Analyzing the Shark Tank – Coffee Meets Bagel Episode [Startups]

I do not really watch Shark Tank, but two recent episodes struck my interest. The first was the episode with Singtrix, which has a connection to my time with RedOctane and Guitar Hero. The other was about Coffee Meets Bagel, the January 9th episode (thanks to Kevin Tung Nguyen for sharing the episode) that you can watch below:

Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) relates because of my work at FriendsPlus, which we sold pre-launch to, Vietnam’s largest dating service in 2013. Like CMB, FriendsPlus focused on creating a non-meat market dating environment focused on the needs of female users, encouraging offline meets between users who explicitly opted in to each other. Some commentary on the episode and CMB:

  • The team should have been prepared for questions about user numbers. By deflecting the question multiple times, one wonders if they have given different numbers to different people and thus could not say publicly on television what the current numbers were (they would not want to be shown lying), or if CMB is simply at the bottom of the range given (100-500K users). As Cuban implies, there is a big difference between 100K and 500K users, especially considering that CMB has been around for close to 3 years (more on that below) – it suggests limited market or non-compelling and non-naturally sustainable growth.
  • The team mentions that CMB was invested in by a Match co-founder. That person is Peng Ong, who I actually know. Tinder is invested in by Match, the firm. CMB launched in April 2012, 5 months before Tinder, but Tinder is estimated to have 50 million users today. The team cites Match’s 800M in revenue as a sign of their own potential. That’s the same logic that says you should automatically advertise on Facebook because it has 1 Billion users. Yes, there is some superficial logic there, but you need to delve a bit deeper.
  • The Sharks are right in that CMB can easily be copied – look at the popular Noonswoon from Thailand.
  • CMB’s revenue and users are a bit alarming. I discuss it over the next points.
  • Last year, CMB generated $87K in revenue. If that is $0.50 per user on average, this would imply 170K users. This is reasonable for this type of product and follows what the team said. I don’t know how long the average user stays with the product. If they actually have more than 170K users, revenue is actually less than $0.50 per user. Remember this $0.50 figure for later.
  • This year, CMB expects to make $1M USD, but expects to lose $1M, which means costs were $2M USD. Current user acquisition is $0.30 per user.
  • CMB expects to break even at $10M in revenue next year, from 4M users. They expect to spend 3-4M (let’s assume it’s 4M) in to bring on those new 4M users. That is $1 per user. They expect $2.50 per user in revenue, but did not include CMB’s existing users in that revenue figure. This leads me to believe that CMB user lifetime with the service is not particularly long (1 year or less) or that the number of current users and the revenue generated from them is not significant enough to include. This implies the lower user figure in the given 100-500K user range. Increased user acquisition costs suggests this product does not spread virally, something about it does not compel others to talk about it, or you are trying too hard to bring someone who may not be the right fit for your product. If this is the case, the projected gain in average revenue per user (ARPU) for these kinds of users is also a concern.
  • How did CMB estimate $2.50 per user per year moving forward? CMB is going to jump from $0.50 to $2.50 (500%) in 1 year?  How does adding users generate more money per user? Since the revenue is from digital currency / microtransactions, does having more users make the product more sticky? If so, this implies the business is not sustainable now. If that is true, and focusing on this niche is not sustainable, what does this imply about the value the product is creating for its current users? Does having more users actually mean more date / chat frequency which means I need to buy more microtransactions? Again, this is not a meat market like Tinder in which you go on to browse (consume) through people – for Tinder, you need a ton of users. For CMB, you are getting one match per day carefully selected for you. Are there more types of transactions that CMB will be processing in the future that will generate new forms of revenue?
  • Let’s compare CMB to a Facebook type of product. Facebook generates more revenue by adding more business models. Example, Facebook could sell different types of ad products, and can charge more money with an increased user base (market power) increasing the efficiency of those ads. It can also take a share of revenue that is generated within the platform (apps, games), or sell emoticons. Thus, more users could lead to more revenue, but you also need to add more models for those users, it’s not automatic. This concerns me about CMB – it currently just sells digital currency.
  • Why is there such a high burn rate (company spending)? With $2M in expenses, this is over $150K in burn per month. You might want to look at CMB’s jobs page to find out where the money is going: From my experience: company trips costs a sh*tload of money. Based on LinkedIn, I found about 15 full-time employees at the company. Let’s say on average, each employee costs the company $100,000 each per year (this is low when you include office space, benefits, etc.). The founders mentioned they each make 100K, which for the Bay Area, is low. Based on CMB’s $1M revenue, and $1M in losses figure, however, the team is suggesting they spend 133K per employee per year, which is possible. (This doesn’t include marketing, which at .30 per user at 170K users, would only be about 50K and can be ignored for now). I know that the Bay Area is a different beast with employee expectations, but in my opinion, startups in need of cash need to learn how to conserve cash better.
  • CMB will break even at $10M in revenue and 4M+ users. With $4M going in advertising, where does the other $6M go? If you stick to the $133K per employee figure, the company would need to grow to 45 people. Perhaps some people are getting raises. Infrastructure should not be a particularly significant cost yet. I don’t think you can have 45 people in a co-working space either. If the cost goes to $150K per employee, that is still 40 employees. If the team can cut the fancy office, parties, trips and focus on profitability, I expect there is a good amount of fat that can be cut. (One of RedOctane’s first offices was a big warehouse with no air conditioning in Sunnyvale – no frills worked out for them)
  • I wonder if CMB’s quoted revenues include the 30% share that is given to Google Play and iTunes for microtransactions. Otherwise, there is no cost of goods (COGS).
  • Why does CMB need to grow to be profitable? This, along with CMB’s slow user growth after nearly 3 years troubles me. I could understand the growth in the sense it’s not a meat market app. It’s for people who want quality, real relevance over gross quantity. But why can’t it be profitable now? This makes me question the revenue model. Is CMB going against its core by going to mass-market advertising? If the app is not for everyone, it should be positioned accordingly. I don’t see how growth rescues them long term.
  • So what should CMB do? I would consider changing to a premium / subscription model to get revenue from more (higher % of users pay, but less overall users) users at higher rates and focus on that smaller niche audience to reach profitability. Do people pay for love? Yes, as long as it is provides real value. CMB seems to be providing that.
  • The Mark Cuban $30M offer: I don’t think he is actually making the offer, he is saying “what if”, to which the proper response to a hypothetical is of course no. If you say yes, you have publicly given a limit to what your company is worth (the team has suggested a $10M valuation with $500K for 5%) for no reason. You would never want to create the sense you do not believe in your product to preposterous levels. If it were a legit offer, I believe they should have taken it. 3X valuation is nothing to joke at, as much as the team may claim to look at Match’s $800M in revenue or Tinder’s billions in valuation. The team suggested CMB is a cash hungry business intent on growth. CMB received $2.8M in venture capital last May, which would not cover its marketing budget for this next year. Yet, its is only asking for 500K from Shark Tank. This leads me to believe CMB is mainly on Shark Tank for the PR and don’t want to give up very much equity, has another round coming, or does not intend to go with its stated marketing plan at all – it would not have the money for it. If it needs to grow massively to become profitable, CMB has no other option than to take the buyout offer.

Can Basketball Training Products Become Mass Market? [Crowdsourcing, Wearables]

As someone who has tried a number of basketball products over the past years, I have been wondering is there a training product that hundreds of thousands of people would buy to improve their basketball skills? I’ve spent the past few weeks researching and talking to people to learn more about the potential. For the innovation side, I have been looking at the best crowdsourced products from services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo such as:

1) Jump Shot Pro: a device that goes around your entire shooting arm to help build muscle memory for the proper mechanics of a shot.

2) Hoop Tracker: Basketball Shot Tracking SmartWatch: a “watch” that tracks your shots around a basketball court. To track positioning, you need to attach another device under the hoop.

3) ShotTracker (not actually crowdsourced): very similar to the Jump Shot Pro, but the “wearable” is placed inside a shooting sleeve (see Allen Iverson wear one?) or armband / wristband. It also requires an installation under the hoop and uses a nice looking smartphone mobile app.

4) EVO ONE™ The Only Basketball You Need: a basketball with electronic sensor inside that essentially whistles (remember the Nerf Turbo Whistler?) to let you know if your shot has proper rotation.

5) 94Fifty: Freakishly Smart Sensor Basketballs: tracks the speed of your dribbling via special basketballs (again, electronics sensor) and smartphone app.

The Typical Player

When it comes to basketball training, I am much like the average American who diets for weight loss. I want to be a better player, but I do it inconsistently and inefficiently. Thus, I don’t see much progress and I quit. And then I restart 6 months or a year later. I’ve always had issues with my shooting mechanics and I have constantly (naively) wished for a magic fix. I have tried (Shotloc, Shooting Strap, Heavy Training Ball, Steve Nash MVP, etc.) and reviewed many of the basketball improvement products out there, including videos. To be realistic, all these products are good if you put in the time. But if you’re like me, the average American, it’s easy to get off track.

My failure is a failure in the product. I am lazy and I want results. I want to know that I am improving, and when I cannot, I feel discouraged. I cannot manually keep track of things because I forget (ever try to count made shots to 100 by yourself?) and get distracted. I need someone to tell me what to do.

The Product / Training

That said,  I am encouraged by some of the products being developed.

For example, The Hoop Tracker is a watch that can track all your made and missed shots around the court. The ShotTracker does something similar, but also has a nice mobile app to track your progress, using gamification tools to help you improve (it’s not out yet, so the actual execution is wait and see). In fact, the ShotTracker reminds me more of a Rocksmith (for learning guitar)-like experience in terms of pushing you to get better and showing you that you actually are.

The EVO One basketball sounds good, but I am not confident it can actually get you better. It’s a regular basketball that gives you feedback if your shot is rotating too much, with the theory that if you have ideal rotation, you will become a much better shooter. However, will you be able to use that feedback to change your jump shot permanently and have it stay refined when you play at game speed? Will you notice improvements quickly enough to not become frustrated and quit, as I tend to do?

94Fifty reminds me a little bit of the videogame NBA Baller Beats. It’s snazzy basketball and mobile app set that tracks your dribbling and can help set a training regiment for you. However, having to stop, pick up, and look at your phone constantly as you switch between exercises is dangerous for the phone and not a smooth experience for maintaining focus.

The Jump Shot Pro, developed by Rometra Craig, the daughter of former 49er great Roger Craig and a great athlete in her own right, sounds good as well, promising to build muscle memory of how to shoot properly. However, based on my experience with the Shotloc and Shooting Strap, I am not sure if muscle memory will be retained when not using the product. The issue with my shooting has been that my left wrist sometimes pushes the ball (I shoot with my right). I have tried both products for extensive sessions over a month’s duration, and my faulty muscle memory still existed after that. Again, perhaps if I put in six months work or broke my left hand on purpose, I would have been “cured”. But the products do not claim it should take that long, and I doubt the average player will be patient for that long a time period either.

I need to be told exactly what to do, and should see the results when I do that. That is why I believe a winning product should look at the Circuit Training experience. Apps like Sworkit | Circuit Training App give you no excuse but to get in better shape. Not enough time? No problem, Circuit Training can be done from 5 minutes up to however long you want. The exercises are intensive for that short amount of time, varied (no exercise is too long), and can be done with no equipment. Circuit Training lets you do different exercises consecutively, never staying on one thing long enough for you to become unfocused, but also varying the exercises so you work core muscles. You do the most effective workouts for your body and you can feel how you get better at them after just a few days.

A mass market basketball trainer should do the same. I propose a product that can show me how to improve in 20 minutes per day, 5 times per week. Just have me work on the most impactful basketball training drills that will help me see improvement in pick up games right away, including shooting, dribbling, and normal workout circuit training. There’s a reason why 8 Minute Abs and Circuit Training are popular – people need to feel that accomplishments are reachable. “Even I can have good abs / get in shape!” When I train on my own, I start focused, but put me on the court long enough, I get lazy and mess around, and soon enough, discouraged. Different levels of players should have different levels of drills, but players could also think of the trainer as the perfect warm-up tool to get them ready for a basketball game (for those who simply play pickup on weekends and do not practice).

At this point, the ShotTracker seems closest to this “smart trainer” idea, along with the 94Fifty. NBA Baller Beats may have been the best and most fun training product of them all, but by needing to be played in front of a TV (inside a living room?), it made accessibility too difficult.

The hardest part to any type of exercise, training, or learning, is starting and seeing improvement. The promise of helping people improve with a minimal, but consistent time commitment is key to making it accessible and practical for a mass audience. You need to remove all barriers to make it easy for anyone at any skill level to improve.

Wearable or Smartwatch

I do not believe that a device like a smartwatch can succeed in basketball. This is the biggest problem with the HoopTracker. It’s a watch, and if you have ever played pickup with someone wearing a watch, you know it is dangerous in terms of causing injuries. That means HoopTracker cannot be used all the time and this affects its value greatly – who wouldn’t want to know how he shot in a game? Most devices I’ve seen (including the Shotloc and Shooting Sleeve), are meant for practice time only.

The ShotTracker fixes this by putting the tracking device inside a shooting sleeve or armband. While you might complain that a shooting sleeve is not your style, overall, it should not hamper your playing ability.

If you need the player to wear something, it needs to be worn either through a shooting sleeve, or perhaps a customizable (fashionable!) armband. Both are things that you would normally wear in basketball and thus, both provide a fairly natural experience. If you need the device to be connected to a smartwatch or mobile phone, you need to create another sleeve or way for the person to hold the phone without risking it to damage (if you fall on it, or from sweat) and not be affected by its weight. If you have ever played basketball carrying a phone in your pocket, you understand what I mean.

Does Anyone Care about Basketball Training?

Originally, I had assumed that if the right device could be made for the right price (what is “right”?), lots (again, how many is “lots”?) of people would buy it. I am now changing my mind. Even though basketball players do spend substantial money on equipment, it seems to end at the shoes, the basketball itself, and perhaps basketball fashion apparel (the shooting sleeve, for example). I am the only person I know among basketball playing friends to have ever tried any time of self-improvement product.

Why is this? Does no one care about his skills? Are there simply no good products? For example, when I compare it to basketball, I see a serious investment in running improvement at a popular level; I can see the investment with my friends. Marathoners, for example, join running clubs to help them train. Look at the growth in wearables like smartwatches or the Nike Fuelband – their tracking features are more for runners than anyone else. I have never heard of a basketball “training” club. There are only pickup games – you train on your own. I believe may be the case because when you are running, it is really hard to run a marathon. Much harder, at first sight, than shooting a basketball. If I were to ask someone how he would improve at basketball, he might simply say, “shoot around for one hour each day”. For the runner, however, this is not enough, and he knows it. He knows he must train in a specific way, and he needs a guide to show him the way.

But what about these successful crowdsourcing cases, don’t they prove the market for basketball training? Upon closer look, I do not think these products are doing well. Not that they are bad products, but the support of these products is not strong enough to form real companies. 94Fifty drew a lofty $130,000 in funding, but $50,000 came from high end backers (meaning not your regular type of future customer) who contributed $2,500 each, leaving $80,000 in regular funding. In total, only 350 people around the world backed it on Kickstarter. The Evo One? $45,000 from just under 400 people. Hoop Tracker, the jump shot tracking watch, drew $37,000 (and failed to be funded) from 120 backers. The Jump Shot Pro has raised just $2,500 in its first month from 19 people with one more month remaining and is unlikely to reach its goal of $50,000. Perhaps these products will sell great once publicly available, but I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest this.

Combined from these 4 great products (the best on crowdsourcing I could find), less than 1,000 people all over the world were excited enough to put in money. And yet, one study suggests that over 26 million people in the United States play basketball, including over 15 million casual (non-organized) players, making it the most popular sport in the country.

So what do basketball players buy? 2013’s #2 selling basketball shoe (one specific shoe model, not a brand) generated $175 million dollars in sales, implying that over 1 million people bought this specific shoe that costs over $130. (Yes, I do understand that many people do not play basketball in these shoes, I am keeping the numbers simplified)

Is it possible to sell a training product that costs less than half of that shoe (under $65) to just 10% (100,000) of the people? If so, what is wrong with the current products out there? Do enough people know about it (marketing) or is it that people just do not care (market size) about training?


Beyond proving that we need to reconsider the market size for basketball training products, Kickstarter and Indiegogo have also shown that the traditional means of getting the word out there do not necessarily  drive sales. Look at this great book about Kevin Durant, the #2 NBA jersey and shoe selling superstar, that was featured in a ridiculous amount of basketball media coverage, including big names like Slam Magazine, Dime, and Sports Illustrated. Total backing? Just $3,750 out of $35,000 needed. (I backed it and was very sad it did not get produced.)

Look at HoopTracker, which also failed, but was listed in the following:

HoopTrackerHard to claim these guys didn’t work to get the product covered by the mass media. However, if you read most of the articles being posted about these products, they are generic PR filler, using copy (I believe) provided by the company. This is a problem in most blog / news sites, even professional ones, but one wonders that if these publications had done true explorative reviews of the products, if this would have had a greater impact on sales.

(Another example of this can be found in 94Fifty’s reviews. Though 94Fifty sponsored a surprisingly high number of test products to Vine (Amazon’s test program) reviewers, resulting in an excellent rating, the reviews are clearly from people who do not play basketball. You cannot tell how and if the product will actually make you a better player, making it difficult to qualify this $250 purchase.)

Also, I find it odd that although several of these products found difficulty getting funded, none of them replied to my emails of enthusiasm and support to help their products success from the business-side. To seek funding from the crowd, yet not bother to respond or create positive relationships with them…)

Nonetheless, let’s assume that adults reading these publications, for whatever reason, won’t be the main customers for these products. My assumption on why is that the average adult player may feel he already knows how to train / practice (“I just go shoot around a lot right?”) or may feel the product is too expensive to consider. Perhaps we change their minds over the long term, but for now…

Why not target youth?

I believe the the right approach includes 1) getting publications to write better in-depth, reviews after using the product for extensive time  periods, 2) approaching popular online basketball communities (such as the apparel / shoe forum to test drive the product and introduce it to their members, and 3) approaching youth basketball organizations (community leagues) and schools for testing and trial programs.

Finding The (Mass) Market through Pricing

If adults are too set in their ways to train, perhaps kids learning to play the game, with free time and enthusiasm, are not.

But current products are not affordable. The products range from $70 for the basketball (double the normal price of a quality basketball, and that’s technically the preorder price. It’s supposed to be $100) to hundreds of dollars. The ShotTracker, which I think is potentially the best pure training product, costs $200. 94Fifty is $250.

I won’t even buy these for myself (at least not without in-depth reviews as “proof of results”), so I would not expect typical lower and middle class families to buy a device for their children. I have observed that even with running wearables like the Fuelband, popular opinion feels that the products are overly expensive and do not provide enough value.

The Ideal Price: $50, less than the price of a videogame and the price of the cheapest wearables.

Once the pricing reaches a more mass market-friendly $50, I believe it will be possible to put the basketball trainer in stores, not just in the Sports section of your local Walmart, but also the electronics / phone section, along with running and fitness wearables. A small device (not a basketball) could be packaged and sold with little shelf space, improving the odds of acceptance into retail. You might see it at BestBuy or the Apple Store. It would be absolutely unique in its category, and as I mentioned, basketball is the #1 played sport in America, so this device is not for some small niche market. Perhaps the device will attract adults through these touchpoints, but if not, the device is priced low enough for youth, especially if it comes bundled with a fashion-customizable shooting sleeve or armband.

Once in everyday retailers, the touchpoint exposure to the normal American would reach mass market levels.

The real potential with kids is in schools. At this lower price point, you can market the device to school district Physical Education departments in mass bundle purchases, providing ways to motivate children and track performance. Schools can compete with other schools, kids with other kids. During elementary school, I used to fundraise by receiving pledges based on the amount I would run. Imagine fund raising goals based on student training performance with the device. Coaches could use the device to develop and monitor practice workouts for teams. Kids could compare their performance against team members.

Think the $50 price point is impossible? There are $40 Android Smartphones. This fantastic four inch Windows Lumia Phone, costs $70 (I have one). Technology gets better and cheaper, and at a more rapid pace every day. Remember how much MP3 players cost originally?

Making the Mass Market Basketball Trainer a Reality

My original question was: is there a product to be made that hundreds of thousands of people will buy to improve their basketball skills?

My second question was: is it possible to sell a training product that costs less than half of that shoe (Kevin Durant’s shoe is $130+) to 10% (100,000) of the number of people who bought it? 100,000 amounts to just four out of every one thousand people who play basketball, and that is only including people in the United States. FIBA estimates the worldwide number of players to be at 450,000,000 people! An affordable product simply expands the possibility of additional sales.

I believe the answer is YES. Such a product will be a naturally worn, circuit-training style wearable that will cost $50 and combine a tracking experience for fitness, dribbling, and shooting over website and/or mobile apps. At this price point, I believe that it can attract 100,000 customers – the majority, youth basketball players. Such a device can start a company and become a platform for extended uses and cross-selling over time. It can become a Fitbit or Jawbone for basketball players.

My Dream Device

Live Lids

Check out this awesome idea from LiveLids, the customizable LCD hat: The cap is a bit expensive at $75, but that’s fashion.

Imagine that type of customization on an armband, on a device that could be used to track your performance or as a fashion item. Upload whatever image you want, your favorite team, player, or girlfriend.Jason Richardson Armband I am imagining what I would have loved to have as a high school kid.

As seen in basketball shoes, fashion does drive basketball product sales. Why not tap into that behavior?

To use the device, a typical user might:

1) Attach the device (and charge it via USB)

2) Set up a custom photo or logo for display on the screen when idle

3) Set up the device’s training regiment through a website or mobile app

4) This regiment would be based on the user’s past performance (gamification) as well as training preferences (workout time)

5) The device could be attached to an armband (creating the customizable armband as imagined earlier)

6) The workout would be loaded onto the armband through videos. See the Circuit Trainer video examples here: Videos would be quick examples of a behind the back dribble, a free throw, or a pushup the player can replicate. As a Circuit Trainer-inspired product, the device would show small videos of each exercise and then track the performance of that player while he does it. He might then hear a beep or charm to let him know to switch to the next workout.

7) After the workout is complete, the user detaches the device, recharges it via USB and uploads his performance data.

This device, to keep prices down, would be minimal in features and only track physical movement data and show small videos. 1GB of memory would be enough, along with buttons to power up or place the device on sleep, as well as to start/pause/stop the workout – that’s all. Almost like a basic media player. The player would need to be set up via the website or app.

I would use the cheapest screen by finding the most mass-produced screen for portable electronics. If that is a touch screen, great, if not, the device will have a couple (at most) of small buttons.

I envision this package to cost $50, sold virtually at cost, and would include an armband and the tracking device. To track dribbling, you may actually need two armbands to track movement on both hands. The other hand would not need to be an LCD device, just a tracker that matches data with the primary hand. Depending on the engineering possibilities, the device itself could keep track of and store the performance date or send the information via low-energy-consumption bluetooth signal to a nearby smart device (like a smartphone).

(The latter would cause issues in the sense you would need to carry your smartphone with you. Since I believe the largest potential market is in targeting youth, this would require them to have smartphones.)

Because $50 is not a lot of money to produce an amazing device, this is why the initial device must provide clear benefits, but not necessarily tons of them. I think the initial device could track 1) dribbling performance and 2) fitness performance, basically regular circuit workouts. Shooting performance would be tracked with the purchase of an additional product. The Atlas is a recently funded example of such a device that can track beyond simple movement metrics.

I don’t expect the tracking capabilities to be perfect and they do not need to be. Any device can be cheated, but the goal is to accurately gauge when someone is putting the work in. As long as the device can do that, it’s a winner. Players can choose if they really want to cheat themselves.

Expansion – Revenue

With a low starting price, the goal is to maximize the number of people locked into the device platform, enabling future long term profit opportunities.

For future cross selling possibilities, I would focus on additional fashion options (armband colors and styles, shooting sleeves) that go with the device and new performance tracking (shot tracking) – only things that naturally combine with using the product. Particularly with the fashion options, the margins can be much higher. For new performance tracking, such as shooting, you would simply buy the device that is played under the rim / hoop.

Future versions of the device would add better functionality (matching the fanciness of the Atlas or other wearable products) for premium pricing, deluxe versions of the basic device.

Platform Expansion – Device and Online

On, you can now see how much running players do during a game. I remember being amazed about David Beckham’s amazing work rate in soccer. This is the type of metric I would want players to see when they upload their data. Beyond that, players could see their performance history in each training exercise, and as the website develops, get a feel on how they are performing compared to others their age or in the same geographical area. Although the device would promise results in twenty minutes per day, this simply serves as an easy barrier to see improvement. From here, I believe that competition with peers and fun will encourage players to put in more time and do more workouts, strengthening the positive feedback cycle.

While the website could achieve some supplementary revenue by selling ads (not so great), I see bigger viral customer potential by allowing players to build their own circuit exercises and promoting them. The more players that load these exercises, the creators would be rewarded with prestige in the community but also credit to purchase products.

I would open the online platform to new devices, devices from engineering-oriented fans. New devices could track new physical activities, or replicate existing ones from the original device in better ways. The point is to encourage new innovation without needing people to create complete user experiences. They could rely on the platform and its existing users to supply potential sales, lower costs in development, and faster times to market. The company would then license access to the platform for a small fee per product.

Over the long term, this could mean that the company focuses more on the online tracking platform and supporting device developers – this would not be a problem and would continue the device’s original mission to help the masses improve their basketball skills. By getting youth (pre-professional age) onto this product first, I believe older adults will naturally follow later. This pattern can be seen from other youth-centric early adoptions, such as social networking (Facebook). The youth prove the utility, and the adults follow afterwards.

The Sum Up

The mass market basketball trainer is a $50 device sold at cost to help kids stay fit and improve their basketball skills though intense but short drills. It is a device that is customizable, not just in workout, but in fashion – it is something you would want to wear normally. The device would lead to sales of related accessories and new functions, but also grow an online community for players to share training information and compete against each other. Aspiring innovators could then connect to the same platform and take advantage of its users and performance tracking to develop and sell their own devices, further improving training made available at lower cost to the consumer.

Please let me know what you think! I appreciate it.

ChoiBongRo, Where Anyone Can Find a Neighborhood Basketball Court in Vietnam

ChoiBongRo (Small)

Over the past few months, Ha and I have been working on launching (translated, it means Play Basketball). It’s where people can lookup nearby basketball courts all over Vietnam in both English and Tieng Viet.

Since coming to Vietnam in 2006, I found that it is very difficult to find places to play basketball. Vietnam differs from the United States in that there are very few places to play…anything. Walk around and you will occasionally see kids playing in small cement lots, sometimes accidentally launching balls into busy roads. There are not even many fields (pitches) to play football (soccer), which is easily the most popular sport in Vietnam (volleyball may be second). Almost all the basketball courts in the country are at schools, but they often not well maintained. Universities may have courts, but these are normally crowded. Many others are only available for use by organized teams, and even when available, their booking fees are somewhat expensive for young kids. Thus, it’s hard to imagine how Vietnam can be competitive in sports when youth play spaces are rare all over the country.

Despite all the new real estate developments in the cities, there has not been a similar emphasis on recreational space. Even in large housing developments for upper tier housing, a small play space is added as an afterthought rather than a key feature of the development. Outside the cities, in the provinces, there may be more land space for recreational areas, but these spaces are not being developed for play either. This is making it easier for today’s youth to simply stay home and watch tv or play mobile / iPad games. Because of this and the rise of costs for “real food”, which is promoting consumption of boxed, manufactured, and frozen food, I have no doubt that malnutrition and obesity will be a real challenge to Vietnam over the next twenty years, just as the problem is rising in Western countries today.

ChoiBongRo is a resource that we hope those living in Vietnam will embrace and share their own discoveries to help other current and future basketball players develop their loves for the game. We want to make it easier to go outside and play. Vietnamese youth, both girls and boys, need spaces to work on their games, learn the sport, play pickup basketball, shoot around – just exercise and have fun.

Right now, the website is currently very simple. We have listed some of the main courts in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, but we need help! As we can get more submissions and user traffic, I hope to find sponsors that will help finance the development of the site (nothing too fancy, just further development and optimization of its WordPress theme. I would love to hear from players what they need to support growing basketball as a sport to understand what should be developed after that). I’ve chosen this map-based theme as it has a responsive layout built in and helps users visually find and browse courts in their geographical area whether they are using a PC, tablet, or mobile phone.

If you love basketball or know someone who does, please share the website with friends so it can be discovered by more people.

Thanks, and remember!

The Big Problems Facing Sportan, the Indiegogo Mobile App

I love the concept of Sportan, “A location-based pick-up sports app for the everyday athlete. Discover, join and play pick-up sports instantly with the power of your smartphone.” At first glance, this mobile app seems to be headed in the right direction by covering all of today’s hot buzzwords, solomo (social / local / mobile) + gamification, and taking advantage of something that naturally contains all of those aspects – offline sports.

Essentially the promise of the app is this:  find a pickup game near you, in any sport, anytime you want to play. Get rated when you play, see your ranking improve the more you play.

Almost sounds like a real-life role playing game, I’m a level 53 basketball player in Final Fantasy Real Life Streetball!

However, as good as this all sounds, I feel that Sportan is going to face significant issues.

Who’s Playing?

In launching any app, you need to determine if the app can provide value with a limited number of users. Instagram can, because at its minimum, it has great camera functionality. Thus, it is ok for an Instagram-like app to start slowly and gradually build momentum. For Sportan, however, this is not ok – without a large number of users at the start, it reduces the value for new users to come on, starting a negative growth spiral.

It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. Why will people use the app if there is no one else using it? How can you get people to not just install the app but use it, when the benefits (rankings and new game opportunities) likely won’t come until many more people are on it as well? If I am using the app to join a pickup game I know about, but no one else there uses the app, how will I get ranked? The app needs to find a way to take advantage of the many pickup games already going on so that you can get benefits even if these are not the “new” games being created by Sportan users for Sportan users.

Otherwise, the likelihood of finding a new game from a Sportan user that is occurring when you want to play in an area near you will be very low. 

How Do Rankings Work?

Adult players do not get better as they age. I believe that adults are the target market here – Sportan is a smartphone app, and thus it’s more for people who have a relatively high amount of disposable income, people with jobs. Younger players (kids) have an easier time of finding games as they have more free time, but also already have a friend network from schools to play with on an everyday basis.

While I love the idea of being ranked as a player, I know that, at the age of 33, I am not going to become any better at basketball – I don’t have much time for practice, and I get slower every year. If these are true ratings, I would then see myself get worse numerically or stagnate over time. It’s one thing to know in my mind that I am not getting any better, but to see it on screen as a constant reminder is a different problem. It’s a negative incentive to stop using the app.

On the other hand, if rankings get better (like experience points in video games) the more you play, your rating might rise over time, but the actual value of that rating would be worthless. If ratings are dependent on other players, the question I brought up earlier comes to mind – what if you play games with players not using Sportan? Also, how many players need to rate you before the rating is an accurate portrayal of you? Will players actually know what to rate you? Can they be fair, without bias?

This is not so easy.

Sportan suggests that you can find the right pickup games by setting the rating scale of players that you would like to play with. That makes a lot of sense – it’s definitely more fun to play with others of the same skillset. If the rating system is faulty, how effective will this be? And again, if there are few people in your area using the app, how likely is it to not only find a game, but find a game with people who are accurately ranked and within your requirement?

These issues are all critical to the app’s growth cycle. If you use the app, you want to find a game (with enough players) near you quickly. If you do not have success your first few times using the app, the chance of a you uninstalling it or becoming inactive becomes very high and leaves the same issues for future users.

Improving the App

In a perfect world in which Sportan has a tremendous advertising budget to get people to know about and install the app, I am not sure that the issues above go away. Assuming people know about the app, what type of people are actually likely to use it? If you are in a large city, you may already know of some pickup games – are these people really in need of the app? Do they feel they need to find more pickup game opportunities on a regular basis? If not, perhaps the app becomes an afterthought for them. If you are in a smaller city or play a sport that is less popular (ex. volleyball), can you find enough people to join a game that you create, or will you feel like it’s not worth the effort or that it takes too long relative to other means (Facebook,

I do not have ideas to solve all of these problems, but I would take steps to simplify the app and make it a lot easier to gain traction.

First, I would change the rankings system.

I believe that users should rank themselves based on age, times playing per week, and highest level of play reached (no organized, organized, high school, college, pro), and preferred style of play (for basketball, this could be half court, full court, or shoot-around). Thus for me, I would enter:

33 years old / 2 times per week / No Organized Basketball / Full Court

I believe that most people would be honest about level of play as you would quickly find yourself out of place and embarrassed if you vault too high.

Second, I would let people register games.

This is to have a listing of all the types of games that people know about, whether they actually attend those games or not. What I mean is that Sportan should store a listing of all pickup games that others have contributed, not just games that Sportan players are actively creating and asking others to confirm. This allows more content seeding to occur and allow Sportan to import information from other sources. Sportan users could verify or edit the information to make sure listings are up to date.

Sportan’s ultimate goal then would to become the ultimate pickup sports “inventory”, in which users could come and find the perfect game for them.

The pickup games could be one-off or recurring and have the following information listed:

Time and Date / Location / Recurrence / Level of Play / Type of Play / # of People

Players using the app could check-in to the game if they do go – Sportan would then use that information to share which players are most active in an area. For recurring games, you could see the list of Sportan players that have participated recently. If you see a pickup game that has been participated in by a Sportan player, I think this will make it easier for you to join as it has been verified by a fellow user and you can also check out the skill rating of that user. When you go to a game that has a Sportan user attending, you essentially have a friend there – it’s a lot more comfortable to get a discussion going. Recurring games could show the average ratings of the Sportan users that attend those game. If you are searching for a nearby game, Sportan would automatically find games that are within a certain area from you but also with players who are primarily in your age group and skill level. That way, the user would not have to do much thinking to find the perfect game.

Sportan could highlight users that check-in the most nearby, letting those players become sports leaders and experts of that area. Featuring users may create a positive loop in which users appreciate the recognition and do more to promote the app and add more game information, which benefits all users. In later app builds, perhaps users could commit to attend a game, but also mark other Sportan users as “favorites” so that when favorites commit to games nearby, the user will get a notification to consider if he should join as well (like Following on Twitter).

To launch the app, I would focus on a private beta within a small geographical area.

For example, I might start at a university, as a lot of students will have smartphones, play sports on-campus, and be focused within one small area. If you can get this audience to use the app on a daily basis to manage their sports schedule, growth can naturally occur as they play games off-campus over time and have the opportunity to share the app with new players and include new game listings. If Sportan can prove this usage occurs, they will then have a basis for launching it in other markets and also creating revenue opportunities for the long term.

Otherwise, I think it is too risky to just launch Sportan nationally, and hope that traction builds quickly enough that most people have positive first experiences with it.


Those are some of my early thoughts on Sportan, if you have any comments, please write them below! Best of luck to Sportan, of course – to learn more about it, check out

A Look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 in 2014 [Review]

A few months ago, I got a great present from Midland – a Galaxy Tab 2 10.1” Wifi (Wireless, no cellular 3G) tablet. Even though Midland himself said it was a bit slow, I wanted to check it out anyway as I’ve never owned a true tablet. After installing CyanogenMod to make the tablet run as fast as possible, here are my impressions as well as some app recommendations.

Web Browsing: this is the worst aspect of using the device. I use Firefox, which is well regarded on Google Play, and also what I use on my laptop. Whether you are browsing multiple tabs or just a single one, loading web pages feels much slower than on the same connection with a PC. Firefox tends to forget which websites I’ve opened and sometimes will erase my session completely even when I have not closed the browser, leading to much frustration. In general, while a normal user who tends to open 1 page at a time and read casually will not have a problem with the Tablet, it’s an inadequate experience for me.

I use Firefox along with the AdBlock and LastPass extensions. I suggest paying for the LastPass Premium service so you can access its mobile app – LastPass lets you save your passwords in the cloud and can help you manage your passwords across desktop / laptop PC’s, mobile phones, and tablets. Because of this, I only remember critical passwords from a few sites, otherwise letting LastPass store the rest and making it convenient for me to login to websites wherever I am. AdBlock removes ads from websites. Although I do like ads from time to time, since the Note is so slow at web browsing, every little bit of speed helps.

Apps: If your favorite sites and services have good Android apps, this will take away much of the pain from the spotty web browsing experience. Using Facebook, Twitter, etc., works great on the large 10” screen. The app experience is not necessarily incredibly fast, but I have never felt it to be slow, at least not in comparison to the web experience. As I have been traveling a lot recently, TripAdvisor is a prime example of a website that is terrible to use on the tablet but is quite good on the app side. However, instead of having one general TripAdvisor app that you can use for any location, TripAdvisor only has apps for specific cities. This is great if you are going to a city (Frankfurt, Bangkok, etc.) that does have a specialized app for it, but obviously terrible if it does not (Saigon).

For news, I use Feedly. It does not match the PC version because I cannot enable the Android app to mark an article as “read” if I swipe past the headline. Thus, if I go into Feedly every couple of hours, I will continue to revisit articles that I did not want to read. This has really discouraged me from using the app.

Typing is not a great experience because of the screen dimensions, regardless if you use an alternative keyboard (the tablet can lag at times when using Swiftkey, making me slow down and create more mistakes) or the standard one. This tablet won’t be a go-to device if you are hoping to write long WordPress blogs on it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1Comic Books: I always imagined that this would be the main reason for owning a tablet, at least for me, and I’ve been proved right. My reading of digital comics has really been extensive this year- likely more in the last 3 months than in any 1 year period for the last 10 years. ComicRack makes reading comics anywhere anytime super convenient just as the Amazon Kindle made reading books did.

Media Player: (Movies, Music, Photos) I’m a bit disappointed you cannot use Amazon Prime streaming on non-Kindle Android devices. Otherwise, YouTube has an excellent Android app. I use MX Player to load movies from memory cards. Smugmug has a great app which will download your photo library to your Android device automatically, making it easy to see or search your photos wherever you go, regardless of your data connection. When I am back in the US, I may try some music radio apps like Spotify or Pandora. For now, all I have loaded is Hype Machine, which I have used on the PC, but not yet tried on the tablet.

Books: I think the Amazon Kindle app is solid on the Android. I still prefer reading on a Kindle device as it’s easier to switch pages and read with one hand, but if you only have this tablet, you will enjoy reading on it as well. Adobe Reader is a surprisingly solid app for reading PDF’s.

Games: I haven’t tried much in games. From what I’ve seen of Ha playing, world favorite Candy Crush works great on it. In general, I don’t like playing games on a touch screen or mobile device.

As for the physical device, it feels pretty standard. The resolution is relatively low for today’s devices, but this doesn’t bother me much. All the buttons work fine, and the tablet is not too heavy. I added another 32GB SDHC card to supplement the internal 16GB and a Tech Armor screen protector which makes fingerprints less obvious but also dulls the screen slightly. A complaint I have is regarding the unit’s battery charging. I am not sure how to charge the tablet via USB (meaning I cannot plug it into my computer to charge it), and even when I charge it via a power outlet, it just takes too long – I think it would take at least 5 hours to charge the tablet, which is essentially an overnight charge. iPhones and my laptop (Lenovo x230) get charging done, it feels, within 2-3 hours.

The Tablet 2 is nearly two years old today, and since then Samsung has issued some amazing new replacements, at least in terms of their hardware specifications. If you are able to get a Tablet 2 in good condition for around $100, I definitely recommend one, particularly if you do not need it much for online web browsing.