Despite the fact that venture capitalists have been cautious with their investments since the 2008 crash, mobile startups are cashing in. Mobile is hot, and the entrenched players--Apple, Samsung, Google, the carriers--may well get blind-sided by such innovations as m-commerce, augmented reality and do-it-yourself mobile app building platforms.
Anyone who has followed startups even casually knows that venture capital is a numbers game. VCs place many bets and hope to cash in on a few. Some of the startups below could collapse before the virtual ink is dry on this story. However, it's a good bet that at least a couple of these will help change what we think about when we think about mobile.
Disruption: Changing how patients find doctors and book appointments, allowing them to do so via a mobile app or the Web. Headquarters: New York City Founded: 2007 CEO: Cyrus Massoumi, who previously served as Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Co.
Why they're on this list: m-health is a hot area, yet much of the innovation is focused on the care-giver side of the equation. How do you give doctors secure access to patient charts from their iPads? How do you gather data, wirelessly, from medical devices to fine-tune care? How do you enable secure remote access to MRIs and CT scans?
ZocDoc tackles a major pain point for patients:Finding a nearby doctor or dentist who accepts your insurance isn't as simple as it should be, especially when you travel. And actually booking an appointment anytime in the next month or so can be an almost Herculean task.
ZocDoc searches by insurance, location, specialty, gender, and even languages spoken. Users can also see verified reviews, doctor qualifications and professional statements, as well as photos of the doctors and their facilities. By revealing what ZocDoc calls the "hidden supply" of appointments--including the 10-20 percent of appointments that are cancelled at the last minute -most ZocDoc patients see a doctor within 24-72 hours. Not bad.
This isn't strictly a mobile service, but the greatest value of this service will likely be realized by travelers using it on their smartphones.
Funding: $95 million in three rounds of funding from Goldman Sachs, DST Global, Bezos Expeditions, Founder Fund, Khosla Ventures, Marc Benioff and SV Angel.
Disruption: Providing a standardized global credit score for anyone with a mobile phone, which has the potential to revolutionize the financial-services sector in emerging markets. Headquarters: Santa Monica, Calif. Founded: 2011 CEO: Shivani Siroya, who was formerly a financial consultant with Health Net.
Why they're on this list: 2.5 billion working adults worldwide lack access to financial services. While the concept of micro-loans earned Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Prize, huge barriers still exist that prevent entrepreneurs in the developing world from raising capital.
InVenture has created an SMS-based app for low-income entrepreneurs in emerging markets that does two things: First, entrepreneurs with no access to financial services now get a simple and easy-to-use accounting tool to help them manage their businesses via text message.
Second, and more importantly, as entrepreneurs text InVenture their daily spending expenditures, InVenture takes this data, plugs it into their proprietary algorithm and then generates a credit score, which will provide people operating in the informal economy with their first opportunity to access financial services from established banks and micro-finance institutions.
Funding: InVenture has raised an undisclosed amount of early funding and has secured several grants.
Disruption: Pioneering location-based, mobile marketing and social networking. Headquarters: Boulder, Colo. Founded: 2009 CEO: Dave Elchoness, who previously founded and served as CEO for VRWorkplace; before that, he served as an IT director for Qwest.
Why they're on this list: Tagwhat leverages your mobile device's built-in location sensors to deliver Web- and social-networking content about the places around you. The strategy of tying LBS to social networks is a smart one. Most LBS vendors simply try to push advertisements or coupons or other stuff we really don't want at us.
With Tagwhat, smartphone and tablet users can now geo-locate Web content and deliver it to nearby mobile users in seconds. Tagwhat automatically applies algorithms to identify and associate related contextual content including Facebook pages, Foursquare venues, Twitter streams and, of course, commercial offers. The result is a geo-tagged, connected Web that dramatically increases the volume of localized content available to mobile users.
Tagwhat's primary revenue streams are branded channels (subscriptions paid by publishers) and affiliate revenue through third-party services, which are only viewed if selected by users, rather than being pushed at them.
Funding: Friends and family seed funding.
Disruption: Challenging incumbent videoconferencing vendors by delivering videoconferencing from the cloud; unlike competing solutions, this cloud-based videoconferencing platform was designed to work on iOS and Android devices. Headquarters: San Francisco Founded: 2007 CEO: Jeff Cavins; prior to FuzeBox, he served as President and CEO of Loudeye Corporation, which was acquired by Nokia.
Why they're on this list: People hate virtual meetings because they are difficult to access, unreliable, unsophisticated, and so often simply feel unprofessional.
FuzeBox delivers HD-quality (1080p) videoconferencing, with content sharing. The service is accessible from smartphones and tablets, and it integrates with enterprise telepresence solutions, such as Polycom and Tandberg.
According to FuzeBox, the problem with other videoconferencing systems is that they are "screen-share based, not cloud-sharing based." Thus, they can't deliver 1080p HD video. They don't integrate with telepresence systems, and users on smartphones and tablets can't host the conferences.
Customers include Amazon.com, CBS, University of Phoenix and Verizon.
Funding: $20 million in Series A funding from Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Insight Venture Partners.
Disruption: Accelerating the enterprise adoption of consumer-led technologies, such as mobile and social media. Headquarters: New York Founded: 2011 CEO: Raj Patil. He was previously with MphasiS, an HP company, where he played several key roles in its growth to over a billion dollars in revenues. He was the President of a division with more than 17,000 employees, and prior to that led global sales as the chief sales officer.
Why they're on this list: The enterprise is struggling to figure out how to safely and cost-effectively adopt new consumer-led technologies (cloud, mobile, social media). The company has three pre-packaged apps, the most interesting of which is Panorama, which allows organizations to deliver focused content to users (CRM info, marketing data, ERP info, etc.) in a magazine-style format.
They also offer a "Mobile Backend-as-a-Service" platform that streamlines the process of building mobile apps. The platform has a user-engagement module, which helps enterprises tailor messages and content for specific users, and a mobile context service, which leverages location-based information from the user's mobile device.
Funding: Approximately $1 million from angel investors and aSpark's founders.
6. Message Bus
Disruption: Upending email and mobile marketing with a data- and analytics-centered approach to messaging. Headquarters: Corte Madera, Calif. Founded: 2010 CEO: Jeremy LaTrasse, who serves as both CEO and CTO. Previously, LaTrasse was a co-founder of Twitter and served as director of operations.
Why they're on this list: Message Bus argues that current email and mobile marketing practices are similar to CB radios--where the sender blasts a message out and hopes someone out there, anyone, receives it.
While CB radios have mostly been replaced by mobile phones, email marketing remains wedded to the old broadcasting model.
Message Bus proposes replacing this model with a data-driven approach, which actively manages the relationship between senders and recipients. "With email, your reputation is only as good as the last message you sent, and in the highly competitive and often abusive/adversarial relationship between senders and recipients, it is very easy to make mistakes where you are suddenly viewed as a bad sender," a company spokesperson wrote me. "And surprisingly, the data is there -- if you as a sender choose to collect and act upon it. Further, good actors should be rewarded just as bad actors are punished."
Message Bus' cloud-based messaging infrastructure unifies email, social and mobile communications and bases communications on data collected on user behaviors and preferences.
Funding: $14 million in two rounds from North Bridge Venture Partners and included True Ventures, Ignition Partners, James Lindenbaum, Tim Young and Jesse Robbins.
Disruption: Pioneering m-payments, which could radically challenge the credit card industry. Headquarters: Los Angeles Founded: June 2012 President: Darcy Wedd, who previously served as COO of Mobile Messenger.
Why they're on this list: m-commerce is a promising, but (at least in this country) underperforming space. Despite the negative perceptions that dog m-commerce, payvia has already processed more than $2 billion in m-payments since it launched this past June.
Payvia also played a big role in campaign fundraising in the 2012 Presidential election, serving as the engine that powered mobile fundraising for both the Obama and Romney campaigns. They were the only company in 2012 approved by the FEC to handle SMS-based contributions.
Payvia offers a number of payment options, linking to credit cards, PayPal or simply tacking a purchase or donation onto your mobile phone bill. Payvia is designed to work both on the Web and, more importantly, on smartphones. When paying via smartphone, Payvia detects your device and its phone number so you don't have to enter credit card information, you simply enter a PIN. For desktop-based Web payments, you enter your phone number instead of credit card info, and you are texted a one-time PIN for security purposes.
Funding: Payvia is backed by an undisclosed amount of early funding from Silverlake Sumero, Montgomery & Co. and Trinity Ventures.
Honorable Mention (these companies just missed the cut and could have easily been included):
Jeff Vance is a freelance writer based in Santa Monica, CA, who focuses on emerging technology trends. Connect with him on Twitter @JWVance or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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