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Urban Airship gets $1.1M for mobile content delivery

Urban Airship, a new mobile content delivery channel provider, announced that it has closed its Series A funding round of $1.1 million.

The round was led by True Ventures and also included Founders Co-op. Urban Airship plans to use its new funding to extend its product offering across multiple platforms and to expand its engineering team.

?We?re providing mobile infrastructure for mobile publishers?we have 1,500 customers for messaging and content delivery solutions on the iPhone,? said Scott Kveton, cofounder/CEO of Urban Airship, Portland, OR. ?We specialize in push messaging such as news alerts, in-game challenges between players, sports updates and status updates that are delivered to the mobile device even when the app isn?t open.

?A key for us is engineering resources, so we?re using the funding to build out the engineering team, as well as add new features and functionality to differentiate us in the market place,? he said. ?We?re currently on iPhone but we?re looking to support BlackBerry, Android and even Windows Mobile and Nokia smartphones.

?We?ll also enable advertising, potentially in a month or two.?

Urban Airship powers a mobile content delivery channel that offers a real-time, direct-to-person experience for smartphone users, helping businesses and mobile publishers to monetize their applications.

Pushing in-app purchases
Similar to when Amazon pioneered its EC2 cloud services to enable developers to scale with an affordable pay-per-use model, Urban Airship claims to offer scalable, on-demand mobile applications infrastructure services that reduce developers' costs for implementing new smartphone features such as push notifications and in-application purchases. 

New smartphone features provide the opportunity for businesses and developers to increase engagement with customers, enhance their brand and create a recurring revenue stream.

However, they also call for additional, costly server-side infrastructure, forcing developers to figure out how to support this new requirement.

Urban Airship helps businesses and mobile publishers quickly integrate push notification and in-application purchase functionality within their mobile applications.

With its cloud-based platform, Urban Airship?s customers can focus on monetizing their applications across multiple platforms instead of having to invest in building a complex network and infrastructure.

Last June, Tapulous was the first mobile app game publisher to introduce push notification services on the iPhone, which enabled its 25 million Tap Tap Revenge players to challenge one another from within the game interface.

Urban Airship was the provider powering Tapulous? ability to offer these push notifications.

?If you play the game and get a high score, you can challenge a friend to try and beat it,? Mr. Kveton said. ?It?s an interesting way to drive usage of the app and get users to interact through competitive game play.?

Since then, the young company has found revenue from companies such as Universal Music Group and Virgin Atlantic, as well as mobile application publishers such as Tapulous, Yowza and Gowalla.

For Universal Music, Urban Airship is powering mobile push notifications promoting concert dates and an SMS club with motivational quotes on a daily basis.

?Universal Music Group likes the concept of reaching out directly to fans, not being mixed in with a whole bunch of other tweets,? Mr. Kveton said. ?It?s completely branded and owned by the artists and labels themselves.?

For Virgin Atlantic, Urban Airship powered the Flying Without Fear application, which is a pet project of Sir Richard Branson. The application pushes out notifications in preparation for a user?s flight, providing steps to help people get over their fear of flying (see story).

?We cater to individual publishers working out of their garage all the way up to the Fortune 50 folks,? Mr. Kveton said.

Smart consumers with smartphones
As reasons for the investment, True Ventures cited the rapidly growing mobile applications space and Urban Airship?s early traction of securing 1,500-plus customers, serving more than 110 million messages and reaching beyond 10 million devices.

Sparked by Apple?s iPhone, the smartphone market has mushroomed and is expected to grow 37 percent compounded annually between 2009 and 2013, according to Morgan Stanley.

Keeping in lockstep with this growth is consumers' appetite for the mobile Internet and mobile applications.

In 2009, users downloaded 3.6 billion apps from mobile application stores. Gartner predicts that mobile application downloads will reach 21.6 billion and mobile application stores? revenue to hit $29.5 billion by the end of 2013.

With the nexus of smartphone growth and mobile applications consumption taking root, new smartphone-based services, technology and infrastructure are evolving and will be critical.

Businesses ranging from handset manufacturers and carriers to movie studios and record labels, as well as interactive agencies and independent developers, are all eager to harness real-time, direct messaging that is relevant to users at a particular moment.

Consumers win too because they opt-in to control what push notifications they want to receive and what in-application purchases they want to make from specific brands, artists and applications, according to Urban Airship.

?We provide a middleware service that lets us reach these users in real time?the messaging is not SMS-based,? Mr. Kveton said. ?This all rides over the data network?we?re taking advantage of the data plans users already pay for.

?We can send messages significantly faster than SMS,? he said. ?We power content delivery for in-app purchases via iTunes?when users pay for the content, then it has to be delivered to the device itself, and we power that component.

?Our bigger customers view mobile devices as a new channel for either new or existing content, and they want to release a free or paid app to create an ongoing revenue stream from their customers.?