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Duncan Blackett of Digital Turbine: “Our mission is all about the user experience”

Our mission is all about the user experience. We believe that a good user experience brings real value to users, as well as the app developers, and our carrier and OEM and partners. For example, think about how Digital Turbine’s platform can enhance the lives of people like my mum. As I mentioned earlier, she’d […]

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Our mission is all about the user experience. We believe that a good user experience brings real value to users, as well as the app developers, and our carrier and OEM and partners. For example, think about how Digital Turbine’s platform can enhance the lives of people like my mum. As I mentioned earlier, she’d never go to the Google Play store to install an app, and she’s largely unaware of the many apps that can improve her life. Her generation isn’t alone in this; most consumers rarely install apps, as comScore has been reporting over the last several years. But with a phone that has Digital Turbine’s Ignite technology on, she can open up her home screen and see a host of apps already available, apps that can really enhance her lifestyle.


As a part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Duncan Blackett.

Duncan Blackett is the Head of EMEA, Customer Success at Digital Turbine. With 20 years’ experience in media and the application industry, Duncan is an expert in driving user acquisition for clients spanning sectors such as gaming, retail, and utility across EMEA. He led revenue generation across all platforms for News UK with accounts such as Vodafone and Ford. Following a successful career at global publishing groups, he realized his entrepreneurial ambition in 2014 when he co-founded and ran a London based ride-hailing app, iRide London. Using his firsthand experience as an app entrepreneur combined with a passion for cultivating mobile-first strategies, Duncan advises advertiser clients across industries to advance their mobile strategies and grow users at scale.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been interested in media and pursued it as a career. I’ve been lucky to work for some fantastic publications in the UK, including FourFourTwo, a football (soccer) publication, Autocar, and News UK — a leading newspaper publisher in the UK. My job has been to work with marketers to improve their brand presence, share of voice, and ultimately acquire new customers. At News UK, I was a group trading director, in charge of contracts with agencies.

When smartphones arrived on the scene, and with it the budding app market, I was instantly hooked. I saw an opportunity to democratize so many assets, and to liberate people in important ways. From that point on, I’ve looked for ways to work at the intersection of media and mobile.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Not only have I been a huge fan of mobile apps from the start, I’ve also relied on taxi cabs to get around London. One day as I was waiting on hold to request a car and thought, why isn’t there an app for this? Why can’t I just open an app, request a cab, track its proximity to me, and pay for the journey with my e-wallet?

Most app developers would answer those questions by developing an app and then selling it to the taxi companies, but that just wasn’t the culture of the industry back then. So I did the next best thing: I bought a small, 30-car taxi service, and then created a ride-hailing app for customers to book and pay for rides.

Clearly that idea hit the mark with customers because my company soon grew into a 100 car business, and over the following three years, a 1,000-car company. The ride-sharing app proved to be the secret sauce to my success, and I soon owned the third-largest taxi company in London. That speaks volumes about the power of apps and technology.

When Uber arrived in London, however, it became difficult to keep growing without the VC resources tech companies enjoy, so I sold it to iRide.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I learned a lot of lessons from that experience, but one of the most relevant to the digital world is learning how to manage a company that is experiencing rapid growth. My car company went from 30 drivers to 1,000 in short order. My current company, Digital Turbine, is experiencing similar growth, and it takes a certain skill-set to survive and thrive in that environment. For instance, you need to be willing to wear a lot of different hats, and jump in whenever and wherever help is needed at that moment in time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without a doubt, it’s my twin brother. He’s extremely intelligent and things just come naturally to him. He effortlessly excelled at school, had his pick of the best universities, and has become the first Dr. Blackett in the family. All along he challenged me to keep up with him, but not in a competitive way. And he always believed I had it in me, and I did, but I had to work ten times harder than him. Being his twin instilled in me a habit of working ten times harder at everything I do.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The great thing about mobile media and mobile devices is their ubiquity and the democratization that comes with that ubiquity. My career trajectory — and I saw this especially with the ride-hailing app — allows me to offer technology to new audiences and improve their lives in small ways. I’m not claiming that I saved Londoners their lives, but being able to open an app, request a car, and pay for it with just a few taps brought large doses of convenience to people who are in annoying, and sometimes stressful, situations. And this is the power of the app economy; yes, it gives entrepreneurs a chance to innovate and become rich, but it also alleviates stress in countless ways as we go about our daily lives.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in gaming that you are working on?

The toughest challenges all game developers face are: how do I acquire new users, and how do I keep them engaged?

The marketplace has created hubs for aficionados: Google Stadia, Apple Arcade, Google Play, and the Apple App store. One would think these hubs would be fantastic boons for game developers but that hasn’t quite been the case for the majority of them. There are so many games in so many categories that it’s really difficult for app developers to rise above the clutter and get new users. So our focus, where we see the most urgent need for innovation, is in game discovery. How can we help developers attract new users and keep them engaged?

Preloads was one of Digital Turbine’s earliest innovations and it’s significant because it moves game discovery to the device itself. We work with carriers and OEMs to preload a device with a range of match 3, casual, mid-casual and hard-core games, just waiting for the user to discover. Someone like my mum just doesn’t have the wherewithal to navigate to Google Play and find a game, but she’s an avid player. Innovations like on-device discovery bring whole cohorts to the gaming world.

Digital Turbine is evolving from a “first day” user acquisition platform only to an “every day” user acquisition platform, meaning every day is an opportunity for developers to get games in front of users. From the user’s perspective, every time they open their preloaded games folder, they’ll see new games and options across all genres, just waiting for them to discover.

How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?

On-device discovery completely breaks the mold. Users don’t need to navigate the app stores, and game developers don’t need to invest in costly UA campaigns and app store optimization.

Why move discovery to the device? It’s simple: it’s the first place a user looks. If you just spent 1,000 dollars on a Samsung S21 phone, you will spend time exploring it, and we see that as a great opportunity for game developers to get new customers. The data actually bears this out. On-device discovery leads to a lot of game play.

You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?

Our mission is all about the user experience. We believe that a good user experience brings real value to users, as well as the app developers, and our carrier and OEM and partners. For example, think about how Digital Turbine’s platform can enhance the lives of people like my mum. As I mentioned earlier, she’d never go to the Google Play store to install an app, and she’s largely unaware of the many apps that can improve her life. Her generation isn’t alone in this; most consumers rarely install apps, as comScore has been reporting over the last several years. But with a phone that has Digital Turbine’s Ignite technology on, she can open up her home screen and see a host of apps already available, apps that can really enhance her lifestyle.

I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?

Games are often much maligned in the press and I think that shows a real lack of understanding about the virtues of games and game play, and the positive attributes gamers derive from the experience. I see this in my own game play. I’m an ambitious and disciplined person, and the game titles I gravitate to require me to plan, strategize, and set aside time to play. These are behaviors that translate into other aspects of life, like meeting work deadlines or sales quota.

The truth is, games force players to focus on achieving goals step-by-step, and overcome the frustrations they encounter along the way. These are critical life skills.

How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?

  1. Know your target audience and adapt game play accordingly. If your audience is girls and teens, make sure your game speaks to their interests. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood does a really good job at this.
  2. Think carefully about the level of challenge that’s right for your audience. All games are about challenge, but you need to strike the right balance to avoid frustration and user attrition. Candy Crush Saga kills it for my mum and her friends.
  3. Find a hook that will draw the user back into the game. As you develop your game, think about engagement strategies you can deploy. Some games, like FarmVille, never end, but users can forget about them for a while. To overcome that obstacle, you can change the game’s themes to match the season or holiday, and use those events to send re-engagement notifications to users (e.g. “here are 10 gold coins for Easter”).
  4. Celebrate competition. Everyone likes competing against themselves and others, and we all want recognition of our achievements. Games can accomplish this by showing progression through different levels, or performance rankings. Another tool is access to different inventory within a game, like upgrading from a sports car to a jet-powered car within a game.
  5. Broad appeal + broad access. Every game genre will have a broad appeal within the target group and that works to the game developer’s advantage. But you need to match that with a broad discovery strategy. Simply putting your game to Google Play or the App Store won’t get you the volume of users you need. UA campaigns will get you a lot of users, but not enough to keep growing. A broad media discovery strategy, which includes the on-device tactics we’ve been talking about, will help you scale your audience.

Angry Birds 2 exhibits all of the above and is my regular ‘go to’.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I see mobile devices and data as real liberators. Gone are the days you need to visit a physical bank in order to deposit a check or walk over to a fixed physical landline to speak to your twin brother. Mobile devices and apps are bringing connectivity to remote regions, and in the process, they’re democratizing access to banks, education, and news sources.

If I had the ability to influence a movement, I’d encourage NGOs, the World Bank, and G8 nations to work together to bring free data, free WiFi, and access to devices to parts of the globe that don’t benefit from them as of yet. I think it’s a great way to empower, educate and facilitate the kinds of everyday transactions that you and I just take for granted.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother always told us to try our best in everything, and said we can’t do anything better than that. It’s simple advice, but it’s the best advice.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter (@DuncanBlacket) and LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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