‘The Father of the Ringtone’ Ralph Simon

Ralph Simon’s secret to predicting the future

Interview: Andrew Swann and Christoph Kristandl
Photo: Flickr/ITU Pictures

Ralph Simon saw the potential of mobile phones as our main social and entertainment devices long before anyone else. The Red Bulletin talked to him to find out how ‘the father of the ringtone’ he stays one step ahead of the crowd 

“Mobile phones will become the indispensable voice/social networking and music companion for consumers and their increasing mobile lifestyles.” That’s what Ralph Simon said 1997.

The entrepreneur wasn’t too far off the mark with his prediction, but it was just one of many brilliant ideas from the so-called ‘Father of the Ringtone.’

Simon is known as one of the founders of the modern global mobile entertainment and content industry. He’s been a prominent mobile visionary, trailblazer and innovator for the past decade, helping grow the worldwide mobile/wireless content and entertainment industries.

At this year’s Pioneers Festival he talked to The Red Bulletin to reveal his secret to predicting the future and how he stays one step ahead of the chasing pack.

THE RED BULLETIN: You are famous for your predictions. What do we have to do to be as visionary as you?

RALPH SIMON: You have to read a lot and the most important thing for me was to spend a lot of time abroad. I was originally raised in Africa and if you’re raised there you always have to think about what’s going on across the sea. People think this way in Australia and Europe as well. I lived in America for a long time and I could never understand the approach of the Americans. They sometimes say the world starts at JFK airport and ends at LAX airport. Being very aware of international trends, reading a lot and watching a lot of TED Talks is important. And don’t think, ‘Ah, you can only do it in Silicon Valley.’ That’s bulls**t. I’ve seen incredibly smart people with great ideas all over the world, so being international is the most important thing.

Ralph Simon Facts

1977 - Simon co-founded the Zomba Label Group that later managed music artists like New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Britney Spears or Janet Jackson.

1997 - With Yourmobile (later named Moviso) he started the first ring tone company in America, Europe, UK, Australia and Africa. 

He has served as the mobile producer for events like Live 8 and Live Earth.

How did you see the immense potential in mobile phones so early? 

I worked as a music publisher for AC/DC, the Scorpions and other heavy metal bands, and I always used to keep an eye on the T-shirts young people wore at the gigs. That’s the way I saw the trends. Korea and Japan were always ahead in the mobile sector, so I watched the markets there and what the young people were doing. I was just analysing the situation in the same way I used to do at festivals. It’s like when you go to a festival and watch the DJs. There are thousands, but you have to find out why David Guetta or Avicii are so big. You have to be open to new ways of thinking and ideas.

© Pioneers Festival // Youtube

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What made you think you could earn money with ringtones?

I met a young guy in Helsinki once and he played me a very rough computer-like piece of music on his mobile. He’d created it for a Finnish telecommunications company. Why did he do it? He got very drunk one night and was awoken in the morning by his Nokia alarm and he said it was like 1,000 dentists drilling into his head, so he wanted to replace it with some music.

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So what are the major innovations we can expect over the next few years?

There has been a lot of talk over the last 18 months about virtual reality and there are some incredible developments in this field. The two big challenges are to answer the questions about how you can experience virtual reality without a box on your head, and how you can experience it when you are in a group. For example, when you are in a club or at a festival, it’s always about the experience together with all the other people. 

The second area is exponential medicine and the search for new approaches. One new category is called ‘insideables’. You take a pill and inside the pill is a tiny radio transmitter. After you swallow it, it shows up on your phone and transmits data to your doctor, informing them how your stomach juices are doing. There are companies in Silicon Valley and Europe doing that right now. 

Another interesting aspect is the amount of really cool ideas that have been developed in countries you wouldn’t even think of. Like Slovakia for example, where they are working on the first flying car. There are dozens of young people, particularly in central Europe, with fantastic ideas and they need for somebody to guide them, and of course fund them. The scene is developing, but so far it’s not like in Israel, Silicon Valley, New York or London.

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