From developing the app, to being kicked out of the Apple store, to being a first time entrepreneur - Lucien Tavano Interview - Founder and CEO of OhMyGeorge
We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Lucien Tavano, self proclaimed "hipster" and Founder of OhMyGeorge. Lucien is a bright young mind in the tech industry, holding dual masters degrees in Engineering from ESTACA and Strategy and Management of International Business from ESSEC Business School. The combination of his science education and business acumen has led to him developing one of the soon to be hottest apps in the Forex industry. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.
DrinkForex - What is OhMyGeorge?
Lucien - Oh My George is an addictive iOS and Android forex trading app that lets beginners experience currency trading easily thanks to a minimalist user interface and a gamified learning system.
DrinkForex - What gave you the idea to create the app?
Lucien - When I got into trading I kept jumping from one service provider to another in the search of a platform that would provide me a pleasant user experience as a beginner. I couldn’t care less about being able to choose from hundreds of financial assets, set parameters I had no idea what they were for, or get my trades executed at the speed of light. I wanted to learn how to drive, and I had no other choice but to directly practice with a formula one car. Since I couldn’t find one, I started to build the one I wished existed: a platform simple enough so I could experience the markets with just a couple of taps, safe enough so I could trade for real but with some safeguards, and smart enough so that, as my knowledge increased, the platform would always meet my needs. Oh – and fun enough too, because the legacy platforms all had that super serious and pretentious feel (and even scary/scammy feel for some).
DrinkForex - Who is your target demographic and audience?
Lucien - Our target demographic is financial market beginners, and more precisely, among them, the Gen-Ys as marketers call them. This generation differs in many ways from the baby boomers, a subject that has long been extensively covered . We specifically focus on how they learn, which is through trial and error (i.e. experimentation) rather than by reading books. This is therefore central to our product design: at first you may not exactly know what you’re doing with Oh My George, but it’s so easy to open your first trade and feel the pulse of the market for the first time that you stick to it and you learn --in the app and by documenting yourself outside of the app-- because you are hooked. Our goal is to get Gen-Ys interested in financial markets, we don’t have the pretension to teach everything (if that’s possible at all). It’s okay if after a while our users move on to more powerful platforms, it means we have achieved our mission, they are not our target users anymore.
DrinkForex - Why focus on Generation Y or Millennials?
Lucien - Simply because [ for finchtech ] it’s the generation that is driving the consumer demand now.
DrinkForex - How has the app evolved over time? I remember initially seeing you had a binary options broker listed when someone clicked “open a live account”, then awhile back you switched it to FXCM. Was this decision a result of the evolution of the app?
Lucien - The initial concept involved a full gamification of the learning curve. The feedback of our early users taught us that the spread for instance was a concept that was not easily apprehended, so what we did was to take it out entirely and reintroduce it later, once the basics had been assimilated (which assets am I trading, what market is this, what are the opening times, what does it mean when the chart goes up and down, etc.). This led us to build a gamification system where users earn experience points in order to level up (unlocking new financial instruments) and gear up (adding new features to their trading platform). We are still far from achieving our vision, so we have many more levels to add, including the highly anticipated real-trading option. Pointing our users to other trading platforms is therefore an intermediary step for us before we can technically allow them to connect a real-money brokerage account to their Oh My George app. We have tried many different partners, and the ones that have the favors of our user base are the ones that offer the best user experience (unsurprisingly), regardless of the instruments they allow to trade.
DrinkForex - One of the main taglines on your home page is “No Math”. Can you explain what this means and why this sets Oh My George apart from other trading apps?
DrinkForex - Can you run me through an example of these calculations ? Let’s say I have a $1,000 account and I want to risk $50 on a trade.
Lucien - When you select $50 in the app, the system opens a trade worth 50 micro lots (50,000 units), so each pip is worth $5, and a stop loss is set at -10 pips (i.e. $50). To think in terms of dollars “risked” rather than dollars “invested” makes more sense from a user perspective, because for users the risk is the actual “investment”, the size of the trade (i.e. the amount which was technically invested) isn’t really relevant in their context. In a real-money trading situation, a leverage of 200 means that $250 from your balance would be required to guarantee your position, so, with that system, you can’t have too many positions open at the same time. For the moment users cannot change the trade size’s default setting (trade size = 1 micro lot per risked dollar, but of course this is a feature they will be able to unlock later in the game). We tried to make it a function of the spread, so that under any market condition the initial loss due to the spread was always the same. But the feedback was that our users couldn’t understand why sometimes their investment was evolving very fast, and sometimes far slower. It was easier to understand that depending on market conditions it is more or less “expensive” to open a trade. So in the end we hard coded that parameter. I have to confess that we do change it from time to time, and we analyse the impact on the activity of our users in order to see what the best compromise is.
DrinkForex - During a recent discussion you mentioned that your app had been removed from the Apple store, can you explain what exactly occurred?
Lucien - Yes, that was tough time for our company. A while back, Apple notoriously chased down all binary options apps, and any app that was promoting or in any way helping the binary option industry expand. It’s was a unilateral move from Apple that was not motivated by any regulatory requirement. The problem (for us) was, Apple’s employees are not financial experts, and in addition to taking down the apps that were related to binary options, they also took Oh My George down overnight without any warning. We had to argue for many weeks to convince Apple to republish us (we only emulate Forex instruments and promote Apple-approved apps), and we even had to remove all third-party app promotions to please them. According to Apple’s guidelines, it is not allowed to promote third-party apps within an app (a rule that obviously they only enforce selectively). After a month we got republished, but our download rate is only one-fifth of what it used to be and what took us so much work to reach.
DrinkForex - What do you mean by enforcing selectively? Can you share some examples with the rule included and what you did incorrectly?
Lucien - We are diving into App Store publishing very deep here :)
The guidelines that Apple opposed us was the 3.2.2(i): “creating an interface for displaying third party apps, extensions, or plug-ins similar to the App Store or as a general-interest collection” (formerly infamously known as the guideline 2.25, with a wording that was a bit less ambiguous: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected”).
This rule seems to only be enforced selectively, because they are tons of Appstore-approved apps that promote third-party apps. In our case, this third-party app promotion had been present in our app for more than a year, so we are not sure why it is causing an issue now. We argued that in no way we were mimicking the App Store, but this did not unlock the situation.
Apple’s crackdown on third-party app promotion is not new (2012!) and unfortunately we could not obtain further explanation regarding the interpretation of that guideline in our case (it is the subject of extensive discussions on many forums & blogs).
Some app makers do not activate third party app promotions in their app until after their app or update has been approved. Some remove third-party app promotion when they get caught and reintroduce it later with a new update…
Long story short, we removed the promotion of the third-party app altogether (our only revenue source) and moved it to our website. Even though users are invited to visit our website at some point during the game, this obviously drives much less conversion in the end for us, and therefore much less revenue.
This does not change too much our long-term product strategy though, because this business model was a temporary solution, supposed to be removed with the arrival of in-app real-money trading.
DrinkForex - When Apple took down your app what was going through your mind? Were you like of f**k I just spent years of my life and a lot of money developing this app and they just killed my business?
Lucien - No, not really. First because that was just one more problem on top of many others (it sounds bad, but what it means is that we are used to dealing with issues that seem business-frightening at first, it’s almost business as usual, so we don’t freak out anymore), second because our financials are good and our fixed cost extremely low, so we know we have time to adjust our strategy, even pivot it if need be. We initially had a very aggressive growth-at-all-cost startup approach, but in time (read: after many roadblocks and failures) we realized that it wouldn’t work in our case, so we are taking the slower (but no less rewarding) bootstrapping route now (growing at a pace allowing to always be profitable), and it has already proven to make much more sense. Also, we knew about Apple’s change of policy regarding specific financial instruments (binary options), so we were aware that there was a good chance Apple should get confused and take us down by mistake while chasing down non-complying apps (unfortunately, there was not much we could do to prevent that mistake to happen…). It doesn’t mean we weren’t upset though, it felt really unfair.
DrinkForex - It seems that your success is somewhat dependent on Apple and Android. Are there things that you can do to help isolate yourself from the impact that they have on your success?
Lucien - Yes, we are a mobile-only trading platform, because our target users are mobile-first consumers. So we rely and depend 100% on Apple’s Appstore and Google’s Playstore for distribution (there are other stores for Android, but the traffic is much less than on the official Playstore). Our strategy has been from day one to use a development framework that allows us to publish on both app stores simultaneously, so the risk is at least split between the two. Our marketing strategy had been so far mainly focused on ASO (App Store Optimization), with new users discovering us as they search the stores. In the months to come we will focus on getting other sources of traffic in order to be less dependent on the app stores’ search engine algorithms, but the only way to totally stop being dependent on Apple and Google (if at all possible) is to offer a responsive web-app to our users (a mobile-friendly web-based version of our app). Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to provide the same level of user experience with a web-app, so for now we are sticking to the mobile-only approach, adjusting our product’s features as the stores’ guidelines evolve.
DrinkForex - Do you ever plan on launching a desktop or web application?
Lucien - Yes, and it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge since our app is built with web technologies. But our UI works well on mobile, the screen’s is not too busy, unlike most trading apps, so for now our users do not push for a web version (which wouldn’t bring significant added value), there are much more pressing matters :)
DrinkForex - Changing subjects a little bit, is this your first venture into being an entrepreneur, if not, what have you created before?
Lucien - Yes, I’m a newbie (so don’t take what I say too seriously), 2.5 years in. It’s been painful most of the time, fun sometimes, but it never felt like a bad decision.
DrinkForex - What was the hardest thing you learned from developing the app and getting into the store?
Lucien - Development time estimates was and is the thing that has always been hardest for us. And as a consequence, in our early days planning our runway right has been equally hard.
DrinkForex - What are 5 suggestions for people developing an app and wanted to get it into stores?
1. Draw and get feedback, then prototype and get feedback, and only then start the development itself. Also, it’s obvious, if you’re not a developer, get feedback early on on your wireframes and prototypes from developers too (not just from your potential users), otherwise you will have big surprises when you want to start the development process.
2. People who download your app will give it only one single try, and you’ll have about 5 seconds of their time to make an impression, think about it. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Bye!
3. Most consumers aren’t able to distinguish a native app from a hybrid one, so don’t hesitate too much: unless your app has very specific needs that hybrids can’t meet, go for hybrid.
4. As you design and build your app think about your acquisition strategy. It will have an impact. It should have. And don’t think that the hardest part is to actually build the app. It’s to market it. Period.
5. Finally, if your app is also at the heart of the revenue streams of your business, make sure you have enough cash to survive two or three storms in a row.
DrinkForex - Ok, on to the fun question. If you could have a drink with anybody (alive or dead) who would it be and what would be the topic of conversation?
Lucien - It’s gonna be cliché but it’d be with Elon Musk, to talk about his master plan for the human race! I would also like invite Vitalik Buterin to join, because a conversion between Elon and I would probably be very cool, but a conversation between Elon and Vitalik would be mind-blowing.
Make sure to checkout OhMyGeorge by clicking HERE!