LAS VEGAS—The emergence of mobile devices and the apps that make them tick has opened opportunities for entrepreneurs not seen since the height of the Internet bubble nearly 15 years ago. A panel discussion here on Tuesday at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) spotlighted four startups—i.am+, Bump Technologies, ZocDoc and Rockmelt—banking on the continued popularity of mobile gadgets.
Panel moderator Jeff Jordan, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, complemented the panelists’ abilities to rapidly create successful businesses in a market that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. He then proceeded to ask each of the panel’s entrepreneurs to discuss where their ideas came from, the biggest obstacles their startups have faced and why they chose the mobile market. Below are the highlights from each panelist.
Entrepreneur: Will.i.am, founder and chairman of i.am+, llc
Mission: i.am+’s product—foto.sosho—consists of both a wide-angle iPhone digital camera lens attachment and a mobile app with photo filters, image editing and instant social media upload capabilities.
History: Will.i.am is best known for his work with The Black Eyed Peas and is a founding shareholder in Beats Electronics, creators of the Beats by Dre headphones. Intel Corp. appointed Will.i.am as director of creative innovation in 2011.
On mobile: Mobile has given musicians direct contact with their audiences. Will.i.am said Tuesday that he checks Twitter during his performance to get feedback on his shows as they’re in progress.
On being an entrepreneur: A self-proclaimed “popthropologist,” Will.i.am is coveted by a number of companies—including Coca-Cola and Intel—for his views on the future of technology. Foto.sosho was born out of the performer’s ideas about the iPhone’s potential. “Instead of looking at an iPhone as a smart phone, think of it as a sensor or one large chip,” he said. The idea for foto.sosho was hashed out in May. By Christmas, Selfridges & Co. department store in London was selling the filter and app for roughly $300.
What’s next: Will.i.am’s interests are varied. He wants to address what he sees as “gaping holes” in interest in science and technology among inner city youths. The performer-turned-entrepreneur is also excited about the prospect of homes filled with Internet-connected smart appliances and 3-D printers in the near future.
Entrepreneur: David Lieb, CEO and co-founder of Bump Technologies
Mission: Bump makes an app that runs on either Apple iOS or Google Android and lets users physically bump mobile phones together to exchange contact information, photos and other data (not unlike near-field communications).
History: Lieb worked as a technologist and algorithm designer at Texas Instruments before launching the Bump app in 2008. Bump has since been downloaded more than 100 million times from Apple’s app store.
On mobile: “The cool thing about mobile technology is that Bump had two or three million users before we spent more than a few thousand dollars on the technology,” Lieb said Tuesday at CES.
On being an entrepreneur: Initially, building a marketable product seemed to be the biggest challenge. But Lieb actually found building and managing a team of employees more difficult.
What’s next: Flock, a new app that uses background location information and knowledge of one’s Facebook friends to intuitively identify people in photos and automatically share those photos with them.
Entrepreneur: Cyrus Massoumi, founder and CEO of ZocDoc
Mission: ZocDoc, founded in 2007, is a service that helps patients find doctors, dentists and other healthcare providers, and book appointments via the Web or the company’s iPhone, Android and Blackberry app.
History: Massoumi previously worked at global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he focused on healthcare and technology.
On mobile: During the CES keynote, Massoumi recounted a story about a ZocDoc user too sick to get out of bed and use his computer to find a doctor. However, his phone, equipped with ZocDoc, was close at hand and enabled him to make an appointment.
On being an entrepreneur: Massoumi had previously headed a failed Web startup specializing in e-commerce management tools and didn’t relish the idea of another, yet the idea for ZocDoc was like a pebble in his shoe, he said.
What’s next: More than two million people use ZocDoc to find a doctor each month. The company recently began serving the greater Las Vegas and St. Louis areas and continues to expand coverage.
Entrepreneur: Eric Vishria, co-founder and CEO of RockMelt
Mission: Founded in 2009, RockMelt has developed browsers for both the Web and for Apple iOS mobile devices.
History: Vishria began his career in investment banking at Broadview International and got his first entrepreneurial experience at Loudcloud and later Opsware, which Hewlett-Packard acquired in 2007 for $1.65 billion.
On mobile: As important as the Web browser is, the technology has changed little over the past few decades, Vishria said during Tuesday’s keynote. Rockmelt started by focusing on computer browsing and later built a browser specifically for mobile devices.
On being an entrepreneur: The prospects of making a lot of money as an entrepreneur are worse than if you just worked at a company, Vishria said. “So you need to be passionate about what you’re creating as an entrepreneur,” he added.
What’s next: Android and Windows 8 versions are in the works.
Image of iPhone and Tech Tips finger-mounted stylus courtesy of Larry Greenemeier/Scientific American
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