have paid with Square.

The conversation then moved onto Starbucks which I found more interesting since PayPal could have very well been the mobile payment partner instead of Square.  From the first meeting with Starbucks to close, it was over a period of 8 weeks.  I believe someone knew someone which is why the deal closed so fast.

Keith said (at the time) the #1 search in Square was for coffee.  He also commented that about 40M Americans shop in Starbucks every month with about 75% of these transactions being anonymous (I’m assuming not with Starbucks card, not with credit card, paid in cash).

He claimed that by having Starbucks forge a relationship with Square, Square can help Starbucks know the identities of their customers and help Starbucks treat all of their customers like a VIP.  Hmm, I wonder if this is the case today.  Last I heard, some Starbucks employees don’t even know what Square is and don’t know how to process Square payments.  Where’s my VIP treatment Starbucks?!

In terms of mobile payments, Keith is a believer that “NFC is going nowhere in the United States” and that the technology isn’t any good, it has no value proposition.

Keith did make one comment that made me chuckle a bit:

Moderator: “You have 400 people, but PayPal has 6K in customer service alone…”

Keith: “They obviously need it!”

GigaOM Mobilize: Zillow Tackling Mobile

This is another posting about GigaOM Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  If you missed the one on Mobilizing the Enterprise.  Check it out.

Alright.  So, I generally like hearing companies talk about mistakes that they’ve made in the past when it comes to mobile, starting up, launching, etc.  It helps me make a mental note of what not to do.  Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, a real estate search engine, took the stage at Mobilize to talk about “Getting to #1 through Mobility”.  What I like about Zillow is that I can take any address and find out what the Zillow market rate is.  Also, the mobile app is great especially when I’m in a desired neighborhood and quickly find out that the homes are out of my price range.  Thanks Zillow for reminding me that I’m dirt poor in the Valley (in comparison to other Valley ballers).

Mobile is the “it” topic at every company.  I keep hearing time and time again, we must think of mobile, we must think of mobile.  Yes, I agree, but how are we going to think about mobile differently from others.  Mobile doesn’t equate to just designing for a smaller screen.  It needs to be injected in all aspects of a company.  At Zillow, they think about mobile in a way that often gets overlooked by others.  For example, all the projectors in the meeting rooms have mobile dongles.  I’ve never seen that before.  Imagine whipping out a phone and showing what the native app or mobile web looks like on the projector.  At my work, I’m happy to find Mac dongles in every conference room.  Baby steps for me.  Another thing that Zillow does is make an effort to have their mobile-friendly emails sent to their users.  I can’t tell you how annoyed I get when I receive email from Yahoo! groups and LinkedIn on my iPhone.  I either can’t read the text because it was too small or the indentation is so bad that there are skinny columns of text.

With a lot of mobile to do, how does Zillow do it all?  When it comes to talent, Zillow realized that it was difficult to find great mobile developers.  So they shifted recruitment to finding great developers who can learn mobile development.  Nice.

Mobile monetization is on every exec’s mind.  People spend a lot of time using their phones so how can companies cash in.  Zillow makes money by connecting users to realtors (e.g., one click call to real estate agent) while providing realtors a subscription advertising platform and premiere real estate agent tools.  However, other companies struggle to find the right balance of good monetization and good user experience.  Companies like Twitter and Facebook, who have locked in users, will provide advertisers different ad products, but they may or may not deliver results depending on receptiveness of the users.  Eventually, advertisers may just take their money elsewhere.

Needless to say, Zillow has a solid business model and I’m excited to see what more they will deliver on mobile.

Zill Stats

  • started in 2006
  • 600 employees
  • 1/2 usage is on mobile
  • 30M users per month
  • 13 native mobile apps – iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Kindle, Windows, etc
  • Users are 3 times more likely to contact a real estate agent than using other sites

GigaOM Mobilize: Mobilizing the Enterprise

Last week, I attended GigaOM Mobilize in San Francisco.  It’s a conference on the latest mobile trends ranging from apps to wireless carriers.  You name it, someone is saying something about mobile this or that.  I really like the intimate setting where anyone can ask questions to the movers and shakers on stage and the GigaOM folks make sure to stick to the fast-paced schedule, double brownie points.  In the next few blog postings, I’ll write about my takeaways.

During a break, InterDigital sponsored a 7-man panel on “Re-imaging Wireless”.  I was most interested in the discussion around the convergence of enterprise and consumer mobile market.  In case you didn’t know, most often the money is with the enterprise market.  It’s a more solid stream of revenue than consumers although (IMHO) the consumer market is sexier and easier for grandma to understand if you hit it big.  Nowadays, consumers expect something for nothing.  Thanks to Apple for setting the bar at free or $0.99.  For every paid mobile app downloaded, about 300 free apps are downloaded.  This is why I recommend mobile app developers to consult rather than develop their own mobile apps unless developing apps is for fun.

The general consensus of the panel was that the difference between enterprise and consumer mobile apps is becoming less and less.  Enterprise requirements include privacy, security, data-oriented, and easy for IT to manage.  For consumer apps, it’s mainly social, fun, entertainment, but will soon (if not already) address many of the enterprise requirements.  One day there’s going to be a merge of the two markets.  Imagine using your iPhone to view spreadsheets with animated bright, bouncing numbers getting eaten by monsters.  I love it!

Now most companies are looking 18 to 24 months out for their mobile app needs.  In reality, these companies don’t really know what about mobile that they need to do, they just know that they need to do something mobile.

One panelist said that his consulting company is deploying 20-30K iPads to large enterprises.  He declared that companies will not continue to pay $600 to $700 a tablet (hint: this is directed to Apple) and that someone will come out with a tablet (made in China) with a $100 price tag.  If the tablet gets lost, the company can just buy a new one.  Here!  Here!  Where can I buy this tablet?  Samsung?  :)

Stay tuned for follow-up postings about Mobilize.  Enjoy!

LivingSocial’s UI beats Groupon’s on iPhone

I am always intrigued by great iPhone app designs. There’s a website that has a bunch of examples of great app designs. So it got me thinking, I should do an analysis of the two most popular local daily deal sites, Groupon and Living Social, on the iPhone. Why not? Let the UI battle begin!

First up is LivingSocial. Overall, I like LivingSocial’s app more than Groupon’s app. I really like the way LivingSocial presents the deal details page (third screen). It is very clean with a lot of white space around the text. The price is big with the text color orange. I’ve always liked the color orange as a standout color (see my app Eventabulous). The best design element of the details page is the “buy now!” button. The button remains as a fixed footer when you scroll up and down. Also, the button is at the bottom where I can just use my thumb to tap the button. Lastly, I like that there are headings for each deal, short and sweet.

I do not like that the first page (first screen) doesn’t tell me any information about today’s deals. It’s basically a menu of items which I understand because it saves screen space on later screens. But I have to do a button click in order to see anything about deals when I first bring up the app. Don’t make me work to buy things. On the second screen, it’s not obvious to me that the city name “san jose” can be clicked on to switch to other cities. It can be easy to miss the small triangle on the right hand side indicating a drop-down box.

I recommend that LivingSocial assumes that users want to see “today’s deals” first and show “today’s deals” as the first screen. If users want “instant”, “escapes”, etc, they can hit the “home” back button (see second screen) to see the menu. Also, Living Social should consider having a “buy now!” button on the list of “today’s deals”. Why does a user need to see the details to buy the deal?

Next up is Groupon. You know that Groupon is great at selling because you can’t ignore the “Buy!” button everywhere. On the home page (first screen), it goes straight into the list of daily deals and from right there you can buy the first one only. I do like that Groupon attempts to highlight the savings of the deal more prominently than Living Social, but then again I assume all of the Groupon and Living Social deals are the best exclusive deals, so I don’t bother too much about the percentage saved. Maybe I should be more cautious about buying deals hahaha. I really like seeing discussions of the deals where people ask questions to the company. I didn’t see the same discussion feature in LivingSocial.

Unfortunately, Groupon has too much information in a small amount of space. It hurts my eyes looking at it. I can’t tell if it’s the amount of information or the size of the font. Another thing, I have to use my index finger to hit the “Buy!” button. Groupon has a “Buy!” button as a fixed header instead of as a fixed footer. I like one-handed navigation of apps. Lastly, I like the thought of the menu tabs on the details page (second screen), but on an iPhone, I am ok with scrolling to see all the information. Sometimes tapping disrupts the flow of information.

I suggest that Groupon leverage color as a way to highlight parts of a deal and they need to create more white space around their text. Less clutter is better.

Why I’ll quit playing your mobile game

The mobile gaming space is really exciting right now. Anyone notice that AT&T is offering the iPhone 3GS for $0 now? The user base (e.g., TAM) is rapidly growing and there are no dominant players in the space. Major game companies from console and social platforms (e.g., EA, Zynga) are starting to take notice and want a piece of the mobile game action. It seems that almost every other small game company is joining in as well. However, there are major challenges for developing games for mobile devices. The major ones are working with the limitations of a mobile device (e.g., different screen sizes, different OS platforms, less memory, less bandwidth & speed, etc.) and leveraging mobile user interaction for game play (e.g, touch, GPS, etc.).

When I start to play a mobile game, I look for a few things before I decide to quit playing.

  • Slow load time – Do I have to wait long for the game to load? when I have a few minutes to play a game, I’m not interested in waiting a minute to kill a minute.
  • Boring graphics – Are the animals or people cute and playful? Does the game have a lot of color and is it eye-catching? Visually appealing games are fun to look at.
  • No first-time user tutorial – Can I learn how to play the game in less than 30 seconds? Is there a step-by-step tutorial to help me buy my first zoo animal or build my first house? Games need to make sure players know how to play the game from the beginning. I get frustrated when I do not know what to do next and will stop playing instantly. Some say that tutorials will convert users to the next step 90% of the time. Don’t waste your customer acquisition costs.
  • No story line & boring goals – Are there cute stories that go along with the different game goals? it’s one thing to say “decorate your zoo with trees” and another thing to say “your zoo visitors like shading on hot days, decorate your zoo with trees”.
  • Initial game play with real money – Does the game need real money to keep playing at the beginning? I had this one game experience where I was asked to buy game currency on the first day of playing. This was probably 10 minutes into the game. I wasn’t hooked on the game yet, so I decided to quit playing the game indefinitely. Believe it or not, there are users who will never pay real money to play a game. Games should also consider doing in-game ads (e.g., Angry Birds) or having an offerwall (e.g., Tap Zoo) for other sources of revenue.

For existing game companies looking to port to mobile, be careful not to disappoint users into thinking the same game will be just as good on mobile. For instance, Zynga has CityVille on Facebook and has CityVille Hometown on iOS. Zynga was smart not to use the exact same game title. The iOS version has a different story line from the original CityVille, on the iPad it looks bare for my taste (e.g, has too much open space on the screen), and the games seems to be crashing quite a bit on mobile devices.

To insure or not to insure iPhone 4S

Last Friday, I stood in line for 1.25 hours for an iPhone 4S at a Verizon store.  The last time that I stood in line for something was for Britney Spears and then before that Bill Clinton.  As you can see, I don’t just stand in line for anything.  Hahahaha.

As the #8 customer, I was quickly whisked away to the nearest cashier station and received my white 32 GB iPhone 4S.  Then the sales associate asked me if I wanted a screen protector, case, and insurance.  My head starting hurting because there were a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about before.

I am not a big fan of extra insurance for products.  My number one reason is that I hate jumping hoops to get a claim through.  I don’t believe that an insurance really covers everything.  And insurances are a cash cow for companies.  However, I am a fan of buying insurance if the risk of losing or breaking the item is high and if it will cost close to $1K or more to replace the item.

My insurance choices were AppleCare+ and Verizon.  I didn’t look into third party insurance because I hadn’t researched them at the time of purchase.

Both AppleCare+ and Verizon need to be purchased on day 1 of getting the iPhone.  Both have deductibles although Verizon’s deductible is much higher by $100.  AppleCare+ is $99 one-time whereas Verizon is $9.99 per month with cancellation at any time.

My decision came down to coverage of when the phone is lost.  You will not get this type of coverage with many of the other insurances.  According to MicroTax, about 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute in the US.  I will buy insurance until the break even point of having insurance and getting a replacement Verizon iPhone.  My numbers come out to be 15 months.  After 15 months, I will cancel my insurance and take my chances.

Here are the numbers:

  • iPhone 4 (not 4S) on craigslist is $350
  • Monthly insurance price $10 times “X” months
  • $200 deductible for insurance claim for iPhone 4S 32 GB
  • Solve for “X”, 350 = 10X + 200, X = 15 months

If you decide to not sure your iPhone 4S, at least protect your glass because I think cases are useless.  When I had my iPhone 3, I dropped it face down on my driveway and bam glass all broken.  It still worked but was cracked.  I took it to some guy’s apartment to get fixed for $60.  After two to three months, 1/3 of the screen became unresponsive so then I had to borrow an old iPhone 3 from a friend.

For my new iPhone 4S, I got a Ghost Armor screen protector at a local mall.  For $35, you can get a plastic protector for the front, back, and sides of the iPhone.  They have a lifetime warranty.  If you need the front or back protector replaced, bring the iPhone back with the protector and you can get a new one installed for $5 each side.

From Verizon’s website:

Total Equipment Coverage combines the benefits of Asurion’s Wireless Phone Protection with the Verizon Wireless Extended Warranty program. If your device or covered accessories are lost, stolen, accidentally damaged, or malfunctioning due to a manufacturing defect after the manufacturer’s warranty expires, you are covered. Verizon Wireless customers can only enroll in Total Equipment Coverage within 30 days of new account activation with a new equipment purchase.

Other Devices

  • $9.99 per month per covered device
  • $169 non-refundable deductible (8GB, 16GB iPhone® 4 and 16GB iPhone® 4S) per approved claim
  • $199 non-refundable deductible (32GB iPhone® 4 and 32GB, 64GB iPhone® 4S) per approved claim
  • 2 Replacements in a 12-month period with an equipment maximum of $1500 per claim (in New York, 2 claims per policy year)

Replacement devices may be remanufactured equipment. If the same model is not available, a comparable model will be provided. You may cancel at any time and receive a prorated refund of your monthly fee.

From Apple’s website:

Every iPhone comes with one year of hardware repair coverage and 90 days of telephone technical support. AppleCare+ for iPhone extends repair coverage and technical support to two years from the original purchase date of your iPhone and adds coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage due to handling, each subject to a $49 service fee.1 With AppleCare+ for iPhone, Apple experts can help troubleshoot issues over the phone or at an Apple Retail Store. They’ll answer questions about iOS, Apple iPhone apps such as Mail, iMessage, and Calendar, and help you solve interconnectivity issues between your iPhone and Mac or PC. And if your iPhone needs service under the plan, Apple technical support representatives can even set up a repair during the same call.

From SquareTrade’s website:

2 years of coverage: The SquareTrade iPhone warranty covers your iPhone for up to 2 years, starting on the date of purchase.

Covered Issues: Both accidents (e.g., broken screen or other damage through drops AND liquid damage including full immersion) and out-of-warranty normal use failures (e.g., battery no longer charging or other hardware failures) are covered. We do not cover loss, theft, willful damage or damage occurring through gross misuse.

Deductible: There is a $50 deductible when claiming on an accident (e.g., drops, spills). There is no deductible for a normal use failure (e.g., power issue).

How it works: You can file a claim online or on the phone. Depending on the issue, we will either fix your iPhone or arrange for a replacement. To fix your iPhone, we give you free overnight shipping to-and-from our depot and 80% of iPhones are fixed the day of receipt. If you prefer the convenience of your local Genius Bar, you can take it there and we will reimburse your repair costs.

Repair or Replacement: Based on what happened to your iPhone, we will let you know if it’s suitable for repair, otherwise we will arrange a replacement option.

Older iPhones: This coverage is restricted to iPhones purchased in the last 30 days. Older iPhones can still be covered through the SquareTrade iPhone application (available in the App Store).

Our 5-day service guarantee: We will replace OR fix and ship back your iPhone within 5 business days of receiving it at the depot. If it takes longer, let us know and we’ll be happy to refund the cost of your warranty.

Who will win the mobile payments game?

At a GigaOM mobile conference, Visa, PayPal, Intuit, and Verifone talked about the state of mobile payments.

I personally think the strongest player is Visa.  If its mobile payment solution doesn’t catch on, then they can always fall back to its lucrative credit card business.  Remember that cash and credit cards still dominate payment options.  Mobile payments need to be just as easy as them.

Visa is pushing merchants hard to adopt its mobile payment infrastructure.  By 2015,  if merchants haven’t upgraded their infrastructure to use Visa’s mobile payments, liability for fraudulent charges will shift from the credit card company to the merchant.  How’s that for a little nudge.

PayPal is focused on an end-to-end mobile payment solution.  They are doing many acquisitions in this space for mobile and X.Commerce cloud solution.  One thing that PayPal kept emphasizing was that they are doing more than  just payments whereas some of the panelists were solely focused on payments.  It will be a challenge for PayPal and many others to make the transition from online to offline payments especially if they don’t have an offline footprint already.  In general, online to offline anything is going to be an exciting space.

Verifone is a huge backer of Google wallet and NFC.  In fact, Verifone kept talking about how NFC is going to win out while the other panelists said it’s too early to tell.  Just the other day, I shopped at Old Navy to find that the Verifone card swiper indeed took Google wallet.

Intuit is hedging its bets.  They are 1) embracing the current mobile payments environment and 2) staying involved with the forefront of change (e.g., NFC).  Currently, they are empowering people with credit card readers like Square.  I can see the added value of record keeping and analytics that complementary Intuit software can offer above and beyond a lone Square solution.

The world is leading in mobile payments with the US leading in mobile e-commerce.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years.

Latest Square on the block

If you haven’t heard about the startup Square, you are in luck.  I’m going to give you the latest on them.  Keith Rabois, COO of Square, joined 14 months ago when there were 14 employees and no users.  At Mobilize, he talked about how a small, white, square pluggable hardware piece is making its dent in the payment space.

About 26M US businesses do not accept credit cards today.  In order to process credit cards, you need to pass a credit card check yourself (e.g., FICO score) and provide your last year’s business sales.  For a person just starting out, this is an instant fail on two accounts.  Then steps in Square.

Today, 750,000 merchants accept Square, just 10% of companies who accept credit cards.  Before Square,  50-60% of users would not be able to accept credit cards.  Of those who apply for Square, 93% are accepted and can accept payments in less than 3 minutes.  What about the FICO score and sales requirement?  Square uses automated and manual analytics to observe unusual transactions for fraud protection.

When asked about NFC and other payment options?  Rabois said, “We don’t worry about what other people are doing”.  He doesn’t think that NFC will resonate with mainstream America.  He further adds that Google is interested in NFC to track spending habits which is better ROI for ad spenders which includes top 100 retailers.

Square will be having two major releases in October – one for Square, one for Card Case.  Then in December, they will have some things to say, but on the hush hush.

Rabois puts it plainly, “Square is Paypal for the real world”.

End of unlimited mobile data plans

Late September, GigaOM held its Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  Over the next couple of posts, I will talk about the trends that were discussed during the conference.

Cable companies like Comcast are starting to limit internet bandwidth.  Mobile is following the trend.   AT&T got rid of its unlimited data plans.  People are moving from mobile content consumption to mobile content creation and participation.  By 2014, 66% of mobile data will be video alone.  Are the days of unlimited mobile data plans gone?

At Mobilize, the wireless heavyweights T-Mobile, Sprint,  and Alcatel-Lucent talked about the latest in mobile data trends.

Let’s look at numbers for T-Mobile:

  •  over 200M American subscribers
  • 4G is the largest than any other carrier in the US
  • this year 2Q, 75% of devices sold by T-Mobile are smart phones
    • 90% of smart phones are Androids
  • data traffic doubling every six months
  • 10M 3G & 4G phones make up 15% of total T-Mobile phones
  • Smart phones make up 1/2 of data traffic
  • T-Mobile has stepwise pricing for data plans, usually next level is $10-15 more
  • Many consumers want monthly plan, not annual contracts

If the other wireless carriers resemble T-Mobile, we are looking at a rapidly growing trend of smart phones and mobile traffic that will exceed network infrastructure capacity.  Sprint says they have to drop operating network costs 90% per year.  Before, the network infrastructure was built for voice, now they are optimizing it for data.

To help cut costs, wireless carriers are constantly monitoring data usage and looking at ways to charge customers.   Some are looking at charging differently based on data transmission speeds, “Not every bit is created equal”.

Another way to combat costs is to go higher up the stack.  Wireless carriers think app developers and them need to work together to ensure a good user experience.  Imagine apps bundled with the pricing of bandwidth so that users do not need to figure out what data plan they need in order to use an app.  There are opportunities for middleware solutions that will help apps manage the network usage.  Squeezing more bits is going to be a profitable space.

May the best apps that manage data well, optimize battery life, and have fast performance win!