Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forget Chile, it is time for Startup Italia

First of all, let me say I love Chile. I was in Santiago last year and I put the city on the top of my list, when it comes to places I would live in. However, I am biased. Italy is the country I grew up in, and by all means, it rocks. There is no other place in the world that gets close.

Silicon Valley is full of great talent, but it is the hardest place in the world to start a company (I mean start as in the first six/twelve months, when you just have an idea and nothing else). In the Valley, you can't find talent willing to join you so early, unless they are co-founders. To build a first prototype, you will need a few engineers. Unless you are one, good luck hiring great talent in San Francisco before you actually have something to show (traction or money). They are all busy working at startups with a lot of money to play with. There is a good chance you will be forced to hire someone living far away, and that sucks because the first phase of development is the one where the team needs to be in the same place.

As you might know, years ago I suggested a path to Italian software companies. Get some traction in Italy, the best place in the world to develop software (presentation here, if you are curious), then send the CEO here. Silicon Valley is the best place to grow a software company. If you want to make it big, this is the place to be. Period.

I have done it twice. First with Funambol (we raised a $5M Series A round in 2005, with me in Silicon Valley and the team in Italy) and now with TOK.tv. It works so well, I would do it again over and over.

Years after years, I have seen Italian entrepreneurs try to move here with limited success. Very few made it. The barrier to entry is just too high. It starts with the language, knowing the intricacies of fundraising, the problems with the visa and much more. Maybe, I made it just because I worked here for a few years, before starting a company (or I was just lucky, which is the most likely answer).

So I thought: perhaps we should do the opposite. Send people from Silicon Valley to Italy to start companies. They will come back when ready to grow, with a team of Italian engineers at home. The best of both worlds.

Not with much of my doing, but Italy has just become the best place in the world to start a company. In particular, if you are an entrepreneur coming from abroad. They took the best of Startup Chile and made it even better. Check this slideshare from my friend and congressman Stefano Quintarelli.


You can easily get a visa, some money and the support of the new government to start your company. You will be living in the best place on earth (sorry, Chile), and have access to the best engineers there are (trust me, I have been living in Silicon Valley for 15 years).

Take your bags, leave the Valley for a while, start a company in Italy, then come back and make it big.

It is time for Startup Italia.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The future of TV advertising is here

When we launched TOK.tv a year ago, my only focus was on understanding what users would do with our app. A year later, I believe we know a ton about that - although there is a lot more to discover - and we also have traction (thanks Juve ;-)

The next step, of course, is monetization.

At this stage, I am more interested in understanding how people will react to a commercial on a second screen, rather than actually making money. I have yet to see a study on how a TV ad can be made "clickable" on a second screen. Personally, I believe this is the future of TV advertising (which still represents 85% of all advertising, BTW).

TV advertisers spend one million dollars for a SuperBowl ad, and they do not know who is watching it, what they like and they have no way to get a feedback from viewers. TV ads are not clickable today.

If I am watching a game on TV and I have TOK Baseball open, when the commercial break starts, the game stats are not that interesting. What is interesting is the actual commercial (at least, some of them). What if I could click on them, when I see something that I like? What if I could get to a web page and interact with that brand?

This, for me, is the future of TV advertising. A multi-billion dollars opportunity (the ad market is $200B a year ;-)

Guess what? The future of TV advertising is here.

If you download TOK Baseball and use it during a game of the World Series tonight, you will see it. During commercials, a thumbnail  of the ad you are listening to will pop up in the bottom right. In the example below, the TV is showing a Dodge ad (one of my favorite ones).


When you click on that thumbnail, a webview will open, bringing you to interact with the ad on the Dodge web site.


The nice thing is that you do not have to exit the app, or stop talking to your friends. Actually, you can talk with your friends about the ad itself - which is pretty cool.

Ad most watched last night? Verizon Stars Wall Halloween.

Ad most clicked last night? Chrysler 'Road to Greatness' Featuring Miguel Cabrera.

This is just the start of the revolution. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why it is time for Android First

During the weekend, I read an interesting article about the "Android First" strategy.

If you are not familiar with the "Something First" strategies, it all started with "Mobile First": a few years back, developers and business-people alike agreed that, when you are creating a new company, your first product should be on mobile, then on the web. It makes sense, because the growth of mobile is dwarfing desktops. Those who started Mobile First a few years back, are winning today (I was Mobile First with Funambol in 2002 :-))

Now the question is: should you go iOS First - as everybody has been doing for years - or is it time for Android First? Should you design and release your first product for Android, and then for iOS?

The article says no. Just go with iOS. All VCs in Silicon Valley have iPhones and iPads. If you want to raise money, that is the way to do it. Android comes later, when you proved you can grow.

This is where the reasoning breaks down, in my opinion.

Let me start with TOK.tv. We thought about a completely new interaction with the second screen, in front of the TV, using voice. A couple of years ago, there was no argument: the iPad was king, we built iOS First.

Then we added iPhone, because it was easy (and because we had a US-centric product in TOK Baseball).

Then we launched Juventus Live. US users currently represent the 2% of our user base, for a team that has 7M+ fans on Facebook.

Last summer, I was shocked when I started looking at which device people were carrying in Italy. Blinded by my life in Silicon Valley, I assumed everyone had an iPhone. My Italian developers were Apple fan boys, my sister-in-law had an iPhone, my nephew an iPod Touch. When I looked closely, my sister-in-law had actually dumped her iPhone for a Samsung Galaxy. My brother had a Galaxy. My nephew had a Galaxy. Everyone I knew had a Galaxy... Those who had an iPhone 4 skipped the upgrade to the iPhone 5 and moved to Android.

Therefore, I started looking for numbers - which are hard to find - to discover that Android has 80% of the market in Italy, while iOS is stuck at 10%. It is not just China. Look at Gartner numbers in Spain.


What is happening across Europe, is that people are buying Android phones, because they are cheaper. When the economy is not doing too well, it makes sense to save some bucks.

Look at the world stats:


Now, you might still argue that in tablet, there is no race. iPad is winning, right? Think again, numbers do not lie:


Ok, you might argue that pure market share is not a good reason to go Android First. After all, the US is fifty-fifty and Silicon Valley is heavily iOS centric. Would you risk building an app first on Android, when VCs can't test it?

Well, there is an interesting trend in the Valley these days. To raise a Series A round, you need millions of users of your app. One million does not cut it anymore. You need more than that, probably much more.

If you stick to iOS-only, you might not get there fast enough. Those who start with Android will be there 8 times faster than you. Ok, I am exaggerating, I know Android users are different and do not use apps like iOS users do. Cut me some slack here... Shall we agree on 3x faster? That is the difference between running out of cash or not.

Should you start Android First? If you are building an app that is not just for Silicon Valley, or the US, I believe the answer is yes.

I am definitely doing it.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

That use case you do not expect

I have developed software for more than twenty years, and I am still amazed at the surprises you find along the way. You design a product, with all the use cases you can think of, then the users find one you never thought of.

Yesterday, that user was me.

I am still in the middle of a move. My living room is a mess, with 28 boxes to go (it is usually a good sign, when you feel you can start the countdown). Among other things, I am still missing the Internet and TV.

I could get Internet via my MiFi (somewhat reliable, but slow and with limited monthly bandwidth), but I have no chance to get TV. I am waiting for the DirecTV dude to come and install the dish. I could get Comcast fast, but they do not carry beIN Sport in HD. There is no chance I am going to watch Juve in SD. It would be a sacrilege, like drinking espresso from a paper cup.

So I found myself alone, following the game on Juventus Live (and keeping an eye on the servers, which delivered again, as my favorite team did). I looked at the commentary, and I got a sense that Juve was playing well. The score was not changing, though. I checked the heatmap and I found this:


Clearly, Juve was on the attack. In fact, a few minutes later they scored.

In the second half, I was so much into the game that I decided to sacrifice my MiFi (I do not have much bandwidth per month, and I am treasuring what I have until AT&T gives me the Internet I deserve). I called my brother on Juventus Live, who called me back, because he was talking to my dad (good sign, they are using my product ;-)

My nephew was also there and he told me he really liked the app. Coming from a teenager, that meant a lot to me. Of course, he is a Juventus fan as well. It is a DNA thingy.

All of a sudden, I was kinda-watching the game. Kinda. I could hear my family talk about the game, and the audio commentary coming from the TV (Beppe Bergomi was trying to jinx Juve, failing as usual).

Then Tevez scored.

I felt I was there. I could hear the excitement coming from two houses, when the opportunity to score appeared, and then the huge yell at the actual goal. I yelled too ;-)

A million times better than listening on the radio. It is the radio plus your friends plus the stadium noises.

I grew up listening to the games every Sunday, on the radio. It was a religious thing, every Sunday after lunch. When TV rights allowed us to watch the game live, our life changed. However, I still remember us all around the radio, cheering. Looking back, it was weird, but really fun.

The use case I discovered is not completely new. One of my friends used to call me from his office during the World Series last year, to talk about the Giants. I was doing the commentary for him. It was fun for me, but I had never experienced being on the other side.

It happened yesterday. A second screen app transformed in a radio app, with hormones. What a surprise. I will never listen to the radio during a game again.

Software is the best thing ever invented.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A dream came true

Saturday, I woke up tense. Quite early, because I am still jet-lagged, and definitely tense.

Juve was going to play at 11:45 am and I had no clue what to expect. We had tested the servers for a peak of users, but the amount of downloads of Juventus Live since Thursday had been incredible. On top of it, I knew that baseball tends to spread the users during hours - and 15 games the same day - while the Juventus users would come in all together at the same time.

Before the game, I called my dad on Skype, as I always do every Saturday at 10 am. He tried to answer with Skype on his iPad, but it did not work. Therefore, he called me back from his computer. He told me he downloaded the app, so we tried a call on Juventus Live - assuming it would not work (since Skype wasn't). Instead, it worked perfectly. My dad told me: "TOK.tv is better than Skype". Dads are great.

That already made my day, until a minute later I heard tok tok on my iPad: my younger brother came online (he lives in Mozambique, Africa). I added him to the call and we started talking about the game, making all kind of noises. We took a social photo to remember the event.


Once we were done, I realized I was talking about Juventus from California, with my dad in Italy and my brother in Africa. Three continents, united by one passion. Amazing.

Then I went back to work. Found a problem, fixed it and started looking at the wave of users growing. I stopped accepting calls from friends, to make sure I was focused (although I had the game in background). Everything went smoothly, and I finally relaxed, once the first half was over.

At that point, my older brother called. I used to watch every Juve game with him and my best friend Alberto. I do not think we missed one in the ten years I lived in Pavia. We called our little group the Juventus Club La Mamma, because it is the one thing you cannot criticize. Juve is always right. The penalty against us are simply a mistake by the referee. Our goals are never offside.

We laughed about the game, and I felt like I was there on their couch. I was missing my sister-in-law's good-charm cake, though, but I am not convinced I can build a company for that (yet). We took another social photo, but this time they started it (therefore, it is in Italian, with the actual time in Italy. Clever app ;-)


When Juve scored, the amount of concurrent users shot up. Sign that people called their friends to celebrate, and to take a photo together (I definitely was one of them). When the game was over, same thing. Actually, the highest peak came exactly at that moment. People kept the app around for the entire game, coming back to it at the end. That is really great, for us.

Last social photo, to celebrate the victory, with my dad and the Juventus Club La Mamma.


Once everything was over, I stopped for a second. I was tired as if I actually played the game, but I had a big smile on my face. We had a ton of users, the servers worked perfectly, Juve won and I enjoyed the game as I never had in almost fifteen years living in the US.

I built an app because I had a dream. The dream to watch Juve with my family and friends. Yesterday, that dream came true. I am such a lucky man.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Going for that million

The day after the SuperBowl, I had mixed emotions. I was licking my wounds for the loss of the Niners, but I was really happy for the amount of users and the feedback TOK Football received.

Then, out of the blue, an email hit my Inbox. There was a logo in the signature. Big, visibile. The logo of my soccer team. Juventus. The best team in Italy, one of the top ten in the world.

There are few things in life that give a man emotions. One, it is the logo of the team he rooted for, since he was a child. For me, that is Juventus (the Giants, the Niners, even Ferrari are passions I acquired along the way). Juventus is the one love my dad passed to me. Something that is in my DNA, and will ever be.

The email said they tried the app and were really impressed by it, and they wanted to talk to me.

As any geek would do, the first thing I did was checking the raw source of the message. I have been the author of multiple pranks in my life, surrounding emails. This one looked like a potential good prank from a friend, but the SMTP server was mail.juventus.com, and the IP from Turin, home of Juventus. As legit as they come.

It was not a prank. Of all the teams in the world, it was my team. Out of nowhere. They wanted TOK.tv, for Juventus fans, like me. When my ultimate goal when I started TOK.tv was to talk to my dad and brother, during Juventus games...  What are the odds?? Unbelievable.

Today, a bit more than six months later, we are launching Juventus Live. The TOK.tv app that allows Juventus fans to talk to their friends, while they watch their team on TV.

It is a big deal for us. Juventus has 6.8M fans on Facebook. They are a huge brand worldwide. TOK Baseball is doing great: I am hopeful we can get to 100,000 users by the end of the season. But this is different: our little brand can do so much, but with Juventus on the cover, we are going to get to that million of users in a few months.


To celebrate the event, we even have a new logo, and a new website...

Go download Juventus Live from the App Store. It works for your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It has news when there is no game, and live stats during the game (plus sounds that make you feel you are at the stadium). We have it in English and in Italian. If you are a TOK.tv user, your friends will be there waiting for you, same backend. If you are not a Juve fan, still check it out, maybe you can jinx us ;-)

And if you want to know if there is a burp sound... No, there is not. But I am going to fight to get it back in. Maybe, before we get to that million... As usual, stay tuned.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Doing good, by accident

I have never thought about starting a social enterprise. I always begin from a need I have, and I go about solving it. For Funambol, I desperately needed a way to keep my devices in sync, starting with my address book and calendar. For TOK.tv, I was tired of watching sport on TV alone with my dog.

I am a big fan of social entrepreneurs (like my friend Villy, the CEO of Baycat, pictured left bothering Giants fans before a postseason game at AT&T Park). One day, I wish I could be one.

However, some days you realize that - even if you do not aim for it - you might get lucky and do something good.

On a late afternoon of a great 4th of July, I was checking the stats of TOK Baseball. Do not ask me why, it is a compulsive thingy for startuppers. We live and die by our stats and logs.

I usually do not care about usage per country, since our app is used almost only in the US. However, for some reason I clicked on the "session duration per country" link. At the top of the list, I saw Afghanistan.

Wait, who could care about baseball in Afghanistan? It cannot be a popular sport there... Ohhh, right, our troops...

Bam, it hit me. The longest sessions we have are from Afghanistan. Our troops talking baseball with their families.

How cool is that? On the 4th of July? Unreal.

I left home thinking about that guy sitting somewhere in Afghanistan, with an iPad in his hands, yelling for a triple with his kid, at home during a 4th of July celebration. It made my day.

Hey, even if you are a selfish entrepreneur, sometimes you do good by accident. I am a lucky guy.