Museum tour? There's an app for that, too

TORONTO (Reuters) - During a visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Aaron Radin had an “a-ha” moment. Browsing the Internet on his cellphone for details on the art in front of him, he got to thinking: what if there was a mobile app for that?

Museum-goers know well those clunky audio devices that provide explanations for exhibits. Radin, who formerly ran CBS Television’s digital media division, saw an opportunity to do away with those by allowing museums to customize their own tour apps and have visitors download them onto their iPhones.

"Why would you produce custom hardware when there's plenty of hardware in the marketplace that's actually going to provide a much richer multi-media experience than that type of device?" said Radin, who co-founded Toura ( 18 months ago with partner Sayoko Knight Teitelbaum. This past May they inked their first partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago. "The business model and the technology model made it very attractive for them to work with us."

Radin, who has also worked for Disney, Showtime Networks and the National Basketball Association, has since built iPhone apps for the Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian Institute’s retrospective on French artist Yves Klein and for an exhibit of British sculptor Conrad Shawcross at the Pace Gallery in New York. Toura’s publishing platform has also been used by the London Royal Academy of Arts and to build travel and shopping guides.

“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.

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Radin, who left CBS in 2007, started thinking about creating his own mobile company when the iPhone was introduced. “Not because you could do really interesting multi-media things on the phone, but more because how Apple had effectively eviscerated the carriers from the content distribution landscape and allowed anybody to create content and distribute it,” he said, adding the iPhone “had the merchandise mechanism and the monetization mechanism built in that would allow you to achieve scale if you could push out a lot of compelling content through some type of platform.”


Last March Toura raised $1.5 million from a group of 15-20 angel investors that Radin said included some “quite prominent and well-known executives.” The funds will give the company “18 months of runway” said Radin, who will use them to hone Toura’s publishing platform and bring in more clients. He added Toura already has “a couple dozen” deals in place and is currently “adding a deal or two” a week.

Radin said he can build an app in about 90 minutes, but eventually sees his technology being more of a “self-serve” tool, where clients pay a licensing fee to use the Toura platform, but the build is done in-house. Eventually Radin said Toura’s Web-based system could be used by anyone to build whatever kind of mobile app they like.

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“Our incremental cost for each next application is negligible,” said Radin, who employs a full-time staff of eight, split over offices in New York and London, where he hopes to make a push into the far-larger European museum market. “So with all the money that we’ve invested in the system to date, now we want to scale and our system is built to scale so that we can publish tens, hundreds and thousands of applications.”

Toura’s biggest challenge will be to grow beyond museums to reach more potential revenue streams. Radin is pouring all his revenues back into the company to make Toura’s platform as versatile as possible to handle the needs of many different partners. He said he has been approached by some medical textbook publishers.

“There are a lot of different paths to distribution if you have enough content,” said Radin, who hopes to explore synergies with some online travel companies. “If we were to partner with an Expedia, Orbitz or something like that and they were booking a package deal to Chicago they could offer to bundle in the application for the Art Institute of Chicago, or the Chicago walking guide or what have you. So there are other distribution or merchandising paths for the application in the future, but those require broader scale.”