StarMobile founder and CEO Todd Fryburger may not get a lot of time to enjoy any sangria in Barcelona’s famous cafes during this week’s Mobile World Congress. It’s the mobile industry’s biggest conference of the year, after all, and it represents a great opportunity for startups like StarMobile to work on deals and funding.
But Fryburger has already enjoyed some intoxicating success with StarMobile, which promises an easy, cloud-based, cost-efficient way for enterprises to turn popular desktop software into apps for their increasingly-mobile workforces. It was named one of Venture Atlanta’s Top 5 Startups to Watch in 2016, and at this year’s MWC, the company was asked to help tell Atlanta’s story as a hub for mobility innovation as part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Mobile Initiative.
If Fryburger gets anywhere near a glass of sangria after this week, he will have earned it.
A Star Rises in Atlanta
“I can’t think of a better place to build a company like this,” said Fryburger during an interview with Hypepotamus as he was preparing to leave for Barcelona. “I think the mobile story is the story of not only what Atlanta is, but what we aspire to be.” He points to university-based research, a thriving entrepreneurial community, AT&T’s local legacy, and collaboration with institutions like the Georgia Research Alliance and National Science Foundation.
Previous grants from the GRA and NSF helped take StarMobile from an intriguing idea at Georgia Tech to its 2012 founding as a company. In fact, the NSF has apparently seen enough progress in the company’s product and business model to award it an additional $500,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant, StarMobile announced Monday.
“Nothing’s better than free money you don’t have to pay back and isn’t dilutive,” said Fryburger with a laugh.
It’s also a great way to start 2016, which Fryburger said would be a transformative year for his company, but “it’s all dedicated to me bringing this across the line with some next-stage funding.” To date, Fryburger has already raised more than $5 million from the likes of Atlanta Technology Angels, U.S. Venture Partners, Webb Investment Network and GRA’s Venture Fund.
“We’re shifting our focus from mostly engineering and moving towards go-to-market,” Fryburger said of his company’s near-term goals. “We’re still scaling our engineering operations and support delivery, but a big part of it is how can we take this message to the field” for sales. That could also mean a tripling of StarMobile’s head count, which currently numbers less than two dozen employees.
Fryburger’s career included stops at SAP, PeopleSoft (now part of Oracle), Daimler-Chrysler and General Electric. All during that time, he became aware of the challenges for large organizations looking for robust, user-friendly mobile versions of desktop business management/customer relationship management software. “We figured out at SAP how to extend to mobile devices,” but it cost more, required additional development and wasn’t as easy to use as desktop versions.
StarMobile says its product will recreate desktop enterprise software from Oracle, SAP, IBM, Microsoft and others in mobile apps that can be quickly deployed and won’t require new user experience learning curves. No extra coding is required, the apps will play on all major smartphones and tablets, and end-to-end security is maintained. StarMobile’s licensing fees? “Five dollars per user per month, and that number can build an unlimited number of mobile apps. If you spend a buck on us, you spend about a nickel or dime on human capital for support apps based on our platform.”
It’s the potential he envisioned when he visited a Georgia Tech research lab four years ago. “When I saw the core IP that they had created, I had a great ‘Eureka’ moment because I could see the applicability of not only what I saw at SAP, about solving the problem of extending applications, but also how to modernize in place, and deliver it quickly and cost-effectively.”
What about the competition from those A-list names in enterprise software, like SAP or Oracle, working up their own mobile apps? Fryburger said many customers still need major customization on the back end, “and for that, you have to go to the source code. You’d be better off starting with a clean sheet of paper and building an app from scratch.”
StarMobile’s target audience is Global 2000 companies, and Fryburger estimates 85 percent of them still need to do more for their mobile workforces besides offering basics like email. They may not have the budget for big-ticket upgrades for Oracle’s mobile apps, or to pay for developers to write customized code. “They are not going to rip and replace anytime soon. We see this whole mobilization of enterprise apps as an infinitely rich market for a long time to come.”