Allan Isfan is a co-founder of FaveQuest, a young start-up. This blog covers start-up topics.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Barcelona 3GSM trip report

In case you missed the previous post, I attended the 3GSM Congress in Barcelona last week. This is arguably the biggest show in the world that focuses exclusively on cellular technology. It is a pretty large show and is attended by roughly sixty thousands people, mostly wearing fancy suits and looking stylish ... no golf shirts here. Barcelona is one of the most amazing cities in the entire world. Coming out of the conference center, you are presented with a beautiful plaza with an amazing statue and fountain like you rarely see anywhere. At night, fire comes out of the bowl at the top! I strongly recommend you come to Barcelona whenever you can .. you'll be amazed. Just keep you belongings close at hand or as by magic, they'll disappear.

Besides the setting, the conference itself was extremely busy and packed ... this is a good indication of a very healthy vibrant business environment. Anyone who had the chance to attend some of the more telecom oriented shows like Supercomm a few years ago would be shocked by the excitement and energy in the air at this show instead of the sound of crickets.

I attended the show to reconnect with some key people, make new contacts and especially to get a strong pulse on the world of wireless and cellular. A huge success on all fronts .... very glad I made the trip even though I came back utterly exhausted like I have never been before. I flew the red eye on the way there and took such an early flight back on Thursday, I didn't bother sleeping the night before at all. Keeping in mind these people start eating at about 8:30pm and the night life starts at midnight, it wasn't exactly a restful trip. When I was back home Thursday night, I fell asleep 5 times while my 8 year old daughter was reading her book before bedtime ..... daddy ... wake up!!! My wife tells me I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I have so much to tell about what I learned or reaffirmed, the blog would go on forever so I'll stick to the highlights.

Wireless providers are struggling to figure out what is next

The stock market has a strange way of forcing the value of companies to be dependent on future earnings. Wireless companies are desperately trying to figure out where growth is going to come from and many billions of dollars are at stake. If you ever analyze the various big service providers such as AT&T (SBC, BellSouth & Cingular), Verizon, Sprint, Telus, Rogers and Bell that provide multiple services such as telephony, internet access and wireless services, you note that the wireless division is the strongest. Doesn't everyone review quarterly earnings reports like I do? However, although you could do all sorts of cool things with you cellphone and especially smartphones, most of the revenue still comes from voice services ... i.e. minutes of use, roaming, long distance ... basically boring stuff and the revenues are getting flat.

All wireless providers are extremely motivated to figure how to sell you more services and increase average revenue per user (ARPU). This makes for some pretty cool stuff but much of it hasn't been doing the trick. Most non-voice revenue still comes from silly things like ringtones (roughly $5Billion in 2006!!!) and texting. If you're over 30 years old, like me, you don't get texting. These kids are as crazy about texting as business people are about the crackberry .... must be connected!! As my trainer told me the other day when I asked him how much he texts, he said "huge" ... nearly 2000 in the last month". That can't be quite right ... must have misunderstood ... either way, it was a big number. When people call him on his cell phone, his response is ... "dude, why are you calling me ... text me!"

So voice, ringtone, texting are already huge ... what is next? Video, Music, IM and Bluetooth are just a few things.

Video to your mobile

It appears that video on the cellphone is one of the expected key drivers of growth but the uptake hasn't been as huge as hoped in much of the world. You're thinking ... duh ... who wants to watch t.v. on a cellphone? Well, you would be hugely wrong. The cell phone is becoming the first screen in many countries, especially in ASIA. Some wicked phones were on display at 3GSM ... ultra sharp and clear ... very watchable. But, the services today are just too expensive and complicated.

If it takes more than two or three clicks ... forget it. Cost can also be ridiculous. If you don't have an unlimited data plan, which is the case for most people, data costs can be huge. Bell Mobility for example charges roughly $12/Mbyte for a Pocket PC or Treo plan!!!!*(&((!!!!. A typical song is about 4 Mbytes. So downloading a song from some third party location would cost you $48. Going off-portal can ruin you literally. These stories get out and it scares the crap out of everyone especially since it is very hard to actually figure what it will cost you. This is what is called the walled garden. You can pick flowers from within the garden all you want but stick your arm over the wall and it gets cleaved off clean leaving you bleeding and you don't even notice until you try to reach for your wallet. Ok maybe a bit dramatic but you get the point.


Music on your cellphone is going to be so ridiculously huge. Why do you think Apple decided to build the iPhone? The iPOD is pretty cool with roughly 100 Million shipped so far ... a big number. But this is puny in comparison to the cell phone market which is estimated at 1 Billion units per year!!!! The market for music on cell phones, excluding ringtones, has been pegged at several billion dollars by the end of this decade. If you don't think people are going to listen to audio on their phones, you're once again way out to lunch. Stay with the tour! It is already happening everywhere else.

Instant Messaging

People of all ages are glued to their instant messengers. They chit chat back and forth sending cute emoticons ... lots of fun and useful too actually. IMs are coming to your phone and it will be very popular. I already have it on my pocket PC running windows mobile. I remember my wife MSNing with her mom as we were returning from Nova Scotia this summer and stopping by their cottage in Quebec on the way back. We were in the car and grandma was on the laptop we gave her. We decided Raclette would be a good idea for supper and she had it mostly ready by the time we got there ... it paid for itself right there!


Bluetooth was actually a old Norse king. For some reason, he inspired a pretty exciting new wireless technology for close range communication. Bluetooth is being embedded in most laptops, many cell phones and even cars these days. It has been years in the making but this is now taking off like absolutely crazy. Many people are now making some pretty neat accessories such as headphones. I tried out a new pair being launched by Motorola at the show which was playing music from one of their music phones. It sounded great. I also checked out a retrofit kit from Motorola that allows you to connect to your existing card stereo over bluetooth ... sounded great from the cell phone. They were also demoing a small GPS puck that communicates with cell phones and PDA over bluetooth. I checked out an ultraportable 20G hard drive Seagate is launching called DAVE. You leave it in your pocket and you can stream music or video from it to your portable and save files and pictures to it. It worked very nicely over bluetooth (though it also has wifi I believe). I would be shocked if we didn't see cameras, portable screens and zillions of other bluetooth gadgets in the coming months and years.

Anyway, I have hockey at 7AM so I best retire to sleepland. More on 3GSM and cool stuff in the next post.



Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Why are blueberries called blueberries when they are actually purple

When I started this blog, my intent was to share the experience with you as it happens. It has been mostly good but this week was quite challenging in Isfan start-up land.

It has felt like a physical and emotional roller coaster. First of all, with both my wife and I being completely self employed, we rely on our customers to actually pay. My own consulting helps pay the bills and fund my crazy start-up dreams. All of our clients got messed with POs stuck everywhere and no money coming in. That would have been fine had the treasurer (me) for Isfan Solutions Inc. (our consulting firm) not made an inputting error when paying our payroll taxes online with way too much money being wired to the government. Several faxes later and explaining the situation to the entire staff of the federal government, it seems things have been rectified and a cheque is on its way. The POs have also been greased and that is all now groovy. Crisis managed. Moving on. Mental note ... check the cash-flow numbers in the spreadsheet for the start-up and get someone else to do payroll ... Cindy Loo ... I'll be calling you.

This week has been characterized by a crazy schedule with some great really great meetings but I found myself literally running from one meeting to another. Here is the play by play for the last couple of days.

Wednesday: Drop kids off at school bus in the morning, pick up my partner, drive to Montreal, meet with a great entrepreneur for lunch, rush and arrive late to meet and greet with a great VC (downtown Montreal ... yikes) ... literally running from a far away parking lot to the building the VC is in. I can't believe we managed to be late for a first meeting with a VC, especially one you really think highly of. If you are reading this S.F., a million apologies ... it is not a reflection of the respect we have for you. Head back to Ottawa, call home on they way. My wife got stuck doing some urgent work for one her clients (executives at the biggest tech company in Ottawa ... you don't say no) so I swing by Harvey's to pick up dinner for everyone. Pull in to the garage and two of my sweet girls, having heard the garage door opening, greet me jumping up and down screaming daddy! daddy! daddy! and hand me a note telling how much they love me and how much they missed me. How absolutely awesome ... one lucky guy. Scarf down dinner, tag team with my wife to finish homework and get the kids to bed, head upstairs to my office, do a few hours of work for a customer then flip into start-up mode till 2:30am. Come up with some great stuff ... all worth it. A dip in the hot-tub with a beer is well deserved I think.


Up early and take daughter to school for basketball practice, help coach her team, then head downtown to meet with a lawyer versed in trademark and copyright to get advice on the legality of what we are doing. Looks pretty good but answers are not definitive enough .... get contacts to follow up with though. Head back to west end to meet for lunch with one of my partners and a great exec that is interested in what we are doing and may team up with us. Realize I have to rush off to Skypoint for a 1pm meeting, take off to Skypoint, running through the parking lot and making it there 5 minutes late. Have a fantastic meeting and meet a couple of people with extensive experience and success in the web 2.0 space ... excellent connection and advice. Pick up my wife from one of her clients (sounds like Midol), meet kids at school bus then take them to singing and piano lessons, including my own singing lesson. Spend evening on some wicked idea for one of my clients and flip back into start-up mode. Tough to get up this morning but a double cappuccino kicks things into gear before I meet with my personal trainer this morning.

What does this have to do with a start-up blog? Quite a bit actually. Unless you have so much money it doesn't really matter what happens (not my case), some suffering and stress for your passion is normal and expected. If you can't handle it, you're no entrepreneur. As a successful guy told me this week, you have to be prepared to be figuratively naked alone in the forest ... that's what it will sometimes feel like. Another told me "the happy plan never happens" you'll wake up many morning with you credit card maxed out and wondering what they hell you're doing.

It is always darkest before dawn and I know the sun will come up so there is absolutely no giving up. Compared to the stress and fear my parents had to deal with leaving a communist Romania with two you kids in tow and nothing but a couple of suitcases, to start a new life in France and ultimately Canada, this ain't nothin! I've been taught to work my ass off, persevere and never give up. I'm supported by a fantastic wife and kids, a network of developers and executives as well amazing new people I'm meeting all the time that believe we will make it and are willing to help for little or nothing in return. I don't see how we can fail as long as we keep being smart, creative, agile, organized, focused and hard working and not being afraid to shoot high while asking for help when needed.

Next week will be wilder than ever as I head to Barcelona on Sunday for the 3GSM conference. Wow. As I'm thinking about all this, and chomping down on some muffins my six year old made last night, one of the girls asks "why are blueberries called blueberries when they are actually purple?". I have no idea but my six year old suggests we google it!


Allan Isfan

PS. If you are in Barcelona for 3GSM and want to hook up, please shoot me an email @ You should also be able to contact me on my cell at +16138635844.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 02, 2007


batten down the hatches

Before I forget, I'd like to let you know that I'm being interviewed by a local Ottawa tv channel today. The interview is being done by Janet Eastman and will be aired today (Friday Feb 2) at 6:30pm on Rogers channel 22. It is short interview and is the first of a series of monthly interviews that will follow a new entrepreneur (i.e. me) through the trials and tribulations of kicking off a start-up. Because we are right in the thick of it right now and don't know how it will turn out, it should give people a more real sense of the experience. Ultimately, the last interview should be of our team diving in to a pool of champagne. I'll be getting a copy of the show to podcast from my blog.

I got some comments from a number of you off-line regarding the last blog. I guess I sounded really negative and upset. That is partly true I suppose but more at myself than anything. I haven't been turned down for investment yet and everything is moving along fine so there's no real reason to be upset. Having said that, it hit me quite hard last week that if I didn't start working on a number of parallel paths for funding, it was unlikely to happen. VCs rarely invest alone, especially in this very tentative climate, therefore getting multiple VCs lined up is critical. There was also a realization that it is possible that we would not get VC investment at all for quite some time for one reason or another and I needed to consider alternate plans more seriously.

I therefore began looking at the product that we are building in more detail to figure out what it would cost to launch our first basic product. I realized that if we scaled back the feature set a bit and got some outside help in exchange for equity, we could get quite far with very little money. If the team was willing to consult a bit on the side to help the cash flow, that could really help as well. This was a very positive realization that we are not urgently dependent on huge outside investments and we are prepared to move forward one way or the other.

Some people saw this as giving up and that is absolutely not the case. Quite to the contrary. We are putting on a full court press on the funding side and widening the scope of potential investors while we prepare to batten down the hatches and ensure we are not urgently dependent on significant funding. I think the ultimate result of this new direction is that we will get the funding we need but will be in a much more powerful position which will make it easier on the knees.


Allan Isfan
Co-founder, CEO

Labels: , , ,