Paul Cox of Roundpoint
"....the personal nature of the mobile will mean it quickly supersedes the PC as the device of choice for many current internet activities such as banking, email and a whole bunch of new applications we really can't imagine right now."
Paul Cox is Chief Technology Officer for Roundpoint Ltd. Working in and around Cambridge for nearly 20 years, Paul has been involved a wide variety of electronic and software product developments, delivering everything from Helium cooled CCD cameras for Astronomers through Wireless voice and data products to Pharmaceutical anti-counterfeiting systems. The constant theme has been to push technology to do new things and open up new business opportunities as a consequence. Paul helped to develop the original IPR which enabled Roundpoint to spin out from Cambridge Consultants in 1998 and came back to the company in 2006 when he decided that the mobile market may actually be about to pick up. He's still waiting.
1) The mobile internet seems to have finally arrived as a viable mass market technology. What are the key catalysts in your view?
The coincidence of flat rate data packages, more capable handsets and the need for operators to find new revenue streams has clearly been key. All of that, kick-started with the Apple marketing machine making mobile internet cool, has produced the beginnings of a market which is growing very quickly and still changing dramatically.
2) Its arrival has been somewhat explosive. How is Roundpoint managing demand?
Cambridge provides us with a very flexible market for contract resource which enables us to deal with the peaks and troughs of demand that inevitably come from a rapidly growing market. We are also happy to partner with local firms in both Cambridge and California to provide a more complete package for our customers.
3) Roundpoint has been around for some time now. What advantages does this give you over the new kids on the block?
We certainly have good understanding of what really works on mobile. As we have not been investor funded for a long time now, I believe we are also much more conscious of which business models will work for us and our customers.
We are frequently working in revenue share situations and so it is in our best interests that the ongoing product is successful for our customer. I think new start-ups with money to burn do not always look to the longer term needs of their customers. A good example is total reliance on mobile advertising as a model, which we can see decreasing in value almost by the day.
4) Is there any scope for the further development of your technology or is it mature? In what areas do you plan to innovate?
There is always room for innovation and I think greater intelligence in web based mobile applications is a key area for us. Developing information management and delivery applications for mobile which make best use of the local device and the connectivity together are key. For example, applications which preload content from the network to make it available when you are offline - such as in a tunnel on the train.
These kind of applications typically require flat rate data packages to be acceptable to the consumer as they need to be given free rein to access the network.
5) How do you plan to grow the company over the next five years?
We are currently self funded and are growing organically. However, we do see new opportunities from time to time which would require a significant capital investment. At those times we typically talk to investors and partners to see if there is an appetite. This is how our Cerkle, mobile social networking platform came about, in conjunction with the GSM Association.
6) How important for you as a business is it to be located in Cambridge's wireless cluster?
The main benefit of being located in Cambridge for us is the tremendous pool of local talent in software development, in general, and wireless in particular. I can't imagine us moving away from Cambridge any time soon. We also have an office in San Francisco which keeps us in touch with one of the other key soft ware and wireless development centres on the planet.
7) You have been personally involved in a number of key innovations. What is the key to successful innovation in your view?
Innovation is often a 'eureka moment' but can also be a managed process, looking regularly at what is happening in the market. In particular convergent technology areas - such as at the moment with mobile and broadband - are great places to look for innovative developments. Once that spark has been established, you must believe in the idea you have. The first reaction to a new idea is typically dismissal, and the more radical it is, the more likely it is to be dismissed.
8) How could the UK improve its performance in successfully commercialising innovations?
A large amount of innovation occurs in small businesses which are not cash rich; this means that there are often difficult decisions to make between maintaining core activities and taking risky ideas forward. So, easier access to some form of capital investment is needed for these kinds of activities, and typically the only currency these companies have is their existing privately held stock. Perhaps some form of risk capital bank that traded existing stock to some small level would be a way forward - something between a bank and a full venture investment.
9) What do you see as being the key technology and market trends in the mobile internet going forward?
If you think back to when you first got broadband in your house and how a week later you wondered how you ever lived without it, that is what is going to happen next with mobile. When that does, a whole new range of applications becomes possible and the personal nature of the mobile will mean it quickly supersedes the PC as the device of choice for many current internet activities such as banking, email and a whole bunch of new applications we really can't imagine right now.
10) What three pieces of advice would you give to any budding technologists out there?
Firstly, do your research. Someone once told me "if you have a good idea, someone else probably already had it" and it's true. The last thing you want to do is invest all your time and energy in an idea only to find that someone else already owns the patent on it.
Second, refine your technical idea and then figure out how someone else is going to make money out of it. More often than not, technologists are not primarily financially motivated; however they need to understand that mindset if they are to raise the finance they will need to make their ideas a reality.
Third, persevere. It will take a lot of meetings before you find the commercial partner with whom your idea fits. The time you invest at this point will probably have as much impact on your success or failure than anything else you do.