ULocate’s Where Is That Rare Beast: A Location-Based Mobile Platform Earning Real Money

12/16/09Follow @wroush

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your development costs are higher and you need to be faster and more iterative, and your distribution and sales has to be that much tighter. And of course you need a clearly stated value proposition—with Where, we save you time and money and delight you with a wonderful experience on the handset. You’re seeing a lot of people now who have built iPhone apps, and that’s cool, but you really need to be on at least four to five major operators to be credible. An application is not a company. There are people building companies around launching multiple apps, but that’s not what we do. We are a branded consumer service called Where.

X: Tell me what you’ve been working on lately.

WD: Leading to the future, what I’ll tell you first is that we’re seeing a lot of user participation, a lot of content coming into Where from our users, and that content is very much real-time, so it has a lot of value to other users. We’re expanding onto new platforms such as the Droid that are allowing users to create content more proactively. We’re taking that content that’s coming in from the mobile platform and leveraging that to create a horizontal platform on the Web, Where.com. Today, it’s a corporate site, but by mid-January we’ll have a full consumer destination site that leverages the content our users are creating.

X: How do the reviews work?

DG: We’ve built some new functionality on Android. We call it WhereReviews. It allows consumers, as they are going through Where and finding whatever it is they may be looking for, to write reviews. So we’re getting a lot of restaurant and movie and venue and event reviews. It’s only live on that one platform right now, but it’s in queue to launch on the iPhone, and it’s coming in the Palm Pre and Blackberry as well. [Editor's update: since the time of this interview, WhereReviews has launched on the iPhone.]

X: How do you set yourselves apart in a market where there are already so many mobile-accessible consumer reviews? Yelp comes to mind, for example.

Gas Price Map on WhereWD: I think you’re asking, in a world where the barriers to entry are dropping, how do you maintain audience and grow. We stick to four principles: Be helpful, provide a location-aware experience, save time, save money. Over the three years that I was at Mapquest, we didn’t really change the experience that much, but in 2002-2003 we grew from 5 million [unique visitors a month] to 40 million, because broadband penetration went through the roof; that was the turning point, and we had created a leading brand in a growing market. That’s what we seek to do here. We believe we’re at the same transition point in mobile. If we can be helpful and save users time and money, we’ll create a leading brand and we’ll benefit disproportionately from the growth.

We are a top-10 app on every smartphone platform—in most cases, top-5—and we have seen 100 percent growth quarter-over-quarter for the last three quarters. Thirty percent of all North American Android users are active Where users. We have figured out how to make money on our widgets [through monthly subscriptions managed by the wireless operators], so we are growing profitably, and the more users we get, the more money we make.

X: What else are you working on?

WD: The second big thing is personalization. It’s hard to see a lot of that right now, but you will. Some people might come and want to read the news and do a local search, and others might want to come and chat, and what we’re doing is self-learning. Instead of asking you to personalize your own content, over time we just want to watch your patterns and tailor the content to you on an individual basis. On a mass basis, we can leverage the trends we see in searches, and we can say, “People like you are looking for this right now,” which presents more options than just your Yellow Pages results.

X: What do you see as the plusses and minuses of the two leading smartphone operating systems, iPhone and Android?

WD: We don’t really do our innovating on the iPhone anymore, we innovate on Android. Everything you will see on the iPhone follows Android, which is where we do our testing. The beautiful thing about the iPhone is the sheer numbers, the audience you can reach, as well as … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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