Skip to content

Lessons From TruTap

14,5m in funding, and TruTap has raised the red flag and are entering survival mode. What has the 14,5m gotten them in terms of traction? 250.000 users. Now this is of course registered users, not necessarily active users.

I recently discussed this with a number of industry colleagues. Several key issues were pointed out:

1.The service is not unique. It had to much “me too” flavor to compete against social networks
2.They used Java (J2ME) as a platform. J2ME is notoriously difficult to maintain and upgrade, and is inflexible to use for sudden changes and ideas such as promotions etc
3.The complete lack of a business model
4.They tried to do too much (i.e. dominate across several categories – feeds, IM, social network, picture upload). The argument is they should have picked a sub-category and dominated it. One argued that they were probably forced to go broad by their VC who demand “world domination”

Well, the arguments are certainly good ones, and follow this industry you would have heard them all (especially one about the lack of a business model, which I will address in a later article when we go live here at Storyz with ours :). However, there are some nuances to this:

Argument # 1 and #4 are quite similar. Try to do too much and go up against big guns you will get hurt. I agree. No new start-up will dominate social networking, whether on mobile or web, because the established big guns have it. This is true, however one of my colleagues correctly pointed out that TruTap was more of a tool than a social network, yet on TruTap’s home page they sell themselves as a social network. I.e. disappoint users from day one.

In my opinion, the idea behind TruTap is a good one (in fact, an Australian start-up, Xumii, based themselves on the same idea but with a “tool” mindset instead of a social network mindset). The problem however lies in execution. I do not mean the management is not clever – because the consensus is they are – but they are missing two fundamental aspects:

1.You need to think cross-platform (i.e. web, wap, etc). Mobile only focus will not cut it anymore. This especially goes for any service that has to do with messaging/social interaction. Our focus at Storyz goes way beyond this to ensure all media (video, pictures) is also completely cross platform, which also requires a deep understanding of mobile and web interaction.

2.Keep it simple. In all my years in mobile, I cannot tell how many times companies miss the boat on this. When the screen size shrinks the requirement for ease of use grows exponentially. Sure the iPhone is great, and they have lots of cool apps. Well the screen is huge – but most people (contrary to popular beliefs) do not have iPhones. They have small screen phones and like them because of their stylish looks (which explains why the V3 Razr is still so dominant). But companies still seem to forget this. My worst case example here is Yahoo Go (sorry Yahoo), which is an app which seemingly try to solve every conceivable need for information you have — all through the small screen. Well, it is not(!) working. Navigation is horrible, and the user experience worse. TruTap’s client was way too ambitious for most low end phone users. Compare Ebuddy, which has had 6,5m downloads on GetJar since beginning of last year. Yet TruTap has 250k users (and slightly above 500k downloads on GetJar). TruTap can do exactly what Ebuddy does, yet one has nearly 12 times the number of downloads off 1 single site! We have learned this lesson here at Storyz and ensure that our J2ME app looks a lot like your SMS inbox, and any action (such as creating a message with a picture) is carefully processed in a natural user flow.

There is one thing TruTap did well: Focus on complementing – not competing with – existing services. It is too hard to try to steal users with a me too service. I recently spoke to the CMO of one of the big social networks, and he confirmed their #1 priority is to steal users from other big SNs – so good luck with anyone trying to go head on here. You have to work within existing services (again, that is what we are focusing on here at Storyz by ensuring you can post and access everything you can create on whatever platform/site you prefer).

Lastly, I would like to somewhat defend J2ME as a platform (ignoring the fact that TruTap should have at a minimum have a complementing wap site to access the services) – J2ME is great for providing a great user experience if you do it right. By using the phone’s navigation pad or buttons, you can drastically ease navigation – and by adding transitions etc you can improve the user experience significantly to wap based services. You can also manage data far more clever than on wap. The trick is you need to know what to keep as server based functionality and what to keep as client based – so you can update your service frequently without having to make client changes. And you need to take advantage of phone integration, such as address book and camera access to smooth the user experience. All very difficult to do across a vast range of handsets – but it is alas what separates the cream from the crop.

My sympathy goes out to the TruTap team. I hope at least there are some lessons here to VCs and the market in general — these types of services can work if done right, but the margin of error is slim and can quickly cost you a quick 14m…

Posted in The Business of Mobile.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

One Response

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Andy says

    Seems like the classic “Swiss Army Knife” problem. Do too much and none of your features are easy to use, do too little and you’re not remarkable. It is a fine line to tread…