Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Interview with Al Eisaian, IconApps
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For our interview today, we caught up with Al Eisaian , CEO of Pasadena-based IconApps (www.iconapps.com), which is developing mobile applications for the iPhone/iPod market. Al is a repeat entrepreneur, who last founded Integrien, and was SVP and GM at LowerMyBills. We caught up with Al recently to hear about his latest startup.
What is IconApps all about?
Al Eisaian: IconApps is built around simplifying people's lives through mobile technology. The first app we've build is called Intuition, Mom's Personal Assistant. We built that and put it on the App Store on December 24 of 2009. As of the last four months, we've had about 200,000 plus downloads, a bunch of great write ups, and a lot of mom bloggers who have been reviewing the app and writing stories on it. We've had close to 2 million tasks people have put into our system in the last four months, and all this without any PR or advertising, completely organic.
What's special about the application?
Al Eisaian: We spent all of 2009 doing research with moms, having moms come into our Pasadena office and researching what things they wanted in the app. One thing the moms told us was that they didn't want to have fifteen applications to go to, they wanted one go-to app, which is their surrogate personal assistant. The app allows them to do three things specifically. One, it simplifies their life by capturing all of the pertinent data in one application--all the things they need to do for their home, for school, for kids, for work, etc. The second thing it allows them to do is save money, because the app helps them with couponing, through partnerships and local deals we have. And, the third thing, is the app allows for sharing, rapidly allowing them to share and delegate the tasks. One of the most popular features of the application is the delegation feature, which with one tap allows them to email a grocery list to their husband to pick up. One of the byproducts of this is we've received over 13,000 emails in the last four months from users, with about a hundred from husbands telling us they were forced to download the app by their wives to delegate tasks. The way we have build this app, is we can change the skins to go after different markets, like the college crowd, or high school crowd, or what have you. The sharing aspect is a big deal, because we allow users to publish and publicize their projects on Facebook, or to tell others about great deals through Twitter or what have you. The app also has an intuitive flower navigation, which is pleasing to look at and moms have gravitated towards. The net-net, is they want to simplify their lives, and we've given them an application that allows them to simplify their life, save money, and share. There's also a lot of complexity on the back end, because we are taking their data and with their consent, we can then find deals for them around things they want to buy or want to do, such as products and services tied to the location they're in, plus intent expressed via tasks. It's the ultimate personal assistant--you tell it what you want to do, and it goes and finds it for you.
How did you end up in the mobile market from last running an enterprise software firm?
Al Eisaian: There's a common theme with the last three companies I've been involved in as far as startups. LowerMyBills was a lot of content, with analytics on top of it, to figure out how to connect advertisers with how people want to save money. We were the company that spearheaded lots of the data warehousing and analytics that match people's intent with what service providers have to offer. Integrien was gathering lots of systems data, and putting analytics on top of that to help organizations figure out how their enterprise is performing. IconApps is about user generated content as expressed in intent and tasks, putting analytics on top of it, to match what a user wants to do to who can help them do that thing--whether that's a product, or a service. It's basically the same concept, manifested in online business, in enterprise software, and manifested now in the mobile business. It's the same business, over and over again.
Have you found the mobile business is different, and how have you approached the business this time?
Al Eisaian: This time, we didn't build the product and then go test it. Instead, we actually went the users we wanted engaged right off the bat, in the product development stage. All of 2009 was figuring out what people want. I'm married, and I have two children, and I was enlightened by how much my wife does. I figured out--oh my gosh, she does a lot. There is a lot of pain that moms go through managing all aspects of a family's life. So I said, I can do something about this. That was the story that drove this. The other thing, was we couldn't get it wrong, so we wanted to get moms engaged right off the bat. All of fourth quarter 2009, we did this iterative blind beta testing, even before going onto the app store, and we'd engage with a few mom bloggers with a couple of hundred thousand followers, and they recruited moms who we could put our app on their iPods and iPhones. All that hard work paid off, because once we put it on the App Store, it was already nailing what moms had been telling us for a year: simplify my life, help me save money because I'm controlling 80 to 90 percent of the expenditures of the household, and help me share. So when it came out, immediately you see the user interface, and the idea of simplification, saving, and sharing is right there. The other thing they asked us to do was to make it look nice--which is why it's the flower. Every time the person launches they are presented with the flower navigation. All of our relationship and business development is all around helping mom get things done for the family, so they can have some extra time to themselves.
Can you talk about the status of the company in terms of funding and backing?
Al Eisaian: It's been angel funded so far. From the standpoint of competition on the iPhone, there are four companies with personal assistants. One was bought by Apple last week, Siri, another called Reardon Personal Assistant, which is not necessarily related to this, and PageOnce, which is more of a financial services personal assistant. We believe the ultimate solution is a combination of capabilities currently in Siri and Intuition. The voice input capability is quite nice. Voice input is also in our roadmap -- and we've been talking to people like Yap, Nuance (which Siri licensed their technology from), and a bunch of other SDKs that would allow us to provide that capability.
Has it been difficult to get the word out about your application? We have heard it's not so much the development, as getting people to hear about your app which is the issue with iPhone apps?
Al Eisaian: We've been lucky. The one year period which we worked on market research really nailing what they needed was essential. We drove tens of thousands of downloads on our own, and then Apple recognized us as a new and noteworthy application. If you type in mom or personal assistant in the App store, you'll see seven companies that come back in terms of mom, and two are very offensive to moms. And on the personal assistant side, only five applications come up. The uniqueness of the app was part of the viral growth of the app. The next phase, is how do you go from a couple of hundred thousand of downloads to a couple million downloads, and I believe that will come through folks with distribution capability--traditional media. We're also raising capital to get the word out in a better way.