After our financing round hit the New York Times technology section this past August, we received a bunch of calls and emails from publications and blogs around the country. That notoriety caught the eye of Network World, who put us on their list of 2009 Wireless and Mobile Companies Worth Watching. Pretty neat stuff for our humble company.
Company name: SkyBlox
Founded: Early 2008
What it offers: SkyBlox is a throwback created by several survivors from Earthlink's failed municipal Wi-Fi business: it offers indoor Wi-Fi hotspot services to local businesses to meet the growing demand for Wi-Fi-equipped smartphones. About 70% of SkyBlox non-laptop traffic is from the iPhone. The venue's visitors or customers can jump on a free, open wireless connection at the site, and also see information on the venue, and an updateable list of events and promotions on the site's Web page. SkyBlox intends to create an interconnected cluster of local content from surrounding SkyBlox-enabled locations. It's hyperlocal free Wi-Fi for users, coupled with a private back-end Wi-Fi network for employees, all as a managed-service utility, for $50 per month at each site.
Why it's worth watching: Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming a utility, an expectation or even an assumption for the mobile generation. SkyBlox makes it simple and affordable for a business to deploy it. But it's going further — instead of focusing on creating Web sites for a pizza place or coffee shop, SkyBlox is helping businesses plug into the trend to localize social networking sites and tools, and exploit capabilities such as SMS. You can set up a site on Yelp and respond (and listen) to what reviewers say; create a business Facebook account; post an event or promotion and invite friends. The company also hopes to become the digital wireless equivalent of a neighborhood newspaper, providing a locus for current, local information and paid ads, directly relevant to users.
How the company got its start: Founder David Payne and a handful of other Earthlink Wi-Fi veterans left when the company prepared to shut down its Wi-Fi business. Though they considered a move such as buying the outdoor municipal Wi-Fi network in Philadelphia or New Orleans, they concluded that local-focused indoor service for small businesses was a viable model.
How the company got its name: Wi-Fi is the means to an end: creating a virtual guide to the neighborhood “blocks” of a city.
CEO and background: Payne was Earthlink's director of Wi-Fi strategy, and previously its director of corporate development. Previously, he was director of strategic growth at Kozmo.com, an online company founded in 1998 that promised free one-hour delivery of just about everything. Its fate was portrayed in the 2001 documentary “e-Dreams.”
Funding: An undisclosed amount from an anonymous angel investor through a very private equity investment firm, SGIO LLC. Some of the funds were paid via Twitpay, the first use of this Twitter-based payment service for investing.
Who uses the product: Users in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Austin, Texas, are making use of just under 200 SkyBlox wireless routers.