The cable and satellite companies’ communications offensive may have brought dozens of new channels to our home, but at least one problem remains – the time-wasting installation process. Many are doubtless familiar with the following scenario – the technician arrives at the designated hour (God willing), takes out his tools, and glances at the paper detailing what he is supposed to do for this specific customer. If the customer is lucky, the paper is updated. In many cases, however, changes are made at the last minute, and the technician has to phone the receptionist for an update. Our trusty technician begins the process itself, at the end of which he is supposed to notify the computerized headquarters that the customer is indeed entitled to receive the service. This requires another call to the receptionist, while the customer has to wait for final confirmation. Then, the customer and the technician bid each other a fond farewell and promise to keep in touch. The technician, however, must still report to headquarters on the items he used to carry out the process (converter, cables, etc.) and receive instructions about the next customer, which requires still another call to the receptionist.
What is the sum total? Three cordial phone calls to the receptionist, an inventory update that depends on the receptionist's degree of efficiency, and a customer that has to wait too long. What does Mobideo offer? The company has created an interface that enables the field technician to interact with the organizational database through cellular technology. Operations conducted through this device are transferred directly to the database and update the database without a receptionist’s help.
Mobideo cofounder and chairman Amir Fishlevich, who worked at Motorola and MIRS and founded a company that worked on data warehouse projects, joined forces with VP Amir Green, a former project manager in many Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) units, and later with CEO Yaron Eppel, an IDF reserve battalion commander. Eppel was CEO of Milo, a project company, and its Milo Keshev subsidiary. Fishlevich, Green, and Eppel founded Mobideo.
The three friends did several projects for firms like Paz, Tevel, and Yellow Pages. They discovered that more and more organizations are trying to stay in touch with their field representatives through means other than voice communications. “We had all sorts of new economy ideas, including telephone surveys and technological developments, but we wanted the killer applications,” Eppel relates. “In May 2000, we decided to focus on a product like the one we offer today. The goal was to make the fact that the employee is out of the office completely transparent for the company.”
Mobideo’s product is called a Wireless Database Application Platform (WDAP) (the company is trying to come up with a more attractive name). The software sits on the organization’s server, and should actually be called an applications generator, since Eppel claims it can be used to generate suitable applications for the organization in only a few hours. The interface is intuitive, as computer journals like to say. “Programming” is accomplished by dragging and dropping fields in the application running on the wireless platform. The commands are directed to the corresponding fields in the software on the organization’s server.
Mobideo claims the classic problems with the technician-operator scenario are solved like this – the operator gets the customer’s details on the telephone screen, either from an SMS message or by accessing the company site. During the installation, the technician updates the database by using the telephone. The technician does not have to type non-numerical characters into the interface, allowing him to refrain from doing a great deal of typing. Confirmation is received on the telephone screen. At the end of the process, the technician updates the list of items used for the installation. All the data transferred through the telephone is used to update the database. A user in the organization making a data query will receive very up-to-date information. Mobideo’s product interfaces with Openwave Systems’s products, while future applications are likely to include the use of pinpointing software, thereby streamlining the activity of an organization with widely dispersed representatives still further.
Mobideo’s seed financing round took place a few months ago, yielding the company $1 million from the Cabaret-ArbaOne venture capital fund and the founders themselves. The company is already reporting initial sales to paying customers. The product works with TDMA, CDMA, and GSM broadcasting systems. The only requirement for using the system is WAP or I-mode protocol. Any cellular device that allows Internet surfing and uses these protocols can be utilized, including palm-held devices and the current generation of digital cell phones. “The main problem in linking the database to these devices is that the CRM and ERP setups were constructed with the idea of having a computer at the end. The data has to be adapted to the cell phone, which leads to another problem – the display screen differs from device to device,” Eppel says.
While the product is both effective and in demand, it is in fact a product, not technology. A product can be copied, while special technology enables a patent-protect platform to be built, upon which the company can base its unique products. Eppel: “We’re building a company that will sell something and get paid for it. I really don’t care what you call it. The product is based on technology that can certainly be copied, but you could say that about almost anything. There are many companies making money without calling themselves technology companies. True, there are many concerns in the market, such as Oracle, that developed a cellular portal a year ago. The cost was huge, and with all due modesty, they don’t do even half of what we do. Microsoft’s new server can only link the cellular device to the exchange. Databases not dealing in mail or items related to it aren't handled by it, and our product can sit on this server. The market is huge, with international companies like Air2Web, Everypath, Iconverse, Netmorph, Viafone, and more.”
”Globes”: What’s your real advantage over all those recognized companies?
Eppel: ”All those companies require the programmer to use Java and to write actual code. We enable him to work with a Windows interface while being directed by a user-friendly wizard, without writing any code at all. Look, if Openwave, which met us eight months ago and looked us over for four months, gave us the go-ahead to be part of their plan, that must mean we’ve got something, right? The other companies were 15-20 times as big as we are, and we’re the only Israeli company. Furthermore, our deal with Openwave doesn’t limit us in our talks with other operators.”
Mobideo is working through three channels:
- Software systems integrators, such as New Applicom of Israel, which integrates the product in the solutions they offer their customers
- Software companies
- Cellular network operators
Eppel hints at advanced negotiations with one of the Israeli cellular operators, which could offer the service to its business customers. Pricing is usually according to the number of licenses provided. Mobideo plans to focus on the European market.
Founded: February 2000
Product: Applications generator connecting organizational databases with cellular telephones
Previous financing round: $1 million seed round from Cabaret-ArbaOne
web site: www.mobideo.com
Published by Israel's Business Arena on July 25, 2001