Skyhook is Sitting on a 'Treasure Chest' of Innovations, Ready to Share Its 'Gold Bullion, Rubies, Emeralds, and Diamonds'

Tuesday Dec 3, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Staff Writer, VentureFizz

Skyhook Wireless has already played an important role in shaking up the wireless mobile sector (one which you'll probably be shocked by).

Now, they want to disrupt EVERY sector.

Skyhook VP of Marketing Mike Schneider has been involved in the Boston tech and advertising/marketing worlds for a while, and he's seen his fair share of innovations as well as opportunities come and go. In a recent conversation, his excitement was infectious when he explained what he discovered at Skyhook when he joined the team in September, and what they are going to be rolling out over the next few months and beyond.

Skyhook is like many companies that call Boston home in that they've been around for awhile, are pretty important in recent tech history, and yet, are so under-the-radar, that hardly anyone has heard of them.

Since its founding ten years ago, the Wi-Fi location detection company has gained the attention of Microsoft and Google, raised $16.8M in funding, been the technology behind one of Apple's earliest iPhone launches, and become an HBS Case Study. That, and Steve Jobs described Skyhook's early Wi-Fi "beacon" location service as not just, "cool," but, "really cool."

As Schneider put it, "We are the godfathers of Wi-Fi and hybrid positioning."

"We built this great positioning network, this SDK that powered Apple devices in the early day, and Jobs thought we were awesome," he added.

The company, founded by Ted Morgan and Mike Shean, became the leading GPS location-finding alternative by Herculean effort; Skyhook mapped Wi-Fi hotspots by driving antenna-enabled cars around North America, Europe, and more. The iPhone glory was only short-lived, however, as Apple and Google moved on to their own in-house GPS/locator systems. (There is currently a patent infringement claim involving Skyhook and Google that is set to go to trial next year.)

Skyhook Today

Skyhook now finds itself in an interesting position and seems on the cusp of another period of innovation.

Earlier this year, it brought on Jeff Glass as its new CEO. Glass was previously CEO at m-Qube and was also with Bain Capital Ventures before joining Skyhook. (That's just a snapshot of Glass's career; he has literally the most impressive LinkedIn page I've ever seen.)

Adding Schneider was another move towards shaking things up; it also let the kid into the candy factory in some sense. Schneider looked at some of the products that Skyhook had been developing and realized that there was a lot more going on at the company than its iPhone-glory past hinted at.

Schneider explained what he thought of the company going in and then what he discovered once he poked around a little bit. "It felt a bit like there's cool stuff going on in there, but its not for you. There was like this big iron gate out front, that said, 'You Can't Come In'."

"OEM's could get in, sort of," he continued, "and they could see the Wonka Mobile and the Oompa Loompas, and the Chocolate River, and the Everlasting Gobstopper."

"But the thing is we have stuff for so many audiences," Schneider said. "We've got this great product for advertising and advertising doesn't know about it. And we've got these great products for apps, devices, wearables, and the Internet of Things, and they don't know about it. So I was like, 'Let's get some Golden Tickets out there!'."

For Schneider, it's about letting others see and use the great technologies and innovations that have been built through the companies Wi-Fi and location enabling work. As he told me, "We've taken the products and built them into offerings so that we can build value around them."

What is Willy Wonka Up To?

Literally, what is Skyhook up to? Using IP address location services, rumored improvements to indoor location identification, and making wearable devices have more accurate map and area locators.

"It's been fun to build it, and it's been fast," Schneider said of all the work Skyhook is doing. "It's about getting the message out there and getting people to understand Skyhook."

For one, Skyhook has a great opportunity as gambling and gaming comes online. As Schneider explained, "We are doing a bunch of certified location now. We are certifying that what's 'Happening in Vegas', stays in Vegas, or, 'What's happening in New Jersey', stays in NJ," as both states now have legalized online gaming. Where does Skyhook come in? "Our certified location product is awesome for [states with legalized online gambling] because its hard to trick and its hard to spoof."

What else did Schneider uncover behind Skyhook's iron gates?

"We have a really exciting new way to track location that is based on IP address," he told me.

"Because we've observed so many IP addresses with precise locations, we are able to say, 'This IP address is within one-hundred meters of, say, Sip."

So what makes that special, I asked Schneider. He responded, "That means, you don't need a user to turn on location services to know where they are. Currently, only about 13% of users [enable location-based services on their mobile devices]."

"With the IP address, we can localize content," he said, "and raise the value of advertising. Now everyone can have a more precise view of the consumer, so that they can give them the right content or the right experience."

The IP address/content delivery tool would be Skyhook's first foray into the world of advertising.

One example that Schneider gave for how the tool could be used was very intriguing. "You could use it for 'geo-conquesting',"he explained. "Starbucks could use it if they knew you were at Sip and then send you better deal or coupon."

Other Innovations at Skyhook

Skyhook has a lot going on, most of which only a very few people know about. Schneider wants to change that, and open the curtain to all the great technologies the company has and continues to develop.

"At the end of the day, we are evaluating other technologies," he said. "We should be using them all. Our network is all about hybrid positioning." One innovation that Schneider hinted at was the companies indoor location-based tracking solution. Although it has been covered before and the company acknowledges that it has the capabilities to figure out if you are actually inside a store or just walking by, Skyhook isn't fully ready to open the lid on that innovation, yet.

That doesn't mean that they aren't innovating in new spaces. "We are doing off-line location, Internet of Things, and wearable device work," Schneider said.

"We want the wearable crowd to know that if they need location, Skyhook is the company to turn to," he continued. "For a while, wearable devices have been able to track your steps, but they don't know where you are. That's why you need to use an app [like Nike+ or RunKeeper]. We want to make that better."

It's obvious that Skyhook has been quietly building some impressive technologies. Now, it seems, they are ready to open the gates and let everyone have a peak at what they've been building.

Or, as Schneider put it, "We have this ten years of gold bullion and treasure chests of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds that were stored in the basement. So we asked ourselves, 'What should we do with these?'. The answer, 'We are going to build more'."

As he concluded, "Skyhook has gold bullion, and we can be bold about being disruptive."

"We can let more people in."

Dennis Keohane is a staff writer for VentureFizz. You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.

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