Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Interview with Kevin Perkins, CEO of Greenlight Wireless
My interview this morning is with Kevin Perkins, CEO of Greenlight Wireless (www.greenlightwireless.net), a company that develops mobile advertising software and services. Greenlight is known for Skweezer, a tool that adapts any web content into a format that is mobile device friendly, and has recently branched out into providing an advertising marketplace. I spoke with Kevin to better understand the company.
Ben Kuo: For my readers who aren't familiar with your company, what is Skweezer and what do you do?
Kevin Perkins: Greenlight Wireless was founded in 2001. The back story on that is around the turn of the millennium is when we started to see those Windows-based PDAs, as you recall the Compaq iPAQ and HP Jornada. They had pocket Excel, pocket Words, and pocket Internet Explorer. What was unique about Internet Explorer is that there was no way for that to connect to the Internet at the time; there was no WiFi to speak of, was a very interesting thing to me. As this technology became more available, I started playing around with the browser and realized that the technology was severely limited--not only the content, but the capability itself. That triggered the need and business case for me to develop this adaptation device that could take any content and adapt it for a small screen. It was really interesting technology. My co-founder Mark Sieve and I were really intrigued by this, and decided to launch Greenlight Wireless. This was at the tail end of the Internet Web 1.0 bubble, and we were still deciding what we wanted to do with the business model, there was lots of start and stop and direction change, and so forth.
Then, in 2003, we realized that the prosumer community was really driving wireless adoption, so we decided to create a consumer focused portal, and we named it Skweezer. From that point, we basically created a portal format along the lines of Yahoo or Google, where someone could type in a keyword or URL, and we would either do a search or adapt a URL as if it were presented in browser format. This was really well received by the geek and freaks, and for awhile there we had a subscription model. When we saw that the carriers were becoming more and more interested in this thing we turned it into an open format--supported by advertising. That's where the birth of Advertizer started, a more fused ad model on Skweezer to monetize what we were doing, and at the same time to develop our brand and market share.
Over time, as we started doing more and more deals--we signed up large search engines, a few carriers that have worldwide distribution--we also saw in the last six to eight months mobile advertising was really becoming of interest. As voice revenues flatten, there's a need for free content to be distributed out there, also accessed in a way that's super easy for an end user, advertising seemed to be a natural phenomenon for this industry. You also saw Google rise, and make a lot of money, based on their paid search. Everyone was getting wise to the fact that advertising was the way to go. We happened to be in a very good position. One, we had a technology that adapts desktop content for mobile, and, number two, we had very unique advertising system that talks to multiple suppliers to distribute one feed across both a desktop and the mobile environment, to help publishers, search engines, and operators. So, those two technologies, Skweezer and Advertizer, provide a really potent marketing tool for people trying to target this segment of the industry.
BK: So this sounds like you transitioned your business from what was an application for Pocket PC to an online service?
KP: Yeah. What happened is that we always wanted to be a network based application. The inherent advantage of Skweezer is that there is no client to download, and it works on ninety eight percent of platforms in the marketplace. As long as the device you have has Internet access, you can connect to Skweezer. So what we did is we started with Jornadas, iPAQs, also Palm, but right around 2004 we discovered that eighty five percent of the market were these mid range platforms. So we decided we needed to make sure that this worked on those phones as well. So we re-engineered our technology to work on that, so that we would have the whole market available to us. Once that happened we said that we can push this out far and wide, we're in a portal model, what do portals do? Yahoo makes all its money on advertising. Google does the same thing with search. We started experimenting, and now we're now not at this point advocating Skweezer--it's just another side of our business, and carriers can come to us and we can private label what we do for them. But at the end of the day, we also have our Advertizer program, and so if people want to put feeds in there, and have a mobile user clicking on a pay-per-click ad or pay-per-call ad, those action events can run through our Skweezer portal and adapt content as needed.
BK: How long have you been running the advertising component?
KP: We essentially created the entire advertising program in August of 2004. That was very tightly integrated with Skweezer. We had created a supplier marketplace--which we're calling the Skweezer ad marketplace--which enabled us to talk to multiple suppliers. That would allow them to push out a keyword to those advertisers, they would send us those ads, and our technology would do a series of algorithms to pick out the best ads and present it to our users. We've essentially run with that since then. As of this year, we spun that ad marketplace into its own system. That's its own application, and its own business model.
BK: It sounds like you do a split with content providers?
KP: Yes, we do a fifty-fifty split with either operators, search engines, or publishers. That's fairly unique. We try to take this in a straightforward way. For instance, if you are a publisher, just a regular Joe, and you're putting AdSense on your web site, you're not going to make 50-50. You might get 30 percent. It's not a very democratic thing. Google says that we're basically going to dominate this whole space, we're giving you all the users, so we're going to take the lion's share of the revenue. With us, we don't have relationships with the users, we have relationships with the suppliers themselves, who have all those relationship in place. So when we get ads, we have already worked out these relationships. When a provider comes to us, they don't have to build out multiple relationships, and another way to look at it is they have the benefit of having multiple relationships, instead of one supplier.
BK: What's your background, and how did you get into this?
KP: My co-founder, Mark and I were both Web 1.0 consultants. We have different skills sets, but were serving the same kind of community. My initial background was in the programming of applications for just about every kind of company out there--Fortune 500, startups, e-banking, Intranet. I was the programming guy behind it. Nowadays I'm all about business development, marketing, and that type of thing. Mark had the same sort of customers, but his specialty wasmore along the user interface, graphics, and marketing, and that kind of thing. He's now in charge of operations and marketing. As far as how we met, I was running a contract for another company locally here, Swell, a company in San Juan Capistrano in the retail surf/skate industry. They hired me to develop an e-commerce site and I had to built out a team, and that's how Mark and I met.
BK: Tell me a bit about your backing and funding?
KP: Essentially Mark and I self-funded the company. We basically bootstrapped this whole thing. We've had a few instances of having some angel infusions--we've raised a couple of small rounds, but have never taken any institutional money. We're kind of glad we didn't. As you know, after the bubble burst, the funding environment became very tight. It ended up easier for us to take mortgages against our houses, where we could still retain ownership, and have a 5 percent interest rate against that money, instead of the onerous terms that some of the VCs put out there. So we have been doing this on our own terms, once in awhile we do find a match and bring that into the company to invest in our infrastructure or build out the company. Now, we're at the point where we're sort of at a crossroads to decide if we'll go the full institutional route--we now have a full book of business, so we can get favorable terms if we decide to get some venture capital, or do we just continue to grow it organically.
BK: How's customer adoption so far?
KP: Last year we signed a few deals. One which I can talk to you about is Orange. We're in the process of discussing Advertizer across their whole group. We're fairly embedded with Orange. We've also got a relationship that will be launched and announced next month. We also have a search engine leveraging our advertising feed.
BK: Are most of those people tapping you for the mobile technology?KP: That's interesting. If you look at what Advertizer is, there's a lot of potential benefit. Publishers like it because A), they can have one feed that covers the desktop, and B) if they have a mobile play, they have a way to monetize that traffic through that channel as well. That, and they can get the best potential revenue from that feed. There are a lot of publishers that don't get good AdSense ads. They'll get public service ads, and their click through are abysmal. With us, we have an API set up so that the publisher can say they want ads that are X,Y, and Z. there's a lot of power by the publisher to distinguish at the site to monetize that traffic. From an operator's view, Advertizer is interesting because they are increasingly under pressure from VoIP, WiFi insurgents like Yahoo, Google, Skype, who are starting to put out the idea that you can have free voice. How is free voice going to happen? It's likely that it will be through ads. The operators look at this as a way for them to monetize the pressure that they will have to face. We give them lots of tools to combat what's happening against them.
BK: How big is the company now?
KP: We have 12 people, including 4 core people and a series of contractors and part timers. We're trying to grow that further, but we're trying to keep ourselves fairly efficient through systems and processes. We really spent quite a bit of time in our beginning years creating infrastructure that's going to scale very well, with as few people as possible.