MobiFlex, With Rebranding, Tries to Change How Businesses Make Mobile Apps (No Coding)

8/16/11Follow @gthuang

You can tell a sub-industry has really taken off when you see startups appearing out of nowhere to go after it. I’m talking about mobile apps for businesses. And Wellesley, MA-based MobiFlex, while not quite coming out of nowhere, has emerged on the scene with an interesting approach.

The startup, not quite a year old, was spun out of Metaphor Solutions by Michael Kuperstein (chief technology officer of MobiFlex) and George Adams (chief executive). These founders have intriguing backgrounds. Adams is a veteran of Sun Microsystems and Phoenix Technologies who led security software firm Tectia as CEO through most of the past decade. Kuperstein, a neuroscience PhD from MIT, was the co-founder and CEO of Captiva Software through the early 1990s and went on to found eTrue and Metaphor Solutions. The two met at an IEEE Boston entrepreneurs meeting in September 2009 and hit it off, talking about tech trends and how to start companies.

The foundation of MobiFlex’s technology came from something Kuperstein had worked on at Metaphor—a way to set up do-it-yourself visual design for call flows in call centers (for interactive voice response, basically advanced phone trees). To start MobiFlex, Adams and Kuperstein negotiated for full intellectual property rights to the technology and applied it to a different problem: creating mobile applications.

MobiFlex is rebranding its first product today—it was originally released in early 2011—as “ViziApps.” As the name suggests, it’s a visual system for creating mobile apps. The idea is for small businesses, departments, and nonprofits to be able to create their own apps without doing any coding, just by using a drag-and-drop interface. Adams, the CEO, says more than 2,000 organizations worldwide are using it so far, including Accenture and Bentley University.

As he explains it, the problem organizations have with building mobile apps is that it can cost many thousands of dollars and take some 10 weeks to get an app to market. MobiFlex gives customers an alternative. Using the startup’s software, they can lay out their app screens themselves, a bit like the process of writing PowerPoint slides—which can be faster and cheaper than going to an outside app developer. You can “get data in and out of your app,” Adams says, without knowing the difference between HTML, SQL, JavaScript, or an SDK.

“If you can make a PowerPoint, you can make an app,” he says. (Let’s hope this doesn’t give rise to the mobile equivalent of endless, mind-numbing PowerPoints, though.)

What MobiFlex can’t do is create complex games or apps that require 3-D graphics, for instance. But its system can handle things like restaurants giving out coupons to customers nearby (using GPS on their phones); or an insurance company making an app so a driver can take pictures of a car and include them in his or her claims; or a research organization tracking migratory patterns of animals on a map, Adams says.

The five-person startup has received a little over $200,000 in seed funding from angel investors and an unnamed corporate partner. Adams hinted at a new series of releases and customer announcements coming this fall, but he didn’t give specifics.

Mobile apps for business is certainly a burgeoning sector filled with companies that have all kinds of complementary approaches, such as Apperian, AppCentral, Mellmo (Roambi), Raizlabs, Kinvey, and Enterprise Mobile, just to name a few. But why is this trend happening now?

Adams gave some perspective on the evolution of the latest types of apps. “The first wave of apps came to market over the last couple of years,” he says. “You have [400,000-plus] apps in the [Apple] app store, thousands more coming out per week on Android. But how many apps are people really using? Most of those are one-offs or not really getting used. There’s a place for the consumer app. But the quality and maturity and stability and real focus on value-add is coming to a second wave in the form of business apps.”

“Small businesses are doing e-mail marketing, they have websites and social marketing, but what a mobile app gives them is a tangible touch point with their customer or employees that’s in the hand, expedient, available 24-7, and interactive,” Adams says.

In the end it’s all about connecting with (or selling stuff to) more people, more directly, and at lower cost. We’ll be watching to see how well this startup can help its customers do just that.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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