01 June 2011

MEF Executive Questionnaire #23: Thomas Clayton, Bubble Motion

MEF continues to seek new ways to profile its members and promote the thought-leadership of the senior executives within these companies. We are pleased to launch the MEF Executive Questionnaire to reveal the real people behind the industry in an informal and entertaining manner.

This will be a regular feature of the MEF blog, so make sure you subscribe via email or RSS. If you are a senior executive from one of our member companies and would like to be featured then please contact MEF Marketing Director, Stephen Jenkins.

The twenty second in the series is from Thomas Clayton, CEO of Bubble Motion.

1. Please describe briefly your main company activities and your role within that organisationBubble Motion is pioneering social communication for mobile phones. Bubble Motion’s Bubbly is a social messaging service where people share SMS and voice updates with friends, family, fans and followers. The best way to think about it is that Bubbly is like ‘Twitter with a voice’ and brings social networking to mobile phones. I’m the CEO.

2. Without necessarily revealing any confidential information, please outline the principal business models your company usesWe partner with telecom operators and content providers in delivering the Bubbly service to end-user consumers. We’ve partnered with most of the Tier 1 mobile operators in Asia and have launched the service throughout the region. Our business model is a revenue share with our mobile operator partners, as end-users pay subscription fees (for following celebrity ‘bubblers’) and air-time fees (for listening to updates from friends and family) in using Bubbly.

3. What has been your company’s greatest achievement to-date?
I’m personally very proud of our team’s accomplishments in launching a brand new service, deploying it across multiple operators in four countries and gaining over 8 million users in less than a year. But, given our aspirations around Bubbly becoming the way that tens if not hundreds of millions of people use for social messaging, it feels premature to celebrate these early wins.

4. What is your company currently working on that is going to move the industry forward?Probably the coolest thing we’re doing from advancing the overall industry is the work into making our service work seamlessly across operators, countries, and ultimately Web and devices. The vision is clear and simple – complete messaging interoperability across all devices, connections and geographies. What’s under the hood to make this all work is actually pretty advanced.

5. What is exciting you most in 2011 (either personally or professionally)?I think the proliferation of ever-more functional phones at the low end of the market is incredibly exciting. It won’t be long before even the lowest cost phones come with functionality that wasn’t even imaginable even 5 years ago at the highest end. Case in fact, I was looking in our old server storage room yesterday and saw a bunch of old SUN servers that we originally deployed, one of our older services on, about 5 years ago and it was pretty crazy to stop and think that the phone in my pocket now has more processing power than one of those. Simply unbelievable. With billions of people carrying such high-functioning devices in their pockets, it’s mind-boggling to think of the opportunities for communication, education and entertainment.

6. What is the most important piece of technology in your life?Without a doubt, for reasons that are obvious to anyone reading this (interested in Mobile Entertainment) my phone. Nothing else is close. I also rely on my Macbook Air of course. And, my iPad when I can pry it away from my 2 year old daughter who intuitively knows how to use every app I own. Oh, and Apple TV’s pretty great for watching TV shows that I can’t get here in Singapore. Yes, I am definitely an Apple junkie. Apple just understands the user-experience better than any other consumer technology company out there, which is why we try to apply many of the same principles they use with our service – intuitive and easy enough for a 2-year old to master!

7. What mobile device(s) do you use?iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS – have to switch between SIM cards as I travel from country to country.

8. What’s your favourite application?Bubbly of course. However, I bet no one would answer it this way, but the ‘app’ I spend the most time on, as does just about everyone else, is making ‘Phone calls’ – yes, good old ‘voice’.

9. What’s your ringtone?Charlie Sheen’s voice saying “Winning”. No, just kidding. I use one of the standard ring tones that came loaded on my phone. I’m not big on trying to get attention with a distinctive ringtone, so I just go with the norm.

10. Which mobile industry blogs do you regularly read and why?Well, I don’t read too many ‘mobile-specific’ blogs, but rather more general tech blogs that cover a lot of mobile areas. TechCrunch and MobileCrunch are my favorites. I also avidly read e27 (Southeast Asia’s TechCrunch), GigaOm, AllThingsD, and love the daily “Fierce” email updates – e.g., FierceWireless, FierceBroadbandWireless, FierceTelecom, FierceMobileContent, FierceVoIP, etc.

11. What is the biggest mobile content issue that is likely to affect the industry within the next 12 months?There are a few. First, the one I don’t hear many folks talking about, but I think it will be more disruptive than anything we’ve seen in the mobile industry in a long time is the deployment of SoftSIMs (i.e., software-based SIM cards). Once Apple embeds a SoftSIM into an iPhone, everyone in the market will follow and the entire device market will change overnight (just think ‘touchscreens’). Once that happens, the operators truly become irrelevant. Everyone has been painting the doomsday scenario of operators just becoming ‘fat, dumb pipes’ for a long time – and with the proliferation of app stores, that has certainly progressed rapidly. However, once SoftSIMs are in the devices and the device manufactures can bill the subscribers directly for all of the services, including voice, text, and data, as an MNVO, they effectively own the consumer and the operator is just a supplier of bandwidth to the device manufactures. This will be truly disruptive. Of course, other trends that will also be quite disruptive is the rapid deployments of LTE and continued exponential smartphone growth, which will deal to a duopoly of dominant OSs and faster evolution than we’ve ever seen before on what’s possible over your mobile.

12. Which other MEF member organisation do you most admire?This is a tough call, as there are so many great companies as members – that’s why we joined! One in particular that comes to mind is Hungama. These guys have built a phenomenal content business in India. They have taken the Bollywood music rights as well as the rights of many of the most famous actresses and actors and built a really innovative set of mobile and web services around those rights. Moreover, every time I talk to them, they have dozens of other visionary ideas. They are definitely not one of the other ‘me too’ technology companies that you often see in India that claims to offer just about any service an operator wants. Given the market they compete in, I strongly admire that discipline and vision.

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