When SkyGrid founder Kevin Pomplun in 2005 first conceived the now patented “Information Velocity” technology used for his popular news consumption application, the mobile media market as we know it today did not exist.
“We didn’t think a lot about whether it would be on PCs, handhelds, or tablets,” said Pomplun, who to date has raised $13 million from Draper Fisher, Jeff Bezos and other elite venture capital investors, “but designed things to be simple enough to plug in to wherever they needed to.”
SkyGrid’s technology helps news junkies filter information most relevant to them and provides tools for users to monitor stories that can break in any category and in any place across the globe.
While there is no textbook for launching a mobile application, SkyGrid has been opportunistically unorthodox in this practice. After having its top-selling iPad app available for that device virtually on day one, SkyGrid then proceeded to develop an iPhone title. Late last year SkyGrid successfully launched on Android, and is now creating a separate Honeycomb title for Android tablets.
In this edition of Meet the Makers, Pomplun discusses how his company goes about creating and marketing high-profile apps on the iOS and Android platforms, the almost evangelical approach he has to keeping users happy, and why Flipboard is really “complementary” to SkyGrid rather than a highly funded competitor.
Appolicious: A new update to SkyGrid's iOS application allows users to filter news by following topics. Talk about how this feature adds to the overall app experience.
Kevin Pomplun: The app’s most loved core feature, the ability to follow topics, was made more powerful. Now you have suggested topics that are exciting new topics discovered by our "Information Velocity" algorithm. You also have the ability to follow any website you want. So you can follow your exact interests – things like your favorite sports team, political leader or hobby – as well as your favorite sites, like Facebook or NPR, all in one home tab. So basically, you can follow anything on the web and the SkyGrid real-time engine searches and filters the highest quality results from over one million sources.
APPO: SkyGrid was one of the first News applications to take off on the iPad. From your vantage point, compare how users consume the iPad app today (in matters like expectations and level of sophistication) to when the device first came out.
KP: It has continued to be more and more exciting since the launch last April. When the iPad first launched, I think many people were mostly focused on being able to view videos, read news, and stay connected with email. All of these things are still very popular today, but I think now we’ve all realized just how many different things you can do. In short, I think the question has changed from, “what can you do on the iPad?" to "what you can’t you do on the iPad.”
APPO: You also have an Android app. Compare and contrast the development opportunities and challenges developing applications on both the iOS and Android platforms.
KP: We’re grateful to get to be part of both of these amazing platforms. With iOS, we started on iPad and then expanded to iPhone (and iPod touch). With Android, we started on Android phones and are expanding to Android tablets. We’ve seen that phones are used more on-the-go and people are looking for one quick topic or to see their latest following updates in SkyGrid. With tablets, people are spending more time and looking at things for longer amounts of time.
For example, on SkyGrid on your phone you might see an update in entertainment that a new movie is coming out and send a tweet asking friends if they’re going to see it. On SkyGrid on your tablet, you might see the update for the movie, watch the extended trailer and then send an email to someone about when you’d like to see the movie with them.
APPO: How does your marketing approach differ by platform?
KP: We simply focus on making sure people are happy, no matter which platform. I think this focus has been a big reason we’ve continued to be one of the highest rated apps on both platforms. When people let us know they like part of the product, we try to make it easier for others to find that part of the product. Following is a great example, where people just keep telling us they love being able to follow topics. We also listen to what people think could be improved. For example, it used to be harder to know you could follow anything on the entire web. Now we simply added a note saying just that, and people have let us know they’re excited to be able to follow anything.
APPO: How are you approaching Android-based tablets?
KP: Going back to our earlier point, we try to think most about each device and how SkyGrid can work best with its unique features.
APPO: Talk about SkyGrid's underlying technology and the patent you have on the Information Velocity algorithm. Did you anticipate this level of mobile consumption by now when you built the technology?
KP: Since SkyGrid started, we’ve always wanted to keep people up-to-date with information they trust. When we invented "Information Velocity," we thought giving everyone the ability to see what’s the fastest changing information in the world at any minute, would be really exciting and many people would enjoy it. We believed that our platform should be able to connect people to this information wherever they want it. Because of that we, didn’t think a lot about whether it would be on PCs, handhelds, or tablets, but designed things to be simple enough to plug in to wherever they needed to.
APPO: SkyGrid is a venture-backed company with more than $13 million in funding. From a competitive standpoint, how do track developments by a Flipboard ($60 million+ in funding) while also watching out for upstart competitors in the mobile space that seemingly come from nowhere?
KP: We think it’s an incredibly exciting time. We always begin by thinking about how people want to use our products. With that in mind, we focus on what people like that we’re doing and keep trying to do that better. I think always listening to people has really helped us.
Specifically with Flipboard, who we’ve always been mentioned alongside, we think they have a great product that is exactly what it says – a social magazine. A lot of people who use SkyGrid, use Flipboard, and a lot of people who use Flipboard, use SkyGrid. We’re complementary.
I think what excites people most about SkyGrid is our ability to let people follow topics and our Information Velocity algorithm that always gives you great quality information. For other new companies creating products, we think that’s great. There’s more and more people everyday using mobile devices, and the companies making great products will help make more opportunities for everyone.
APPO: From a mobile media perspective, what are the three biggest things that keep you up at night?
KP: I try to stay balanced and right now am just really grateful for all the amazing things happening.
I think the three things we think about the most are:
1) Are the people using SkyGrid happy?
2) Are the people using SkyGrid happy enough to tell their friends
3) What are we not doing that could make people using SkyGrid happier?
What excites us the most is when people tell us stories about how they receive updates on the topics they’re following on SkyGrid and it changes how they do something. I think if we keep listening to people using SkyGrid, we’ll be able to continue delivering what makes people happy.