African Tech, Google Growing, B&N Dying, Deloitte’s Game, the Huge Netflix Library Jebbit’s Big Raise & More – The Week in Geek™ – Jan. 28, 201
MEST: Accelerating African Tech Entrepreneurship with World Class Results
A program in Accra, Ghana admits only around 25 students a year, yet its graduates have created startups that have made the finals of TechCrunch Disrupt SF, won DEMO Africa, been named among the world’s most promising startups by Kaufman Foundation, and more. That’s a track-record that’d make most US university entrepreneurship programs green with envy This school, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), hosted me last month, and I had the pleasure of giving lectures and working with students and entrepreneurs. What I saw fueled my optimism on the enabling power of tech, and offered a model of applied learning that may point to the future of higher education. Here’s a brief post on my experiences. Later this semester, 22 BC students will study “Technology and Emerging Markets” in our new MI215 course (nicknamed “TechTrek Ghana“), and MEST will be a key stop and valuable partner in this learning experience. MEST – see you again in May!
Dumb Phones are the Future of Advertising
Mobile phones have been called ‘the single most transformative tool for economic development”. Moore’s law has helped put six billion mobile phones in the hands of a global population of seven billion. Jana CEO Nathan Eagle points out in Wired that “In Colombia, Egypt and Indonesia, the mobile penetration rate has surpassed 90%; in Brazil, Russia and Vietnam, it’s more than 100%. Even households that don’t have electricity often have mobile phones, with pay-per-use mobile recharging stations becoming increasingly common.” As BC students learned during a Jana visit last year, airtime is a currency and even sub-$20 feature phones have become bank and wallet replacements and conduits for compensation. Using a system from Jana, organizations can connect with and compensate ‘bottom billion’ mobile users at over 230 carriers worldwide, reaching a potential population twice as big as Facebook! Sample a soap? Fill out a customer survey? Jana’s system will load you up with airtime. Big brands like P&G and Unilever are in. Danone Indonesia doubled sales for a type of yogurt by providing airtime incentives. And the handset is the new ad platform. Jana found that in Brazil 74% of customers were willing to view ads on their phones in exchange for free airtime. “Dumb phones are essentially enabling the targeted e-coupon in the huge swathes of the world with neither deep smartphone penetration or Sunday circulars.”
Third party firms operating from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa provide kiosks that swap airtime for real-world currency, too. The scheme is an end-run around heavy governmental banking regulation, and a real economic lubricant, especially among rural poor with neither the access nor the savings for a conventional bank account. Another bonus – in nations like Zimbabwe where hyper-inflation makes holding conventional cash risky, airtime can be a useful hedge. And these funds are flowing cross-border. “The value of international airtime transfers has doubled from $350m in 2011 to $700m in 2012.”
Google Avoids U.S. Monopoly Sanctions
Does Google have an unfair advantage, favoring its own properties like Maps and Zagat over rivals in search? After a nearly two-year probe, one of the biggest investigations in history (generating over 9 million pages in testimony), US Federal Trade Commission essentially said “no”. “The five-member commission voted unanimously to close its investigation without bringing charges.” The ruling concluded that Google’s practices improved search for the benefit of users and that “any negative impact on actual or perceived competitors was incidental to that purpose.”
Google does face some minor concessions from the FTC’s work. Firms, like Yelp, can opt out of having their results scraped by Google and incorporated into search results. Google will stop offering contractual restrictions preventing ad customers from advertising on competing search platforms. And Google must allow firms (including rivals) to license some of its key mobile patents when offered fair compensation (a noteworthy development that Apple and others should keep an eye on).
The Future According to Larry Page
Google has been on a roll – stock’s up, Android is the dominant non-Apple smartphone platform by a seemingly unbeatable margin, innovation is flourishing, and it has once again been named the Best Company to Work for by Fortune. Google’s 39 yr. old co-founder and CEO, Larry Page may well be our time’s Edison. Writes Fortune: “it was Page who was known for championing the craziest [ideas], like photographing every inch of every street to create a digital replica of the real world, scanning every book ever printed to assemble the world’s largest library, and building a machine that could translate between any two languages (4,200 pairs of languages to date)… Almost everyone agrees that Google is running more cohesively and faster than when Page took over.” Says outspoken Valley VC Ben Horowitz “It’s fairly shocking how well he’s done.”
It’s hard not to get goosebumps when reading the Fortune piece on Page and Google. Take the once-crazy, now licensed-in-some-states idea of driverless cars. The cars, free of human-error and text-while-driving recklessness, are safer. Productivity of former drivers can be unleashed (why drive when you can work during your commute?). There’s a real-estate case as well. Page claims new parking spaces at Google cost $40K in pricey Mountain View. Why not have the car park itself in low-cost sardine-style storage after dropping passengers off? New apps like the ‘needs sensing’ Google Now can fetch the car when you’re ready to leave. To further make driverless cars a reality, Google recently hired the deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be the project’s Director of Safety. Think what self-driving cars could do for ZipCar (Avis’s new half billion dollar appetizer). And a guy like me who can’t drive (bad eyes) will no longer pay a king’s ransom to live on a postage stamp simply because its the only option with good schools and walk-to public transportation. Sure we don’t have moon colonies and flying cars, but the Page-wagon is seriously Star Trek! Says Page, “I don’t think there’s an example from history [of a firm that could] say, ‘Why don’t we just do that?‘ ”
Desktop search brings in around 80% of Google revenue, but many of the firm’s other businesses are growing, and that’s key since the stock price will only continue with growth and the development of new, multi-billion dollar markets. Positive signs? Display ads (mostly YouTube), are a $5 billion annual business, while Mobile ads bring in another $8 billion.
Facebook Job Board: Recruiting May Never Look the Same
According to Facebook, half of U.S. employers leverage social networking for new hires. And 54% of firms on Facebook say they’ll up their use of social for recruiting in the future. Given this, Facebook’s launch of a job board seems a natural. The firm will aggregate 1.7 million opneings from recruiting firms already leveraging Facebook. These include Monster, BranchOut, Jobvite, DirectEmployers, and others. The announcement follows a yearlong Facebook Social Jobs Partnership with various U.S. government agencies.
How Deloitte Made Learning a Game
Gamification is one of the hottest buzz-words in the digital space. The concept attempts to use game-concepts (fun, play, competition) to drive real-world behavior. Think exercise-games that encourage health-plan members to walk more (BC is using just such a program and has given away Fit Bits to any staffers who participate). Garnter predicts that by next year 70% of the Global 2000 will be leveraging a gameified application or system, and that by 2015, one quarter of redesigned business processes will leverage gamificiation.
For insights on how firms can create an effective gamification platform, look to the Deloitte Learning Academy (bonus incentive: Deloitte is a top employer for our students). DLA found that by making training more game-like, the thousands of participants in its learning academy were more likely to complete the online training programs. Weekly users returning to the site are also up 37%. DLA content includes videos, “in-depth” material, and self-assessments such as tests and quizzes). Content is drawn from leading b-schools worldwide. Badges, missions, and leaderboards drive the fun and competitiveness. Rewards may be garnered through individual or group achievements, and these incentives may be stated up front or offered as surprises that further delight users and heighten engagement.
One interesting finding: conventional leaderboards were “counterproductive”. Says a DLA exec, “The same consistent top users, with astronomic scores, turn off everyone who knows they have no chance of beating them.” Instead, DLA has top-ten leaderboards at each level, and the board resets each week so anyone can hunker-down and be a top-achiever – no permanent penalties if work or vacation gets in the way of one’s learning schedule.
HBR Today advises would-be gamifiers to think in terms of business improvement, focusing on key questions such as:
- What are your business goals? Clearly define the business problem the system will address. Since techniques and technologies are emerging, users are also well served to benchmark similar initiatives and best-practices used by others (pro-tip, social media like a wiki can get everyone on the team sharing as they find useful examples).
- Who is your audience? A learner-centric view is key to finding what works. Successful efforts aren’t about manipulating users. Instead they leverage behavioral science and social technologies for results that users and organizations can clearly see.
- How will you track success? Examples include: level of engagement, trends and numbers of users and power users, learning completion rates, satisfaction, and linking game outcomes to performance and promotion.
Amazon’s Gain is Nook’s Loss
Things don’t look god for Barnes & Noble. The firm saw a nearly 11% decrease in holiday sales, with numbers down at stores, at BN.com, and even the Nook taking an 8.2% hit. Amazon is cleaning Barnes & Noble’s clock, but competition with Apple is intensifying. While Wall Street didn’t like Apple’s slower-growth at year-end 2012, keep in mind that this was the firm’s most profitable quarter ever and the second most profitable quarter of any firm in any industry in US business history. To put Apple’s $13 billion+ in quarterly profit in perspective, consider that “since 2003, the first year in which Amazon earned a profit, through the end of 2011, Amazon has reported a total of $5 billion in earnings.” So in three months Apple earned more than 2.5 times what Amazon has earned in its entire history (note, this was written before Amazon’s holiday quarter ’12 is out, but the numbers will likely change little).
Netflix Talks a Little Trash About the Competition
Netflix got hammered at the end of 2011, but the stock is up big the latter half of last year. The holiday quarter turned a surprise profit for the firm, and CEO Reed Hastings took the opportunity to point out that there really isn’t much of an alterative to Netflix library (not yet, at least). More than 30 million subscribers seem to get the graph.
BC Students Take Hiatus to Pursue Startup [Video]
Tom Coburn, Chase Macalese, and Jonathan Lacoste, won BCVC in 2011 with their firm Jebbit. Their pay-per-question-answered platform guarantees advertisers that their message is heard, all while putting spending money in the pockets of students. Bose, Zip Car, and Coke are among the national advertisers who have run campaigns on Jebbit. The firm won additional coin in Boston’s Shark Tank, and has announced it now has raised roughly $230K total to grow to the next level. That has prompted Coburn (who had turned down acceptance to Tufts Med School) and uber-coder Mcaleese – both second semester seniors – to take a hiatus from full-time BC classes to pursue the opportunity of a lifetime. Jonny Lacoste is also lowering his scholarly duties, but we’ll bring him to network with six VC firms from Boston to the Valley in our TechTrek program this year. More coverage of the team can be found in Bostinno and Boston Business Journal. Jebbit’s success is part of a four-year track record for teams winning the Boston College Venture Competition to go on to raise six-figure seed funding rounds. While BC is not known as a place for ‘entrepreneurship majors’, it’s increasingly known as a collegiate ‘entrepreneurship powerhouse’. Perhaps it’s time to encourage rankings firms to think more broadly on how they identify ‘success’ and ‘best’ programs. Funding raised, businesses launched, admittance to top-accelerators like TechStars, YC, MassChallenge, and more all show that something very special is happening at The Heights, and it’s a direct result of a unique combination of students, faculty, and alumni creating a new learning model that fuels success.
Running Inspiration in and around Boston College
And in the ‘only cursorily related to the Week in Geek’ dept, I was pretty surprised when Runkeeper (one of my favorite apps) reached out to ask me to write a guest blog post (and I ‘really’ winced when I saw the post title), but I am a huge fan of their app. I’m not a fitness guy and wasn’t much of a runner, however when I started using the ultra-motivating Runkeeper to gamify my game, I realized I just might be able to run the Boston Marathon (albeit for charity and not as a qualifier). I’m horribly slow, but with a few back-of-the-pack halfs under my belt in 2012, I’m hoping that I might be able to shuffle over the Copley Square finish line on April 15th. Running for BC’s Campus School is an added incentive. The link above includes several thoughts that have helped me find inspiration. If Boston-based Runkeeper can get a pudgy old bald man upping the miles, it might be something for you, too. Here’s hoping I don’t embarrass the rest of the Campus School Marathoners. Runkeeper recently released a new version of their app. For those interested in the startup life, there’s a neat video compiling scenes from the firm’s redesign process.