The idea of creating a global product company based in India is what drove Sharat Potharaju (32) and Ravi Pratap Maddimsetty (31) to leave their secure jobs in the U.S to start Mobile Motion Technologies (Mobstac). Founded in 2009, the Bengaluru-based company wants to make a serious dent in the world of mobile publishing technology. “Our vision is to be a one-stop shop for all mobile publication platforms, whether it is to develop an application (app) for a tablet, a Google Site, an iPhone app or an Android app and thus, position Mobstac as an integrated mobile services player,” says Potharaju, co-founder and chief executive officer. Mobstac helps website owners (publishers) like bloggers, digital publishers and conventional print publications to create mobile websites from their standard websites and that come with a gamut of features including search engine optimisation, social media sharing, comments and videos. It supports over 5000 mobile devices and allows integration with advertisement networks like adMob, InMobi and Google AdSense, and various CMSs (content management systems) like WordPress, Blogger, Drupal and Joomla.
“Tablets are game changers in this industry. The future lies in touch technology. The transition to tablets will be much faster than it took to adapting to mobile technology.”
Its newest offering, Touchsite, offers tablet users app-like interactivity with the feel of glancing content page by page. “Tablets are game changers in this industry. The future lies in touch technology. The transition to tablets will be much faster than it took to adapting to mobile technology,” says Potharaju. Though Touchsite’s private beta version is now available, it will be launched in a big way by March end at technology events.
To augment its position in mobile publishing technology, Mobstac secured funding from Accel Partners and Mumbai Angels in July 2011. According to Shekhar Kirani of Accel Partners, the Mobstac team and the market potential of mobile publishing were the reasons why Accel chose to invest in the company. The investment will be used to enhance its products and 40 per cent of it would also be used for customer acquisition. The company is taking up more decisive advertising through display advertisements and Google AdWords. But with 4000 bloggers and small publishers of 12 different languages spread over 36 countries, Mobstac has earned most mileage through word of mouth from this strong community. From offering its clients three different plans – basic (free), pro (US id=”mce_marker”9/month) and enterprise (according to customisation), it is now planning to provide multiple plans. Mobstac is not profitable as yet, but has started to pick up in its revenues. Some of its clients include The Hindu and the vernacular newspaper, Punjab Kesari.
Trial and error
Mobstac’s bulk consumers are bloggers and digital publishers to whom it opened up the platform as self-service, where they could type out their URL to create their mobile website in two minutes. The company makes money off its publishers. “We are experimenting with a share of their ad revenues from the Mobstac-powered mobile sites,” says Potharaju. He adds that they are still experimenting with their business model. “When we started two years ago, we concentrated only in India. Though not many people understood this space then, a lot has changed now. India has been slower in catching up to mobile technology and it’s the only country where print publishing is growing. We kept persisting but in hindsight, we should have iterated our business model much faster and focussed on other markets,” he adds.
Mobile Motion Technologies (Mobstac)
Founders: Sharat Potharaju, Ravi Pratap Maddimsetty
Funding: Accel Partners and Mumbai Angels in July 2011
Mobstac now has clients in North America, Europe and south-east Asia. “We spend considerable amount of time in the U.S trying to build partnerships with publishers’ networks. We are also in talks with a few of them in France and Spain,” says Potharaju. Unlike India, North America and Europe has strong Internet penetration but according to Potharaju, these regions are quickly losing desktop readers to mobile readers. “We don’t have a hard time convincing them since they realise the importance of mobile technology. More people use Twitter on their mobile devices than through desktops/laptops,” he states.
Chasing a dream
Potharaju and Maddimsetty are childhood friends, who also ended up studying in IIT-Madras. Both always held the desire to be entrepreneurs. Potharaju went onto study Masters in Engineering Management at Duke University and worked in Merrill Lynch before returning to India in 2008. Maddimsetty completed M.S in computer science from Washington University and worked in a technology startup, after a stint with Morgan Stanley. As chief technology officer at Mobstac, he is instrumental in driving its products. Immediately after setting up, the duo put together US $60,000 with the help of family, friends and IIT-M alumni to get Mobstac rolling.
“Besides getting people to understand this space, hiring proved to be a big challenge and it continues to be so. Positive media coverage and the IIT pedigree have helped us,” says Potharaju, whose team size is now 14 employees. After years of working abroad, the duo also learnt to adjust to how business functions in India. Bootstrapping for two years, they worked out of Potharaju’s one-bedroom apartment for the first 18 months.
“One of the biggest challenges in mobile technology is the lack of standardisation of devices and platforms. This is where we want to step in – to deliver an integrated experience irrespective of a particular mobile,” says Potharaju. Mobstac’s Dynamic Content Adaptation (DCA) automatically adapts content according to the device. DCA was rebuilt at least three times to ensure good user experience. “Once you’re plugged onto Mobstac, automatic integration with back networks, enterprise services, micropayments, subscription based content and other platforms take place. And it lets you control all these platforms,” he adds.
Product road map
Still in its early phase, Potharaju wants to continue strengthening the mobile products for the next six months. “In this sector, I think tablets and Android operating systems will become a force to reckon with. Also, we will see content discovery evolve more,” he says. Mobile advertising is another aspect that Potharaju foresees becoming more innovative and interactive.
Kirani believes that being based on the web platform, its products are applicable globally, but the team needs to make sure it is visible among those in the publishing industry. Talking about competition, he says, “There will be competition but the cost of replacing a service provider is high and painful with the number of devices that hit the market.” However, to be on top of the game, Mobstac needs to ensure enhanced visibility, stay updated on technology and focus on the execution, adds Kirani.
Potharaju is confident that with Mobstac’s strong mobile platform, technology competence, the right investors and its early mover advantage will help it deal with competition. The company’s biggest high till date has been Touchsite for which it has been garnering great responses. Potharaju believes that in another five years, tablets will contribute to a major share of revenues of publishing companies. And Mobstac is gearing up for that.
Concept in Brief
Mobstac’s vision is to be a one-stop shop for all mobile publication platforms, whether it is to develop an app for a tablet, a Google Site, an iPhone app or an Android app and thus, position itself as an integrated mobile services provider. It supports over 5,000 mobile devices and its newest offering, Touchsite, leverages HTML5 technology to give tablet users app-like interactivity with the feel of glancing content page by page. The team hopes to further stabilise the product by March end and launch at tech events with wider PR coverage. Mobstac secured funding from Accel Partners and Mumbai Angels in July 2011. Though competition from bigger players may loom large, Mobstac needs to continue focusing on providing integrated solutions in the fast-moving world of technology, improving its visibility and creating world-class products.