Punchbowl CEO: It’s All About Phones and Tablets, Not “Mobile”

2/5/14Follow @gthuang

It’s nice to connect the dots and spot important trends in the tech industry. Sometimes you only need one dot, though.

In this case, it’s a company called Punchbowl. Founded in 2006, the Framingham, MA-based consumer software firm is surfacing with a couple bits of news today. One is that it has formed an exclusive partnership with Disney. The second is that it’s rolling out a user interface specifically designed for smartphones and tablets.

Without even saying what Punchbowl does yet (hang on a minute), these are significant developments. A big-company partnership can be gold for a startup. And the focus on mobile devices and tablets reflects what we’re seeing across industries in the post-PC era: more and more is being done on touchscreens.

Punchbowl makes software for planning parties and sending digital greeting cards. The company has added an e-commerce component in the past couple of years, whereby customers can buy party supplies and decorations. Punchbowl has a pretty strong user base, but it’s still a small company.

Punchbowl/Disney party inviteThe Disney partnership is the kind of thing it lives for. Punchbowl will be the exclusive provider of digital party invitations that feature Disney characters—Mickey Mouse, muppets, “Toy Story” characters (see image), and so on.

“It’s an important moment in the company’s history,” CEO and co-founder Matt Douglas says. “These partnerships don’t come around every day.”

Indeed they don’t; this one has been in the works for a couple of years. Douglas says it started, like they usually do, “with me and a guy at Disney” talking about “could we do this?” The deal had to go through multiple revisions and approvals—pretty standard for a 100,000-person company like Disney—and in the end the terms aren’t public.

But suffice to say Disney could make a nice distribution channel for Punchbowl. And there will be revenue sharing to come, as Disney will tie the digital invitations and greeting cards to relevant merchandise on its site—think “Little Mermaid” costumes and “Cars” memorabilia.

Meanwhile, on the mobile-device front, Punchbowl has worked to overhaul its user experience for phones and tablets. The percentage of people using the software on such devices has risen from single digits four years ago to around 30 percent now, Douglas says. Users could pinch and zoom on Punchbowl before, but it wasn’t really optimized for touchscreens. Now it is. “It’s all about the details,” he says.

Douglas has a pet peeve too. The way users do things like view invitations, RSVP, and look at maps can be very different on a phone as compared to a tablet. And in general, use cases depend a lot on screen size. Yet people often use “mobile” to refer to both types of devices.

“I hate the word ‘mobile,’” Douglas says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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