CEO Banjo [Editor's note: This interview was originally posted on March 13th 2013 as part of our MWC13 coverage]
Hawaii-born Damien Patton went from being a chief mechanic in Nascar for seven years to create start-ups. In his fourth adventure, his first one in the mobile app environment, he discovered the power of geolocation across multiple social networks to find out what is really hot on any part of the globe. Banjo began as the result of a case of social network isolation between Patton and a mate, that never met despite being both in the same place. This is the origin of an app that has drawn the attention of 3.5 million users around the world and recently has been chosen by Google to be one of the first mobile integrations of Google+ Sign-in, as the CEO explains in this interview about all things Banjo held during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
AppsZoom: How did you come up with this idea? Or when did you decide to get people to share their experiences with Banjo?
Damien Patton: Actually, I missed a very good friend at the airport. I was leaving Boston and going to Las Vegas and a friend happened to be at the same airport, he was tweeting and I was going through Facebook and when I got home I discovered we had spent hours in the same place, probably very close and hadn’t even seen each other. And to think how much this happens to a lot of people every day… So in that moment, I took a two-meter whiteboard, put it on the wall and drew the architecture to solve this problem so we never had to miss out any of that. Being able to take you anywhere, that’s us. Once you experience the disappointment of missing out something like that… I don’t want to hear that anymore. How do you cure the feeling of missing out? To me, it’s all about the here vs there. Here, easy to solve, there… not so much. If we can solve that, we can make people’s lives better.
AZ: You just closed a deal with Google. There are only a few apps that use Google +, they mostly use Facebook or Twitter.
DP: Well, they have a massive ecosystem of users, because they use Gmail and go to Youtube. One of the hardest things for us as developers is to get discovered, people discovering our product and downloading it. But what they do with their product is that when a user discovers Banjo on the web and they have the Google + sign; when you click on that they know whether the user uses Gmail or not and if it’s associated with an Android device, so you can send the Banjo application straight to that device without the user doing anything, and that’s incredible. We’re the first that came out, literally on 26th February so it’s a brand new service and they chose us to integrate it with them. Some of us went down to Google and worked down there with them for a couple weeks. And we even built this web-sharing product for them as well, so yes we’re really excited about it. It’s really great to work with them, it was an amazing experience
AZ: But wouldn’t this cause issues with the users, getting Banjo just by signing in with their Google accounts?
DP: But they have to agree with all of this. It says: “hey, we recognize you have a Nexus, would you like to download Banjo?” And if you say yes, it just downloads it right into the device.
AZ: Google has location services, but you’re trying to do something different.
DP: Yes, of course, they have the largest map in the world, but this is location services from a social level, giving you real-time information. No one else is doing that. Let’s say I’m a Real Madrid fan, what app could take you into the Spanish Cup and see Barcelona and Real Madrid playing? You could’ve gone to Twitter and see people hashtagging about it, but you can’t go into the same stadium and see it through all different social networks that people are using. With Banjo you can. We match together every single social network. You can go to the Superbowl, Times Square, the Oscars… and know what’s happening right now anywhere. Twitter or Facebook might have content but they don’t have enough information to make it relevant. For example, you could search Madrid or someplace smaller and Banjo would have so much rich content.
AZ: Even the smallest towns?
DP: Of course, there’s got to be activity. But if you go to a smaller town in Europe, you can filter the content, by maybe people talking about a topic, the Italian elections, for instance.
AZ: That’s really interesting, but there’s always the privacy issue. How much are you willing to share?
DP: You can’t talk about location and not talk about privacy. Banjo takes privacy seriously, even I go to speak to the US government all the time about things we should be doing in order to protect that. What I believe is that today with location we always think about something like checking-in and telling people you’re right here, right now and I don’t think that’ll ever go mainstream. You need to allow people the choice to say they’re participating in an event. They’ll never find you there: I’m more comfortable to say I’m on an event as opposed to say I’m staying at this particular house… I like to think of location and privacy like the actual location symbol itself. Everybody focuses on the “I’m right here” and most women don’t want to do that, as what’s the use in doing that besides bragging about where you are? In the daily life, why would you give your exact location? You should be able to say you’re at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. You want to share that to keep a record or let your friends know you’re around, but we have to give users more control of the privacy. We shouldn’t force people to share locations, we never show locations when you sing in on Banjo, you have to go to one of the social networks and share it from there.
AZ: You respect the original settings then.
DP: Yes, we respect all settings on social networks. And you can also change some things in Banjo like: even if my Twitter is public, I only want my friends to see it. We let the user fully control that. And we’re making it easier for you to share content without logging out from Banjo, you can update your status from there.
AZ: How do apps like Banjo set a new playground for mobile advertising?
Advertising in mobile to me is a broken experience, people are just sending you ads that you don’t care about. We’re very attached to this mobile device, you only go back home if you forget your phone, not your wallet. And how does it feel if you’re using an app and an advertisement pop-ups? The companies that make the ads that you see contextually relevant to you and make sure you see them in a moment when it’s important for you to see them; that’s what the future is, that’s what we’re doing. I don’t think that we, as users connected to the mobile, should have to put up with pop-up ads, so what I think it’s going to happen, the users will eventually start to reject those apps. The companies will be forced to change their thinking and build something that is contextually relevant to all of us.
AZ: One of the biggest challenges in mobile industry.
DP: It is, no one has figured it out how to effectively make money out of mobile yet. Not me, nobody. I don’t believe the proper way has been invented yet, we haven’t seen it yet. All the advertisers are doing it the easiest way, they’re doing what they did on web and that’s not the solution. But we see the problem, we’re ahead of the curve and we get annoyed with this advertisement even if users haven’t yet.
AZ: In one of the conferences at the MWC you mentioned CNN using your application to report things around the world. Can you talk about that?
DP: We didn’t approach them, they came to us. They say that during this big events, CNN couldn’t always have their reporters on their ground right away, so they’ve been using Banjo to go to that location, as you know everything you’re seeing is coming from that location. Now, there’s no place in the world that’s out of reach. Banjo makes every person in the world an instant reporter. It doesn’t matter if it’s a news story or a sports event, you’re talking about your experience.