Photo: Tamara Steffens (@tamarasteffens)
If Path, the private, mobile-focused social network, starts minting money, it’s not going to be because of the colourful stickers it introduced in a new version of its app last week.It’s because of Tamara Steffens, a former executive who left now-defunct photo-sharing startup colour last fall to run business development at Path.
Don’t get us wrong—unlike some people, we like Path’s stickers—virtual, cartoony icons you can insert into private messages. Path charges $1.99 for some sticker sets, and CEO Dave Morin recently told us the company’s sticker-sale revenues have been growing every day since their launch last week.
But in the noise of Path 3.0’s launch—a hasty affair prompted by the premature launch of the new version onto Apple’s App Store—a much more significant announcement got lost. Path inked a deal with Sprint to have the Path app preloaded on Kyocera’s Torque smartphones, a ruggedised Android model.
And that kind of deal with handset makers and wireless carriers is Steffens’ specialty.
“She’s the best in the business at that,” a former colleague told us.
Our hunch is that the Kyocera deal presages more, much bigger deals to come.
Before joining colour, Steffens worked in the wireless business at Seven Networks, where she cut deals with the likes of Verizon Wireless. At colour, Steffens spearheaded a deal unveiled in May 2012 with Verizon to have colour’s app—which now focused on video—preinstalled on Android smartphones.
colour become infamous for raising $41 million from venture capitalists only to have its app absolutely tank with consumers. But thanks to its Verizon deal, it was slowly but surely gaining usage.
This might well have saved the company, had the wheels not come off. Amid allegations aired in an ex-employee’s lawsuit of financial improprieties and other misconduct by then-CEO Bill Nguyen, Nguyen stepped down. (According to the lawsuit, Steffens reported the alleged improprieties to colour’s board.) Steffens ran the company with other executives for a while after Nguyen’s departure, and colour’s technical team ended up moving to Apple last fall.
If Steffens was able to salvage something from that situation, imagine what she could do at Path, which has managed to attract 6 million users after a long, hard slog.
Morin, Path’s CEO, has talked about making money directly from its users rather than from advertising, through sales of virtual goods and subscriptions.
The messaging stickers Path just added show pretty clearly how it can sell virtual goods. But it’s with monthly subscriptions that things get really interesting.
Carriers and handset makers are worried about getting left behind as Google, Apple, Facebook and others launch messaging services that go far beyond the basic text messages included in phones.
The cartoony icons Path has introduced may turn off tech insiders in Silicon Valley. But they are already hugely popular in Asia, where apps like Line and WeChat have many of the messaging features Path has introduced.
What if Steffens persuades wireless service providers and smartphone makers to install Path on new phones they sell? And, better yet, offers subscriptions, billed directly to users’ mobile-phone accounts, for all-you-can-post stickers?
We’re not sure why Path’s Morin, who has a flair for promoting his company, hasn’t talked up Steffens the way he has other hires.
Maybe he wants to keep his new rainmaker a secret.
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