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Interviews With Mobile Computing Vendors
- AvantGo -

MobileInfo.com Interviews Felix Lin, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of AvantGo !

MobileInfo.com interviewed Felix Lin, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman of AvantGo recently. Here is the list of questions and answers (as paraphrased by MobileInfo) with our assessment of where AvantGo is headed in this turbulent mobile/wireless space.

Q1. - Can you briefly describe your company history, product/service evolution and your business success so far?

Answer

  • AvantGo was started in 1997 and was among the first group of mobile-focused companies that got funded by professional VCs. Mobile and wireless space was young at that time. Nobody had established itself as the pre-eminent vendor dictating standards in any of the segments in this market. Palm Pilot had just come out. It was at that time that a group of professionals with enterprise software product development background started AvantGo.
  • The company first built an M-Business Server using homegrown software to provide this logical connectivity to the enterprise data. It started encouraging mobile professionals in corporate America to start using this software for their routine business needs while away from the office - thereby establishing a fertile ground for marketing mobile automation projects for the enterprise. The strategy of AvantGo was also to offer a portal where enterprise users could access corporate data using the web with mobile devices.
  • We are proud to have over 5 million users who access our portal directly or indirectly. We have 28 of Fortune 100 customers as users of our M-business Server software. Large companies like McKesson have 4000-5000 users accessing terra bytes of company information through our M-business software. We have over 2500 companies in 50 countries using our software.

Q2. Where are you in terms of your business development? How well are you funded? Where does revenue come from? How many people do you have now? When would you become profitable?

Answer

  • AvantGo is a public company, having raised almost $125 million since 1997. Since it is public, all its financial data is available to the public. Our revenue has increased from $16 million ($16.3 million is the actual number) in 2000 to nearly $25 million (exact number for 2001 was $24 million) in 2001. These are pretty good revenue numbers if you compare revenue figures for software companies like Oracle in their early years.
  • We have now 200 people in our company.
  • While we are not profitable today, we plan to be in future. We shall provide more information on our outlook through our investor advisory scheduled for April 22nd, 2002.

Q3. AvantGo began as a software company, licensing software, then moved into providing a free mobile information provider for end users. Theoretically, that’s a great business model if you could monetize it. Why have you moved on to custom application provider via wireless ASP? Are we mis-representing your business progression?

Answer:

  • Our primary focus is on building and supplying software for the enterprise, even though our initial public image and branding was perceived to be our mobile information channels for consumers and professionals.
  • Our M-Business server software is targeted at the enterprise for pulling not only messaging and collaboration-related information but also CRM, ERP and supply chain information from systems like Siebel, PeopleSoft and SAP.
  • AvantGo’s business model is not based on a wireless ASP as the foundation. However, we do use our hosting service to get customers’ feet wet.
  • We addressed the problem of unstructured data first. Having done that, dealing with structured data (traditional databases) for mission-critical applications was relatively easy for us.
  • You are somewhat wrong in your assessment of us as a wireless ASP when you consider the fact that approximately 75% of our revenue comes from software sales to the enterprise.

Q4. Are you planning to be a software supplier or service provider collecting licensing and service fee for the enterprise? How is your model different from Aether’s on one end and IBM Global Services on the other? How are you different from iAnywhere?

Answer

  • We are a software product company going after the enterprise.
  • We are building our business around a core product – our M-Business Server.
  • Aether is a systems integration company delving in many different industries. Having bought these companies in different verticals, it is trying to bring some commonality in the software infrastructure it utilizes.
  • We do not compete with IBM Global services. In fact, we partner with them and others like KPMG, Cap Gemini Ernst and Young.
  • IAnywhere’s solutions are around data replication and database reconciliation models. Although we can synchronize databases, our approach emphasizes the use of web standards and a hybrid thin-client, distributed client/server model.

Q5. How do you intend to move yourself to B2B and B2E vertical space that requires significant domain knowledge?

Answer

  • We rely on our customers to provide the business process domain knowledge for their particular industries.
  • We partner with third parties to extend our own expertise.
  • We are less interested in becoming an application customization house with contract programmers.

Q6. You have an M-business Server that is at the heart of your offering. What components have you used under the cover? For those customers who want to use their own software infrastructure, how does AvantGo server interface with customer’s backend?

Answer

  • M-Business Server was built with in-house software development expertise using open components and standards like XML. It interfaces with all major application servers - IBM’s WebSphere, BEA’ s WebLogic and Oracle’s 9i application server.

Q7 – Please tell us about your differentiation – as a custom Mobile Server provider with virtually thousands of application developers out there?

  • Cost of developing a solution with our software is much lower
  • Time to deploy is shorter.
  • We provide seamless online and offline capability with a thin client.
  • We support multiple handheld devices.
  • We provide complete end-to-end security between the device and the back-end application/service, even over public networks, using SSL and 128-bit encryption.

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: 

AvantGo was an early entrant into the Internet space of giving access to corporate information from the web on mobile devices. As mobile computing came into its own during 1999-2000, AvantGo started providing access through various mobile devices using its virtual private mobile channels on its portal. This service became quite popular and quickly established AvantGo as avant-garde company in the mobile space. Meanwhile AvantGo was marketing its M-Business Server software to the enterprise where it picked up several prestigious Fortune 100 accounts, including McKesson in healthcare industry, Morgan Stanley in financial industry, Ford Motor Company in auto industry and CNN in the media industry.

AvantGo was also early (and very lucky, in our view) in getting its IPO on the street, much ahead of the Internet meltdown. The money raised (about $120 million) has helped it to weather the storm of dot-com collapse. As a result, it has been successful in getting some piece of mobile business in corporate America.

We also like AvantGo’s strategy of keeping its core competency to a general-purpose mobile business server that can interface to backend application servers from the big names like IBM, BEA and Oracle and concentrate on providing a customized user interface on various mobile devices through both wireline and wireless networks. Too many vendors in this space attempt to cover too much ground and start competing with the big players. Instead of building in-house business process domain knowledge in different vertical industries, it has partnered with those companies who had this expertise but did not know how to mobilize their applications.

In a crowded market where almost every second vendor claims to offer enterprise connectivity, we find that AvantGo does have a significant product and service differentiation, a unique brand name and acceptance in the mobile enterprise market. It has necessary product validation by its customer base. Branding a common M-business server in different vertical markets is a smart move because it gives the look and feel of a customized vertical solution. This strategy affords AvantGo a significant potential to emerge as one of the survivors in the ongoing rationalization in our industry. But to achieve this, it must be careful in maintaining its course, expand the scope of its solution beyond the first mobile application and thereby grow its paid user base among the 2500 companies that it boasts of having as its customers. Our assessment is that, right now, AvantGo serves only a minute portion of the mobile computing applications in these 2500 companies. That is a significant challenge as well as a great opportunity to grow its revenue. 

MobileInfo.Com would recommend to serious IT architects evaluating M-Business Server for its mobile applications to go under the cover and evaluate how good the plumbing is in terms of reliability, security, scalability, persistent recovery (in terms of queuing) and compatibility with emerging wireless network gateways on one side and application servers on the other side. Remember that, sooner or later, most of your web applications will have to be mobilized. To AvantGo, we would offer one piece of caution. You can mobilize an application server by an add-on business server software box but it is not such a good idea to build application server functionality in a mobile business server especially for those enterprises who have chosen a brand name application server as a building block of its web architecture.


Acknowledgement: 

MobileInfo.Com thanks Felix Lin, Vice-Chairman of AvantGo for this interview.

All comments in this interview are the property of MobileInfo.Com website. They may not be reproduced without written permission from us.


Related Resources:
> Other Interviews 

 

 
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