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How Canada has become America’s mobile app guinea pig

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Doug Renert is a co-founding partner of Silicon Valley’s Tandem Capital.

Canada has many reasons to be proud.

For starters, the country has mostly dodged the economic crisis that continues to rattle the rest of North America. Canadian businesses enjoy lower corporate tax rates, plus plenty of government subsidy programs. Not to mention the fact that the populace enjoys universal healthcare coverage and the ability to travel without being labeled “loud Americans.”

However, when it comes to mobile apps, Canadians may not be so lucky.

The nation’s app store can be likened to the state of Nevada in 1951, when nuclear weapons testing sprouted a continuous stream of mushroom clouds throughout the flatland.

Canada’s role as the “guinea pig for mobile apps” was first brought to my attention when Peter Relan, CEO of Crowdstar, told me they always launched their apps in Canada first to work out the kinks and bugs before releasing in the U.S. and elsewhere. This approach makes perfect sense since Canadians resemble their southern neighbors so closely, though on average the “Canucks” may like beer and hockey a lot more and guns and frozen yogurt much less.

Doug Renert

Above: Doug Renert

With 10 percent of America’s population, Canada provides a risk-free test market.  Competitors and the media likely won’t get wind of failed launches or top performers in the mobile app stores of the Great (but relatively quiet) White North. And developers and marketers can tune apps to their hearts’ content until everything is primed for a successful launch in the “Promised Land” of red, white and blue.

This was the case for Bash Gaming (formerly BitRhymes), one of our portfolio companies that soft-launched its hit mobile social casino game Bingo Bash in the Canadian Apple App Store before hitting the U.S. They launched the game on each platform within Canada first, and only after several weeks of optimization for that market did they launch in the U.S. — where it eventually became a No. 1 grossing game.

That being said, this same strategy backfired on the Android side.

Bingo Bash had become such a hit on iOS that when the studio launched its Android version just a couple of months ago, word spread like wildfire. American Android users quickly caught wind of the leaked Canadian version — and cried foul! So Bash Gaming immediately made the Android launch effective worldwide.

Larger companies have been pursuing this tactic, as well. Nintendo recently launched its new Wii Mini on December 7 — for Canadians only. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before all this activity results in a rash of protests across Canada; a generation of activists shined a spotlight on Nevada decades ago and successfully won a ban on nuclear testing. Who will be the crusaders when it comes to Canada’s role as the world’s mobile guinea pig?

Or perhaps Canadians are darn proud of their role in the mobile app ecosystem as they involuntarily test-drive their way through buggy, early versions of every app imaginable. I, for one, am envious of this not-so-glorified breed of users who get first dibs on the fun games and cool apps that go on to become the top hits in the rest of the world.

Doug Renert is a co-founding partner of Tandem Capital, Silicon Valley’s first and largest mobile accelerator fund, currently at $32M. Tandem backs 12 early stage mobile startups each year with its brand of “muscle capital,” a powerful combination of funding and hands-on support. Some of Tandem’s biggest successes include PlayHaven and Bash Gaming, formerly known as BitRhymes. Prior to Tandem, Doug built businesses as an operating executive at Oracle and as CEO of telecommunications startup Tello.

photo credit: BFLV via photopin cc

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