Ann Arbor startup BongoTones pursues new mobile content platform
Two University of Michigan grads were fed up with expensive fees for cell phone ringtones, wallpaper, games and videos.
So they created their own mobile content delivery site. The Ann Arbor entrepreneurs have developed a user-generated database of 16,000 ringtones from 150 countries under the auspices of their two-year-old company, BongoTones.com.
The firm is developing its technology platform to begin offering cell phone users the ability to download customized wallpaper, games and videos for free. The company says its downloadable content is compatible with hundreds of phones, including Apple's iPhone.
The service aims to undermine the fee-heavy content strategies of major cell phone service providers. Juniper Research estimated that the mobile content industry would reap revenues of $47.5 billion by 2010.
BongoTones co-founder Nareg Sagherian, who has three bachelor’s degrees from U-M and a master’s from Wayne State, said the company’s mobile content service offers users the ability to create their own ringtones using content they’ve acquired.
“We want to help users get mobile content on their phones” without having to spend heavily, he said.
Users can upload songs to BongoTones from their personal iTunes collection, for example. But Sagherian envisions customers using the database mostly to upload personalized content, such as ringtones featuring independent musical artists or friends' songs. He said he doesn't anticipate intellectual property disputes with record companies, although he said the company agrees to remove content when a company provides proof that IP rights have been violated.
Sagherian is working with co-founders David Pakhchanian, a U-M economics grad, and Toronto resident and programmer Soheil Banifatemi.
Sagherian said cell phone companies are price-gouging customers on content sales.
“We don’t want to be one of those companies where we’re trying to suck every single penny out of our users,” he said. “We just take care of the service, and you just bring in your music.”
The company expects to rely mostly on advertising dollars, since all of its content is free. Sagherian said BongoTones would also sell complete songs on its site through online music retailers.
For now, though, he said the site is focused on building its user base - a similar strategy to the microblogging site Twitter, which has no revenue.
BongoTones averages some 30,000 monthly unique users, he said. After a year of design work, the site launched in September and had to be temporarily shut down five months later due to heavy traffic. The company launched a redesigned version of the site in April.
The company also expects to begin integrating a feature in which musical artists can promote their content and upcoming tours. The firm has had discussions with Ann Arbor startup MyBandStock.com about a potential partnership.
Drew Leahy, CEO of MyBandStock, said the companies are “not competitors” and could work together on content partnerships, although discussions are still in the early stages.