A talk with Scott Arpajian, CEO at Softonic and speaker at BLAST 2017

by | Apr 13, 2017

Today we introduce Scott Arpajian, CEO at Softonic and speaker at BLAST 2017. On the main stage, he will speak about “Kids and tech”. Here below you can find more information about his speech, his long career and some advice for entrepreneurs, companies and startuppers. Don’t miss the chance to meet him live at BLAST: apply now for our Startup Program or book your pass! Meanwhile, enjoy your reading!

You are one of the Blast speakers, so what would you like our attendees to know about you, first of all: who is Scott Arpajian?

I was born in Chappaqua, a small town about 2 hours outside of New York and went to college in Boston, so I’m an East Coast guy, though I eventually moved out to the West Coast to get involved in the technology scene of the 1990s. My professional career spans about 24 years and my online experience goes even further back to the days of CompuServe, online Bulletin Board Systems and programming in BASIC on my trusty IBM PCjr.

I began in tech working as an editor at Ziff-Davis Interactive. I then went on to CNET where I launched Download.com and was also Senior Vice President. I spent a decade at CNET. Then I left the world of software downloads for 8 years to pursue my own online gaming startup and then landed at the Walt Disney Company, where I was in charge of Business Development for Playdom, their interactive social and mobile games division.

I joined Softonic just over two years ago, relocating from California to Spain with my wife and two kids. This is my first time living abroad and I really enjoy it!

You were appointed CEO of Softonic in 2015, at a critical time for the company. It was a great challenge. How would you sum up the last years? There have been a lot of changes since then…

You’re absolutely right, it was a tremendous challenge. I joined at a time when the company was losing money rapidly and I came in to turn the company around and begin the task of diversifying a business that had been doing the same thing for nearly 20 years.

It was a tough time but we survived. Eventually we were able to stabilize the company and now I am happy to be able to say that we are doing great and growing. There have been some bumps along the way but we’ve kept perspective and I was always confident we’d pull through. We have a very talented team that has worked very hard to get us where we are today.

We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year and this makes me very proud. Tech startups don’t normally stick around for two decades – especially under the circumstances we faced – and I think this accomplishment is a testament to what a great company we’ve built. We have been able to bounce back and come back stronger, learning from our mistakes.

Recently, on line, you wrote a post about “Many More Ways to Solve a Problem”, showing a little bit of the mindset that helped you in changing Softonic from “We’re a download site” to “We help people solve problems”. In this post you gave some useful tips for all kind of companies, from the startups to the big ones, to be more solutions-oriented/user-centered . What about the startups? Do they have the tools to understand from the very beginning the real problems of the consumers?

Absolutely. I think startups often have even more tools than more established companies because they have the freedom – and the obligation I’d say – to experiment. Building, testing and getting external feedback should be the daily bread of any startup. Getting out of the office and talking to users or potential customers is much more valuable than sitting around with a bunch of product experts hypothesizing about what customers want. Startups have less resources at their disposal and in my ways this is a blessing.

In our line of work, by the nature of our product, we already know what our users want or are trying to achieve because they tell us. But this isn’t always evident for other types of businesses. Startups should constantly test their hypotheses and challenge the results.

You also wrote about the next Softonic future, about the “ need to make even simpler for consumer to find exactly the right solution”. “We are well on our way to accomplishing exactly that” : could you tell me more about? What shall we expect from Softonic? Can you give us just some clues?

This notion of problem solving is something that we are obviously very excited about and believe in as a company. Since our company was built on the premise of helping users solve their problems, community-driven content is a natural fit for us. The curious thing is that over the past 20 years we’ve only dabbled in it, relying mostly on editor-driven reviews for our software and app titles. But in thinking about what the Softonic of the future would and should look like, we’ve taken a step back and began rethinking how we can best serve our customers. And building a community around our software and app discovery platform – which serves over 100 million users from around the world every month – seems like a very natural extension of our product, Softonic.com.

Imagine that. 100 million users helping each other. Helping each other find the best software, recommending apps that will help others accomplish their goals. Given our size, this is something that has the potential to really impact the way people make decisions about choosing the tools they need to succeed.

But as exciting as this sounds, it doesn’t stop there. Our vision is to build a community where our users are not only helping each other succeed with technology, but also in any aspect of their lives with any type of resource out there. We’re calling this Softonic Solutions and it’s currently in beta.

Before being chosen as CEO of Softonic, you were one of the founders of Download.com, the co-founder of Dizzywood and you worked at Disney Social Games, one of the main divisions of Disney Interactive. You had spent a long time, during your career, in the kids online virtual world games, mobile, desktop/software world… these are areas where everything is constantly changing: what do you expect from the future? 

I think kids are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and discerning as users as digital products. It’s not enough to just throw money at advertising and promotion; kids are smart consumers and pretty clear on what they are looking for in terms of content and game play. I think the challenge will be for entertainment companies and game studios to be able to adapt to the demands of kids as consumers of their titles.

It is often said that “change brings opportunity” and you seem an example of this “philosophy”: do you have any advice for companies that, after a crisis, need to change or diversify their offer to recover customers trust? Someone could be afraid of challenging their own business model

I’d start by saying it’s not easy. Breaking away from the old way of doing things and leaving behind the past is always uncomfortable. However, there is nothing new to be learned in doing the same thing you’ve always done. And while diversifying into new markets or building new products very different from what you know how to do well is difficult, what’s more difficult is the very vulnerable position you are left in when you don’t do that.

My advice would be to stare the fear straight in the face and then move forward. Staying still isn’t an option in tech, especially for startups, and even for established companies. In fact, established companies face the risk of becoming endangered species as they are replaced by a younger more nimble startup.

You were the CEO and the co-founder of Dizzywood, an online game and virtual world for kids ages 8-12 focused on active learning and collaborative play , in fact during the BLAST conference you will be on the stage to talk about “kids and tech”. What can you tell us about the state of kids and tech and how it has changed since then?

My own two children are now both in the age range that Dizzywood was built for and it’s amazing to see how much has changed in the past 10 years. Certain fundamentals remain the same, like how it’s the experiences that truly capture the imagination that do well. Look no further than Minecraft and Roblox to see examples of how collaborative sandbox games can build enormous staying power. Fads like Pokemon Go can arrive quickly and disappear even faster, but games and tech experiences that allow kids to showcase their creativity and actually create stuff are the ones with true staying power.

One of the dynamics I really marvel at, however, is the rise of the YouTuber, especially in the realm of Gaming. This has been disruptive on so many levels–having a broad impact on everything from the definition of celebrity to the rules on marketing. My own kids choose to spend about half of their allotted screen time watching Minecraft videos and the other half adopting the building and gameplay techniques they’ve learned in the videos in their own Minecraft sessions. It’s intensely collaborative.

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