How Pinsight Media is changing the way Sprint works with developers

with Kevin McGinnis, VP at Sprint's Pinsight Media

Kevin McGinnis

with Kevin McGinnis, VP at Sprint's Pinsight Media

It might not be a name with which app developers are deeply familiar, but Kevin McGinnis is focusing on making them feel the same level of awareness for Pinsight Media as they have for Sprint. Based in Kansas City, Pinsight Media is a Sprint subsidiary that was designed to help the carrier build new kinds of opportunities in mobile advertising, mobile analytics and mobile commerce. Last year, Pinsight Media grew substantially via the acquisition of Handmark/OneLouder, a former partner that developed both apps and mobile advertising services.

McGinnis, vice president at Pinsight Media, said Sprint realized it needed to start approaching developers differently as far back as 2007, when the rise of smartphones meant firms such as Google and Apple were largely responsible for managing the selling of apps through app stores.

"Our pivot was, how do we support those developers, now that it's no longer a technical-support relationship?" he says.

McGinnis spoke with FierceDeveloper by phone to explain more about Pinsight Media's genesis and its future. This interview has been edited and condensed.

FierceDeveloper: What's the primary value your program is offering to the developer community today and how do you see it evolving and expanding over the next year?

McGinnis: I've had the developer program somewhat in my domain for the last seven or eight years. As we were progressing down the path of trying to understand this emerging two-sided business model in mobile--which is instead of monetization coming solely from your monthly paying customers carrying your devices and your subscriptions--how do you focus on standing up a business that's outside of that core competency that's generating revenues or at least adding value to the other side of the equation, like the brand or services side of the organization to consumers? Because it is outside of our core focus, and because it is a different market message, a different sales channel and so on, we felt the best thing to do was to give it an opportunity as a stand-alone business, or at least as something that could be focused on it with a different level of autonomy.

FierceDeveloper: What's the most important thing you're doing to maintain developer loyalty?

McGinnis: The developer program has gradually created online linkages between Pinsight Media and our Sprint developer program. That team that was managing the developer program stayed with me and is now managing what we call entrepreneurship. Because we do see who the new customer is. It's not necessarily (about supporting) the technical side of app development, it's the business side of app developers and that ecosystem, which is about, how do you become a better partner for us? How do you interact with entrepreneurs who are trying to get into mobile, how do you stimulate innovation and do some of those things. So there's a forking in our developer program into the entrepreneurship lane, into what we have that's called the Sprint Accelerator, and into Pinsight Media. All of those are in my domain now, but the market-facing aspect of that is a work in progress and something we try to raise awareness and drive towards. 

FierceDeveloper: Developers typically struggle with discoverability, engagement and/or monetization. What elements of your program help address these pain points?

McGinnis: Oftentimes, monetization is about trying to increase distribution. You're trying to increase eyeballs. The technical barriers to entry into the market are so much lower, but you can have an advertising model, an in-app purchase model, a one-time subscription or download model. What we've done on the Pinsight side and what we do at Sprint is help elevate awareness of those applications and those opportunities for developers. We have properties like our Discover it widget, which is on the standby screen of devices. We don't have a storefront, but we want to elevate things we think consumers would be interested in. We have Sprint Zone, which is on all the handsets. It is primarily a customer-care application, but it also elevates and raises awareness of specific applications in various domains, whether it be games, entertainment, lifestyle or utilities of some sort. Those are examples of where we're trying to assist discovery and not only help developers in that monetization [effort] but also help the consumer who's trying to sort through these large stores. Then it's also looking at how we take those learnings from native mobile experiences and help developers understand that there's something beyond banner advertising. How do we improve targeting and the customer experience and go from advertising-as-necessary-evil to content consumption that they actually look forward to?

FierceDeveloper: There is a huge emphasis on enterprise apps today, but do you see your program nurturing and developing small or indie developers and mobile-game-design studios?

McGinnis: We believe so. You don't know what you don't know, and so there are these emerging categories of consumer experiences, new applications. They're not just for a rectangular screen anymore. They're for wearables, they're for appliances. Apps are growing out of all sorts of things. We try to put enablement capabilities forward that span across those opportunities. It's extremely hard to segment or target the developer community right now. We're just trying to lay down a framework and an enablement capability that allows them to be successful. Gone, I think, are the days where the carrier was dictating consumer experience in a walled garden. Now, you don't know where innovation is going to happen.

FierceDeveloper: Beyond your own program, what kind of other events, web sites or other resources would you point developers to as they seek to educate themselves and improve their competitive position in the market?

McGinnis: The information is easily accessible now; that's the beauty of the Internet. I think the challenge is on the flip side: How do you sort through it all and find out what's important to you? That's why I think there is still value in the carrier relationship, because we have those developer programs. And so do other carriers. In some ways it's less competitive than it is about offering support across industry now.

FierceDeveloper: Who are some of the developers in your program you'd point to as case studies of companies who are taking a strategic approach to creating and growing their app business?

McGinnis: We've announced partnerships with companies that began as startups and now are emerging as category leaders. Companies like Lookout, companies like Spotify. Those are, I think, great examples of companies that have taken the reigns and understood how to manage carrier relationships to their advantage, whether it's distribution, whether it's looking for win-win scenarios in terms of subscription models or customer-experience models.