ADOTAS Conversations: Fred Ghahramani, Co-Founder, AirG

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While we’re traversing the mobile marketing landscape on this auspicious day that is Halloween, ADOTAS decided to gain insight from a company that not only embodies mobile marketing, but instills a social networking model within wireless devices.

Vancouver-based AirG, a firm founded by techies Fred Ghahramani, Vincent Yen and Bryce Pasechnik, houses a mobile community of more than 10 million unique users worldwide, and is intertwined with over 85 mobile operators and media companies globally including Sprint Nextel, Cingular, Rogers, TELUS, Virgin Mobile, Orange, Vodafone and MTV Asia.

As the talk of the town veers towards mobile content, including video of course, AirG is integrating and weaving its own web of community-driven campaigns and interactive initiatives, proving social networking thrives well beyond the mighty macrocosm of MySpace.

Recently, ADOTAS sat down for a chat with Ghahramani to not only discuss the usual background and business model issues, but AirG’s recent involvement with one of its more hip wireless clients, Boost Mobile, and the latter company’s marketing push for West Coast Customs. While skepticism towards mobile marketing is still prevalent, the West Coast Customs campaign shows mobile’s potential to breach a huge demographic without the usual overreliance on the Web.

Hi Fred. Can you give me a little company history and background?

Air G is a six-year old business, started in early 2000 and powering social networks on mobile phones. Initially, the products were very simple, very basic, putting tens of thousands of people together to chat on mobile phones via text messaging.

Now, as the platforms have evolved, the products are very attractive and very close to what you can do on a PC—chat, instant message, blog, share profile photos all on your mobile phone. Our customers have conventionally been the telephone companies, so we’ve been licensing our systems to the cell phone carriers. They’ve been selling these products to end users, and increasing phone bills. We’ve getting a piece of it.

Through that long, laborious process, we built out a global business with over 100 employees. It’s private and profitable, based out of Vancouver, Canada with operations in Europe and Asia and sells in over 30 countries.

What’s now happening is that social networking on mobile phones is becoming a mass market phenomena and it’s hit a tipping point. It took us five years to build up a customer base of 5 million users, and then it took us eight months to go from 5 million to 10 million users. What’s driving that is the fact that even the simplest mobile phones out there—even the cheapest ones that come with a contract where you don’t have to put any money up front—come with color screens, camera features, and have a processor that lets you basically see the mobile phone as a new platform to deliver large applications. The key application we think is the social networking phenomenon.

So what are the advertising implications?

The second stage of our business model is to recognize that we have this business platform where you have over 10 million customers on mobile phones, interacting with each other with the average usage being over 59 minutes per day—meaning where the user is glued to their phone. That tabulates over 5-minute snippets here and there.

So, what this really means is you have actually another opportunity as an advertiser to stay in touch with consumers, to interact with consumers and really build a relationship with consumers in a very intimate setting, which is on their mobile phones.

So there are two ways that this is going to market when it comes to advertising. First is to advertise in the existing networks that we have available globally, really to take advantage of that five minutes at a time that I spend on my phone to check in with friends, and sneak in ten-second clips here or there, be it video, pictures, or coupons. It’s a topic-sensitive, highly targeted message that can be really focused based on people’s age, sex and demographic information, location, phone type, network, etc. So, just that business alone is a really exciting and powerful business because you can target market specifically on a myriad of specific demographic inputs.

Because it’s your mobile phone and because it’s social networking, people are sharing this information with each other so that they can meet like-minded people. In terms of the growth of our business in that regard, we work with agencies and various partners who sell advertising into our system.

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