Gabe Zichermann is an entrepreneur, author and public speaker who coined the term “Funware” to describe the use of game mechanics in non-game contexts. As co-founder and CEO of mobile software startup rmbrME, Gabe is helping to rewrite the rules for networking in a smartphone world. Additionally, as co-author of the upcoming books “The Engaging Web” (Manning, 2009) and “Game-Based Marketing” (Wiley, 2010), Zichermann makes a compelling case for the use of games and game mechanics in everyday life, the web and business. A native of Canada and resident of NYC, Gabe frequently muses about games and the world at http://funwareblog.com
Question: Where did the idea for rmbrME come from?
Gabe Zichermann: I am a pretty social person, so I meet a lot of people. I go to a lot of tradeshows and events and what I found was that after every event I had a huge pile of business cards and more so than the irritation at having to enter the business cards, which invariably meant that I didn’t do anything with them and just pushed them aside, was the fact that I realized that I didn’t remember half the people on those cards. They were fleeting moments. They were handshakes and maybe our interaction was meaningful at the time, but later at my office I didn’t know who they were and then it dawned on me that of course if I didn’t remember who they were, they didn’t remember who I was. So I said well, why can’t we solve the problem of people being able to make a meaningful socially networked connection and remember each other using these incredibly powerful computers that are in our pockets? I immediately took a look at the existing solution, the one that most people had thought about. When I say beaming contact information between phones, most people immediately think of the Palm Pilot, which had this functionality more than 15 years ago and one of the problems with the Palm Pilot solution was of course it was pretty kludge, like you took two phones and you pointed them at each other and you pressed the button and you waited and you didn’t want to shake it. You really have to hold still and then eventually a beep would go off and you’d press a button on both sides and yay, you’d shared a contact. Even if you could get over the hassle of that process, the reality was it only worked from Palm to Palm and that’s what doomed it of course as a nothing more than a gimmicky artifact of that particular era. We said well, there has to be a simple, easy to articulate and even easier to use solution for sharing contact information and discovering people who are meaningful business contacts and so from that came beamME.
I came up with the idea for beamME one day when I was just frustrated about the process. I had a long term friend, a guy by the name of Christopher Cunningham, who is a mobile entrepreneur who had sold his last company around the same time that I sold mine. We were good personal friends and I asked Chris to help me prototype the first versions of the product and at the end of the prototyping process I said, “Well Chris, you know I know that you’re enjoying your sort of relaxed lifestyle, so maybe you could help refer me to someone who might make a good CTO and cofounder.” Chris said, “Well, what makes you think that I’m not interested in doing that with you?” And I was like, “Well, this is a magical moment in our lives because I have a lot of respect for you.” “You’re clearly very technically literate.” “You’re in the right space and we’re friends and so hey, why not do this together?” So we started the company. Chris and I started the business really in earnest in 2007 and got to work here in New York City building beamME.
Recorded on October 22, 2009