CES 2010: Loopt Developer Interview


While covering CES for our sister blog Inside BlackBerry, I also had an opportunity to interview some BlackBerry® developers for the Developer’s Blog. For example, I was able to talk to social LBS developer Loopt about being a startup company, lessons learned from launching apps and necessary choices in BlackBerry development. Check it out below!

Who are you and what is your role at Loopt?

My name is Eric Carr, VP of Products and Location Technologies at Loopt. I am responsible for managing the development of Loopt applications across all of our mobile client platforms and wireless carrier partners.

Talk to me a bit about the process of launching Loopt. i.e., what tactics did you use when you launched, what did you hope to achieve, etc.

To launch Loopt we chose to focus on BlackBerry App World™ and launched at this year’s BlackBerry® Developer Conference. Given the buzz around the new BlackBerry® OS 5.0 capabilities and this being a major revision to the Loopt app for BlackBerry® smartphones, we felt the conference was the best platform at which to launch. Releasing a new app in time for the holiday season and carrier marketing activities was also very much top of mind.

We also did a significant amount of outreach to press and BlackBerry-oriented blogs to help spread the word about our new app and major new features. We also posted to a number of BlackBerry-interest user forums, and leveraged our own social media followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Since Loopt is very much a communications tool with your friends, we do leverage virality in terms of users inviting other potential users within the service itself. We also continue to experiment with other forms of user acquisition channels to continue to grow the Loopt user community including off deck app stores and various ad campaigns.

What feedback have you received from end users? How did you collect the feedback from end users and how did it change your product strategy?

BlackBerry smartphone users have always been one of our most active communities on a user metrics basis. We have really benefitted from using Flurry (a mobile client analytics tool, www.flurry.com) to track where users spend time in the app and how they get there. With the new v2.0 features, we have narrowed in to what is most appealing to our customers and are working on making it easier for users to keep doing more of what they are doing.

We also receive traditional user feedback from a number of sources:

  • (a) We conduct end user usability tests both before and after the release of major versions. Observing users is always enlightening in terms of seeing how people expect or want the app to behave.
  • (b) There is a core set of external Loopt users that we constantly stay in touch with and get feedback from about upcoming product ideas and releases. Even after launches, this crowd tends to provide the most constructive in feedback and share with us the various ways they use Loopt in their daily lives.
  • (c) We leverage GetSatisfaction (www.getsatisfaction.com) heavily to address user issues and obtain user feedback. A lot of good feature ideas and device prioritization decisions start from user feedback that we get from here.
  • (d) We also closely monitor comments on the web from sites like Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry App World reviews, blogs, etc. These are harder to quantify since they end up being more binary positive or negative than other sources. It is important to stay on top of real-time user (and potential user) feedback.

What were some of the major challenges you have faced being a start up company?

Being a start-up company, we are really focused on driving low-cost user acquisition, without big marketing budgets. But just posting your app to BlackBerry App World is not going to cut it. Discoverability and distribution fragmentation is a big challenge, and there really is no silver-bullet. We have focused on leveraging our carrier partnerships, building a relationship with RIM, staying top-of-mind with key press / bloggers, and worked with our end users to help evangelize the Loopt service.

One other big user acquisition risk layered into this dynamic was our business and technical decision to only target BlackBerry OS 4.6 and above. . This was a difficult decision because of the number of “legacy” BlackBerry smartphones out there (BlackBerry Device Software v4.5 and below). But we were convinced by (1) faster speed to market from an engineering perspective from being a lot more focused with our initial device and OS support, (2) the newer devices have much better hardware capabilities (screen, CPU, memory, etc.) and (3) the large number of new BlackBerry smartphones that are sold through each quarter.

We were very happy with how quickly the new Loopt app came together for BlackBerry smartphones. We have also been encouraged that soon after initial app release, we have been able to quickly pivot to support BlackBerry OS 5.0 and BlackBerry® Storm™ smartphones. We think this positions us well for 2010 and beyond on the BlackBerry platform.

What does your new release solve?

Loopt has focused on connecting you with what your friends are up to and where they are. Through customer research we found out quickly that if Loopt users gain over 3-4 friends, then there is a step function in terms of how often those users use Loopt. However, historically, if you did not have any friends within Loopt, then there was not much you could do with the Loopt app. So Loopt v2.0 was really focused on trying to solve that chicken and egg “single player” problem of the Loopt experience before you had friends connected within the service. We decided to extend the app with “social local discovery” and search. This evolution of the service adds value to any BlackBerry smartphone user that downloads Loopt in that they get an introduction to the Loopt service and are able to see a set of the places and events that other Loopt users are interacting with, around where they currently are located.

We look forward to continuing to listen to our BlackBerry users and improving the Loopt service.

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