Make a personal commitment to the market: Lotaris founder Tibbs
By A. Asohan January 3, 2013
- CEO relocates to Singapore to focus on South-East Asian market, Malaysia also a key focus
- Company gives mobile developers ability to monetize their work without worrying about platforms and channels
ENTREPRENEURS keep hearing that refrain about how you should show your commitment and passion for your idea by putting “some skin in the game,” startup-speak for making sacrifices and walking the talk.
Lotaris founder and chief executive officer Robert Tibbs (pic) has his own variation: “It has always been my business philosophy to make a personal commitment to the markets that support a business.”
“I have built businesses in Europe, where I immigrated over 25 years ago. I have also built businesses on the African continent, having relocated and lived there for 10 years.
“Building a business without first-hand, comprehensive knowledge of the market is a handicap. And Asia is no exception for me,” he says in explaining his reasons for moving to Singapore two years ago, from where he still runs his Switzerland-founded company.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) via email, Tibbs says he moved to the island republic to put a direct focus on building the company’s business in the region, which he says is a “compelling” market for the consumption of mobile-centric applications and services.
“Given the additional concentration of mobile device manufacturers and a history of mobile app development, particularly in the mobile games sector, the logic was obvious,” he says.
Lotaris was formed in 2008 when its founders saw a need to provide major software vendors with the ability to migrate from the PC-focused e-commerce world to a mobile-centric environment, so it developed a global in-app commerce platform (see previous article How developers can ‘bypass’ Microsoft to sell Windows 8 apps).
In August 2011, the company completed its Series A investment round, led by Vickers Capital (based in Shanghai and Singapore), with co-investors Credit Suisse and Lausanne-based Eurofin Capital.
A key part of Lotaris’ value proposition to developers is platform independence and allowing them to make informed business decisions. Tibbs says Lotaris wants to give mobile app and content developers “the ability to monetize their work through the most flexible and comprehensive in-app commerce system available globally.”
“This means combining advertising, free and time-based trials, subscriptions, and any other major business model with a global payment platform and full behavioral analytics on one platform.
“We have committed ourselves to address all major mobile operating systems, and today we can support Android, iOS, Windows 8, RIM, WebOS, and yes, Symbian,” he adds. “Our job is not to choose which OS is the right one, ours is to enable commerce for our developer community, no matter where they see their business opportunities.”
Where the market is
With smartphone growth exploding in the region, it was a no-brainer for Lotaris to move its sights towards Asia, and South-East Asia in particular.
In September 2012, GfK Asia said that over 118 million units of smartphones and basic feature phones were sold in the preceding 12 months across seven key markets in South-East Asia —Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. The intensifying popularity of smartphones accounts for the larger proportion of the total mobile phone market worth, the market research firm said.
Tibbs himself points to the latest report on Internet trends by respected technology analyst Mary Meeker, a partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, which shows Asian smartphone markets growing fast (click to enlarge chart) and which concluded that mobile and tablets are driving new levels of connectivity, particularly in emerging markets.
In expanding to Asia, Tibbs says Singapore was a logical choice for Lotaris, “for the most-often stated reasons of its regional significance, ease of travel, access to talent, exceptionally conducive business environment and style of life.”
The Singapore office was formed as a subsidiary of the Swiss holding company to be the operational headquarters for Asia and to build the second technology for the company. The first was built in Switzerland, he adds.
The Singapore office currently employs five people, but Tibbs expects this to grow to 12 this year, “all focused on Asian growth, with the exception of the Japanese market.”
Lotaris has another subsidiary in Japan focused solely on that county, and one more in San Francisco, focused on Silicon Valley strategic relationships and the Americas in general. The company is mulling opening offices in China and Korea in the near future to specifically serve those markets.
In South-East Asia, the markets of immediate interest to Lotaris are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Singapore and Malaysia would be our focal point in the short term due to the higher current penetration of smartphones, but we expect the other countries to feature in our plans in the mid- to long-term future,” says Tibbs.
The company will begin expanding its team in Singapore this quarter, especially in sales and development.
“Our customers (developers) are of utmost importance to us, and we understand that customers from different countries would have different requirements for our solution,” Tibbs says, adding that having developer and sales staff who speak the same language and come from the same culture as customers would be crucial to serving them well.
Once the Singapore team has been expanded sufficiently, Lotaris hopes to reach out to and engage with the developer communities in its South-East Asian markets through online (webinars, developer training sessions and digital media) and offline means (hackathons and various entrepreneurs conferences), he says.
Having lived and built businesses in different continents, Tibbs is keenly aware of the differences in markets and cultures. When asked what he saw as the difference between the developer community in Europe and in Asia, he does not hesitate: It’s the pace at which applications are being developed and consumed.
“As in many areas of consumer activity, Asian growth is leading the world,” he says.
However, he notes that app development is a global business, and argues that the Lotaris platform has been developed to give developers access to that global market.
“We also recognize that there are local differences in culture and preferences … (but) mobile applications and content are very easily localized, by their very nature,” he adds. “Our approach is simple ... any app, any mobile operating system, any revenue model, any channel, anywhere in the world.”
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