Ground Truth Emerges from Stealth, Provides New Window Into Mobile Internet Usage
It’s been hard to keep a company like Ground Truth under wraps for this long. The secretive Seattle startup, led by prominent entrepreneurs Sterling Wilson and Michael “Luni” Libes, is emerging from stealth mode today, after raising $2.6 million in venture funding from Voyager Capital and Steamboat Ventures last summer. Although many in the startup community already know (or think they know) what Ground Truth is building, the company has just released some interesting details—while withholding many others.
The problem Ground Truth is solving is a big one. Everyone from marketers to media companies to wireless carriers wants information about things like how many mobile users are accessing which websites on their smartphones. The mobile Web has long been considered the next frontier for advertising and publishing, but nobody has had access to reliable and complete data on mobile users’ behavior. That’s because measurement methods from companies like comScore, Nielsen, Hitwise, and Google, while useful for the traditional Web, are limited for the mobile Web in terms of their scope, detail, and timeliness.
“The market needs a precise map of the landscape and a reliable route to navigate, and Ground Truth’s reliable, actionable data provides it,” said Wilson, the company’s CEO (and former president of Seattle mobile commerce firm Qpass), in a statement.
“The only data source that can provide precise measures of mobile media usage is the mobile network itself,” added Libes, Ground Truth’s founder and chief technology officer, also in a statement. Libes started building the patent-pending technology while at the mobile search firm he previously co-founded, Medio Systems.
Using extensive data from mobile operators and other providers, Ground Truth has analyzed the weekly mobile Internet usage of 2.5 million subscribers in the U.S. It has what it thinks is the most accurate and complete dataset so far on mobile Web use—including mobile traffic estimates for a large number of sites (unique visitors, pageviews), length of browsing sessions, and where a given site’s traffic comes from and where else it goes. In doing so, the company apparently has solved some difficult technical problems while keeping individual mobile subscribers’ privacy intact.
Ground Truth’s timing certainly seems good. The field of mobile Web metrics looks wide open, even as more and more people use their iPhones, BlackBerries, and other mobile devices to access the Internet. And with giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, AT&T, and Verizon (just to name a few) increasing their focus on mobile content and advertising, a company that makes tools that help advertisers, publishers, and media companies make more money stands to do well.
“This is a transparent tool. We’re hoping to help grow what’s been a moribund marketplace,” says Evan Neufeld, Ground Truth’s vice president of marketing (and a former comScore Mobile exec). He’s referring to the promise of mobile advertising. And the tool he’s talking about—Ground Truth’s core service—is “mobile measurement,” which he says is distinct from mobile analytics in that it’s about aggregate data across the marketplace, not just detailed information from a given site.
The company isn’t giving many details about its revenue model or potential customers just yet, but Neufeld says it’s a “classic syndicated research model” based primarily on subscriptions, which give companies access to a Web-based interface (and the mobile data). He says using Ground Truth is a “no brainer” for media companies and marketers, and should be of interest to many others, including people developing mobile apps or content platforms—“anyone who touches or wants to monetize the mobile Internet.” Some examples of hypothetical customers: Hearst, Yahoo, Amazon, Orbitz.
Besides its technology, Ground Truth’s greatest advantage would seem to be its deep relationships with wireless carriers, handset manufacturers, and ad networks. The company wouldn’t provide any details about its partners, but this point seems reasonable given the pedigree of Wilson, Libes, and its investors (including venture capitalist Tom Huseby) in the mobile space. And it’s the only way a small company would gain access to all of that mobile network data.
Ground Truth has a three-person office in New York City, with the rest of its 15 employees based in Seattle headquarters. For the rest of 2010, Neufeld says customers can expect regular rollouts of new data and new features, as the company continues to “expand and grow the granularity and depth of the data” and form new partnerships. He says Ground Truth will also “get awesome feedback from the marketplace” about the features that people like and don’t like—which, of course, will help it fine-tune its offerings.
How will Ground Truth impact the average mobile Web user? Neufeld thinks if Ground Truth is successful at helping the mobile advertising market grow through better transparency, consumers in turn will get “better content, better experiences, and better pricing for what people can do on their devices.” That might come about from carriers subsidizing data access, he says, or other ways for content to be subsidized on the mobile Web.
“A huge amount of what people do is going to be on the mobile internet,” Neufeld says. “It’s important that we build a really fair model.”