Mobile Breakfast Series – Startup Nation Roundup

Mobile Breakfast Series – Startup Nation Roundup

With the fourth Mobile Breakfast Series event yesterday, we completed one full year of hosting the popular quarterly event and each one has been sold out. Thanks to the outstanding speakers and an engaged audience, the program has grown since its inception last Sept. Thanks also to our wonderful sponsors – Motricity, OpenMarket, Openwave, WDSGlobal, and Clearwire for supporting the program throughout the year.

Also, thanks to our attendees. Proud of the quality of attendees we are able to attract. Over 250 companies have attended the event over the past one year.


The 4th MBS event was held at Columbia Club in Seattle which offers one of the best views in the country.


Our focus for this event was Startups in the Mobile Industry. We wanted to take a pulse of the innovation, competition, turbulence, opportunities in the mobile ecosystem through the eyes of 8 brilliant CEOs who are focused on different segments of the value chain and different segments and business models.

The startup DNA is quite unique to the US. While great ideas and technologies can come from anywhere, no country celebrates the risk-taking, failures, and successes of startups like the US. The entrepreneurial spirit burns bright and that’s what keeps the pace of innovation in the mobile industry at an all time high. I have witnessed that first hand in working with startup executives from the inception of the idea at the back of a napkin to multi-million dollar exits to shattering of dreams due to changing dynamics or strategic errors or just dumb luck. What’s most fascinating and inspiring is that these guys just get up and keep going. Obviously, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, some folks just can’t take the sensation of a plunge and the unknown. The event was to highlight and celebrate the successes of these startup companies.

The one thing that trips most of the startups is how do you “scale” in terms of transactions, users, or revenues. The startups at MBS have a keen understanding of that. They are ambitious, focused, and disruptive.


298 312


319 311


The participants were:

Mike McSherry – CEO, Swype

Swpe is reinventing how consumers interact with mobile devices. Founded by Cliff Kushler, the inventor of T9 that has ended in billions of devices, the company is looking to repeat the success by getting onto billions of devices over the course of next few years. Quite an astonishing feat if they are able to pull it off. They have had good success with the OEMs who have also become strategic investors. The management team has navigated the waters very well w/o raising any VC money.

Paul Palmieri – CEO Millennial Media

Millennial Media is known for its mobile ad network which is the biggest independent ad network. MM deals with billions of ad impressions across devices and Paul has grown the company from the early days in 2006 by keeping the focus on technology, the team, advertisers, and publishers. They seem to be well positioned to take advantage of the current turbulence in the mobile advertising market. Will have more on it at a later date.

Dr. Sailesh Chutani – CEO Mobisante

Many people don’t realize that “mobile devices” represent a computing platform that can start to do amazing things. Mobisante is trying to take advantage of that by using the platform to provide a cheap ultrasound solution. This can be enormously disruptive and beneficial. Hundreds of people die every day because they don’t get diagnosed properly or on time. With a device like what Mobisante is developing, can you imagine the number of lives saved, the improvement in the quality of life, and the health care cost savings.

Paul Griff – CEO Root Wireless

Root Wireless has a unique value proposition – collecting network and device data to help consumers make informed decisions. “True” network data is really not available to the consumers, Root Wireless is changing that by turning the data on its head and making it useful to the consumers.

Kevin Foreman, CEO, PointInside

Location is red-hot, it has become an integral layer over which all content/transactions reside. While most of location players have justifiably focused on the outdoor position location, indoor location is still a challenge esp. in malls and airports, one has to still rely on kiosks and paper maps. PointInside is try to change that by providing a framework to create an indoor location platform that can be licensed and used to create transaction opportunities While SMS has been around for a generation, in the US, it really took off since the American Idol debuted. But have we done all we can with SMS?

Derek Spratt, CEO, Mobidia

Mobile data network issues have dominated the headlines for the last 18 months. We have discussed the topic in detail in our Yottabyte paper. I was intrigued by Mobidia’s approach to managing congestion, the technology can be used in all forms of network and allows operators to free capacity. Mobidia and Derek demonstrate their resilience as a startup in the infrastructure business which is very capital intensive and the sales cycles are measured in years but once you get cemented into the core, you are good to go. The journey is clearly not for the faint hearted. Derek has been shepherding the turbulent waters well.

Scott Kveton, CEO, Urbanairship

Urbanairship is exploited the push messaging phenomenon on startphones with over 470M notifications to 27M devices and 500K storefront transactions. They are also doing some clever rich media messaging and the model is transaction based so it can scale really well

John Lauer, CEO, Zipwhip

Zipwhip has an interesting application that sends SMS to both the device as well as the desktop so you can txt directly from the desktop. They have already gotten traction with some key carrier customers. There is no reason SMS has to be constrained to the device.

This group of brilliant entrepreneurs was ably supported by Bill Bryant, Managing Partner, DFJ and a well known investor in pacific northwest, Jeff Giard who has been a key supporter for us throughout the year and is Director at Clearwire, and Peter Wilson who has had successful stints at Accenture, Microsoft, and Google and now is on the entrepreneurial road himself.

The first panel was moderated by Olga Kharif, Senior writer at Businessweek who through her incisive questioning gets to the heart of the story. The panel touched on various aspects of the mobile ecosystem. Swype is focused on working the carriers and OEMs while Millennial sees diminished role for the operators. Out of the 10 billion impressions, around 100 million are from ondeck. The role of operators in the US with respect to media and content has slipped away as more smartphones came into the market, something we wrote about it in Mobile Advertising book in 2007. The situation is generally not black or white. There are areas for operators to innovate and be dominant while in others it is just hard to compete due to the changing circumstances and the entry of new players. Root Wireless was surprised by the open approach operators have taken to their offering by participating and collaborating in data analysis that can benefit all in the ecosystem.

One of the areas of exploration was – how do startups survive in the turbulent waters – by adapting as fast as they can to the changing dynamics and by having solid IP and unique value proposition. Swype has been developing the technology since 2001 and has multiple patents. Millennial devised a key server side technology to differentiate. Mobisante while new is tapping into a specific vertical and Root Wireless is trying out a new approach to measurement and performance analysis.

One of the other issue that startups face is that of expansion, which markets should they go after. Kevin mentioned that they are turning down six figure checks to keep the focus on their business – a very hard thing to do as a startup (turning down money that is). Millennial is more focused on the western markets because that’s where the advertising money is. Mobisante is likely to go after the rural market first because the need for their offering is the most in those areas.

On the hot topic of privacy, Paul from Root noted that there is a generational gap. He has been astonished how little the younger demographics care about privacy. They are easily willing to trade value for privacy. In terms of how the ecosystem is shaking up Paul from MM expected RIM and Amazon to come up with some interesting offerings in the coming days.

I hope this gives you a flavor of the event. You can also read Tricia Duryee’s column at moconews.

My thanks to all who attended, esp the speakers.

Our next event is Mobile Future Forward which has a stellar roster of speakers. If the future of mobile keeps you up at night, you wouldn’t want to miss this event. These guys personally are responsible for managing billions of dollars worth of investment and operations and their insights will be valuable. We will have more on that in the near future.


Be sure to check it out and register early as the Early bird expires on June 30th and 30% of the spots are already taken.

The quarterly event will resume in Dec 2010.