McLean-based MobilePhire acquired by California company - Technical.ly DC

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Mar. 22, 2018 12:40 pm

McLean-based MobilePhire acquired by California company

With the deal, the startup's cofounders are joining Mobilsense in California. We talked to MobilePhire's Chebem Chukwu about building a startup in the D.C. area.

Chebem Chukwu (center) and Michael Zhao (second from left) are joining MobilSense.

(Courtesy photo)

McLean, Va.–based mobile data management startup MobilePhire is being acquired by a California-based company.

With the deal, the startup’s technology will become part of the product offerings of Mobilsense, which helps corporate customers automate processes for managing mobile devices, MobilePhire cofounder Chebem Chukwu said.

Additionally, Chukwu and fellow cofounder Michael Zhao will be relocating to Los Angeles and joining Mobilsense full-time in executive roles. MobilePhire’s third, London-based cofounder Michael Tremer will work with Mobilsense as a part-time consultant.

MobilePhire was founded in 2015. Chukwu and Zhao left roles with AT&T and joined with Tremer, who had expertise in firewalls, to build a solution that would help companies analyze and control data usage in the mobile devices that are issued to employees. Enterprise customers were seeing costs rise as a result of mobile data usage by employees. The software they created can work with any type of mobile device, said Chukwu, but they initially launched a product for cell phones and tablets before training a focus on Internet of Things devices. It also allows companies to break out data usage that is not work related from the company plan.

MobilePhire established customers in sectors such as energy, construction and beyond. The lean startup sought to up sales through channel partnerships. Mobilsense was among those partners. The California company has worked with more than 700 corporate customers, and an acquisition became an attractive option to expand, Chukwu said.

“Our technology is highly compatible to their core product,” Chukwu, who will also join Mobilsense’s board, said. “For us on our end, this transaction represents the opportunity for us to scale out the MobilePhire solution a lot quicker than we would’ve done on our own.”

For Mobilsense, it’s a chance to bring a new offering to customers.

“In our quest to find a solution to our clients’ growing needs for granular data control capabilities on employee devices,” Dave Stevens, CEO of MobilSense, said in a statement. “MobilePhire was the only company with a primary mission and objective to build a cellular network firewall solution with tools to block access to non-business sites and limit uncontrolled employee data usage.”

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The company raised a total of $400,000 from angel investors, and participated in the Acceleprise accelerator in New York. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Chukwu said the cofounders and investors are “pleased with the outcome.”

While they will be relocating, Chukwu said he found the D.C. community to be supportive. Chukwu said the startup got early support from the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, which was also an investor.

“Without CIT’s backing our story would not have been possible. They were integral for us as an early investor in terms of making introductions for us,” Chukwu said, adding that it’s a “shining point of the D.C. tech ecosystem.”

He also said the area benefits from having experienced founders who were willing to help first-time founder like he and Zhao.

“The community of entrepreneurs that’s here is incredibly cooperative and helpful to one another,” he said.

And while there is lots of fundraising activity, he sees a need for more early-stage capital at the early-stage funding level before Series A to help startups.

As far as lessons from building a startup, Chukwu stressed the importance of talking to potential users and get feedback before launching. He also said it’s important to identify a single focus.

“It’s really tempting as an entrepreneur to want to run after several different opportunities. The message I have there – and this I think is the difference between life and death [of a startup] – get really good at one niche. Get so good at solving one niche problem that customers rave about you,” Chukwu said.

Those fans could then go on to tell others about a product without even being asked to do so.

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