Carl Freer founded Gizmondo back in 2002, the idea for the ultimate handheld gaming system stemming from a child tracking product he had been developing. Three years later he resigned from his position as Chairman of the Board, the company and product both having failed miserably. Now three years later, Freer is spearheading the relaunch of the Gizmondo, ready to take another shot at the market. In a talk entitled "High Tech Ventures in Mobile Gaming and Media" at Georgia Tech, Freer will discuss his experience starting and running high tech companies, with a focus on the failure and forthcoming rebirth of the Gizmondo. Let's see what the man has to say.
Currently waiting for things to get started. The event, part of GA Tech's GVU Center Brown Bag Lecture series. GVU stands for Graphics, Visualization and Usability.
YAY! Administrative announcements. Turn off your cell phones, clean up your trash. etc.
Blair, the man introducing Carl comes out waving around a Gizmondo. He's been using it for research for two years. He invited Carl to the school upon hearing about the rebirth of the handheld.
Carl takes the podium, looking fit! Starts with a survey. "How many of you have Googled Carl Freer? " Laughter. "How many of you believe what you read?" Bigger laughter.
"Gizmodo is, in my opinion, the first multi-function handheld device." Um, okay! Adding gaming to the system was originally simply a way to drive sales of the device.
"From my point of view the product didn't fail - the company failed."
He calls himself a living example of what you shouldn't do. Really? Never!
Question from the audience - Will the Gizmondo change from the original version?
"We decided that we wanted to get the product out on the market quickly, and the spec of the current Gizmondo is good enough."
They'd like to incorporate new tech, but the time to market would be extended by a year.
Gizmondo will be the same except for an upgrade to the NVIDIA graphics chip.
Next year they are working with NVIDIA to completely restructure the PCB. Development is already started.
"We could never compete with Sony or Nintendo in content."
Freer is going over the benefits of the product being open source.
Freer's sons are here. His 12-year-old asked to come watch his dad make a fool of himself. Oh those kids.
Part of the strategy of Gizmondo is creating a platform that people can use to create their own games.
They want to create centers of development throughout technical university campus, offering hardware and such for free in order to foster creativity and growth.
They'll be hitting the blogs and forums pretty hard with the information about developing as the Gizmondo. Oh yay!
One of the reasons the company failed he said is long lead times for components. Retailers won't prepay, so they couldn't keep up financially with manufacturing.
They have a new manufacturing with a Chinese company that will let them pay as they receive the product, allowing them to get paid for the units immediately.
We're going to start selling the Gizmondo online before retail.
They've been talking to companies like Barnes & Nobles about carrying the product for use as a book reading device for young children.
They're not going to be spending $10-$15 million on EA to secure their new titles. He says he spent way too much on securing games. He spent $15 million on three EA games, not including development costs. Damn!
They will be focusing on areas of development that are less competitive. He mentions the PSP. "We feel that the Gizmondo...can be used in areas the PSP cannot."
"I'm taking a step back. I'm putting the product out there and letting you guys handle development."
The SDK will be completely free. Hail SDK!
He claims keeping the original Gizmondo closed source was a fatal mistake.
He says the Gizmondo started as an anti-theft device for cars. Freer was a car dealer at one point...go figure...who had a bunch of cars stolen. The device was a GPS / GSM tracker. Then, due to a series of child abductions in England the focus shifted to being a child tracker.
In 1997 Freer was named the Swedish entrepreneur of the year. "The press forgot about that." Whoops.
Now he's moved on to the main talk, tips about getting your own ideas into the open market.
"I think it's key to find and understand your limitations."
His first point - Empower your audience - make sure they can understand what you are creating. Have a hook that grabs their attention.
Create compelling experiences. Slowly sinking into the less interesting bits of his talk.
Now he's showing a CGI ad for the Gizmondo to illustrate creating a compelling experience. The good old bumblebee video.
They tried to make Gizmondo look bigger than they actually where. Sometimes you have to embelish things, but being ethical and honest is very important.
Again, the man said, "Being ethical and honest is very important."
Now he's showing a video for his streaming mobile video company, featuring music by The Cardigans.
Look at the market. "If you feel like it's half-done, it's probably 75% done."
"I've had 13 startups, 9 have been alright, the rest have not. I've learned more from the failure."
Blowfish Works...a mobile video player you download to your phone..is launching next month. Over 1.2 million people have signed up for the service before launch. They'll be launching on Facebook a week before the main launch. Exciting. Gaming important? Nope. Moving on.
Could the Gizmondo integrate a phone? Version one will not.
Version 2 will have the ability to process sound and voice telephony.
"I would be very happy if the Gizmondo remains an entertainment device."
He doesn't want to deal with the VOIP issues.
The current Gizmondo will have a lifespan of 3 years.
"If we do well our roadmap entails expanding the hardware and supporting full telephony."
When the company went bankrupt Freer was hit with a gag order, not allowed to talk to the press. The fact that he couldn't defend Stefan Eriksson . "You can take the gangster out of the ghetto but can't take the ghetto out of the gangster." Ouch.
The facts of the failure. Yes there were high salaries - "Which by the way were market rate..."
Carl himself didn't draw a salary.
Apparently they had talks with some big companies about acquisitions.
He couldn't defend himself. On Eriksson's famous car accident - "I was sleeping, but I felt like I was sitting on the front end of the car when it happened."
Freer learned the lesson of guilt by association in regards to working with Erikkson. "When you're in the public light you have to find alternatives."
The definitive reasons the Gizmondo failed - We were public too early so we were victims of day trading. The second failing was not opening the device to open source. The third was spending big bucks for EA. The fourth was a far too rich renumeration policy. Make sure you have the money before hand - don't expect you'll gather capital as you go along.
Now he's talking about marketing, and just like when I went to college, I am starting to doze off. What a lovely, nostalgic feeling!
And now it's done! There you have it folks. The Gizmondo marches on with Freer banking on it's varied functionality and open-source nature to get it into consumer's hands, with another version already in the works. Good luck, Carl!