New CEO Jeff Glass on Skyhook’s Future and Leaving Bain Capital Ventures

12/7/12Follow @gthuang

The saga of Skyhook is continuing under a new chief executive.

Earlier this week, the Boston mobile software firm said it has appointed Jeff Glass as CEO, succeeding founder and longtime chief Ted Morgan.

Skyhook started in 2003 and helped pioneer location-positioning technology for mobile phones using Wi-Fi signals, GPS, and cellular networks. Its software has been deployed in millions of devices made by Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Dell, and others. But the competitive landscape took a nasty turn in 2010, when Apple and Google started pushing their own in-house location technologies into new devices.

In September of that year, Skyhook filed a pair of crucial lawsuits against Google over the search and advertising giant’s intellectual property and business practices. Those suits are still ongoing. In early 2011, Morgan told me Skyhook was “probably in the first or second inning of a [legal] fight with a company that wants to drag it out as long as possible.”

That’s never good news for a small, innovative company—but Morgan insisted Skyhook’s core strategy around location software was “more sound than ever.” He added, “Google is the only competitor. We own all the intellectual property around it.” [Update: Skyhook filed a new lawsuit against Google in September 2012 alleging infringement on nine U.S. geolocation-related patents. But the first patent trial won't even start until August 2013 at the earliest---Eds.]

Meantime, Skyhook has continued to work to get its software onto new devices, through app developers and other partnerships. A quick check of its funding history shows it has raised $16.8 million from CommonAngels, Bain Capital Ventures, Nokia, Intel, and others, but nothing since 2007. Now, with Morgan stepping down, the company is clearly entering a new phase. (Morgan didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the company says he will remain on its board of directors.)

What does this all mean? Is Skyhook looking to be sold or raise a big round? Is the company in any trouble?

I caught up with incoming Skyhook CEO Jeff Glass this week to ask him about it. Glass (pictured at left) is an interesting story by himself. He’s the former CEO of m-Qube, the mobile software startup bought by Verisign in 2006. He then joined Bain Capital Ventures and has served on the boards of BzzAgent, BuyWithMe, blip.tv, Linkable Networks, and other startups. For now, at least, he’s leaving the world of venture capital, and diving back into CEO-ing.

Here’s a transcript of our e-mail exchange, slightly edited for clarity:

Xconomy: Can you talk about the reasons behind your move? Why leave Bain Capital Ventures—is it contracting?

Jeff Glass: As you know, I have had a duel interest in both being an entrepreneur and investing in entrepreneurs for a long time. When Ted Morgan decided he wanted to bring in some fresh leadership I jumped at the chance. Skyhook has tremendous technology and a talented team in a space that is very important, so this was perfect for me. I have tremendously enjoyed being an investor at Bain Capital and am confident I will have as much fun here at Skyhook.

X: Have you left Bain entirely, or are you still serving on boards and so forth?

JG: I am still connected to Bain Capital. However, I am transitioning off most and possibly all of my boards, but we haven’t finalized that yet. The key is that I want to be able to spend as close to 100 percent of my time running Skyhook as possible.

X: Give us a little personal perspective on getting back into CEO-ing, in a sector (mobile tech) you are very familiar with.

JG: This is really exciting for me as I dust off the cobwebs and get back into the action here. I love the people aspect to building a company, so my first days are being spent getting to know the broader team and understanding where people’s strengths and interests lie.

X: So what are your plans for Skyhook? What needs to happen there, given the competitive landscape and legal issues?

JG: The good news and the bad news is that mobile location is really at the center of the mobile revolution. As a result, our competitors, customers, partners, and eventual acquirers are the tech world’s giants. Navigating the competitive landscape, continuing to invest in our core intellectual property, expanding our customer list, rolling out some next generation products and having some fun along the way are all on the priority list. Then on my second week we’ll get some real work done…

X: Is there anything new in the Skyhook-Google court battle?

JG: Nothing to say about Skyhook’s patent strategy other than we have a large number of granted patents with more pending, and we continue to invest considerable effort innovating in the areas of mobile location.

X: What about the speculation that you are coming in to turn the company around and sell it?

JG: There is absolutely no mandate at all to sell. Periodically there have been suitors, given all the technology, team domain expertise, and business success; however, we’re no different than any other growing tech startup. We’ll continue to invest and grow until it makes sense to do otherwise.

The interesting thing about the business that Skyhook invented is that over the years the market moved directly into our sweet spot, so virtually every device manufacturer, mobile OS provider, and technology service provider is looking to partner or compete, build, buy, or license mobile location capabilities. Needless to say, this dynamic is challenging and exciting for our team, and we love being part of the mobile revolution today. When it comes to accuracy, time to fix, power consumption, and overall reliability around the globe, our core products continue to outperform our competition.

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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