Onswipe’s Jason Baptiste on Ramping Up & Reinventing Tech for Touchscreens
[Corrected, Oct. 19. See below] Talking to Jason Baptiste always reminds me of why tech entrepreneurs are in the game. And, perhaps more importantly, how they go about playing that game.
Baptiste is the co-founder and CEO of Onswipe, the New York startup that’s trying to reinvent digital content on touchscreen devices for media publishers and advertisers. The company started in 2010 and its lead venture investor, Spark Capital, is based in Boston. (Baptiste is speaking at Xconomy’s Mobile Madness New York conference on December 4.)
Just a year ago, most people (OK, at least I) thought of Onswipe as being an iPad platform for Web content and ads. More recently, the company moved into content distribution for publishers. And now it’s pushing hard on the advertising side of the business, developing a new ad-serving product that it will start showing to agencies and other customers toward the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Onswipe has broadened its platform to work on the iPhone, Kindle Fire, and Android devices, starting with the Nexus 7. (We’ll see about Windows Phone 8, due out soon.) In short, Onswipe is trying to help media companies and other publishers serve up content and ads on all touchscreen devices—taking advantage of its proprietary gesture interface that incorporates different ways of tapping and swiping on screens. “Publishers want one platform for the post-PC Web,” Baptiste says. “We’re powering how people experience information.”
These are all deft-sounding moves, but Baptiste says the company’s mission has been the same since day one: “Give away the platform for free, and monetize with beautiful branded ads.” He calls it “a 100 percent media model.” The hard work lies in talking with publishers, figuring out what they really need to optimize their sites for touchscreens, and then developing and refining the software—basically making the interface and user experience as attractive and intuitive as possible.
“We’re a touch-first company,” he says. “We believe the world is shifting from click to swipe. We should be the one powering that experience.”
When last I checked, Onswipe was pushing 30 employees, almost all in New York. Its key recent hires include Richard Bloom as chief operating officer (previously with 5min Media and AOL) and Jared Hand as chief revenue officer (previously at Jumptap). The startup says it has seen an eight-fold increase in its audience size (unique visits) since April. By the end of this year, Baptiste says, Onswipe will have just shy of 50 employees, and it already has some 1,300 publishers on its platform. [An earlier version said Onswipe has just shy of 50 publishers on its platform. This has been corrected—Eds.]
And what’s on tap for next year? “Ramping up for very large revenue,” says Baptiste. That money presumably will come from brands and advertisers. “Somebody is going to own advertising on all the touchscreen devices,” he says. “And publishers are more receptive than ever.”
But making lots of money will depend on Onswipe’s ability to build out both its content platform and its advertising technology in a smart way. It’s a bit like a company trying to build both a Tumblr or WordPress and an AdMob or Jumptap, at the same time. Baptiste and company have their work cut out for them—but they certainly don’t lack for ambition or confidence.
Baptiste has talked with me previously about Onswipe being an “experience” company. Meaning the startup wants to own the way consumers experience the Web on post-PC devices, via its visual design and interface technology, as well as through its relationships with publishers and advertisers—thereby driving more traffic to websites.
“Apple is experience through hardware. Square is experience through payment. Onswipe is experience through the Web,” he says. “The best companies out there take a full-stack approach. They build the ecosystem.”
Indeed, Baptiste is thinking bigger than all of this. “Everything’s being reinvented for touch. Anything that’s been created over the past 10 years can be reinvented for touch,” he says.
Think about what’s happening in e-commerce, marketing, and enterprise software. So, will there be a whole new generation of business software companies created around touch interfaces? “It’s like when Gates, Jobs, and Woz started,” he says. “It’s a fresh new page.”