It was 2005.
I was driving home from work, talking to my (now) wife Eileen, who was also commuting home. She just got a new cell phone. It was a flip phone (remember those?) and it had a camera on it.
She asked, “What am I going to do with this camera on my phone?”
In 2005, that was a good question.
Facebook was just getting started (they launched February 4, 2004) and Instagram surely wasn’t around (that happened in 2010).
I remember using a Motorola Q, which, for its day, was awesome. I could check email and install (crappy) apps and access (equally crappy) website-like sites (using WAP). So cool!
The iPhone wasn’t around either. It launched June 29, 2007 and completely changed how we use our mobile devices.
So, 10 years ago, having a camera on a cell phone was a novelty. Eileen’s question was a good one.
Little did I know that question would change my life.
I was working at a software company at the time. My commute was 60 minutes each way. So, I had a lot of time to think.
And that’s exactly what I did on the way home that day.
Eileen’s question got me thinking about the possibilities. What COULD we do with our cameras on our cell phones?
I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could play some type of game with them?
ispott was born
That night, I stayed up thinking about the possibilities. Here’s what I came up with…
ispott – the world’s first mobile scavenger hunt game played with cell phones
After signing up for a free account on ispott.com, players get a text message when a new game starts. The text message looks something like this:
Now spotting! Get creative and find (1) bubbles, (2) a straw, and (3) thirst.
Players jump into action, taking creative pictures of the items and sending them into the system using a strange email address only they know (technology was limited back then!).
Once submitted, the photos are displayed on ispott.com where other players vote for their favorites using a star system (1 star = 1 point, 5 stars = 5 points, etc.). This encourages people to get creative, which makes the game fun. The more creative the photo, the more votes it gets! Players also comment, create player profiles and more.
When the game ended, players receive another text message encouraging them to visit ispott.com to check the results and engage with the community of other players.
I was excited.
Nights and weekends
I’m an entrepreneurial explorer at heart, so the idea of creating something new fueled the many nights and weekends ahead. All I wanted to do each day was get home from work so I could continue to work on ispott.
I also wanted to teach myself a new technology (for the geeks out there, CSS layout instead of table-based layout and PHP instead of ASP), and ispott was the perfect way to do it.
I was so excited when I got the first text message to show up on my cell phone. It was like landing a man on the moon as far as I was concerned.
After that, I remember finishing the code that processed the incoming photos. Back then, each phone and mobile carrier sent photos in a different format. So, figuring out those formats and programming all of the different possibilities was quite a task!
Eventually, after many months and sleepless nights of work, ispott was ready (enough) to launch.
Then Microsoft called
A few weeks after I flipped the switches and launched ispott, Microsoft called. Really.
They were looking for a cool new way for one of their advertisers (Sprite) to reach a younger demographic. They thought ispott was the perfect choice.
I have to admit, when I got the call, I thought it was one of my college buddies (you know who you are Stephen, James and Mike) pranking me. It’s not everyday that Microsoft calls.
It was very real, however, and they were obviously excited about using the platform I built on my sofa.
I’ll never forget the first conference call with the Microsoft team. I was standing in my kitchen wearing shorts and a t-shirt in true entrepreneurial style. It felt like there were 500 people from Microsoft on the call. They were asking questions about customizing the platform, scalability and other technical requirements. It’s amazing how unprepared I was for that call.
I pinched myself a few times and, after realizing that the opportunity was for real, I gave my two weeks notice at the software company and officially spread my wings into the world of entrepreneurship.
ispott, Inc. was formed and we ended up running an award-winning global campaign with Microsoft and Sprite on the ispott platform.
We visited Microsoft, were presented with acquisition offers, partied with celebrities on a yacht at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami and visited some of the world’s top advertising agencies. Ever see Entourage on HBO? We were there. In real life.
It was a hell of a ride.
One guy and a computer
It’s true that success involves being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.
And luck. Plenty of luck.
Looking back, it still amazes me that I, one guy with a computer, was able to create and launch a global campaign with some of the world’s biggest brands.
None of this would have happened without the help of technology.
Technology opens up so many opportunities that we’re sometimes blinded by them. It’s scary and exciting all at the same time.
And that was 10 years ago.
Fast forward to today and technology, and all of the opportunities it represents, has grown exponentially.
Time to experiment?
I view life as a collection of stories. Once upon a time, ispott happened. It’s a story and experience I will never forget.
But it’s not the last chapter of the book. For me, it’s likely (hopefully!) somewhere in the middle.
So, as we set sail into 2015, I’m excited to continue to grow Forge3 (last year was a record year for us) by helping as many people as possible understand the power of technology.
How we do that will be the fun part. Perhaps it’s time to experiment a bit. What do you think?
Turn the page.