Urban Airship Beefs Up Location Service Following Acquisition

4/3/12Follow @curtwoodward

Last fall, mobile app service startup Urban Airship scooped up location-services partner SimpleGeo for a bargain price. The two companies already had been working together, but now we’re seeing the real fruits of this consolidation as Urban Airship details its plans for new location services.

By adding SimpleGeo’s location data to its services, Portland, OR-based Urban Airship says its push notifications can now be used to more precisely target advertising at specific types of mobile-device users. So instead of carpet-bombing users with little popup windows to deliver some news or advertising, app developers would be able to pick and choose which customers they want to talk to at any given time.

That may sound kind of basic—of course marketers want to reach the right people!—but the reality is that, even with all of our advanced mobile technology, most advertising and content being delivered over our whiz-bang devices remains fairly broad. Plenty of people are still creeped out by the idea, but you’ve got to admit it’s going to be interesting when you can get an instant coupon from, say, the local sports franchise when they identify you as a fan near the stadium on a slow day for ticket sales.

The new location offerings get app developers a lot closer to that future by allowing them to “slice and dice” the demographics of people who opt in for location and push services, Urban Airship CEO and co-founder Scott Kveton says. That means a developer could say they want “want everyone in L.A. who likes Beyonce, but not baseball,” and get a group of users to communicate with, he says.

That’s more advanced than a typical location-based service called “geofencing,” which would trigger push notifications to mobile users when they get close to a certain location—within the “fence,” so to speak—such as a bricks-and-mortar retail outlet.

Urban Airship is among a growing class of companies capitalizing on the explosion of mobile devices by selling to application developers. Rather than building apps, Urban Airship and other providers sell software services that let developers easily add features to their products—push notifications, in-app payments, analytics, and so on.

It’s a “picks-and-shovels” approach that probably has a big upside as the growth in mobile computing continues to expand. Investors seem to think so—they include Seattle’s Founder’s Co-op, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Intel Capital, Verizon, and Salesforce.com. Urban Airship has about 75 employees, and recently added a former Skype executive as chief revenue officer.

Kveton wouldn’t discuss actual revenue numbers, but here’s a couple of rough stats that speak to growth: Kveton says Urban Airship’s revenue grew by about 600 percent last year, and its first quarter revenue in 2012 has already surpassed the full-year revenue from 2011.

“We actually think that push is a multibillion-dollar industry,” he says.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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