Beware of the Gatekeepers

David Cohen founder of Techstars gave a great talk last night at the Boulder-Denver New Tech Meetup on barriers to distribution and staying mindful of gatekeepers. Through a brief look back into history, Dave described how iContact, a location-based mobile social networking service he founded in Boulder, had a great idea and app, but that they weren't mindful of the distribution obstacles that existed in mobile. "We launched on NEXTEL devices (those were the only ones with GPS at that time), and while we quickly grew the service to 2000 users, we weren't mindful of the role of the gatekeeper - the carriers and their decks". iContact did have a good idea and app (Bob Durkin gave me a demo at one of the NAVTEQ LBS Challenges, and it was good), but to Dave's points made, they were 1) too early, and 2) not mindful of the carrier walled-garden distribution challenges that existed four years ago - and without the deck placement needed, iContact never reached mass adoption with network effects. Dave went on to list other modern examples of success (Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl) which he attributed to better, more open D2C distribution alternatives such as the iTunes App Store and RIMs App World. "Today's environment is much better for entrepreneurs working in mobile" he said, but he then continued by cautioning the audience that gatekeepers still exist, they are just different actors today, and that entrepreneurs should develop a strong business development mindset to handle adjustments that may need to happen. It was good, honest, first-hand advice and also reminded me why I bled back then to get things "done".