In the web boom era, Bill Seibel was running Zefer, a web development firm founded by Harvard Business School alums that raised $150 million, tried to go public twice, and went bankrupt in the aftermath of the dot-com bust, in 2001. At its peak, Zefer employed nearly 500 people.
These days, there's a similar need in corporate America for service providers who can quickly design and deliver mobile apps. And Seibel is once again at the helm of one of the fastest-growing in town: Wellesley-based Mobiquity. Launched last March with $5 million in funding from Sigma Partners and Longworth Venture Partners, Mobiquity has already surpassed 100 employees and set up three branch offices, Seibel tells me.
"Mobile is something that CIOs are thinking about not just for consumer-facing apps, but for software used inside the enterprise, too," Seibel says. "And it's quite a challenge right now to hire the people who know about things like developing for iPhone and Android, and user-centric design, and leveraging the cloud, and social." Seibel says that in its first year, Mobiquity has landed nearly 70 customers, and he drops names like iRobot, Boston Scientific, Weight Watchers, John Hancock, and WestJet as examples.
In addition to its Wellesley headquarters, Mobiquity has offices in Providence, Philadelphia, and Costa Rica. Seibel says the company's initial venture funding "will get us to our target of $100 million in revenue by 2014." He says about 60 percent of the firm's projects involve developing for iPhone, 35 percent for Android, and 5 percent for other platforms.
I asked Seibel what lessons from the Zefer experience he'd been thinking about as he tries to grow Mobiquity. He says that trying to hire the best people possible is something common to both companies. But at Zefer, Seibel says he built too much infrastructure and had too many fixed costs to survive a steep economic plunge. Also, he says, "Conventional wisdom is that you always design your start-up with your exit strategy in mind. That’s what I did at Zefer, and that proved to be bad advice. At Mobiquity, I’m not worried about making decisions designed at achieving a specific exit strategy – I’m focused on building a great company." (After his stint at Zefer, Seibel was chief executive of Demantra, an inventory management software company that Oracle acquired.)
It'll be interesting to see how things play out in this latest boom in tech services...
About Scott Kirsner
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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December 9: Web Innovators Group
Demos of new mobile apps and web ventures at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. Free admission; cash bar.
December 10: Fintech Demo Day
Short demos from startups in the financial technology realm.
December 11: Unpitch
Entrepreneurs and investors sit down for lunch, advice, and feedback. Entrepreneurs must apply to participate.