Interview with Gabe Zichermann, CEO of rmbrME


beamme iphone apprmbrME builds apps intended to make contacts between people more meaningful and efficient, says co-founder and CEO Gabe Zichermann. We recently spoke to him to follow up on rembrME's release of beamME CV and Resume Sender, which comes with a unique rebate offer for those who are unemployed.

1. Tell me about rmbrME and what led you to found the company?

I meet a lot of people, and was increasingly frustrated that the basic beaming functionality of the Palm Pilot was absent from modern smartphones. That is, the devices had become substantially more sophisticated, but I couldn't do any meaningful form of contact exchange. When I started peeling back the onion on the Palm approach, it became obvious quite quickly that it wasn't really scalable: first, it only worked from Palm to Palm, and second, the whole experience was awkward and cumbersome. So my co-founder [Christopher Cunningham] and I set about to solve the problem the way it needed to be solved, and beamME's fast, universal and engaging model of business networking was the result.

2. If you could be something other than a developer, what would it be?

I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing: Making compelling applications for the most exciting platform to come around in a long time: the iPhone. But, there are two other things I'd like to do after we're done changing the way people connect with each other: I'd like to start a school for gifted kids, and help build high-speed rail in North America. These are two of my other passions.

3. What’s the development cycle like for one of your apps? How do you decide on an app and how long does it take to get it built?

It takes Chris and me about 2 weeks on average to hash out the basic flow of an app or major feature set. Then, we develop wireframes and begin prototyping with our team. We typically deliver a set of approvable code within 6 weeks of first hitting on the idea. Now that we have a substantial user base, they are also extraordinarily vocal about their desires, so we get very clear feedback about what they'd like to have us do. Customer connections (and the resulting clarity) is one of the core strengths of iPhone, and we're enthusiastic about it.

4. How did you settle on a price point for your beamMe CV and Resume Sender app? $9.99 is higher than many apps. What do you perceive to be the value-add for buyers who are accustomed to paying a only few bucks for an app?

The business categories on the app store actually hold much higher price points on average than games and social networking. On a panel at CTIA, someone mentioned that the ASP for a game was around $2 on the store, while the business category was substantially higher — 10 dollars plus. It's a risky thing to do on our part, but we believe the apps are worth that much and our users seem to agree. Unlike most other app vendors, we also offer a complete, 30 day money-back guarantee and for beamME CV, we offer a 30 rebate if you're unemployed, bringing the price to $7 today. The rebate is funded out of our own pocket, and is our small way of making it easier on folks that are looking for work.

5. Do you have plans to incorporate any of the new features in OS 3.0 such as push notification, in-app purchases, notes synching and so on?

Once 3.0 is live for end-users, our plan is to offer as many goodies as we can. It's a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate more advanced mobile capabilities, and we intend to give our users an even more seamless experience.

6. What do you perceive to be the biggest advantage of the iPhone other than mobility?

If you believe that the three elements of success for a software developer are:delight your customers; have a viable, proven business model; and know everything you can about your users, then, the iPhone provides a singular opportunity for success that we haven't really seen in some time. Apple has given us the tools to do [one and two] and we spend a lot of time at rmbrME on [three]. For example, I reach out to every single person that writes a review about our apps personally to discuss their experience. That kind of customer proximity is priceless.

7. What apps are on your iPhone right now?

I'm a huge fan of Kindle for iPhone and the Amazon Shopping app. Somehow, Amazon has 2 apps on my homepage — the only company with more is rmbrME. I use Facebook and Twitterfon extensively, and am mildly obsessed with the games Flight Control and Chocolatier right now. There are, of course, 50 other apps on my phone at present...but these are the ones I notice.

8. Your privacy policy suggests app users think carefully about sharing their info with you and you pretty much say you can use that info in any way you would like including marketing and sharing it with your partners. Should I be worried?

To be honest, we've been caught off-guard by how misunderstood our privacy policy is. We've received a fair number of questions and concerns about it, and we've decided to rewrite it in clearer terms to address folks' concerns more readily. In a nutshell, we don't do anything with your information until you ask us to — that is, add social networking, beam a card or resume, etc., aside from contacting you about rmbrME related notices — and you can opt out of those. We also offer to delete your personal data on request, and make an earnest effort to protect your information. In short, we live or die based on the effective and secure delivery of your details — and our privacy policy should probably make our intentions more clear. Sorry if it freaked you out.

9. Explain to me how your rebate works. Are you going to take my word for it that I'm unemployed?

After purchasing and activating beamME CV, you complete our rebate form Once we've validated your information, we send you a credit via Paypal — so it's not unlike the kind of rebates you're used to in technology. We generally trust our customers to be honest, but we reserve the option to request proof.

10. A lot of companies are jumping into the App Store business. What do you see is your competitive advantage, especially compared to companies with big dev teams and marketing budgets?

I think the action around the App Store is pretty exciting, and right now, there's little disincentive to make apps. In fact, at many of my speaking gigs, I suggest that developers refocus their energy on making iPhone apps instead of building for the Web first. Our competitive advantage lies in our customer relationships and focus on effective product design. As long as we think 'customer first,' we have an equal or better shot at being successful.

11. What changes, if any, would you like to see in the App Store? Some devs, for example, would like to offer trial versions of their apps. Others would like a section for premium apps selling for more than $19.99. What's your take on those things?

My number one request would be utility-style subscription. The micro-transaction capability of OS 3.0 is interesting, but the user is still going to have to accept each recurring payment instead of simply being billed monthly until they cancel. While utility billing opens the door for customer dissatisfaction on consumer apps, most business users would prefer to simply have essential products charge them on a regular basis. After all, do you really enjoy reading your cable bill every month, or would you rather that it be paid automatically and in the background?

I also want user-level customer service/billing control. We'd like to be able to do a proper refund via Apple and an interface that would make it easier to interact with users on the store — respond to comments they leave, for example.

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