When co-founders Ray Anderson and Anil Malhotra teamed up to start New York City-based mobile service provider Bango in 1999, they envisioned the mobile web someday becoming as open and user-friendly as the PC web. Working toward that end, the company helped spark the opening-up of operator portals in 2004 and helped prompt the shift from a messaging model to a browser-based, micropayment model for mobile content fees. Today, Bango offers analytics, billing solutions, and search marketing to an impressive and quickly expanding list of clients.
CEO Anderson sums up the Bango approach: "We try to make things as simple as possible." What sets Bango apart from other mobile service providers, he says, is the company’s emphasis on democratizing the mobile marketplace. Other enterprises work from the supposition that "mobile is different," a position he calls "puddle thinking."
Bango views the mobile web as a natural extension of the PC web and seeks to tear down the many complexities that make it difficult for companies to exploit. While service carriers sought to "corral" users into operator portals, Anderson says Bango pushed for an open, global, mobile web by offering basic business tools to third-party content providers like MTV, World Wrestling Entertainment, and Electronic Arts.
If the first half of 2007 is any indication, it will be a bang-up year for Bango: In March alone, more than 1 million users in 180 countries used its system, which processed 1 million payments and registered 500 new websites. January saw Bango ink an agreement with Vodafone and Orange to bring the mobile web to Spain's mobile phone users. One month later, it launched a new version of Bango Vision, its analytics software, which lets companies track mobile visitors, differentiate between new and repeat visitors, personalize mobile sites in real time, and track visitors’ country of origin and network. March marked the launch of Bango2Go, a "one-step" service that lets companies quickly set up mobile presences. In May, Bango launched a free "starter" service designed for content providers looking to dip a toe into the mobile marketplace. Then in June Bango announced Bango Focus UK, a product that enabled 1,000 content providers to meet the UK’s PayForIt mobile billing rules.
Despite this rash of activity across Bango’s "buzzy" offices—Anderson’s description of the office vibe—in Cambridge, New York, Madrid, and Cologne, when asked for the highlight of 2007, Anderson points to a subtle development that he says will have a not-so-subtle impact on the mobile industry: carriers moving toward event-based billing structures that will let users predict what mobile content will cost. "It sounds crazy," he says, "but if you download five ring tones and it costs $100, you’ll probably never do that again." Anderson believes this change in mobile billing will spur an explosion in mobile content creation and consumption in the same way that fixed ISP costs triggered mass content consumption on the web.
To illustrate the problem faced by content providers, Anderson points to Massachusetts-based Bango partner Groove Mobile, which employs Bango’s analytics on its music download service. According to Anderson, the company found it almost impossible to offer mobile music downloads as long as varying song lengths meant varying download sizes and ultimately unpredictable costs. As carriers moved away from charging users based on the amount of data transferred and toward fixed rates in the past year, Anderson says Groove Mobile’s business started to take off.
Throughout these developments, Anderson says his company continues to look ahead, preparing for a galactic swing in its client base. "There's been a shift towards 10,000 companies with tens of dollars, from one hundred companies with thousands of dollars," he says. "We just started seeing people believing that the mobile internet is coming with the advent of the iPhone."
Surveying the current mobile marketplace, Anderson compares it to "the GeoCities stage" of the PC web. The next year will see the mobile web undergo the next phase of its evolution, he says, adding that his company has been in talks with social networks, including the 800-pound gorilla Facebook, to discuss tools that will let users mobilize content.
"Just as blogs and profiles made it ridiculously easy for people to have a web presence, to put content online," Anderson says, "we’re going to start seeing more ways for anyone to mobilize what they’ve got."
Fun Fact: To remind employees of Bango’s emphasis on giving mobile users more options, a giant photo of an array of whiskey bottles adorns the wall of the company’s offices with a single word printed on it: "Choice."