Glympse of a Stealthy Startup: Ex-Microsofties Roll Out Location-Based Mobile Service

5/19/09Follow @gthuang

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the carriers; Trussel cites the immense popularity of the Apple iTunes App Store ( “it’s not AT&T, it’s Apple,” he says) and the Android Market.

After raising seed funding from angel investors last year, Trussel and his team focused on building the technology, user experience, and the “polish of the design,” he says. Glympse’s technology uses a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, and cell tower triangulation to get a fast fix on where you are. Unlike other location-based mobile services, the user interface requires no login or password to get set up, and doesn’t require you to send out friend invites, or integrate your location information into a social network. (The latter is a complementary distribution strategy, but one that Glympse is purposefully avoiding— “Who needs another social network?” Trussel asks.) The simplicity of his software’s design and ease of use, Trussel says, “is where you can take on a big company if you have a laser focus.”

In particular, what differentiates Glympse from Google Latitude is that with the former, you don’t have to set up an account or “install” your friends in any network. What’s more, you get a real-time updated map showing your location, instead of a periodically updated, static map view. It’s not immediately clear how important these factors will be for consumers, but time will tell. In the meantime, Trussel says, Google has validated the market at a high level, and seems to be pursuing the social network angle.

Trussel learned a lot from casual games, and it has clearly influenced Glympse’s business strategy. In mass consumer markets, he says, “You should always give them something free, and then ask them to download. If you present it to them in the right way, you can convince a mass market to adopt.” (Key success stories would be the Nintendo Wii and iPhone apps, for example.) So the plan for Glympse is to provide a basic service for free, build an audience, and then work up to paid models and location-based advertising. “Let’s get viral distribution out there, let’s get this distributed from person to person,” he says.

On the privacy front, Trussel emphasizes that you can set a specific window of time (15 minutes to four hours) during which only the users you select can track your location. And not having to log in makes it less likely that your personal whereabouts will fall into the wrong hands.

Glympse has six full-time employees (the three founders and three developers), plus a few overseas workers in China and Belarus. “It’s been fun and personally satisfying,” Trussel says. “I’ve learned a ton.” Specifically, he says, “you have to grow at the right rate” and avoid distractions like extra features or partnerships that are not central to the startup’s goal. Second, he says, “the marketplace is changing and evolving. You have to read those tea leaves and see how people are using this.”

That’s where Glympse seems to have a chance to do something special. Besides helping us all enjoy some peace and quiet on the taxiways, the service could become something we all have to have on our phones in order to survive, and thrive, in an increasingly connected world.

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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