They Might Be Giants

From Google to startups like Square, a look at seven would-be mobile titans

Lars Albright
Founder and CEO

Lars Albright is in the mob. Two mobs, in fact. Not the real mob, of course, but the sort of metaphorical mobs that spring up in technology circles, made up of former employees of a given company. Think the PayPal Mafia, whose members would go on to spawn LinkedIn, Tesla Motors and Zynga and be among Facebook’s earliest investors.

Albright belongs to the m-Qube and Quattro Wireless mafias, the former having given way to the latter, as well as daily-deals site BuyWithMe (now owned by Gilt Groupe) and social/mobile commerce company Unbound Commerce.

After Verisign acquired mobile-messaging firm m-Qube in 2006, Albright and three other former m-Qube wiseguys co-founded mobile ad network Quattro. Apple acquired Quattro in 2010, converting it into the company’s iAds platform. Since then, former Quattro employees have gone on to launch mobile targeting startups Adelphic, AdMobius and Albright’s own SessionM.

“I love it,” Albright says of the Quattro diaspora that has spread out to tackle mobile advertising. “It’s a sign that we had a really high quality team proving to be great entrepreneurs.”

Albright may not be a legitimate mafioso, but he does have a mobster’s bravado—in terms of business strategy if not personality. When he debuted SessionM in May 2011, the startup had $6.5 million in funding, three employees and little else. At the time, all anybody knew about the company was that it aimed to drive user engagement in mobile apps for brands. In other words, boilerplate for any mobile ad firm.

Less than a year later, SessionM officially launched as a mobile-rewards platform, and today the Boston-based company employs 60 staffers and operates a service that reaches 40 million people each month.

“One of the things I saw toward the end of my time at Apple and iAd was this trend of apps getting a ton of activity, millions of users and downloads, which are great stats,” he says. “But when I dug into the active user numbers and how long they’re with the apps and looking at ads, it was apparent that was a big challenge in the space.”

SessionM is Albright’s means of tackling that challenge, aiming to create “power users of content and advertising,” he says. It specializes in enabling brands including Honda, HBO and McDonald’s to provide users of mobile apps from the likes of The Weather Co. and Shazam with reward points for stuff they do naturally within the apps. Those points can be redeemed at a mobile storefront operated by SessionM.

According to Albright, advertisers enjoy engagement rates of upwards of 70 percent, with video ads nabbing 90 percent completion rates. “I would’ve killed for that number in past businesses,” Albright says, referring to the number of consumers who opt in to interact with an ad.

SessionM isn’t yet profitable, but Albright claims that top-line revenue “is exploding right now.” That’s expected to continue as the company builds out native tablet support to take advantage of devices’ larger screens and expands its footprint internationally—perhaps, in time, spawning its own mafia. —Tim Peterson

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