I spent some time in the "old" (carrier-centric) mobile world in the early '90's working for McCaw Cellular (which ultimately became AT&T Wireless). I also consulted to bigco's on the role of mobile in their e-commerce strategies when I was at Sapient in the late '90's. But I pretty much gave up thinking about mobile as a vector for software innovation until 2007 when the iPhone blew up the old model and made it fun to be a mobile software entrepreneur again.
Seattle is a great place to be in this new software-centric mobile world because it's home to some of the biggest incumbents in both worlds. Both AT&T Wireless (McCaw) and the US arm of T-Mobile (Western Wireless / Voicestream) grew up here, and Seattle is also the US home of Israeli carrier services powerhouse Amdocs (which has Seattle startup Qpass at its core). Microsoft's strategically critical Windows Phone effort has drawn thousands of mobile developers and business folks to the area, and there are literally dozens of venture-backed mobile software startups in Seattle that were spun up in the old world and are now navigating their transition to the new. (Not to forget the hardware side, Taiwan-based HTC has been a quiet presence in Seattle for years but is muscling its way into the branded device business thanks to their growing family of Android-based handsets).
On the money front, local VC firm Ignition Partners was founded by wireless alumni from McCaw / AT&T and software veterans from Microsoft; and "stealth VC" Trilogy Partnership is a quiet force in the local mobile ecosystem, pooling the significant resources of a close-knit group of wireless industry veterans including Western Wireless founder John Stanton.
The "new world" of mobile software is dominated by Apple (Cupertino) and Google (Mountain View), but - despite an early and heroic attempt by Google to make mobile a carrier-independent experience - the old world still holds significant power and Seattle's hybrid culture of old mobile and new web makes it a great place to build relationships that straddle both worlds.
Just a few examples from the many old-to-new local efforts that I'm aware of:
- Swype - a fast text input method for modern touch-screen devices, now in wide deployment on Android handsets, was created by veterans from Tegic, the Seattle-based pioneers in predictive text entry.
- GroundTruth - a "big data" aggregation and analytics platform that's working to expose patterns in non-voice uses of wireless networks (e.g., social networking, e-commerce), founded by veterans from Qpass, Medio and Ontela
- Coming soon: Amazon's soon-to-be-released Android app store will add a new wrinkle to the local story, epitomizing the emerging blend of old (carrier-centric) and new (consumer- and web-centric) by leveraging the world's biggest online retail platform to sell smartphone apps.
We're very excited about the new world of mobile software at Founders Co-op and have several related bets in our current portfolio, including:
- Urban Airship - the leading publisher platform for mobile content delivery and in-app transactions for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry
- AppStoreHQ - a web-based consumer discovery platform for iPhone, iPad, Android and HTML5 applications, with a new personalized + social app discovery service for Android: appESP
- SPARQCode - A 2D barcode publishing and analytics platform that helps real-world retail, travel and print media brands add mobile experiences to their existing offerings
We're always on the lookout for new local companies that are taking advantage of the unique mix of mobile-related skills and experience here in Seattle. If you're building a "new mobile" company here that you think we should know about, please drop me a line.