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How To Make Freemium Work: Niccolo de Masi, CEO of Glu Mobile (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Nov 3rd 2011

Niccolo de Masi is the president and chief executive officer of Glu a 3-D mobile social gaming company. Prior to joining Glu, Niccolo was the chief executive officer and president of Hands-On Mobile, a mobile technology company and developer and publisher of mobile entertainment. Niccolo was previously the chief executive officer of the London-listed mobile entertainment company Monstermob Group PLC from June 2006 to February 2007. Prior to joining Monstermob, Mr. de Masi worked in a variety of corporate finance and operational roles within the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) sector, beginning his career with JPMorgan on both the TMT debt capital markets and mergers and acquisitions teams in London. He has also worked as a physicist with Siemens Solar and within the Strategic Planning and Development divisions of Technicolor. Mr. de Masi holds an MA in physics and an MSci in electronic engineering—both from Cambridge University.

Sramana: Niccolo, please tell us about your background as well as some of the history of Glu Mobile to establish the context for this story.

Niccolo de Masi: I am originally a physicist, although I was an investment banker very briefly. I have spent most of my career in the mobile entertainment space. This is the third company that I have been the CEO of that provides entertainment on mobile devices. Before joining Glu, I worked for one of its largest private competitors, Hands-On Mobile. Before that I was the CEO of Monstermob, a UK-based company that did mobile music. I have been through the entire journey of entertainment on cell phones and tablets. I have been able to apply what I have learned at those other companies with Glu.

Glu Mobile has been around since 2001. It was a private company until 2007 when it IPO’d. It was a feature phone–focused game company. From 2000 to 2007 there were no iPhones, so Glu was a pioneer in providing games to simplistic 2G phones. Initially, they were games for black and white phones and later to color Java phones.

Sramana: How big did Glu Mobile become in the pre-smartphone world?

Niccolo de Masi: In 2008 it was just shy of $100 million in revenue. It had around 500 employees, and since then it has been going through a platform transition as consumers adopt and upgrade their phones. I joined the company at the start of 2010 on the back end of a global CEO search that transpired in the second half of 2009.

Sramana: You have obviously been in the mobile gaming industry for a long time. Would you give us an overview of the evolution of that industry?

Niccolo de Masi: I spent most of my career in a non-smartphone world. The thing that always captivated me about entertainment on non-smartphone devices is that in most non-developed nations, the mobile device was penetrating markets faster than PCs or fixed lines. I believed as early as 2003 that some of the greatest revenue opportunities would be in the cell phone markets because the cell phone was more efficient for emerging markets. I believed that entertainment on mobile devices would become bigger than it was on the Internet. I still believe that I am on this same trend and that it will go for many decades to come.

In 2005 and 2006, I found it very interesting to look at markets like Japan. There were gaming companies, mobile companies and social networking companies who launched and did their IPO as an Internet company but found in subsequent years that most of their traffic came from mobile devices. I think that as you turn the clock forward to 2010 and 2011, the same trend transpired everywhere else in the world. Facebook is making public predictions that the majority of traffic from their users will come from mobile platforms.

This segment is part 1 in the series : How To Make Freemium Work: Niccolo de Masi, CEO of Glu Mobile
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