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Thought Leaders in Mobile and Social: Bill Seibel, Founder and CEO of Mobiquity (Part 6)

Posted on Saturday, Mar 3rd 2012

Sramana Mitra: Are there any other trends or broad industry directions you would highlight?

Bill Seibel: What we have to do is make sure we understand and deliver on any device that we have. Half of the companies in the world might make an argument that iPhones are dominating and are going to continue to dominate in the entire Western world. The other half would make the same case for Android. I think we’re split down the middle, but I guess that’s a good thing. I see projects getting bigger as you look at a business transformation project rather than just building an app. The apps sometimes can be built for $25,000, but we’re seeing a wide range of projects coming in at well north of $1 million. Projects, enterprise projects, are getting bigger.

People are really concerned about security, but they’re also concerned that if they invest in security, it will get in the way of becoming the user interface they’re looking for in a mobile device. There is this other dynamic in the industry that says security’s important, but maybe we shouldn’t put it in right away, which is really alarming. We have an entire security practice to make sure that people understand that security doesn’t have to ruin a user interface and ease of use.

Another point I’d like to make is that we’re seeing the skill sets for the approach, the design, the delivery of B2C applications being the same as B2E applications. Nine months ago, I’d hear things like, with a B2E application, that’s very different because you do often need to interface in with a company’s IT architecture and legacy applications, but you don’t need to build an engaging user interface. And with B2C, you need an engaging interface, but you don’t have to tie into complex business processes. I think that’s totally changed. With any application, whether it’s for your employee or a customer, you need to be able to design that in a way that engages people so that they will use it. You can’t not do that just because they’re employees. They’ll demand that you do, or they won’t use the application. If you look at many of the things that are going on in the consumer world, they’re all like the restaurant [business]. That’s B2C, but it’s tied into complicated business processes to be able to support the customer. Or major airlines, reservations and ticketing for major airlines, which requires a tremendous amount of heavy technical lifting as you tie into platforms like Sabre to be able to support the kinds of things you want to do to support your customers.

SM: Where are you building your company?

BS: In Boston, we have about 75 people – in Wellesley, right outside of Boston. We have about 25 people in Providence, a small office in Philadelphia, and we have an offshore capability in Costa Rica and San Jose. Our expectations are that we’ll be opening 20 more offices across the country in 2012.

SM: Very interesting. I appreciate your perspective. It’s an interesting view into what’s happening in enterprise America vis-à-vis mobile. We hear a lot about what’s happening in the startup world, or somebody launches an app here, and somebody else launches an app there. But mobile is a technology that is obviously causing enterprises to rethink their business processes. I think your perspective throws solid light onto that aspect of business.

BS: That’s what we’re betting on. Let me take you through one example that illustrates that. It’s a different restaurant chain, but early on, as we were getting started with the company, we talked to a CIO who felt pressured to do something with mobile. I took him through our value proposition. He said, “That makes  a lot of sense, but I can’t wait for you to get the company started. I have to move quickly. I’m being pressured by my boss and the CEO and from my employees and my customers to have a mobile presence. I just I have to do something quickly.” He said, “What I’m going to do is buy some software and put in my customers’ cell phone numbers in one end, and the it will generate text messages with coupons that will be sent to those customers at the other end. I’ll be able to get that done for $300,000 in a little over 90 days.”

I said, “I’ll call you back in 100 days just to see how that’s going.” When I called him back, I said, “What do you think? How did it go?” And he said, “It’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.” I asked, “Why’s that?” He said, “It’s not connected with anything. It’s not connected with customer loyalty, so I don’t know who I’m sending my coupons to. It’s not connected with redemption, so I don’t know whether they’re being used. And it’s not connected with store ordering, so I don’t even know if anyone’s using the coupons. All it’s enabled me to do is check the block that says I have a mobile presence.”

I said, “Let’s step back and think about where you could have taken this if you’d approached it differently. What’s your biggest business problem?” He said, “Well, I can’t talk about that. I don’t have anything left in my mobile budget.” I said, “Forget about your mobile budget. Let’s talk about your biggest business problem.” And he said, “Well, it’s getting more people to go through to the restaurant. That’s always the problem.” I said, “What’s the traditional way of doing that?” He said, “A drive-through. If you build a drive-through, it always increases traffic.” I said, “So, why don’t you build drive-throughs?” And he said, “If you build a drive-through, I have 5,000 restaurants. I’d have to build 5,000 drive-throughs. I’d have to build 5,000 windows to drive up to. I’d have to hire 15,000 people to staff them. When I finally get that in place, it would drive traffic, but it would impact my brand. I would be a fast food restaurant rather than a casual restaurant.” So, I said, “OK. Let’s take mobile and its business transformation capabilities and step back and think about how you could have approached that differently.”

We said, “Let’s start with a mobile device that is driven by analytics so that it tied into customer loyalty, so that they know that Lori Cohen eats at that restaurant four days a week. No sense sending her a coupon to eat there more often. Bill Seibel eats there once every two weeks, so he’s the target. Let’s send him a coupon for what his persona is most likely to buy and when he’s most likely to buy it. You do that through analytics. I receive that on my mobile device. It’s a branded app, so it’s not just a text message that says 15 cents off French fries. I can actually order from the device. When I order from the device, it will update customer loyalty and redemption, and it will automatically place the order at a restaurant that’s either my favorite or the closest one. Those go through location services directly from the device. And then, I get a message that says, your order will be ready in 25 minutes. No sense rushing. Take your time. And here are directions if you need it. And then, when I pull into the restaurant, I don’t have to pull up to a drive-through window. Through location services, they know I’ve arrived, and somebody could walk out with my meal and say, “Thank you for dining with us, Mr. Seibel. Here’s your meal.” That’s an idea that’s a game-changer because it creates a much better experience than a drive-through at a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost. It’s an example we use just to signal the difference between mobile a check box and mobile as an enterprise solution.

SM: OK. What you’re saying is you can achieve certain business objectives by using mobile without having to make the kinds of physical infrastructure changes that your client otherwise envisioned.

BS: That’s the value of mobile. It gives you capabilities, it gives you the reach of 10 times more devices. You can solve business problems in a different way. You can’t do that if you limit your thinking to, I’m just going to build on an app, and do I have the ability to download to my device what Salesforce.com gives me out of their solution? That’s not what helps you transform a business process. What people are wrestling with is thinking they need to do something quickly in mobile, but they don’t have the capabilities to do that. As a result, they think of mobile as a check-off item so that they have a mobile presence. It’s just like people did with websites. Remember the days when every department in a company had its own website that didn’t do anything. And then people started to understand that they real value comes from Web-enabling business processes, the same thing that we’re saying today.

SM: Got it. This is interesting. Thank you very much. I appreciate the story.

BS: OK. Thank you.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Thought Leaders in Mobile and Social: Bill Seibel, Founder and CEO of Mobiquity
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