IN 2011, Don Corbett and Brian Shannon were working on separate start-up ventures as part of the DIT Hothouse programme when they decided to join forces.
“We decided to join Brian’s technical skills with my commercial abilities and our first product, an enterprise app for businesses, was such a slow burn in terms of sales that we decided to pivot in a different direction,” said Corbett, chief executive of Live Mobile.
That different direction has resulted in a deal with China Telecom, one of the world’s biggest telecoms operators, and a contract that will result in 70 new jobs — 20 in Ireland and 50 in China — over the next three to four years.
The direction Corbett and Shannon took was one of concern to parents everywhere: protecting children in terms of the content on their smartphones and also using the capabilities of smartphones to keep their children safe.
Live Mobile’s flagship product, an Android application called Mobile Minder, can be installed on a smartphone and allows parents to view the child’s phone activity and location. Parents can also be given a visual display of the people their child has relationships with in terms of the contacts in his or her phone book.
The application also lets parents see where their children are, but also where they’ve been for the previous 24 hours.
The deal with China Mobile will see Live Mobile’s cloud-based software distributed to millions of children, turning their mobile phones into a child safety device. There are about 160m children between the ages of five and 15 in China, Corbett said, so this is potentially a big deal.
Corbett added that the objective was to keep children safe and give parents peace of mind. The software has URL filtering to block access to porn and gambling sites, and parents have the option to blacklist other sites. It can also block certain apps. “Blocking apps are becoming a growing necessity in the market as parents are getting shocks from colossal credit card bills because kids are downloading apps via stores such as Google Play, which are connected to their parents’ credit cards.
“The software also comes with geo-fencing capabilities so that parents will know not only where their child is but the moment they leave a designated area on the map.”
Live Mobile has recently established a deal with a company called MobiParent to syndicate the technology in the US.
Corbett said targeting China as a two-year-old start-up was more out of necessity than design. “Our product is a consumer play but you need partnerships with mobile operators to distribute it,” he said. “At the time, to market it in the US effectively we felt we would have needed an enormous amount of money. We got the sense that China was ripe for opportunity and we decided to go about it in a very strategic way.”
Corbett and Shannon decided to concentrate on telecom operators to sell the software as a value-added service rather than trying to convince individual consumers as originally planned.
Live Mobile overcame privacy and security hurdles of hosting data on servers by establishing a relationship with a partner in China and Corbett had the company blog translated into Chinese.
Initial interest was lukewarm, Corbett said. “We learnt that there is an emphasis on relationships and you have to build up ‘guanxi’, which shows you are trustworthy based on the relationships you have,” he said. “So we spent more time working with our Chinese colleagues to increase our ‘guanxi’.”
The duo flew to China for the Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai last year and met with China Telecom. “We told them that ultimately every child will want a smartphone that is likely to be Android-based and they agreed and saw our technology as a natural extension to what they are selling,” Corbett said. “People are more likely to trust a mobile phone operator for this kind of service than simply downloading it from the Google Play store.”
Corbett said that one of the most important things software companies targeting China need to consider is finding a trustworthy local partner, and Live Mobile settled on an accredited partner that had an existing relationship with China Telecom.
“Now we’re looking at replicating the model we developed in China across the world,” he said. “Mobile operators are looking to increase their revenues by selling new data services to users, and this would be an example of the kind of value-added services they could sell to boost their bottom line.”