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May 16, 2007
FOR SALE: Large Red Bridge

I’m from a family of serial entrepreneurs. Between us, we’ve launched and sold just under 15 companies. I recall discussing the importance of EBITDA during dinner—when I was 10. I share this only to illustrate that I’ve had exposure to a great number of entrepreneurial challenges over the years, from financing to hiring top talent at start-up salaries and certainly creating sustainable barriers to entry. However, for the first time in my career, I’m addressing what can best be described as the “too good to be true” factor.

Consider the consumer advantages in entertainment technology. What used to require a radio, a TV, an MP3 player, a DVD player and a computer can now be accomplished on your mobile phone. Simultaneously. Mobile phone technology is amazing and with more than 200 million mobile users in North America, there are huge opportunities for marketers to reach consumers in a very personal way. But consumers are, well, skeptical. Recent surveys that found 90 percent of consumers say "no" when asked if they want advertising on their cell phones—and that has marketers tiptoeing around the opportunity.

To break the huge opportunity represented by mobile marketing wide open, Limbo 41414 has created an effective solution for marketers. Our premier product is an exciting text messaging game called the Limbo Auction. It’s a game through which consumers can win free prizes, including cars, big-screen TVs and digital cameras every day. Our fun experience and attractive prizes offer incredible value to consumers to initiate play. Because play is consumer-initiated, people are open to relevant branded messages throughout the game. Our quantitative research shows that as a result of playing Limbo for a prize, our players are 39 percent more likely to buy the product, and 4 percent of players already purchased the item. And, text messaging is by far the most popular mobile activity, used by 35 percent of mobile users in the United States. So consumers don’t have to upgrade their phones or download any new software. And, consumers love to Limbo! Members play an average of 25 times per game and 40 times per month. Still, I lie awake each night pondering the barriers between our solution—the Limbo Auction—and its mass adoption among consumers, namely that the product just may be TG2BT.

Therefore, breakout solution or not, we find ourselves facing the same branding realities as every other marketer in the post-Enron or post-Vioxx world. No longer is a company innocent before proven guilty; it’s an uphill battle from day one. So, in addition to building a great solution for our clients, we’re focused on nurturing our own consumer brand, which includes building credibility and restoring faith among consumers with the simple, tried-and-true principles of trust and transparency. We’re upfront about charges, including standard text rates and premium fees. We use actual winners on our website, in our public relations efforts and in our advertising to show that real people win every day. Our privacy policy is in English versus legalese, and we clearly post game rules for each and every game we offer. And, during our start-up phase, we’ve focused on partnering with some of the biggest and most reputable brands on the planet—Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Virgin, Harley-Davidson, among many others—with hopes that we can benefit from their well-established brand halos.

Who knew you could create a great business idea that gives people free stuff, and you would face the same credibility challenges as everyone else?

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Jonathon Linner is co-founder and CEO of the innovative new venture Limbo 41414, which is defining a new category of mobile entertainment for consumers, while offering brand-building exposure to brand owners and media companies. Prior to launching Limbo 41414, Jonathon was CEO and a co-founder of global mobile marketing firm Enpocket.

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