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Justin Jenk

Success – blood, sweat and apps for a billion dollars
199 253 Justin Jenk

It is a question of blood sweat and apps to get to a one billion dollar valuation for your app. The 7-step formula is clear and simple; like all recipes and plans success lies in implementation.

In a recent workshop we ran with George Berkowski the challenges of creating (and being rewarded for) a successful mobile app were discussed in a practical and constructive manner. Trading in his engineering skills he has successfully built tech and app business. In summary there are certain contextual aspects to be aware of, a 7-step process that affects choice of business model, investment levels, shareholdings and valuations. The economics are compelling for the winners.



Mobile is the digital platform of the now and immediate future. Mobile and data penetration has increased to over 85% for the world’s population; in just 20 years! In some countries and communities the figure is close to 100%. Industry observers, Justin Jenk amngst others, have estimated that we now spend over 15 hours a day on average linked to the Internet; of which 3 hours are on our smartphones. Ben Evans has written some incisive posts on the implications of this addition.

There is also a psychological effect, amplified by smartphones. These devices elicit positive feelings of being connected, excited, curious and productive a typical smartphone user checks his/her device 150 times a day! The bulk of it. App related revenues (many remain free to use or poorly articulated freemiums). Over 80% of smartphone traffic is app related: Facebook and games account for nearly 50%. The app landscape is competitive (see diagram below). Currently there are over 2 million individual apps available for downloading. In 2013 there were 102 billion apps downloaded. The average smartphone owner makes use of just 26 of them! The winning aps can be characterized by having a retention rate of over 50%  (eg that 50% of the original users have used it more than twice a month after the initial downloading).

mobile app graphic

Do the maths!

The economics are daunting to find that billion dollar app. But it is out there.

The reality is that there is only a 0.07% chance of success to enter the “billion dollar app” club.

These billion dollar winners are usually the product of a third of fourth attempt by the entrepreneur. It takes about seven years from concept to sale or IPO valuation. By that stage the successful app has 50 million average users. The profile is a serial venturist, 37 years old and with the experience of three previous ventures. There are numeroius ways to build your own app, some in less than 45 minutes!

The stories of Facebook, Tindr as well as Hailo vs Uber and Angry Birds vs Candy Crush all provide excellent reference cases that help provide concrete examples of the recipe. Thes cases can be found at info@raktas.


George and friends’ recipe

1. Develop a great idea. This is all about finding an unserved or underserved segment. As with all good ideas think disruption. This app idea must be encapsulated in short, say seven word statement, that captures and communicates this distinctive and unique offering. “An elegant solution to a big need”. Related to the big need, the app must have a memorable a catchy and compelling name. At this stage one should be starting to assemble the team for the journey to a beta launch (step 4). A three person team is critical, each one focused on: keeping to the relevant vision, building or overseeing the app, finally someone to build users volumes.

2. Convert the idea into an App. Before any programing begins, storyboard out the user experience (UX). This will reveal where the gaps and overlaps are. Borrow liberally from best in class but look for features and wrinkles that will make your chosen app distinctive; better yet, compelling. Design is everything.

3. Test and Iterate to workable offering for the app and the business. For the app, go out and speak to 500 potential users. Begin with the storyboard. Work in their comments. Then start the programming to get to an alpha version that functions. Choose one operating system initially and make it work! There are different merits to starting with either iOS or Android – do the homework as to determine which is a better system for the target users. The alpha version should contain no obvious nor cataclysmic glitches, open and run easily, be intuitive to use and not take more than (15) 30 seconds to start using it. Be clear about the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). For the business model there are 5 generic ones to consider – decide and build accordingly.

4. Fit to chosen Product/Market. Using the alpha version to blowtorch your app to ensure that there really is some take-up. The industry speaks of a “friendly user test”. Put the app out there amongst friends & family and return to Step 3 to get your alpha ready for its beta version. The team should now be in place. One’s metrics remain standard and must be managed: Trial – Repeat – Referral-Revenue. There are some service providers who offer plug-in, one step support: crèches rather than the more vacuous incubators and accelerators

5. Acquire users. The ‘war stories’ all suggest that the successful apps were magically adopted – not quite true. It is difficult and expensive to push a noodle; pull it! From Steps 3 and 4 you should have developed a following of 500-1,000 friendly users who will be the apps initial mavens. Friends & Family, app store users and Top-10 charts remain the most important sources of conquest users. Thus the title, icon, description, screenshots and keywords all become critical to make your chosen app stand out. Managing social media and selective media activity (and spend) will help generate and drive traffic. The critical objectives are download-trial-repetitive use –referral. This provides validation for concept. Now to convert traffic into revenues.

6. Covert users to customers. The chosen business model dictates the nature of revenue generation. Pricing remains a misunderstood tool, as has been discussed extensively elsewhere. Essentially one needs to two price points: free to encourage trial; and then some outrageous price point for distinctive value. One should always have an eye to competitive offerings; seeking to differentiate through service and value, not cost. The latter path leads to commoditization and loss for you and the chosen sector.

7. Snowball customers to customers. If the app has a true value-add to users then they will repeat and refer it to others. The topical ‘freemium’ model is a powerful one. Regardless, one needs a pricing strategy and appropriate price points.


Business models

Whatever the likes of McKinsey and Accenture write, the VC world has confidence in the following five business models. The economics are clear. Don’t trade between the models. Pick the most appropriate one.

  • Gaming (eg Angry Birds): pay per download
  • E-commerce (eg Uber): transaction based
  • Consumer/B2C (eg Instagram): advertising based
  • Software (eg Dropbox): pay for service
  • Enterprise/B2B (eg Workday): solutions for businesses

It is interesting to note that valuations do not vary much between the various models. The business models provide the basis to attract volumes, deliver service and capture value.


Investments, shareholdings and valuations

By Step 4 one will probably have spent/invested between USD 20,000-200,000.

Steps 5 and beyond one enters the world of Communications, Marketing, Advertising and PR. There are short-cuts that can be provided by digital marketing, native techniques and that elusive, but ever sought after, word-of- mouth that makes an offering going “viral”.

All things being equal this pre-money/angel/seed stage valuations for an USD 200,000 investment could be USD500-800,000. At the Friends & Family stage the creators should be aiming to own between 10-25% of the company. Make sure that all the appropriate legal protections are in place and do consider Founder vesting rights. Keep it safe but simple.

Cash flow remains the byword for valuations. However in the tech,, mobile world that metric becomes somewhat obscured. Execution and delivery are the watchwords for dollars.

The observed rule of thumb is that with 30 million average monthly users one can expect an app to garner a valuation of USD 1 billion and above. From 2004 to the present day there have only been 43 of these. The venture capitalists and markets are looking for a combination of numbers (a form of proof of concept) and momentum (the take-up is leading to that sort of volume).  A good proven app can expect a valuation of USD1 million; a step better and one could hope for a valuation in excess of USD 5 million at a fully funded start-up.

Valuations are just as much a function of numbers/momentum as well as a defensive bet. Users, as with all consumers, are fickle. The established gorillas are petrified to loose volume and share to upstarts. For example Google is only 12 years old and its members sometimes reflect wistfully in public that by 2020 it might be a company of the past – such as Netscape, MySpace and AOL.

An interesting observation is that regardless of the chosen business model – the billion dollar apps all have roughly similar metrics.


In short

  • Find that elegant solution to the big need
  • Continue  burnishing the idea
  • Apps reflect people’s behaviour
  • Get the right team
  • Monetize – revenues and business

Feel free to contact us at Raktas or check out related posts at



[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Justin Jenk is business professional with a successful career as a manager, advisor, investor and board member. He is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard. Justin can be found at or[/author_info] [/author]

Connected but increasingly alone
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We have become ubiquitously connected. The march of technology is having many benefits in terms of easiness and choice; yet despite these economic effects those on individual behaviour and society may not be so positive. Technology risks taking over our lives in unintended ways. Our well-being is also being affected, with implications to how we interact socially and to society. Perhaps the benefits and costs are not so beneficial.

Mobile and data penetration has increased to over 85% for the world’s population; in just 20 years! In some countries and communities the figure is close to 100%.

To put this development into perspective, electricity is only accessible to 80% of the world’s population; that level of penetration took over 100 years to achieve. At a more granular level, the average American now spends over 17 hours a day connected – via mobile, tablet or computer screen, up from 14.5 hours in 2012. Proponents of change would point to the benefits as being enhanced information, increased choice, greater productivity and reduced prices. Finally more sociability through the venues of social media. There is no doubt as to the economic benefits; but what of the costs?

Despite these benefits the Internet, technology and this digital infusion is creating risks – that few have understood and becoming pervasive, especially amongst younger generations.

Psychologists point out that smartphones are changing the way we act, think, reason and value matters. At a simple level, behaviors that five years ago were generally considered unacceptable or odd are now common place. In survey after survey, respondents reveal that they regularly check messages of text during board and business meetings, at mealtimes, in cinemas even at funerals. We have become obsessive.

As one person put it: “we are removing ourselves into our phones”. Our connected psychosis in numbers:

  • 60%  of respondents – check their handsets every hour
  • 54%  – check their handsets in bed
  • 50%  – use their phones while driving
  • 40%  – use their phones whole they are in the toilet
  • 30%  – check their handset during meals
  • 12% – use their phone in the shower
  • 10% – use their phones during sex! With 1/5 checking in afterwards!
  • 9% -check during religious services, even funerals.

We are increasingly addicted to the internet and our smartphones: just as the smoker and junkie is.

For 75% of owners, their handset is never more than 5 feet way from their person. Smart phones have become an extension of ourselves, our best friend even soul-mate. “Extreme tech anxiety” is experienced by a large majority of users. 73% of respondents admitted to feelings of “panic attack” when faced with the prospect of losing their phones. Women are more likely to have “phone separate attacks” than men. Disconnection creates a senses of separation, even loss; similar to losing a loved one to death. The medical profession is classifying these symptoms as “nomo-phobia: (No Mobile phobia).

The perverse dynamic is that while the Internet, and the rise of the smartphone, has made it easier to receive and send information, facilitating communications it seems to be driving us into more selfish, isolated behaviours.  Online is becoming a virtual proxy for companionship. It requires none of the investments nor demands of friendship.

The advance of the Internet is hastening our retreat from reality. It reveals our own lack of confidence – as individuals and hence as responsible members of society. We fear being alone, unacknowledged and are frightened by intimacy.

Texts, emails and posts allow us to present the self as we want it to be. “I text therefore I am”. On-screen we get the chance to edit, delete, and retouch that voice, flesh and body. ‘Not too much but not too little’. Not a lie but an improvement.

Human relations are demanding, rich in emotion and content; yet messy by their very nature. Technology is allowing individuals to clean up these (supposedly weak) impressions that characterise our individuality) and compress them into the micro-decisions of judgment. What Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “micro-splicing”.  In the process we are sacrificing conversation for connection. Smartphones (and the underlying technology and practices) are allowing us to connect to isolation.

Behavioral specialists claim that a fundamental development skill is one’s ability to communicate. Studies have shown that many would prefer to connect rather than communicate; we would rather text than talk. We learn empathy from the real time, give-and- take, rhythms of a live dialogue. To lose the art of conversation is to lose an ability to interact, learn and reflect.

The Internet removes that real time messiness and fear of failure.

The smartphone promises us 3 things that are making us arrogant, insensitive, insecure and more isolationist. The 3-escapes are:

1. To place our attention and time where We want it to be, regardless of others, context and convention.

2. An audience, so that we will always be heard.

3. That we will never be alone.

Just as communication skills are a fundamental to our mental health and social well-being, so is time for reflection. Solitude is essential for a balanced mental perspective. We, as individuals and society, are freely abandoning this source of rejuvenation and strength – just as we are with quality diets; fresh air and clean water. We risk losing the capacity for reflection. 24/7/365 access screams “transmit”, rather than receive, listen and reflect. To lose these skills of communication and reflection is to abandon ourselves; making us less human in terms of individuals and society.

The cost of this virtual fantasy existence is that in the real world interactions are becoming limited and stunted.  Texting and social media are excellent for discrete and short information – not learning and understanding. There is much discussion whether too much screen time has an adverse effect on our moods. Some researches claim that too much Facebook exposure makes one depressed, according to the ‘Economist’. People would rather surf the net rather than cruise the bar. The advent of technology is seeing the rise of smart or social robots, especially to care for the incapacitated and elderly. These intelligent machines mimic human conversation. They can act as a companion for the elderly, many of whom find they alone, yet crave communications. These social robots are better adapted and infinite patience to deal with the memory deficient conversations of the elderly.

In shirt what are other persopectives that kust be considerd?

  • A commercial perspective is dominated by the economic benefits of connection are mind-boggling. Everyone with a smartphone is now a potential consumer, with 24/7/365 access. The economics are compelling. The Internet based B2C trade is worth USD 1.5 trillion and continues its growth rate in the high teens. This year (2014) online sales matched instore ones. This dynamic presents enormous value-adding opportunities that many established companies and star-ups are racing to exploit.
  • For a state., conerend with aggregate and macro-c0ntrol, the dreams of “A Brave New World” and “1984” are materializing in 2014. If it can be measured, it can be controlled and monitored. Who says that Big Brother doesn’t know better than you and me?
  • From a social perspective – the implications of easiness/isolation are far from clear. Connectivity is placing increasing pressures on individuals, our interactions as well as the farbirc, structures and workings of society and healkth of uits memebrs as an increasing number of studies ad statistics reveal. The concern is that there does not seem to be a ‘steady hand on the wheel’.

Advances in technology will always be with us. In the past we have learned to adapt and absorb the benefits while reducing the costs of such change. However the speed, ubiquitous and uncontrolled nature of developments makes it difficult to remedy some the excesses and unintended consequences of a permanently connected world.

To take analogy; by raising walls along a flooding river doesn’t solve the problem – just moves it downstream for a period.

Choice starts with the individual. Speak rather than send. Listen rather than transmit; answer after thinking. Create those sacred moments and zones of silence – in our lives, homes offices and activities. Have the courage and good sense to unplug, even for a moment. Get back in balance.

Make the smartphone your tool, not your master.

Feel free to read my other entries here in or my blog “Mobile – connected yet exposed” at or my posts at



Justin Jenk is business professional with a successful career as a manager, advisor, investor and board member. He is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard. Justin can be found at or

Sample Oxford essay question – answered
858 536 Justin Jenk

[The following essay is a sample answer to an Oxford entrance examination question: 40 minutes, no word limit]

How heavy is the atmosphere?

Crushing; or lifting. While an absolute, the weight of the atmosphere remains relative o the person or thing within its midst. Mankind and all terrestrial organisms have become adapted to the crushing weight of the atmosphere. It is a sea of gases that exerts a downward pressure of approximately 14 lbs per square, the conveniently labelled “atmosphere”. Yet a vacuum-emptied aluminium can or plastic bottle is instantly crushed by the weight of it. To a deep-sea fish brought to surface, the experience is literally explosive. Being adapted to the much greater pressures of the oceans (at 40 atmospheres) its body cannot cope with the strains of sustained relaxation of pressure. It must be a rush.

Vital; or a nuisance. The atmosphere is an ephemeral peel on the fruit of Eden.

The atmosphere contains a mix of gases, which in the correct composition, that allow mankind and organisms to survive. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It doesn’t really matter as Nature has adapted and draws sustenance from this soup of elements and gases. Man is limited to a very narrow band, as even a trip to the foothills of the Himalayas or visit to Mexico City poses as strain, leaving a visitor short of breath. Just as the Himalayan climbers feel, as they conquer Mt Everest and have a momentary feeling of exhilaration. Yet the vastly decreased weight of the atmosphere limits their ability to only stay 30 minutes unaided at the top of the world. Their mental abilities are impaired; literally light-headed. It is a burden. The local inhabitants have adapted. For the long-distance runner born and bred at high altitude, the thickness of sea-level atmosphere is an inherent advantage that she/he uses to strive for gold. While the atmosphere sustains us it protects –  a barrier to unwelcome cosmic visitors and returning spaceships.

Scientists have estimated the weight of the atmosphere at 5.5 quadrillion tons. Heavy, yet it only represents a 1 millionth of the total mass of the Earth. How can something we cannot even see be so heavy?  The atmosphere is a light yet effective shield that protects yet prevents us from motion. The early sceptics of railways in the 1820s felt that the train’s speed (and hence the atmosphere’s resistance in the form of wind and friction) would literally steal one’s breath away. The fight against friction and flight continued for decades. It is only since 1903 that mankind has mastered the ability to utilise the fluid characteristics of the atmosphere; shaping wings and pressures to allow flight. By employing the physics of pressure though lead us to glide and float; inspiring us to fly as well as reach for the skies. The vast majority of the Apollo rocket’s fuel is expended overcoming gravity and the substance of the atmosphere; winning release from the planet. The atmosphere’s increasing density burns up deadly meteors and returning space explorers – caveat dinosaurii and astronauts. The atmosphere is heavy yet literally inspires us to reach for the stars.

Inspiring; or a dread. The atmosphere plays with light. We not only see put can paint our rainbows. The sky is a constant source of inspiration and motivation, as well as being harbinger of fortunes. How often throughout history have we looked to the heavens for a sign? As the song goes: “I can see clearly now that the rain has gone”. The atmosphere of a room or place shapes and guides us – pregnant in feeling. A question such as this essay title can make the difference to a university place or job offer with a consulting firm. It becomes a substantive and weighty element in the balance of judgement.  Sunsets and sunrises have been shaped by the atmosphere and its moods. It can be uplifting to the farmer (‘red sky at night…’) or inspire painters – classical, impressionists or even of a more modern school. The atmosphere can be foreteller of doom to the author as the fate of Shakespeare’s King Lear was predicted on the blasted heath from the dark and heavy skies. Constantine took inspiration from the heavenly cross at Milvian Bridge.

The atmosphere surrounds and bounds us, protecting and preventing, it warns and inspires us. How heavy is the atmosphere? As much as we want it to be.

Oxford, Harvard, McKinsey and then life
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At Raktas, we are often asked to assist candidates thinking about applying to the uinversities of Oxford or Cambridge (as undergraduates) or Harvard Business School. It is flattering to be asked to assist. It is our pleasure to be helpful – our form of give-back.

In many cases the would be applicant realises that she/he lacks the grades, commitment and interest to pursue what is a very daunting task – even for the most gifted individual. Also luck plays its part- casting its net as it does through life. Other excellent candidates just can’t face the prospect of seeming rejection and never apply. For those who undertake the journey, they enjoy it, regardless of destination. Our assistance is wide-ranging, yet appropriate.

So, is applying worth the effort? The short answer is “yes”. Dreams should always be explored. This cover of Shakira’s “Hips don’t lie” by some Oxfiord gradautes reveals what one can do on one’s journey. Elsewhere we have offered up a sample answer to a timed  (45 minutes) Oxford entrance exam question: “How heavy is atmopshere?”.

Don’t misunderstadn us there are great many sucessful, content and productive individials who never though of Oxbridge or Harvarad or the likes of McKinsey. For example, many of the present mobile app billionaires hail from technical backgrounds, or places like MIT or never finished high school. To some English is a second, if not distant language. To a woman and man they are eqaully successful, if not more so than the classic blue/crimson route. Still the claissic rite has an appeal an cache, howeveer worn.

It is an attribute of modern society that one is constantly being judged and forced through a series of finer and finer sieves of assessment. School, university, first job, second degree and a better second job which sets the trajectory through to one’s 40th birthday. A path that sees one contributing more and more at: home (as a partner even parent); work and the community. Trading places and economics.

One of our members is Justin Jenk. In his case the path started with Westminster School and then onto Oxford, Swires, Harvard, to find himself at McKinsey (a partner by the age of 35). He was a curious and above average student with lots of energy, determination and a certain amount of charm. Sports (rowing in particular) and other interests (reading and music) channelled these attributes and helped to complement his academic prowess. Success was a functyion of energy, deterimation and luck. Summarising Justin Jenk’s progression would be as follows. Westminster whetted the appetite. Oxford honed the mind. Harvard taught one to spot the spots and draw the lines. McKinsey provided a canvas to imagine, creating opportunities that brought benefits to many  in all sorts of forms. All reflected a continuing path of entrepreneurship.

If one wants to apply for Oxbridge or Harvard there is a great deal of information available on this and other sites. In addition there are plenty of other sources. Start with the universities; speak to family and friends, search out alumni.

As for Raktas we work with decision-makers; building businesses as well as transforming banks and companies; often when they find themselves in complex situations and resource constrained. Our successes are invariably positive as we work together to combine IQ, EQ and MQ. Executive education courses are just an aspect we can help with: trading experiences and getting the best economics out of one’s career and opportunities. So if you want to apply to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or wherever feel free to read our posts here on Raktas or at, or posts on the web.

The naked truth about Oxford & Cambridge entrance
468 617 Justin Jenk

Winning a place to study as an undergraduate at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge remains the ultimate academic achievement for many students. Oxford and Cambridge (often referred to as Oxbridge) remain two of the top 10 ranked universities in the world. For an English-speaking undergraduate the only other comparable university would be Harvard. The joy and economics are clear.

The success rates for admission at Oxbridge are ferociously low. It reflects the huge demand for only the 3,500 places available annually. Also the entrance requirements are demanding and particular standards are set. These requirements are clearly set out and strictly adhered to by the respective universities.

There is a great deal of information written about gaining a place; one needs to clear way the rhetoric to get at the naked truth. The joy is palpable as this Harvard applicant’s video shows.

So what can be done? The following two sections set-out the broad requirements as well as suggested preparations to meet them. Trading choices between Oxford and Cambridge is difficult but the approach is similar.

Broad Requirements.

From the outset it is not about perfect academic grades from school, although that helps. Grades reflect one’s academic capabilities. What Oxford is looking for in a candidate is: an ability to think and reason. It is the foundation that will contribute to the student’s own development as well as the academic reputation of the institution. It is often stated by Dons (college tutors) and faculty at Oxford that they wish to “hone the mind” of the student. It is not knowledge but how one uses information to achieve a purpose.

These entrance criteria can be summarised as a combination of 5 sets of factors

1. Meeting the academic standards.

School grades are the basis followed by the entrance examination, set by each university and subject faculty (such Geography). It tests the applicant’s innate reasoning skills.

  • Excellent academic scores from school; not necessarily perfect (that helps) but above average. Good grades are a reflection of the applicant’s from own abilities, being attentive at school, diligent with homework, reading widely, formulating views and sharing.
  • The applicant must submit a completed entry form. It is surprising how often this is not done.
  • Also the applicant’s school will be asked to prepare a form of recommendation letter. This letter is very important as it summarises the school’s view with regard to the candidate’s performance as well as potential.
  • Doing well in the entrance examination. This consists of two parts to test innate reasoning as well as skills in synthesis, logic and organization.
    • Part one is similar to an IQ test. This tests takes a number of forms but the most common is the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA). Practice helps but one possesses the ability or not. Do practice.
    • Part two is the essay. It really is where one can shine. The 30- minute essay is a canvas to display one’s ability to logically structure an argument in a cohesive and compelling manner. It is not the factual content that is important but how the writer’s argument is cogently presented, formulated and expressed. There is NO correct factual answer. Amazingly few follow the simple advice ATDQ – Answer The Damn Question! There are better ways to answer these. Practice is invaluable. Sample questions ae published by the universities and some web-sites and bloggers enjoy posting their ‘answers’. Visit sites such as Justin Jenk, Raktas or the Student Room.
  • The interview. If one is fortunate enough to be “called to interview” that is a positive sign. The “Dons” (faculty tutors resident in a college) would not waste the candidate’s nor their own time on weak applications; nor to be abusive. If the essay was your canvas, the interview is your stage. Perform! Be natural! Engage in a dialogue that allows you demonstrate all your capabilities. The interview is all about fit, as opposed to the exams which are about function.

2. A positive assessment by the college’s tutor(s) and faculty.

Each student applies to a college which will be his/her future ‘home’ and which already houses tutors (dons) who are faulty members of the chosen subject: say History at Christ Church. Assuming the academic standards are met then the Dons will assess applicants along the following broad dimensions.

  • Will this student benefit from the Oxford experience – its teaching and residence?
  • Will this student be one that is rewarding to teach? In the sense of flowering, exploring and expanding the limits of the subject. Good manners and disciplines help here but they are not the metrics for selection.
  • Will the tutor enjoy teaching this young adult to explore their intellectual boundaries?
  • What are the prospects that this student could be awarded first class honours (top 1-15% of the class) upon graduation? This achievement is significant: as a form of academic recognition as well as reflecting on the academic capabilities of the tutors, the colleges and faculty.

3. Other attributes of the student

There is a great deal of misconception here.

  • Charm on its own is insufficient.
  • Even if one is an Olympic medallist, concert performer, recognised ‘do-gooder’ or prolific intern; unless the smarts are in place and proven these worthy attributes do not compensate. However they can complement; distinguishing between two competing applicants, with similar academic merits, competing for that one slot.
  • Parental donations do not help – in fact the reverse: they are a hindrance for Oxbridge at this stage of one’s educational career. On the other hand, that a family member has attended Oxbridge is a good Darwinian sign. Such a domestic setting should have nurtured a sense of comfort and achievement which are hallmarks of Oxbridge students.

4. Choice of course and college.

Further misconceptions here. Choses the subject and college that suits the applicants interests and character. Yet a student can exercise a level of tactics. Acceptance rates and other information are published by the universities. Candidates should assess this information as part of their research. For example if the acceptance rate for Classics is 50% compared to PP&E and there are two vacancies at Pembroke but ten at Keble then logic dictates that the less stellar student should perhaps consider applying to read classics at Keble. Such a decision assumes that the student has the demonstrated academic skills in the subject and appreciates Keble’s architectural merits, style and location. Tactical choices do not make up for poor academics, exams results, interview or assessment.

5. Luck.

This force is ever present. It casts its net over Oxbridge as with the rest of life.

Suggested preparation.

Some candidates maintain they never did any: they are the gifted rarities of life. A few suggestions to consider.

  1. Be a good student. Read both deeply in your chosen subject and widely on others. The engineer should have read a poem and understood a Shakespearean play. The Linguist should enjoy doing Sudoku.
  2. Structured preparation. Read beyond your subject, read reviews of classical texts, read reviews of reviewers. Synthesize your views: practice short essays. Discuss and debate topics with friends, family even strangers. Remember the use of logic to purpose. Marshall your thoughts. Do several practice exams: both the logic tests as well as writing essay. There are websites (such as Justin Jenk) that contain posts of sample answers (to the writer’s opinion). They offer a benchmark.
  3. Do what you are good at to the best level you can. It will help develop you academically as well as a person. Modern Society does reward those who are ‘the best’, ‘top of the class’, ‘winners’, ‘acclaimed.’
  4. Do your research thoroughly. Visit the universities, colleges and departments. They all make a strenuous effort to be transparent, informative and helpful. Ask relevant and insightful questions. The answers will help you learn and decide in the best course of action. Don’t forget they want the best students to apply and the applicants to be on their best. Speak to alumni. Search Oxford’s the Student Room.
  5. Determination and preparation are powerful tools to influence luck’s throw.

Do read my other blogs at or


Justin Jenk is business professional with a successful career as a manager, advisor, investor and board member. He is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard. Justin can be found at

Using Digital Pricing to tame the “tyranny of choice”
590 288 Justin Jenk

Using Digital Pricing to tame the “tyranny of choice”

How producers using the web can price more sensibly


The “tyranny of choice” has been used to describe the increasing availability of options (and associated user confusion) with regard to products, goods and services available on the web. An online presence for any producer is without question. Yet unless well-managed, an online presence poses threats to producers, their brands as well as established (real world) systems. The Internet can, and should be, a source of sustainable business revenues and even profits.

Yet few online participants have been able to translate their wares or business systems into the digital world in a viable fashion. Those that have fared better are children of the Internet. But even they now face  increasing challenges as the pace of change accelerates. To be relevant, companies and brand owners have been trying to manage Digital Content to proactively manage relationships with existing customers and potential users.

Many economic and behavioral laws need to be understood, respected and  if possible harnessed by Companies using the Internet.

There seem to be two hindering forces: a belief that well established economic forces do not apply and; that producers seem uncomfortable in the digital world.


Pricing is communication

Human wants, desires and behaviors remain largely unchanged. The Digital Revolution is giving greater freedom and expression to these behaviors. It is allowing extremes throughout the long tail. Trust, relevance, impact on persona and community membership are all important aspects of these behaviors.

The purpose of pricing is to build a dialogue with prospects purchasers and signal to competitors. Pricing is communication. By definition it must be dynamic.


Freemium is catchy neologism for centuries old practice

Freemium has become a buzz-word. Yet all it reflects is what has been an essential aspect of commerce. A producer cans induce trial by providing a sample of product for free. Even ‘free’ is a price point. The challenge is to ensure that the free trial leads to conversion at an acceptable cost and contain cannibalization risks.

Fore example, Apps are being used in the fashion, for this reason and reinforced by other practices and dynamics. Interestingly unlike other ‘products’ very few apps are priced, (less than 10 percent and with low price points). Apple users are more willing to pay than Android users.

This trend has led to an explosion of apps. For example on Apple’s i-store the number of apps went from 10,000 in 2008 to over 1 million today


Many curves shape behavior: producers and consumers

The implosion of the bubble underscored the fact that there is no new, “voodoo economics”. By and large, the laws of supply and demand exist in the virtual world as they do in the real world. The resulting curves are relevant, with successful Digital players adapting their pricing structures accordingly.

  • The Supply& Demand curves are relevant.
  • The bass of any strategy discussion is predicated on a producer’s Capacity Utilization, relevance to competitors and related share of relevant market.
  • The classic Pricing curve, with its steep inverted slope does hold true. Yet prices rarely a constant slope. They are discrete points along some imagined continuum.
  • In many cases the pricing curve is actually a series of discrete steps, that average out into a form of curve for conveyance. Hence the importance of “bundling”
  • Consumers can consider and make choices based on the concept of ‘Occasion and Benefit’. This is often captured and described in a grid, shown over time, with each cell having its own pricing curve
  • As consumers form part of a  community there is an inherent behavioural dynamic captured by network utility optimization which bears a resemblance to a ‘Laffer curve’.


Better practice

Theoretical considerations, supported by empirical evidence and better practice reveal that the most effective pricing structure for the digital world is to adopt a form of bundling (with controlled free element to induce trial) and super pricing for exclusive services. The nature of the bundling allows the traditional pricing curve to be shifted allowing producers to capture more value from more coherent communication with consumers.

Exhibit 1: Digital Pricing Curve (source – Raktas)

Raktas Digital Pricing Curve

This approach has been successfully applied by successful companies in many different online sectors: including: video, sports, TV, music, gaming, games, social networks and to a lesser extent newsmedia.



Companies need to adopt a relevant Digital Pricing structure to create a sustainable business. Feel free to contact us for further details:

Hear-Do-Say can help on the Digital Content journey
267 188 Justin Jenk

See-Do-Say can help on the Digital Content journey

Building Relationships and Relevance along the digital purchasing journey for Newsmedia, advertisers, companies and users


We are on a digital journey

Companies and brand owners have been trying to manage Digital Content to proactively manage relationships with existing customers and potential users so that they are relevant. Better companies need to be part of this ‘see-do-say’ dynamic with users. Content Marketing is one expression of these efforts, brought to full effect by editorial skills.

The technological advances have changed the way existing and potential consumer make their purchase decisions. Over 70% of consumers consult the internet before making a purchasing decision. It is a “digital purchasing journey”. McKinsey & Co has described this journey well, beyond the outmoded ‘funnel’ approach.

The better players are those who recognize that it is an end-to-end relationship; helping users to: shape opinions; make decisions and act. Networks are formed.

 Exhibit1: An example of a digital decision journey (source gfk)

Purchase path


Thus the player becomes relevant in the life of the user (as this video demonstrates).

Getting this dynamic right is reflected and reinforced by pricing structures (sometimes for free through a coherent set of price points) as well as providing information, services and product.  The better gaming companies and even airlines are do this well. Newsmedia has a role to play – in its own right and from its long established skills and capabilities as publishers/editors to structure and curate.


So what is content?

Companies are responding to the cause and effect dynamic of technology to re-engineering their marketing efforts. They are producing a vast range of content physical products, services, virtual offerings and communities. This “content” goes beyond product information sheets and manuals to produce multimedia, games, testimonials, videos, music, podcast and even lifestyle features for loyalty programmes are a ‘no-brainer’, but rarely used.

Exhibit 2: The body of Content Marketing 



Newsmedia, with its traditional functions and activities should be the natural starting point for managing digital content to a win-win-win proposition. Today, very few Newsmedia houses have managed to overcome historical arrogance and legacy issues to grasp that chalice. Only a handful of titles have been able to come to terms with a coherent offering of content and pricing to stabilize their readership bases, relations with advertisers and financial performance.


Some high notes rising above the noise of content marketing

Sometimes, these Content Marketing efforts work well. Red Bull and VW have had notable successes with their integrated approaches – targeting discrete end-user segments and then developing coherent content across platforms. Ikea’s store launch in Malmö is another example. British Airway “lookup” campaign is at the technical cutting edge, bringing together virtual and real communities with its aircraft-sound activated billboard in Piccadilly Circus.

The rise of Native marketing has tried to go one step further. In the case of Volvo, with its van Damme split’s video (which has gone viral with 67 million You Tube hits) and “Globetrotter” magazine has brought the Volvo brand a new dimension and audience.

These are the high notes amongst the noise.


“Not all that glitters is gold”

Yet few organizations are getting it right. Even then the demands of ongoing successful Content Marketing threaten to overwhelm both companies and consumers; producing material of little value (except to server owners). Every company is fighting for relationships and relevance there has been an explosion of material created, much of it of questionable quality and relevance.

Exhibit 3: Content Marketing tactics (percentage of inbound by type)

Crop tacticsUntitled

Some commentators, such as Doug Kessler, have described this approach as “crap”.



Traditionally the aim of marketing efforts has been to build awareness and trial and then close with promotions.  A company’s marketing budget reflected this has been with working media and paid mass media spending accounting for 60% and content creation at 20%. By embracing a Content Marketing approach the cost structured has reversed patterns have flipped: paid at less than 30% and creation at 50%. For the better companies the overall budget-spend is less with improved results.

As companies are playing catch-up along the journey they are facing real risks. These include a cost explosion due to customer fragmentation and duplication. In addition, they are just creating too much indistinct material. All this material and activity threaten the brand and customer relationship. Many sites are cluttered such as for most travel related companies.

Furthermore, it seems that many companies still fail to truly understand their customers’ specific needs. The big data phenomenon is available, but little used. Many advertisers still remain wedded to directed transmit strategies, seeking to solicit a response.

Exhibit 4: Example of traditional CM transmit strategies (

Crop strategies


Going forwards

Marketing departments need to be acting more like publishers or editorial boards. Taking a point of view that can help steer users and help them in their opinion and purchase journeys Optimizing resources and impact is the key to building a lasting relationship rather than alienating visitors.

This editor/publisher discipline can help shift companies and their marketing efforts away from passive tracking. Instead managing their portfolios of content to actively probing what users: see, do and say.

 Exhibit 5: Example of managing user experience portfolio (source Lee Odden)



The benefits? A lasting relationship that more often than not has a sell/buy component. From a financial perspective the benefits are significant for the income statement and balance sheet: reduced budgets and investment levels; greater productivity from targeted offers, streamlined production; and reuse of base content; limiting the activities of agencies and broader distribution options.



To date many Newsmedia companies have been unable to harness the power to the digital revolution. There seems to be a direct opportunity for them to do so as well as for companies to adopt Newsmedia’s proven publisher and editorial skills for the benefit of all web users.

Digital pricing – lessons still being learned
343 147 Justin Jenk

Digital pricing – lessons still being learned:

Producers/suppliers are still struggling to find the right pricing model – especially in Newsmedia


Content producers are not learning from best practices

It is strange that suppliers of digital products and services continue to face difficulties in finding sustainable pricing strategies. This is most apparent in the Newsmedia (and Magazines) industry as well as those which have both physical and virtual versions of the same product (such as videos and books). It is more puzzling in light of the well documented mis-steps by the Record industry with regard to music downloading and well proven lessons from Retailers, the Airline industry even Gaming. There are lessons still to be learned from those digitized industries.

Exhibit1: Portion of digital content

Changing share of digital content


Newsmedia are particularly hard hit given their over reliance on advertising spend. Today, on average, ad spend in Newsmedia is only 10-20% of historical levels. While the aggregate amount of ad spend has increased much of it has shifted to digital and other media.


Digital consumers do pay for content

The file sharing habit has meant that not all online users are used to paying for content. However, more sophisticated consumers understand that “for free” does not equate to meeting the quality / convenience / functionality equation. It is well documented that digital consumers are willing to pay for services. In fact this percentage has increased; reflecting demographics (usually millennials) and platform delivery (to tablets).


Matching offerings with a robust pricing matrix

The challenge for producers is to determine what pricing schedule best reflects their offerings with customer demands. At the moment, the Newsmedia industry seems caught in this whorl; with an ongoing debate about paywalls, content integrity and marrying print and digital versions. It is not helped by the disconnected nature of the customer experience across platforms and operating systems.  Assuming that a producer can develop a coherent offering there is a relatively robust pricing framework along two dimensions: type of access and; frequency of payment.

Exhibit 2: Indicative pricing matrix (sources – Raktas analysis) Pricing matrix 3

There are different trade-offs to be made dependent upon: company economics, industry dynamics and competing alternatives that will dictate the actual price points. Also the nature of the digital world encourages innovation. The more successful producers are ensuring that they are: target segments, customization, bundling, community pricing and provide cross-platform functionality. While suppliers seek out advertising supported pricing structures, many consumers prefer uninterrupted experiences. One-off payments are preferred. Yet customers are willing to purchase subscriptions, if the initial payments are lower than any one-off charge.


Experiences of different approaches by different industries

The approach in on-line Gaming industry reflects the demands of the customers: access to a community and uninterrupted use. The pricing strategy trend has been to a combination of: single access point (through an initial one-off fee for membership); coupled with ongoing subscription for continued service as well as add-ons and enhancements. Overall price points are low but aggregated revenues higher. While a robust strategy there remain tensions between: creative studios, competing distribution channels, operating systems /software and platforms. Yet the industry thrives.

In contrast, the Newsmedia industry continues to struggle. Particularly due to: its dogged ties to the printed past, a perspective of its own self-worth and value offerings. None of these may actually reflect digital-savvy customers’ desires nor their alternatives. The vast majority of the industry remains wedded to older models, with an annual single subscriptions and reliance on advertising spend, which itself has many attractive alternatives. The term “paywall” is inappropriate and reflects Newsmedia’s dilemma. The industry has suffered badly.

That being said there are some better practitioners. Notably the “The Wall St Journal” has been the most proactive and persistent with its hard single subscription; yet targeting and bundling content and encouraging communities. It enjoys consistent improvements in both volumes and revenues.  The “FT” has adopted a freemium or first-click approach to lock-in a subscriber, with some form of graded or tiered services (reflecting improving value). It has had notable success.

The “New York Times” has fared worse with a metered approach which falls between the two extremes. The weakness of the “NYT’s” approach has been compounded by poor relative price positioning. Especially as the subscription is digital only; unlike competition which include the print version for free or a marginal additional charge.

Exhibit 3: Comparison of digital subscriptions

Comparison of price points across digital media



The Newsmedia industry lessons to learn from other digital sectors. The pricing challenge is vital for its survival yet must be linked to customer relevance Gaming has shown the benefits of consumer driven offerings, with lower price points, reflecting use. Digital consumer are exercising the right to choose.

Internet of Things – finding one’s way
660 330 Justin Jenk

Internet of Things – finding one’s way

Implications for citizens and investors.


The Internet of Things (IoT) is merely the latest manifestation of the belief that everything is connected, or connectable. It is setting the pace for our development as a society. It may provide investment opportunities.


IoT defined

The ongoing digital revolution means that there are now billions of devices (75 billion at Morgan Stanley’s estimate ) that already infuse how we live and work).  Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers, estimates that the IoT market is worth USD 14 trillion. IoT’s development will now set the pace and standard for our economic, social and political development.

IoT is the interconnected combination of: (on the hardware side) chips, sensors, actuators, distributed computing power, wireless and; (on the software side) software, applications, cloud, big data and analytics. Staring in the 1900s with RFIDs there are now over 5 billion connected hubs (mainly smartphones but also tablets and wearables) that through WiFi, Bluetooth and Smart allow for continuous connectivity and activity. These hubs are the backbone to a vast addressable network, that is growing. One of a number of IoT trends.


IoT – the skynet of our world?

IoT is invasive and fast becoming pervasive. The smartphone is a “pioneer platform”; able to connect through “invisible buttons”, allowing for continuous monitoring and activity. It is the future accordng to some observers.   (

IoT has profound implications. While smartphones and tablets are functional handheld hubs, the advent of active and passive wearable devices makes an individual’s connectivity to the web ubiquitous. In a sense we are now no longer alone. Big data, if not Big brother, is with us constantly as we will be monitored, analyzed and tracked constantly. Security, Personal confidentiality and Individual rights will remain central to the debate.


IoT still lacks cohesion

The software side is more Darwinian in nature, helped by the growing acceptance of open source practices.  The Internet has a common set of standards for creating, transporting, and rendering content such as IP, HTTP, and HTML. It is a relevant question to wonder if the Internet standards themselves are not set for a next generation development. Regardless, at present, these common web standards do not exist in the IoT. Instead there are many fairly complete and incompatible IoT software stacks, such as ANT to Zigbee and Z-Wave. MIT are discussing an “Industrial Ethernet” and IEEE are attempting to set coherent protocols.

Yet the IoT has not arrived as such. It still lacks an organizing glue. Google is perhaps best positioned to lead this development; but there are others. Also many of the proferred services are not valuable- such a restocking texts from refrigerators or the whimsical problem posited by Oxford.


Investment opportunities –  a huge range

From the narrow perspective of an investor wishing t participate in the IoT revolution the market is vast and complex. There are the established industry leading giants 9such as Apple, Cisco, IBM and Samsung  to name a few) as well as current start ups that may herald the next step.

IoT is the future now: so providing the definite list of investment opportunities is perilous. We are at a similar point to just as the emerging railway companies were in the 1850s, automotive manufactures prior to 1914 aircraft companies post World War II and mobile phone manufactures just prior to the bubble of the millennium. A handful have made the journey (ie IBM) through it all.

If one were to develop an investment list it would probably include the following 19 publicly traded stocks (abbreviations provided):

Table 1: A possible investment portfolio (publicly quoted only)



The above list is hardware centric. As one observer put it: “the money lies in the silicon and services that use that silicon”. The software market, is as competitive as any other is further complicated by the developments associated with ‘open source’. IPOs could change the list.

The table below offers a disaggregation of the seven relevant sectors and key players.

Table 2: IoT sectors and companies

Sector Comments & Companies

Sensing and Control


TSMC (TSM, the silicon arms dealer to the world, they make a large % of the world’s chips).ARM (ARMH, probably the best direct proxy for IoT)

Microchip (MCHP; for a broad portfolio of micro’s and an emerging wireless and analog business)

Freescale (FSL; for portfolio, free software and new leadership)

Texas Instruments (TXN; triple winner for MCU’s, wireless and analog/sensors)

Atmel (ATML; one word, arduino)

ST (STM; in ARM micro’s but the leader in MEMS)

Maxim (MXIM; the world needs analog chips)

Linear (LLTC; analog leader and now in mesh networks, best run semiconductor company)

Avnet (AVT; biggest distributor of hardware in the world, the IoT infrastructure and devices need to get built and a lot of the chips will pass through them)





Sprint/Nextel (S, long been a proponent of M2M, owns 50% of Clearwire and is in the middle of a takeover battle but a good representative for the IoT carrier play)

Cisco (CSCO; has to be in the mix since they power the web and are touting the Internet of Everything which is IoT)



Analytics and the Cloud


IBM (IBM; plays in much of big data and software so despite its size and variety of businesses a part of the portfolio

Google (GOOG, Android, Cloud, Google Glass, Google Fiber, Google Now, the list is endless)

Amazon (AMZN), for web services and it will sell a lot of IoT devices

Rackspace (RAX); a vapour leader for the Cloud





Security is a difficult category.Most of the major players are private or pre-IPO (Green Hills Software and Bromium for example).

Symantec could be a candidate


Applications/ROI (OEM’s fit here)


Apple (AAPL); given its installed base, size and that many IoT apps will run on iOS devices)

Honeywell (HON; all those building and HVAC systems can benefit mightily from IoT)

SSYS (because the 3D printing aspect relies so much in connectivity)

(Siemens, GE, Johnson Controls, Bosch and Schneider Electric are all major industrial players but a small % of their business is really IoT).



Standards and Regulations


Not a lot of investment opportunity here unless one standard wins out over another and a manufacturer dominates (eg, Qualcomm with CDMA).

In IoT many players support Open Source hardware and software.

IEEE will have a major influence, but as an association.



Ecosystems and Communities


Many communities have not reached critical mass yetKickstarter has been a driver of interesting hardware.

The IPSO alliance (

ARM’s connected community.




IoT is building a head of steam. This development is more than just a technology bet but a play in the forces that are shaping rapidly the world we live in.


Disclaimer: No recommendation is provided in this memo. Anyone making an investment should take due care, seek professional assistance and does so at their own risk. The author is not invested in any of the companies listed

The rise of the Digital Elite
275 183 Justin Jenk

The rise of the Digital Elite:

Consumers are mastering the technology and dictating the content.


Digital consumers ahead of producers

It is a well-established phenomenon that consumers are mastering the technology of the computers, mobile phone and the internet and thereby dictating its content to those who provide services, products and content. Interestingly consumer seems to be ahead of providers. One survey has shown that while 60% of respondents feel all Newsmedia content will be digital within two years only 43% of Newsmedia publishers share this view. This difference poses real challenges for the content producers.  Recent surveys and related studies by Deloitte and McKinsey reveal this consumer-led dynamic, which is reflected by expert and user comments on dedicate sites, forums and social networks.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the ownership and use of platforms, principally; smart phones, tablets and laptops. The critical segment is the “Digital Elite”: those who own and use all three platforms. The estimate for the size of the Digital Elite segment varies from 4-20% (as defined by platform).

Exhibit 1: Digital Elite and Minutes spent per day – source McKinsey & Co

DE Elite and minutes


Consumer behaviour changing: smartphones – tool, tablets – consumption

Smartphones now equal laptops in number but are consider by consumers to be much more as a means of creation and a tool. Tablets trail these two and remain primarily a platform for consumption. Each platform has distinctive utilities across user-cohorts. The adoption of these platforms is also changing habits, attitudes and behaviors. Regular internet usage is now the norm for over 50% of European consumers. Most amazingly the average member of the Digital Elite spends 244 minutes (4 hours) a day on these devices. In surveys, over 48% users claim that their tablets are more important than their TVs. Tablets are used primarily for entertainment and internet grazing. This user affection is even stronger for smartphones. It affects behavior.

Exhibit 2: Tablet activities – source Deloitte

Activities on a tablet

Browsing and Emails dominate as the leading activity (83%), followed by Social Networking and Gaming (at the 50% level) with Newsmedia and others below 45%.

Consumers are demanding more tailored products. It has been shown that on average 20% of consumers are willing to pay for digital content; this percentage varies by cohort/segment and product. It is most prevalent for tablet users.  This average has increased in the last two years, putting “free” to rest.

Over 60% of consumers use their telecommunications triangle of devices to research products and services on-line before they buy them. A staggering 8% actually use their smartphones in-store when making their purchase decision; with an even higher percentage using it as a payment tool (a percentage that varies by product category and spend level, but that has grown across the board).


Implications – producers must focus and raise their game

What are the implications? Those companies, that are using the internet as a distribution channel (such as retailers of clothing and consumer products) or as an integral part of their product/services (such as Newsmedia, Games, Mobile phone operators), must get ahead of their consumers. They need to recognize that their old parallel brick& mortar and web-based systems must be fused together – with the smartphone as the core platform for the foreseeable future.



Such a fused approach allows for an improved experience and hence more intelligent use of resources and remunerative pricing.  It seems that news media providers are most exposed at the moment as they struggle with content definition and paywall strategies. Other sectors, such as gaming, video and even music suppliers, seem to closer to the pace currently being set by consumers. The producers that can match their consumers’ pace will be rewarded, the laggards penalized.