As I anticipated in my other post, I am conducting an internship at Funambol (www.funambol.com), a software start-up based in
Funambol focused since its beginning on the mantra: “BlackBerry-alternative for the mass market”. More recently, they have been promoting an open source Mobile'We' solution for the rest of us, which is a reference to Apple's MobileMe sync service, except that Funambol is open and works with billions of phones, not just iPhones. Their business relates to the “disruptive technology” in the categorization proposed by Prof Hendershott in class, as it incorporates both elements of ideas in that category: 1) Mobile phones are becoming the personal computing platform in the near future for their convenience, portability and cost, and 2) However, mobile phones as personal platforms face a long journey to general adoption due to skepticism of being “found” everywhere and because of the high prices of smartphones. Push email is a necessary component of mobile computing, and some people speculate that it may supplant short text messaging (SMS) in the mid term.
The strategy that Funambol has chosen to enter the market follows the principle of going after a limited set of market segments, as explained by Prof Bruno in his class. Funambol focuses on five segments: mobile device manufacturers, portals, service providers, independent software vendors and mobile operators. Leads from small and medium businesses, governmental agencies and large enterprises outside the mobile industry, and individuals, are redirected to partners or the Funambol community for assistance. This strategy enables Funambol to focus its R&D, sales and marketing resources on high value customers as well as meet the needs of its broader user base and community, a process the company refers to as 'Funambolism' (walking a tightrope).
Prof Griffith told us how to analyze the features of a product to clarify the marketing message, and how to make “intangible” features trigger more “tangible” motivations from the customer’s side. Funambol, as aforementioned, is the leading mobile open source project, which means that tens of thousands of developers worldwide contribute code to the Funambol project. Communicating the advantages of this approach to customers is not easy. Funambol’s marketing message verges on the concept of being able to work with “billions of mobile phones” worldwide, which is a large percentage of the estimated 3.5 billion mobile phones worldwide. This is because Funambol’s mobile client software is adapted by community developers for their handsets and then made available to the community. In this way, Funambol supports the broadest possible array of handsets, much more than competitors. The message about support for “billions of phones” makes this complex mechanism more immediate, easier to grasp, and more “tangible”.
Working in Funambol changed my perception a lot of what it would be like working in a start-up. I come from a career in public research, having spent three years in universities and five years in public research centers. I thought that working in a start-up would be much different but instead it is quite similar. In a start-up (as in a research lab) everybody works very closely with the “practical matter”, i.e. there is very little distance from the typical employee (or researcher) and the product (or research project) being pursued. This is true at all levels, from the marketing assistant (my role as an intern) to top management. It is a team effort, and the free and fast circulation of critical information is seen as an asset, exactly the same way it is perceived in a good research lab. Furthermore, developing and marketing a product in a start-up is very similar to starting a multi-year project in research: in both, you develop a long-term vision, attract funds (or grants, for research), stay focused and keep your team focused (something researchers tend not to do all the time), and efficiently communicate results (publications) to gain credit for your next product (research line) and attract the most valuable people to work with you. Ah, and I had forgotten how much I like foosball.