I was fortunate enough to meet serial entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith last week. He's best known for creating Moshi Monsters. It's a great tale of reinvention and perseverance which he told at the
Adobe Summit before we headed off for a cup of coffee and a chat about his next big challenge -- mobile.
Before launching Moshi Monsters. Smith had burned nearly all his investors' cash on
Perplex City, a national treasure hunt game that was far too complex for anyone to follow. It was a great idea, he reflects, that turned into a financial disaster. Weeks later, wondering what to do
with the rest of the cash, he sketched a Moshi Monster on a napkin in a coffeehouse and the rest is history.
Quite literally history, in fact -- because to survive Smith now has to reinvent
his Mind Candy company to be relevant in the mobile age. He thought it was actually going to be a lot easier than it was. It has taken 18 months and the end result is still not finalised. However, in
June or July Mind Candy will be launching what sounds like a mobile portal cum social media network for children.
"Nobody else is speaking to children through a safe social platform, as we
will be doing, so it's a great opportunity," Michael believes. "It's going to be a place where children can set up a profile for free and chat, strictly with their friends, for free but then there
will also be apps that will allow them to explore their passions and interests, such as sport and art. We've yet to finalise monetisation but obviously in the early days of any social platform it's
all about building the numbers before you monetise."
The key lesson that Michael says the past 18 months have taught him is that you cannot simply lift a Web presence and dump it onto a
mobile screen. For what he calls the new generation of young "swipers" the rules have changed.
"We thought the Web would have a lot further to run that it has, I have to be honest," he
says. "But when you look at young children now on a PC they poke the screen, they expect a tablet experience, so we have to offer it to them on a tablet to be relevant. The trouble is not only is
Moshi Monsters in Flash, so it can't be dropped in to mobile, there are just so many free games out there appealing for attentions. So how do you compete in this landscape? We're not entirely sure of
the finished product but I'd explain it like it's an app you go into and then you can add lots of different elements, according to your interests and hobbies."
So, ironically, Flash not
being able to be picked up and dumped on mobile is probably a good thing. It has made Mind Candy think very long and hard at how it approaches the tablet and smartphone markets with a reinvention of
Even if you are not in the children's market right now, these consumers soon will be your customers. At the same time, the need for a company -- even with the huge
success of Mind Candy -- to reevaluate its approach when going mobile is a clear lesson that no brand, marketer or ad exec can ignore.