Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is GetFugu Properly Prepared For Human Consumption?

San Francisco based enhanced mobile search marketing company GetFugu (GFGU) has made a lot of noise in the last week. First they announced investments from Vanity Events Holding ($1mil) and cleaning products company SpongeTech ($4mil), Wednesday they presented at GigaOm's Mobilize '09, Thursday they announced a major licensing deal with Health Matrix ($5mil) and then last Friday they launched iPhone & Android Apps. To top it off, this morning they announced a partnership with Majesco. Not bad for a company that's been trying to find it's sea legs (fins?) for a few years, in guises including BlowfishWorks and MediaPower Group. Believe it or not, the company has been publicly traded for over 2 years and has a market cap of $127mil, despite never having reported a dime of revenue (wow!)... which makes it more akin to a biotech startup than a mobile company. Clearly investors have great expectations.

Anyhow, GetFugu's value proposition is a suite of technologies, within an application service, that expedite consumer interaction with brands on mobile devices by way of eliminating the cumbersome process of typing a URL or the back and forth associated with shortcodes. Their 4 key technologies are:
  1. ARLs (Augmented Reality Links): where a user takes a picture of a logo, movie poster etc. using the application and then the application returns links to a mobile website, piece of media or another application of the brand owner's choosing
  2. VRLs (Voice Recognition Links): where a user says "Coca-Cola" into the handset while the application is on and the application returns a links to a mobile website, piece of media or another application of Coca-Cola's choosing
  3. GRLs (Geographical Recognition Links?): where a users with a GPS enabled handsets gets links based upon where they're physically located
  4. Hotspotting: where a user can get information about, and potentially purchase, an item within piece of video by tapping on it on a touch screen handset
Assuming the technology works as advertised, this is all really cool stuff. I've been a fan of enhanced search tools like these ever since I used my first QR code in Japan and, even more so, after I met mobile visual search pioneer NevenVision (which was eventually acquired by Google) while at Universal, back in 2005. Way back then I wanted to use NevenVision's i-Scout technology (their version of the ARL) to allow users to shoot pictures of the movie key art from The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift and get sent back links to purchase the mobile game based on the film. We went a long way down a road, but eventually abandoned the project because the process, in practice, turned out to be too klugy. This is the same reason I'm skeptical about 2D barcodes (see my post from March 16th) and why I'm reserving judgment on whether GetFugu will be successful. The issue is that these tools work great IF the consumer already has the application on the handset... QR codes work in Japan because almost every data oriented device, on every carrier, has the reader application preloaded. Otherwise the brand owner has to educate the consumer that they need to download an application first...which basically eliminates any benefits.

Getting this app ubiquitously preloaded by all the major OEMs is never going to happen. Getting brands to enter into partnership agreements, with no financial committment, will happen, but my guess is that most will use the technology in limited new media marketing "experiments"...not a good way to build scale. That said, I think GetFugu's real opportunities are to...
  • Roll it out in enterprise settings, where IT departments can preload it on the devices. I believe this is what Health Matrix is doing with the technology for health care providers and pharmaceutical companies
  • Eventize the application for consumers by focusing tons of energy on getting one monster national brand to make GetFugu the centerpiece of a sustained media campaign... like, get American Idol to run a weekly contest with viewers who use the application to access sponsors' sites (hell, it worked for SMS).
  • Get bought by, or enter into a major strategic partnership with, either Google, Apple, Nokia or Microsoft so distribution becomes their problem
We'll see how it goes. I'm looking forward to monitoring their quarterly statements, now that they have a product launched.


  1. I saw a demo at CES 2008 by Intel where they had a cameraphone pointing around... you'd point at a street sign and the software would automatically recognize that it was in a foreign language and translate it for you. Seemed really cool to me back then. Agree with you that they need a killer app and marketing services is not it.

    I've seen my first AR app (that hidden feature in the Yelp iPhone app Monical) and also that 3D business card thing. Based on the above, 2 ideas:

    1) I think a city-guide type company could create good killer app of this technology.

    2) Travel Agencies / Guidebooks could also create a translation and/or mapping tool. Perhaps the market gets entered by a Foreign Language company (Rosetta Stone) or a mapping company first.

  2. $127 million market cap, traded for 2 years and not a dime in revenue?! Profit I could kind of understand, but revenue? That's amazing. More amazing that they found investors in the current environment willing to fund this thing further.

    VRLs sound cool but that example sounds like a non-starter. Would anyone really ask companies to send them some random marketing crap that the company selected for them?

    I think hotspotting is killer and badly needed but it would suffer the same problems as all mobile commerce right now. Hopefully someone figures out an easy way to transfer money over mobile that doesn't involve paying the carriers.

    Great post.