Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Mobicip.com – Enabling Mobile Learning By Keeping Kids Safe

It was the morning of July 11, 2008. I was following the Apple announcement about the iPhone Software Development Kit (later rechristened as the iOS SDK). I had been involved in smartphone-based learning in K-12 schools for a while then. It was incredibly fascinating to see technology solve the problem of motivating kids to learn and doing it very effectively. But smartphones were primitive then with apps comparable to the first PC PacMan games. And here was Apple announcing the SDK for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

At the time, I had consumed my fair share of Paul Graham’s essays on entrepreneurship, and was just waiting for the right moment and right idea. Remember how you feel after you buy a new car and suddenly see the particular model on the roads everywhere? I am by no means clairvoyant, but I was convinced that Apple was not only going to change the world, but also revolutionize how our kids learn. Keeping kids safe on these devices that can be used anytime anywhere was obviously going to be a challenge for schools and parents. And so Mobile Children’s Internet Protection (MobiCIP) was born.

Fast forward three months later. The company was a reality, we had a great product team, friends and family pitched in with some funding, the website was attracting tremendous traffic, and a huge interest list had formed waiting for the launch. And then we hit a brick wall. Yes, Apple, and its infamously fickle App Store approval process. Although Mobicip was designed as a Software as a Service (SaaS) and could support any device and OS, I had bet on the iPhone and iPod Touch as our launchpad.

Most apps were being approved in 4-6 weeks. Mobicip’s Safe Browser app had been submitted in early November, but hadn’t been approved even after 2 months. It was the most nervous holiday season in my life as some app reviewer in the Apple netherworld held the reins to the future of Mobicip. We opened an online petition, there was tremendous support on our customer forum, and one of our users wrote to Steve Jobs and even got a reply. It was a matter of time, I was told. And I waited with bated breath.

I had always thought of startups as this crazy world where people work 24/7. And here I was, just waiting on Apple for our first product launch, and working on our roadmap somewhat half-heartedly. No one warned me that it takes an incredible amount of tenacity to keep doing what you are doing patiently in the face of absolute uncertainty, a very common situation for startups to be in. I believe that every entrepreneur and startup faces this moment of truth at one time or another. It is a choice you need to make to twist and turn and think and rethink only to hold on, or to let go and get back to a comfy job. We held on. Apple approved the Safe Browser app on Feb 2, 2009, nearly three months after we submitted it for approval. Game on!

Our biggest challenge was, and still is, is to let parents and schools know that Mobicip exists. Many parents, especially Moms, know intuitively that their kids need some handholding to learn safe use of the web on an always-on instant-access device. Not all of these parents know that it is possible to protect and monitor Internet access on these devices.

I put quite a bit of effort into tinkering with different ways of getting the word out. I ran through all the marketing buzzwords you could think of. You name it and I’ve tried it. I finally stepped back and looked at the big picture on what was working for us.

Like any startup, we were thinly staffed and having our users participate and answer each other’s questions in a community forum helped us greatly. We maintained an extensive knowledge base of articles, tutorials, videos, and frequently asked questions. Parents found this very valuable and we constantly got kudos on a job well done. We continue to blog about our thoughts, products, interesting articles, and anything else that catches our fancy. This free content is the biggest source of traffic for us to this day. We are no longer in the red, our team is getting stronger, and we have an exciting roadmap ahead.

It turns out that when you really care about your customers, and care enough to educate them on what they care about, you establish a personal relationship. Your customer becomes your advocate, friend, and most constructive critic. A startup begins as a labor of love and becomes a roller coaster that never ends, and takes you to heights and depths that you never imagined you would touch. It takes discipline to maintain a healthy relationship with your user community, but it is rewarding in more ways than one.

Suren Ramasubbu

Suren Ramasubbu Bio
Suren Ramasubbu is a co-founder of Mobicip.com, a leading online child safety service for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, PCs, laptops and netbooks. Mobicip’s mission is to provide a safe, secure and educational Internet experience for school-age children. Mobicip’s dynamic content filtering technology helps parents protect their children in the new era of Internet hazards stemming from anytime anywhere access on personal devices. Suren is a passionate advocate of mobile learning and Internet safety, and speaks or hosts panels at conferences and seminars on these topics for parents and educators. He has also served as a consultant for educational technology projects in K-12 schools and school districts. As an active member of the community, Suren has led successful United Way volunteering and fundraising campaigns. He holds a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
About Mobicip

Mobicip is the most popular Internet filtering solution available on the App Store. The best-selling Mobicip Safe Browser app has been consistently rated among top paid apps, downloaded and used by tens of thousands of parents and several K-12 schools and school districts in the US, and was recently recognized by the 2010 Parents’ Choice Awards as a Top Mobile App. In addition to iOS-based devices, Mobicip plans to launch its service on other Internet-enabled devices like netbooks, laptops and smart phones. Testimonials, press coverage, and other relevant information can be found at http://www.mobicip.com.

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