SessionM, Led by GameLogic and Quattro Vets, Unveils Mobile Ad Platform

3/6/12Follow @gthuang

If there’s a new angle to mobile advertising, Lars Albright has seen it. That’s why his latest company, Boston-based SessionM, is so interesting.

Albright previously co-founded Quattro Wireless, the Boston-area ad-tech firm that Apple picked up for about $275 million in 2010. Before that, he was a vice president at m-Qube, the mobile marketing startup of the early-to-mid-2000s, which was bought by VeriSign for $250 million in 2006 and spawned all manner of follow-up tech companies. So is SessionM next in line?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Boston-based startup is rolling out its first product today after 10 months of stealthy work. The offering is a software platform whereby advertisers can deliver things like video ads to consumers who opt in, in exchange for reward points—which can then be redeemed for items such as gift cards, digital currency, and charity donations. Brands can also offer special content and deals to consumers via SessionM’s ad server.

The platform “sits on top of the apps you already use,” Albright says—it works for Apple’s iOS, Google Android, and mobile Web—and it includes game mechanics such as leveling up (accumulating points to reach new activities and rewards) to “keep people excited or engaged,” he says. The gaming aspect presumably comes from Albright’s fellow co-founders, Mark Herrmann and Scott Weller, who are tech veterans of GameLogic, Lycos, and Gamesville.

Albright, who is the CEO (see photo, left), calls SessionM’s technology an “engagement platform”—though that sounds like something you might buy your wife-to-be. What he means is the offering is intended to make consumers spend more time with mobile ads and content, in a way that’s simple and fun and also helps app developers and publishers make money. Although some pieces of the technology have been done before, Albright says the overall “approach is totally new.” He emphasizes that SessionM is not just another ad network or ad-tech play, and it doesn’t compete with banner ads. (My first impression is that it’s something like Foursquare or SCVNGR/LevelUp crossed with a mobile ad network and rich media capabilities—all on a developer-friendly platform.)

The company’s rollout is being done in partnership with big publishers including Viacom, Demand Media, Glam Media, The Weather Channel, and Fox Sports, and brands such as Honda and Volvo. As a typical example, Albright says, a consumer using a health and fitness app can unlock SessionM’s game-like features by coming back a certain number of days in a row or sharing content to Facebook, say (whatever the developer sets); once they opt in, they can collect reward points for viewing a car ad or a sponsor message, all from within the app. SessionM shares in the revenue from the mobile ads and deals consumed; the platform is free for developers to use.

“We see opportunities to deliver different types of ad experiences,” Albright says.

Over the course of his recent career at m-Qube, Quattro, and Apple, Albright has seen big challenges evolve for developers and advertisers alike, in terms of getting consumers to engage with content, retaining users, and making money. And he has learned some key lessons. “The market moves fast,” he says. “You have to make sure to differentiate yourself.”

At m-Qube, Albright says, he witnessed “tremendous organic revenue growth” and the “foundation of a scalable mobile platform and how powerful that can be.” Quattro he views as having similar dynamics to SessionM, but with very different challenges. When Quattro started in 2006, he says, there was very little ad inventory in mobile, no apps, and few mobile websites. “Now the problem is the opposite,” he says—there are so many apps and so much content that brands and advertisers have trouble connecting with customers.

And in his time at Apple working on the iAd platform, Albright says, he learned to “make sure you’re incredibly detailed and disciplined in terms of the experience you’re putting out there. Make it simple, intuitive, and easy for the consumer and client to understand—something that resonates.”

We’ll be watching to see if SessionM resonates with developers and brands—and how everyday users take to its ads. Meantime, the company is in “growth and acceleration mode,” says Albright, who is speaking at Xconomy’s Mobile Madness event in Kendall Square next week. Last May, SessionM raised $6.5 million from Highland Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The startup has about 25 employees, including staff in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

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. Follow @gthuang

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