Sramana Mitra: There was a group of young founders who started wefi and you stepped in as the CEO?
Zur Feldman: They did not really get along because of the differences in their views. Each one had his own imagination on how it needs to be. They were looking for someone who can actually meld it all together and create one vision that can shape up this company.
Sramana Mitra: Pitango funded the company. You came in as CEO. What was the minimum viable product that you launched with?
Zur Feldman: The first product that the company launched was a product on laptop that allowed people help other people in connecting. It was like a social network. That was the initial product.
Sramana Mitra: What’s the positioning of that product? What’s the justification for a product like that to be in the market? We have lots of ways of connecting, so why would we want another way to connect with people?
Zur Feldman: I’m talking about 2006. Social networks picked up something. The fundamental thought was there are a lot of good places where people can connect to WiFi but they do not know about it. How do you create a medium that people can actually help other people to connect where they were connected before and had a good experience? That was the whole premise behind it.
Sramana Mitra: Was it a generic social connection product or was there something specific to it?
Zur Feldman: It was specific to WiFi. How do you let other people know where and how they can benefit from WiFi available in their territory? Remember, we’re talking about worldwide. It wasn’t only in the US. I’ll give you an example. In the US today, which is many years after the founding of the company, there are some large companies that provide networks of WiFi. One of them, you probably know, is called Biengo.
The total hotspots that Boingo has altogether are about 130,000. We managed to connect with people. This is the wisdom of the crowd – people just connecting and roaming to almost 60 million of hotspots in the US alone. Some of those were open. Some of them were closed, which means that if people help other people to connect and create a social phenomena around it, you actually help other people to take advantage of what you already experienced. They don’t have to go through all the identification.
A lot of these now is being done automatically. What this helped us to develop is a product that, in the background, is doing a lot of that and can actually detect all the different people who are roaming around. This can save a lot of people the aggravation of trying to connect and not getting the best bandwidth just because this WiFi is saturated. You collect all this information and you create an understanding and a pattern of how this connectivity in different locations behaves over time. You could also compare it to how people connect with their cell compared to WiFi. All of a sudden, there is a map – like a heat map of connectivity experience.