Monday, August 6, 2012

Phl smartphone owners heavy users of QR code

MANILA, Philippines - If you have seen someone taking a snap of a QR code with his smartphone, there’s a big chance that the application he is using came from a start-up based in Provo, Utah, which was founded by a young Fil-Am developer. That IT entrepreneur and software designer is Garrett Gee, the founder and CEO of Scan Inc., who is currently in the country on a short visit. Although this is his first time in the country, Gee traces his roots in the Philippines where his mother was born and raised. In a roundtable discussion arranged by the US embassy last Thursday, Gee said his journey as a developer has been a joyful ride so far, with his latest baby taking him to the tech stratosphere This, after Scan, a company which he co-founded with his two friends, surpassed one million downloads in iTunes App Store just five months after being launched in January 2011. The “disruptive apps” developed by Scan allows QR codes and near-field communications (NFC) technologies to be used in a “fun and innovative way” in social media and mobile commerce. “On the night we made it available on iTunes, I was happy to see a few people download it. The following day, we hit a thousand downloads, then it went up to 10,000 until we saw 100,000 downloads every day,” he said. For the first full year of operations, the company posted 10 million downloads in 77 countries, on the iOS platform alone. The company has since rolled out versions for Android and Windows Mobile operating systems. In fact, Gee recalled a meeting he held with Rovio, the company behind the hit game Angry Bird. “By the time our meeting was over, we beat them in the number of downloads for that day. They were No. 11 and we were No. 10,” he said. It was this meteoric rise to prominence that got the attention of venture capitalist firms in Silicon Valley. “There were many investors wanting to get in touch with us, but I mostly ignored them as I didn’t know a thing about venture funding and I have heard bad things about them,” he said. But tech behemoth Google was eventually able to convince him to sit down and talk. As he did not want to give up his post as a soccer player at Brigham Young University, he ended up logging in more 50 flights in a month from Utah to San Francisco for the investor meetings. “I would fly out of Utah in the morning to have the meeting in San Francisco in the afternoon, and then be back in Utah for the soccer practice,” he recalled. After the series of meetings in the Valley, Gee was able to rack up a total of $1.7 million from a host of selected investors which included Google Ventures, Menlo Ventures, and Facebook. Interestingly, the Boston Celtics and eccentric singer Lady Gaga also invested in the company. The funding, which was made in exchange for 20 percent of the company, has put the valuation of Scan at $7 million. Gee said there were also some overtures from big IT firms for a possible acquisition, but none have so far materialized although it remains a possibility Although the US accounted for 47 percent of its downloaded apps, Gee said a number of Asian countries, particularly Malaysia and Thailand, have posted big numbers as well. “The Philippine is doing pretty good in terms of the percentage of smartphone owners in the country,” Gee said, noting that the smartphone adoption is slowly increasing in the domestic market. Curiously, while Google Venture is an investor in his company, the youthful tech exec said they had a better experience deploying the apps in the Windows platform compared to Android. “Perhaps Windows is trying to prove something… Anyway, Google as a company is separate from Google Ventures,” he said. As for the potential of QR codes and other NFC technologies, Gee said there is a bright future waiting for this emerging trend for both the short and the long term. “For example, when you walk in a room, and you see a Wi-Fi signage, you can just scan the QR code so you can connect your phone directly without the need to put in the user name and password,” he said, adding other uses could also include coupon promotions and loyalty offerings. He said his company is still scanning the horizon for opportunities. “The reason why we have named ourselves Scan is because we don’t want to limit ourselves with QR code and NFC — there’s more to come,” he said. - By Melvin Calimag