Ground Truth Raises $7M More; CEO Sterling Wilson Talks Company Culture, Global Expansion

4/27/10Follow @gthuang

Seattle-based Ground Truth, a mobile measurement and intelligence startup, is announcing a new $7 million Series B funding round today, led by new investor Emergence Capital Partners. OpenAir Ventures, another new investor, also participated, as did existing backers Voyager Capital and Steamboat Ventures.

Ground Truth CEO and co-founder Sterling Wilson calls the deal “great confirmation of what we’re doing.” The startup came out of stealth mode in January. It provides data and analysis on how consumers use the Internet on mobile devices—things like traffic estimates for a large number of sites, how long people visit those sites, and what other sites they visit. The basic idea is to help advertisers, publishers, mobile operators, and media companies make more money on the mobile Internet.

What Ground Truth has going for it is strong relationships with wireless carriers and other partners who have access to mobile data, and patent-pending technology for processing all that data. Big players like comScore, Nielsen, Hitwise, Google, and Quantcast have lots of data on the traditional Web, but don’t yet have the equivalent information on mobile Web use.

Those advantages have helped Ground Truth amass raw data from about 3 million mobile subscribers, and update it weekly instead of every month or two like other services. (Some recent trends Ground Truth has unearthed: social networking is really exploding on mobile devices, and mobile-centric sites make up the majority of website visits on mobile devices.) Wilson says the company has “dozens” of customers and data partners, but declined to be more specific, other than to say its strategy has been “more of the same” in terms of signing up “infrastructure providers and wireless operators.” The company’s revenue model is based on paid subscriptions, not advertising.

One connection that helped seal the VC deal announced today is that Emergence Capital co-founder Jason Green had previously invested in Seattle-based aQuantive together with Voyager Capital; Emergence also has collaborated with Steamboat Ventures on investments. Meanwhile, OpenAir brings to the table strong expertise in the mobile industry and has worked with Emergence as well. (Also, $7 million is a pretty healthy amount, and it sounds like the company got it at a decent step-up in valuation compared to its $2.6 million Series A funding last year.)

The new money will be used “to expand the product offering throughout the year,” Wilson says. Part of that means going global. Ground Truth will identify countries that have a lot of mobile Internet usage but not a lot of mobile analytics services. It will form relationships with local partners that can help it gain access to data from mobile operators, and then work to find a way to sell its software in those countries. “We will be using the money to expand internationally this year,” Wilson says.

Earlier this month, Ground Truth announced that some prominent tech leaders have joined its advisory board: Peter Daboll, Usama Fayyad, Clark Kokich, Henry Lawson, and Chris Maher. Collectively, they have experience at companies such as Hitwise, Razorfish, comScore, and Donovan Data Systems.

I asked Wilson what the big challenges are for the rest of this year and beyond. He says one of the keys is expanding the company’s data partnerships. “The goal is to get data from every source we can and improve the data we can sell to our customers,” he says. “We’ll continue to expand the sales and marketing. In the next year to two years, it’ll be a lot of blocking and tackling.” (Meaning focusing on the basics of executing the business strategy.)

Wilson says there are some parallels to his previous company, Seattle-based digital commerce firm Qpass (he was president). Qpass sold its software to mobile operators; Ground Truth gathers data from mobile operators. “There’s a lot we learned working at Qpass,” he says. “How to deal with mobile operators. We’re working on helping them improve their business—to reduce their churn, or improve customer service, or look for new revenue streams.”

On the management side, Wilson says he is focusing on building the company and attracting the right talent. His philosophy? “One thing I learned at Qpass is to hire intelligent, bright adults, and treat them as adults,” he says. “Hire really bright people who have opinions and experience, make sure they fit with the teams, and let them do their jobs. And give them guidance.”

Wilson says he’s looking for a unique combination of traits in his employees, besides technical skills. “Are you used to working in a startup? Are you willing to get really dirty and dig in even though you carry a VP title? Are you willing to express your opinions and have a debate about your opinions? We don’t want wallflowers. Are you willing to jump in and help people outside your expertise? You’ve got to be willing to work really hard, and realize that startups are hard.”

Asked to boil his company’s culture down to one word (as I am inclined to ask), Wilson says, “Truth.” It’s what they do, how they live, how they treat people, and, ultimately, what they deliver to the mobile marketplace, he says.

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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