Toura finds niche, now must exploit it: experts

August 12, 2010

Toura’s Web-based tool that creates virtual museum tours for handy download onto a visitor’s mobile device is exciting, but experts said founder Aaron Radin needs to get some more big-name clients on board and ramp up sales to fully command the space.

Radin, who launched Toura with co-founder Sayoko Knight Teitelbaum 18 months ago, has already created apps for the Art Institute of Chicago, Washington’s the Smithsonian Institute, the Pace Gallery in New York and the London Royal Academy of Arts. In addition Toura’s app publishing platform has been used to produce some shopping and travel guides (read the original story here).

“It was clear to me that any museum has content or has access to content and either through lack of technology or access to technology, they did not necessarily have a way to take that content and distribute it to what is obviously an increasing audience – peoples’ mobile devices,” said Radin, who offers his proprietary Web-based publishing tool – The Toura Mobile App Producer – to clients for free in exchange for a 50-50 split of the revenues from each downloaded app, which ranges from 99 cents to $5.99.

THE PITCH

TAKING IT TO THE EXPERTS

Mark McCauley, the director of technology for the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona, liked that Toura’s app has minimal upfront costs and a shared revenue stream, but worried that it might detract from the visitor’s experience instead of enhancing it.

“Too many times have I seen in other museums, guests who have spent more time looking at a handheld device rather than looking at what is on display directly,” said McCauley, who noted that MIM provides each guest with a wireless audio device which operates in tandem with more than 250 exhibit display screens. “Museums are unique places where the importance of experiencing the objects directly should be center stage to any supporting technology.”

McCauley also wondered what happens if a visitor doesn’t have a cellphone, or possesses one that is unable to operate the Toura app? In this case the museum would have to provide the smartphone, further increasing its overhead.

“It’s especially important to look at how to expand and leverage more popular forms of technology such as mobile devices and applications to enhance a guest experience as long as it supports the mission and message of the exhibits.”

Terry Cross, an entrepreneur, angel investor and professor of entrepreneurship at Detroit-based Wayne State University, was very impressed with Toura and thought museums would be very receptive to it’s technology.

“The market is clear and defined, and once they have a couple of iconic institutions in place, the rest should fall in line as a ‘must have’ in relatively short order,” said Cross, who noted the real value of the company lay in its Web-based publishing platform. “I think their real secret sauce is the platform technology making it hopefully easy to aggregate the info into the app.”

Cross, who currently sits on the boards of several startups, felt Toura needed to tweak its business model to realize increased profits.

“I am not certain they have to give away 50 percent to get in the door,” Cross said on the financial arrangement Toura has with museums that use the service. “They are really providing a value add to the museum. Perhaps they will be able to improve the split ratio in their favor as time goes on.”

Brian Moran, president of New Jersey-based Veracle Media and a small business advisor, was excited by the museum app and felt Toura was on the right track, but that the company needed to safeguard itself against competitors.

“Other app designers will recognize the market for museum guides as well as other tourist guides and things should heat up pretty quickly,” said Moran, who urged Radin to create strategic partnerships that would help grow its distribution network, such as airlines and hotels that could offer the Toura app as retention premiums for members of their loyalty programs. Moran also suggested working with review sites like Yelp “where people reading museum reviews can buy a guide to that museum by clicking on a link on the review site.”

Moran agreed with Cross that the revenue model needs to rely less on the number of apps sold and move more towards a sponsorship- or advertising-based one.

“The key for Toura’s future success is to keep the momentum moving forward,” he said. “In their highly competitive marketplace, one or two missteps could prove fatal to their mobile app program.”

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