Sramana: What part of the mobile ecosystem did you want to play in? How were you planning to use your expertise in high performance computing and wireless networking?
Chris Koopmans: There are a lot of services that go over wireless, such as texting. There are companies that build products based on those services. There are text messaging gateways and voice mail gateways. There are a lot of gateways that carriers like AT&T and Verizon put into their networks to enable those services. Our belief was that if the Internet was to be the next major service to be offered over cellular networks, we could build an Internet gateway. We decided to get into the market selling to mobile operators and cellular providers and offer them an Internet gateway for mobile platforms.
Sramana: When you were toying with this concept, whom did you think of as competitors?
Chris Koopmans: The number one theoretical competitor that was formed when Phone.com and Software.com came together to create Openwave. They were the leaders in the text messaging. In those days the mobile Internet was all about WAP, or wireless application protocol. It was basic text-based web pages. We believed that WAP was going to go away and phones would move toward full Internet.
Sramana: Did you have to play in the WAP space to sell anything in the early days?
Chris Koopmans: Not really. We brought our product to market. The only devices that truly were mobile and could go to the Internet were laptops. Even back in 2000 carriers were selling cards that you could put in your laptop and use as a cellular modem. You could also put them in your PDAs. We played in that space. We never got into the text space.
Nicholas Stavrakos: That space was in its ancient days. People were just trying to understand the service and get it to work. A lot of the feedback we received was that no matter how fast it was, from GPRS to 3G, speed was still not optimally desirable in terms of latency. Our first natural inclination was to increase speeds, which led us to focus on optimization.
Sramana: You said you raised angel financing in 2000. What was the angel financing landscape like in Illinois?
Chris Koopmans: We came to Silicon Valley for funding. We closed our Series A in October 2000, and Benchmark Capital was our lead. We took on a $15 million investment.
Sramana: By the time you got to the Series A financing, did you have customers or validation that your thesis was correct?
Chris Koopmans: We did not have customers, but we had a basic concept of what were were going to do. We had a proof of concept of the technologies, and we had ongoing conversations with potential customers. We did not have a product to sell, but we were getting feedback from potential customers.
Nicholas Stavrakos: Networks were very slow. It was very easy to show VCs how long it took to download a webpage. We could show a demo of our technology and that we were five times faster. Everyone believed that the Internet would work if it got faster, so we had a sensible proposition.