A few quick thoughts on the location services monetization panel discussion I was fortunate to sit on last night at the Rice Alliance event.

First, it was great to see so many enthusiastic people in the audience.  The event looked to have around 200+ people in attendance.  Of course, Josh Williams (CEO of Gowalla) was the big draw — I think that was one of his first appearances at an Austin community event.  It was the first time I had met him in person and likely the first meeting for a lot of folks as well.  The other panelists were great as well.  I love TabbedOut and think that Rick and his colleagues are on to a great idea and are executing well.  Blair Garrou of DFJ Mercury is as astute a VC as you'll meet when it comes to location services and how social media, game mechanics, and real-time technologies will shape the future of tech.  So it was an honor to be among such company.

I had a few interesting takeaways from last night:

  • Josh is a realist when it comes to some challenges re: LBS — like the inconvenience of "checking in", privacy, etc.
  • I was surprised by the extent of Blair's enthusiasm for the future of location-based services.  If you substitute "LBS" for any other business, I think VCs would be a lot more cautious and perhaps tougher on the execs involved.  Not to mention, there is a nagging question of what Facebook, Google, & Apple may do with their mobile apps/devices and also what Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft may do to jump in.  But we're seeing a migration of folks to smartphones and computing is getting increasingly mobile.  I think those megatrends are outweighing a lot of questions that VCs would ordinarily have of LBS execs and their business model assumptions.
  • The best marketing plays today for location services are definitely in the branding/corporate marketing area.  I'm talking about the Jimmy Choo foursquare example, things Gowalla has done with the New Jersey Nets, etc.  More on this in a guest post coming soon.
  • Rick and his team have done a great job solving real problems for bars.  Our experience is similar — it's hard to scale solutions to real problems, but that's also where a lot of value is created for local businesses.  The rubber has to hit the road & I think the guys at TabbedOut are learning a lot there.
  • It was an interesting data point that the final question asked in Q&A was the first one re: actually monetizing location.  I think that would've been quite a conversation — but I guess we'll have to talk specifics next time.  We'll all know a lot more. :-)

So if you were there, thanks a bunch for attending.  I will update this post when the video of the panel discussion is released.