Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Yuan of Ringful Talks about His Startup

Michael Yuan of Ringful Talks about His Startup

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from China.

What brought you to Austin?

Graduate school. UT is a world class research university, especially in engineering and science, with many programs ranking top 10 in the country.

What university did you go to?

UT Austin. I got a PhD in Astrophysics there.

What is the idea behind your startup?

The idea is to help companies and web sites go mobile. Today, when a company wants to reach its customers and employees via mobile, it typically thinks in terms of mobile web + SMS campaign. But people use way more than just web+SMS in their real life. Why should we limit service delivery to those two channels and miss out the rest? We have a platform that reaches people via multiple channels, and integrates with enterprise backends to make mobile part of the existing workflow. We make money by hosting applications developed for our platform, license our technology to enterprises, and develop end-user facing applications on our own.

Tell me more about your startup concept?

The reason people think mobile web + SMS first when it comes to mobility, is because those two can be easily fit into a "web application" paradigm. They can be easy "add-ons" to your existing web applications. On the other hand, key mobility features such as voice calls, rich client mobile apps, rich PUSH messages, multimedia content, location services, and social network notifications / messages, are much harder to integrate.

Our product is to 'mashup" all those different delivery channels with existing workflows in enterprise middleware and web sites. We have a public RESTful web service that allows any developer to add telephony voice / SMS services to their web sites. The RESTful API is designed in such way that a web developer can be productive after an hour of learning.

We host the service, and handle complicated tasks to integrate into the telco network (we can make phone calls and send SMS to over 30 countries).
We also have a portfolio of smart phone libraries and applications for popular platforms such as iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile.

We also customize / license our technology for enterprises. We offer consulting and maintenance services to companies who want to use technology to reach mobile users, or to increase productivity / reduce cost of their own employees. The service includes both the customization of the platform itself, as well as application development on top of the platform. In this case, we can either host the customized platform on our own infrastructure or license it to be hosted inside the corporate firewall.

What exactly does your product do?

Our product is a communication and workflow platform. On one end, it reaches end users via multiple channels:

* Regular voice calls
* Mobile messaging such as SMS and MMS
* Rich client apps such as iPhone / Android / BlackBerry / Windows Mobile apps
* Special PUSH messages to rich mobile clients such as Java Push and Blackberry Push
* Mobile web
* Social network notifications and messages
* Email and IM
* etc. etc.

On the other end, our platform plugs directly into the existing web site or enterprise middleware. Through enterprise web services (SOA) and middleware APIs, we can connect into most popular CRM / ERP / Portal / App Server / Workflow engine / Rules engine inside the enterprise.

There are a few publicly available demos we have developed to demonstrate the concept of things you could do with our platform. Check them out at our web site:

Who is it for?

Consumers and enterprises. We are seeing particular interest in healthcare mobility enablement, but there are other growth verticals for us as well such as media and telecom.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?

Resisting the temptation of going after investment capital too early. Bootstrapping has been hard, but it allows us to be nimble and move fast as we seek the best opportunity for optimal growth.
What is the next step for you and your startup?

Manage growth. As business is starting to build up, we need to remain focused on strengthening our core values for Mobility Mashups and watch from spreading too thin into areas that appear like low hanging fruit, that pays well in the short term, but in reality is a serious distraction. We want to be a product company.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Enjoy the battle.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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