Exclusive Interview: Success, a Lenovo partnership and more – what’s next for Pokki and SweetLabs?

So earlier today, we wrote about the new partnership between Lenovo and Pokki and being the nosy bastard that I am, I wanted to find out a little more.

I reached out to the good folks at Pokki and spoke with Chester Ng (one of the cofounders of SweetLabs) and their Senior Marketing Manager, Alan Masarsky.

Some of you who have been on this site may remember the guys from the first interview we did in May of 2012 .

I wanted to reach out again and get more info for y’all.

Here’s a transcript of our talk.

Microphone interview

Interview with SweetLabs

Onuora: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to talk, could you tell us how this all started with Lenovo?

Chester: Sure. Over the last 6 months, we’ve been quietly focused on spending time with PC makers and really understanding their problems and opportunities to address some of their challenges.

Spending time with Lenovo, we really learned about 2 distinct problems and found that we were well placed to help with these two issues.

One is on the user experience front. Improving the out of box Windows 8 experience and in particular, enhancing the Windows 8 desktop experience.

At BUILD, Steve Ballmer did a good job of reminding people of the importance of the desktop and talking about how Windows 8.1 would help address some of the challenges there.

What we’re trying to do is play our role and try and improve the desktop experience. As you can imagine for PC makers that’s pretty important.

Since Windows 8 came out our product has been pretty popular. On average, we’re seeing users open Pokki up around 10 times a day…. to put that in context, thats more times in a day than the average Facebook user checks Facebook.

Also our app store has been tremendously important. The New York Times recently estimated that there are around 4 million desktop apps out there and you have IOS and Android with a few hundred thousand each but it’s hard enough to find the apps you’re looking for.

There hasn’t really been a great app store on the desktop side so we also solve that problem as well on the user experience side.

So user experience was the first problem. The second problem or should we say opportunity was to help OEM’s make more money.

At a time when PC sales in general are slumping and Windows 8 has challenges, we thought about how we could help OEM’s make money and create a great user experience. So inside the Pokki Start Menu, at the bottom, we have a row of app recommendations. We have an app store with featured apps etc.. those are all opportunities for app developers to get their apps in front of as many users as possible.

With our partnership with Lenovo, we just opened up a BIG opportunity for developers to get their apps in front of users who are just getting a brand new PC.

Onuora: Very cool. So what do you think of Windows 8.1 and how is that affecting your business?

Chester: we think that it will be better for users and a good improvement. Some of the tweaks that Microsoft is making should really improve the user experience. we’re excited about that, we want to keep seeing innovation and progress being made on Windows.

We’re also excited that [Steve] Ballmer and his crew came out and reiterated support for the desktop. It’s a tune we had been singing for a while. For them to come out at BUILD (2013) and say Windows 8.1 would be a seamless blend of the desktop and the Modern UI was good to see.

We’re going to keep trying to do what we can to help and add value on top of Windows and keep providing value to users, developers and OEM’s going forward.

Onuora: Not sure if I asked you this before but do you guys have any tablet apps?

Chester: Pokki and all Pokki apps work on Windows 8 tablets today (not Windows RT which has no desktop apps, just Windows 8). We haven’t announced anything for Android at this point but as you can imagine, a lot of the problems and challenges we’re solving for users, developers and manufacturers aren’t exclusive to Windows or PCs.

Onuora: So I read on another site where the blogger was betting that you guys would hit Android in a big way next? Would you care to comment on that?

Chester: (Laughs) It’s a good bet. A smart bet.. (laughter).

Onuora: So you guys have a really cool business model but at some point do you see any conflict with Microsoft down the line? Seems like you’re doing a lot of what they’re trying to do?
Chester: I think we’re not really doing a lot of things they’re trying to do. I think they’re focused on the Start Screen and Modern UI side of things. What we’re trying to do is help on the desktop side – a side that a lot of people spend a lot of time and money on.

We view what we’re doing as good for the Windows ecosystem. Users love it and developers love it. OEM’s as evidenced by Lenovo are excited about it. We’re complementing Windows 8 and not competing against it. Wired magazine called what we’re creating an “Apperating system” which is a layer on top of the OS to help with access and discovery of apps.

We actually see Google and Chrome (especially with their packaged apps offering – taking apps out of the browser and into the desktop) as more of a competitor.

Onuora: What can we expect from you guys 6 months down the line? What’s next for SweetLabs and Pokki?

Chester: We’re just getting started, there’s a lot more to come. Certainly getting Acer and Lenovo as partners was a major coup for a company our size and we have a lot of work to do with those partners to continue to add value.

We also will be working with a lot of developers to help them get distribution – we just launched a new developer site today which is a guide to help developers get their apps in front of the user.

Also that bet you referred to earlier (Android) is a good bet, …we’re solving these problems that not only exist on the PC and Windows but everywhere in the app world.

Our long term goal is to build the worlds largest app distribution platform, period. We’re not tied to any particular device, OS, search engine or social network like a lot of other platforms are. We don’t care, we just want to connect the right apps and developers with the right users.

Alan: Also we’re going to be working really hard on improving our underlying app recommendation system – making the underlying algorithm behind it more sophisticated and targeted to provide a better experience for the end users. Also to make sure that we are able to better match developers with the right end users.

Onuora: Cool, so how many users and apps do you have now?

Chester: Around the end of June, the last number we published was around 20 million downloads of Pokki on Windows. The app store is growing and today, we opened up the app store to non Pokki apps.

We opened it up today to traditional desktop apps so you can now get your Chrome, Skype, Dropbox etc and that opens up a huge universe of apps. In the future we are going to include Windows Store/Metro apps and help those developers get more distribution as well.

Onuora: So you’re serious about being agnostic?

Chester: (Laughs) Absolutely, and now we’re backing it up with some action – including desktop and Metro apps as well.

Onuora: Now is it me or is this a major strategy change? I thought you guys were focused on your apps and your store etc?

Chester: It’s a visible change to the product but not really a change to our overall strategy. We always thought about this from the beginning but we wanted to start with Pokki apps because well first we could nail it and control the user experience.

Secondly, we were solving this problem at the time where frankly a lot of web or mobile apps didn’t have desktop apps. there was no Instagram or Zynga desktop apps at the time. We had to bridge that gap so that’s why we originally focused on the Pokki app platform that let developers build a desktop app.

Onuora: Makes sense. Well guys, thanks for taking the time and congratulations on the Lenovo win.
Chester/Alan: Thank you!

You can read more about Pokki and their Lenovo win here.

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  1. Steve Nash

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