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Stealthy start-up CloudTree wants to help wireless carriers introduce new cloud-based services

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 11, 2011 08:06 AM

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cloudtree.jpgPutting "cloud" in your start-up's name is a good way to guarantee complete anonymity, or suggest that you're a bandwagon-jumper: in Boston alone, you've got Cloudswitch, Cloudant, CloudBees, and Cloud Technology Partners, among others.

But CloudTree is a cloud-y start-up that's tough to ignore: its management team hails from local companies like EqualLogic, Ellacoya Networks, Arbor Networks, Virtual Iron, and Whaleback Systems. And they've had no trouble, apparently, raising north of $1 million in start-up funds from angel investors.

I had lunch yesterday with co-founders Kurt Dobbins and Phil Bedard (pictured at right) to talk about the business. They both left security specialist Arbor Networks in November 2009, and incorporated CloudTree in early 2010. Working on the start-up are a team of about 11 full-time employees and contractors. Most work off-site, but CloudTree also has an office in Waltham.

The entire company, Dobbins says, is itself built upon cloud technology, meaning that they didn't have to buy a single server to do software development. The company's objective is to build new cloud-based applications for wireless carriers, geared to helping them retain subscribers for the long-term. (Can you say "Verizon iPhone"?) They say they're in discussions with several carriers about starting initial tests soon.

Bedard says, "We want to help the carriers accelerate deployment of new features and applications, so they see lower attrition. Just look at what has been happening to Sprint's subscriber base. We want to create stickiness for them."

A first application, which they call "Social Connect," wants to render the address book obsolete on your mobile phone, and replace it with your lists of friends and connections on various social networks. It'd enable you to pull up a friend's name, and communicate with them through whatever channel is convenient for each of you: you could send a text message from your mobile phone that would appear on Twitter or Skype or AIM, for instance. Or you could place a phone call that reaches them on a desktop voice-calling client like Google Chat. "Essentially, phone numbers go away," Dobbins says. "It becomes all about identities." They say the service would also make it possible to send texts to groups of contacts, and eventually to initiate video chats. And their goal is for "Social Connect" to work on any kind of phone — not just the latest smartphone.

CloudTree also acquired a small maker of desktop conferencing and communication software called Yakkle, and hired its creator, Tom Hazel. That, they suggest, could enable their wireless carrier customers to distribute a branded desktop application that would interact with Social Connect.

CloudTree's founders say they aren't yet in a position where they need to be talking to venture capital firms, but they don't discount the possibility of raising a VC round at some point in the future. The last company that Dobbins co-founded, New Hampshire-based Ellacoya Networks, raised an astounding $145 million before being sold to Arbor Networks, another venture-backed company (for an undisclosed sum.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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