For the latest entry in our DDIR2 series, we spoke to Sam Pasquale, SVP Product Management about his company 2Thumbz, which develops and publishes one of the largest and highest quality portfolios of officially licensed collegiate sports mobile applications/personalization content.
Tell us a little bit about your technical background, education and how you got into design.
I have degrees from NC State in Business Management and Economics with a concentration of studies in Industrial Engineering. In addition, I’ve been an executive mentor leading a MBA Practicum Project for UNC and Duke MBA candidates.
I started my career with Nortel Networks in Industrial Engineering and progressed through senior engineer roles in Test Technology, New Product Introduction and then as a Senior Product Manager. I directed several global cross-functional teams to design and introduce new switching products for both Nortel and then feature sets for Cingular Wireless.
It’s interesting, because in many ways, Nortel built the infrastructure for 3G mobile technology such as UTMS. Now, I’ve come full circle, building a company that sells mobile content.
What is your top performing Theme?
Alabama, Roll Tide Roll. Alabama has an amazing national fan base and football dynasty with five national championships in nine years so naturally, the team’s Theme is very popular. That said, we published Themes for all the top schools, including Ohio State, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida State, Georgia, USC, Clemson, UNC, and many others with incredible national fan bases.
You have many strategic content partnerships with players like the big universities and even the US Army. What advice would you give designers looking to make strategic partners of their own?
When it comes to working with major brands you must be responsive, deliver on your business plans and protect the brand’s value and integrity. For new developers and designers looking to build partnerships, I would emphasize integrity and strong business ethics to build trusted relationships, especially when you represent iconic brands.
For a partnership to expand, it’s critical to deliver on commitments. Many times, small businesses have a short-term outlook versus long-term when building partnerships. 2Thumbz has represented the top universities for 15 years since the advent of this mobile market and color LCD screens because we made the commitment early on to develop those partnerships.
When designing these officially licensed Themes, what are some things you must keep in mind?
We must protect these iconic college brands and not distort or detract visually from the official logo or colors. Colleges have specific colors and style guides that we utilize in Theme designs. College Themes should not be visually complex, so we make the college logo presentation and complementary icon set the focus.
Another key component to consider is music. We publish over 500 official college fight songs and cheers. The music provides another layer of personalization for the fan. Others may not see your Theme, but they can hear your team’s fight song as a ringtone or notification. It’s part of the college and game day experience.
How does your company scale to accommodate peak periods, such as March Madness?
Simple: advanced planning and close teamwork with our partners. In December, we anticipated the top NCAA basketball teams and built new college basketball Themes and wallpaper portfolios to launch them in January, right after the college bowl season. The college Theme marketing plans were co-developed with Samsung and executed before March Madness. This close teamwork and planning drove excellent feature placements on the Samsung Theme Store and a promotion on Galaxy Apps.
This March our big rush centered around supporting the launch of Samsung’s new S9 device on March 16th. Knowing that a new flagship device was being launched the first week of March Madness, we wanted to deliver excellent product coverage for the S9. In the end, we delivered strong S9 product coverage for both the College Themes feature and a new 2Thumbz developer spotlight feature.
What were the biggest kinks you had to iron out when you first started with Themes?
When we begin development, our goal is to create a distinct Theme with music that fans want to show their friends, which can sometimes clash with our other goal, which is that a Theme must be intuitive and user friendly. The graphics can look great, but the finished product must be easy to use. In addition to that, the Theme Designer also has the complicated task of understanding the inter-relationship of the different Theme options and how one option affects multiple screens. Theme design has a lot of moving parts and it takes time to master.
From a design perspective, what is the most important UX consideration you must take into account when developing a Theme?
Distinct, intuitive icons are imperative. For example, we focus on the color palette to match the official college colors.
Do you have any advice for a designer starting out who is looking to create a successful Theme business?
Designers should be committed to continuous learning. The Theme Editor has hundreds of options and it’s an excellent tool, but designers need to understand the relationship between the different options. To envision the full product experience and narrow down the best option, you need to have graphic artist skills and design skills. In my experience, the most successful Theme designers have the ability to systematically solve problems and are always finding new ways to improve the product.
When starting a Theme business, set a reasonable goal. Don’t include every possible option with your first set of Themes. Instead, grow towards a more immersive experience without making it too complex for the user. Also, it may seem obvious, but keep your files, certification keys and naming conventions consistent and well organized, or you will encounter problems on the submissions and upgrades. Lastly, make sure you have a product offering that appeals to a wide market.
Finally, tell us what it’s like working with Samsung.
Samsung is run by a world-class team of professionals and considering my experience working with global development teams, it’s a perfect partnership. We work closely on developing product portfolios, comprehensive marketing plans and new offerings that extend the success we have in Themes.
Both Samsung and 2Thumbz like to move fast, blazing a technology trail, which is another reason we work well together. We work on a strategy and deliver it as a team, which has led to many successful launches and a strong partnership.
Thanks to Sam for sharing his thoughts with us. This is the last entry in our DDIR2 series, so make sure to like us on Facebook so you don’t miss any upcoming content.