Thursday, March 31, 2005

pwc ScoutPal Interview

Can you briefly describe what ScoutPal offers to consumers and corporations.

ScoutPal quickly and succinctly provides marketplace valuation data for all sorts of consumer merchandise, using any kind of wireless device. It is currently targeted specifically toward Amazon Marketplace sellers, who use it while they are out "bookscouting" for inventory. It currently provides valuation data under license from, and

ScoutPal provides a win-win-win for all: Amazon sellers win because they are able to optimize their inventory. Listing venues (Amazon, etc.) win because more sellers are able to stay profitable and list more and more merchandise of higher quality in their marketplaces. Consumer win because more merchandise is offered in the marketplace, giving them greater choice.

ScoutPal is online and available now to anyone with an Amazon Seller Nickname, even if they have only ever listed one book on Amazon. It only takes a few minutes to sign up for a free trial and start using it with your phone, PDA, or what have you.

The issue of barcode scanning is peripheral to ScoutPal. The ScoutPal system is all about delivering usable data to the customer, based on search terms that the customer provides. How the customer happens to input search terms for the lookup is a completely separate issue, completely outside of ScoutPal core technology. They may type it in, or use "graffiti" or some other character recognition on their PDA, or use a detachable keyboard for the device, or use a barcode scanner that provides "keyboard wedge" functionality at the system drive level. ("Keyboard wedge" scanner drivers provide barcode digits to any program, just as if the customer had typed the ISBN or UPC digits in manually.)

ScoutPal is 100% concerned with the application itself. If someone happens to have some kind of input device that can read barcodes, or divine some other kind of identifying mark for the merchandise, ScoutPal will accept it, no problem. ScoutPal doesn't have any kind of barcode-reading technology of its own, but it will interface with barcode reader drivers, just as any other program would. For example, the premium ScoutPalSE system uses the Java libraries as provided by the scanner manufacturer (Symbol) in order to receive digits from barcode scans.

If these other companies would produce a driver-level system that would provide the digits of a barcode to a WAP or HTML web page input field on a cell phone or PDA, nearly every cell phone user out there could be using these companies systems now with all kinds of websites and applications. I'm somewhat at a loss as to why they don't do this, I guess they want to "own" the space "end to end". But in my mind that kind of strategy just serves to limit the size of the space that they can play in.

What is the biggest obstacle your company and this industry is facing?

Cell phone companies should be embarrassed by their atrocious lack of customer support for questions regarding web browsing and similar advanced features of their devices. The typical cellular sales agent has absolutely no clue how to operate their phones, other than to make calls and add entries to the address book. Maybe if they are sharp they can bring up news weather and sports, take a picture, send an SMS, but that's about it. Their eyes typically glaze over if you ask them to show you how to bookmark a website, or the difference between WAP, HTML, packet data services for Java, etc. They are, however, very good at upselling you to a calling plan that you don't need.

As well, the front-line customer care people at nearly every cell company are absolutely clueless when it comes to helping the customer out with WAP web browsing, Java J2ME application installation, etc. Much of ScoutPal support time is actually spent providing support for cellular services. I'd like to find a way to bill that back to the carriers. :)

If there is an exception to this, it would be Nextel. Nextel is all about providing services for business customers, and they are very proactive about getting wireless data solutions to customers. As a result, much of their revenue comes from packet data service billings. There may be a lesson here to other carriers, as Nextel has consistently racked up real profits for many years.

Corporations or consumers, who are you catering your business to?

The typical ScoutPal is an individual who either moonlights or has actually left their daytime job to sell on Amazon full time. ScoutPal does have a few subscribers who are traditional "Brick and Mortar" store owners, but they are typically mom'n'pop type operations.

What is taking service providers so long to implement this?

No clue. :)

Has the search engine industry recognized how your product, and this new industry, will be the catalyst for mobile marketing? (i.e. Have any search engines contacted you about any business relationships?)


When do we see the ability to click on a barcode/2d code and purchase/retrieve info happening?

This is happening right now with ScoutPalSE, as well as with PDA's for which a barcode scanner is available.

Every company has at least one, what is your biggest fear.

That at some point providing ScoutPal services will not be fun for me anymore. Seriously. :)

If you could land one specific customer/client, who would it be?

I think that it would be great to partner with a savvy cell phone carrier, so that the system can be placed broadly in the consumer marketplace.

Does ScoutPal have an application that can read RFID tags?

If someone develops an RFID hardware/software system that can provide driver level input support to a web browser on a PDA or cell phone, then ScoutPal will have this ability. I'm fairly certain that this will emerge at some point as RFID gets standardized and gains acceptance.

If you had to sum up ScoutPal in one sentence, it would be.

ScoutPal is like a "Geiger counter" that displays the value of consumer merchandise on any wireless device.

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