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Interview with William Chow, Mobophiles




Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

Today's interview is with William Chow, founder of Los Angeles-based Mobophiles (www.mobophiles.com), Mobophiles has developed technology which allows any software-as-a-service application or web site, including enterprise applications like Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce.com, to work even when a user is not able to connect to the Internet, if a service is down, connections are intermittent, or slow--something potentially strategic to SaaS firms looking to displace desktop applications. William--who, among prior experience developed Stamps.com's security architecture--sat down with us to explain the firm's products and plans.

What does Mobophiles do, and what the idea behind the product is?

William Chow: What Mobophiles has developed is software that solves the two biggest problems the web space right now, which is slow page load--waiting on the web--and no offline access, which is if you don't have connectivity on the web. If your application is sitting on the Internet, and your application is really far from you, or your connectivity is slow, or you just don't have any, our software allows you to get all of your pages and files just as if you were online, really close to the server, and with a great connection--even if you don't. So, if you're sitting on a plane or in a remote office, it works great. It doesn't matter if you're on a shared T1, or on a dialup modem--it will look like you have a super-fast pipe straight to the server. We started the company based on my own personal experience, as everyone these days has a laptop, and everyone has their application out on the cloud. You realize that only five minutes of downtime makes you unproductive without the Internet. What we wanted to do is allow people to be productive when they wanted to be productive. We have software which allows you to select which web sites you want to do this for, prioritizing them above others, and dedicates space on your hard drive which provides a faster, always-on capability for specific web sites.

Can you talk about the application and how this is different or better than similar efforts like Google Gears, etc?

William Chow: The applications we are going to market with initially are enterprise applications. An example, the first target application we're selling into is Microsoft SharePoint. Microsoft SharePoint is a collaboration platform, typically hosted by an IT department. It's like an intranet, but has collaborative features like document management. But, our software also supports a large number of other web applications--for example, things like Google Maps, Yahoo News, or even content sites. We're planning on providing a free version of software so people can play with these public facing websites so they can realize how easy the application works. For SharePoint, we'll provide additional features--like the ability to upload and modify documents while offline, and synchronize with a SharePoint site, with both read and write community in the Pro version. The difference between Google Gears and this approach, is it's not an API--you don't need to rewrite your web application to make this work. We didn't talk to Google Maps team to get Maps running--it works straight out of the box. The New York Times doesn't know that we've mobilized their site--we didn't need to use their server development team to make this work. It's completely transparent to the web sites we are supporting. It's also completely transparent to the user, it just happens for them. That means these sites can be mobilized overnight. We use the term Mobolized -- which is slightly different than offline. A large site will run faster. A site like the New York Times, which might 10-12 seconds to load because it has so many graphics and Javascript to pull down, our caching technology transparently accelerates that using the capability of your hard drive. That's how we boost performance while you're online.

If you look at Google, it took them two years to allow offline functionality for Google Apps. They also only rolled it out read only, and very few applications out there support offline access, because if you have to rewrite your application, you would have to pay a heavy, heavy development cost to do that. Very few people can justify that with their business case. For the vast majority of applications out there--99 percent of them--aren't going to make that effort. We've created a solution for the rest of the folks, that 99 percent. You can get it for free. There might be a little customization we need to do for your website, but it's trivial--it's not an application rewrite that you might need to do like Google has. It's as transparent as rolling in a WAN acceleration application. But, our is client-only software, you don't need to deploy anything on your server to support this.

I understand you actually also support Salesforce.com? It seems like there are a lot of mobile sales folks who would find your software useful in that case?

William Chow: We actually supported Salesforce.com in our prototype, over a year ago. We're actually application agnostic, and we actually support things like authenticated content, protected by logins very easily. Salesforce.com is actually a good example, we supported it after a month of initial development of our prototype engine. We're planning on rolling that out in our current product line in the very near future. Right now, as a small team, we're focusing on one application at a time. But, you can imagine, there are a lot of enterprise collaboration applications like Salesforce.com, which are hosted by a SaaS vendor, and all your content is behind a login--we can easily support those with almost no cost to the SaaS vendor themselves, with full capability of the application.

Can you talk about your background and team?

William Chow: I started the company a couple of years ago. Both myself and my co-founder, Mark Tsuie, are technologists. I was Chief Architect at Troika Networks before this, I worked with them for seven years across a number of product lines, most recently as a storage area network application switch, which was acquired by QLogic three years ago. Prior to that, I was the Security Architect at Stamps.com. My experience has been primarily in web technology and virtualization--the two technologies that underpin our solution. Mark's experience is that he was Server Architect at Stamps.com, he developed quite a bit of their back end systems. He also has a wealth of Internet technology background. We have strong technical ability in the team.

Back to the product, how do you respond when people tell you that there's now WiFi in coffee shops, wireless everywhere?

William Chow: People have been saying that for ten years. It's true that in the majority of cases you have a connection, but people aren't happy with an application that works 80 percent of the time. Eighty percent of the time is most of the time, but it's not good enough. People want information to be available all the time to them. When you're moving from a world where you have desktop apps and your information on a hard drive, to where none of your apps are installed, all delivered through a web browser--and all your data is in the cloud-- you want to be able to get to your apps and data from any machine. You don't want to become 100 percent reliant on a Internet capability which is not 100 percent available. Essentially, if you're running into situations where the Internet is slow, or not available, you're talking about hours a week where you're not being productive. If you can afford to not have access to your information, maybe you don't care. But, if you are in a work environment where you have to have access to your application, and can't just get online to do it, your only alternative right now is to manually move stuff around.

Is this potentially a solution for some of the cloud applications get over the downtime and connectivity issues they have?

William Chow: This gives you a way to control that content. If your entire photo album is online, and the only way you can own or pull down those files is to download those files one by one, with our solution you don't. Instead, with our solution, once that data is uploaded to your cloud storage, you still have ownership because you've also got a copy of that file still on your laptop. We essentially maintain that synchronization transparently for you. You don't need to access the cloud to physically have information that is yours. So a lot of the cloud storage and application vendors would have a nice fit with this kind of solution.

Can this also support an intermittent case, where the Internet is going up and down?

William Chow: That is probably one of the better features of the application. Everyone has connectivity somewhere, and as people move to 4G/cellular and other technology, they will be connected most of the time. The laptop gives you the freedom to move in and out of Internet access, and we can hide that relationship. People don't rely on Outlook to be connected 100% of the time, and they don't have to -- and we essentially provide that for your browser. You don't care if you server went down, or the application isn't available--technically you have no connection to the server--the relationship to you and the web server is relaxed. The user won't even know if the server goes up and down, because it will always feel like the server is there and responding well.

How is the company funded?

William Chow: We're completely bootrapped. Unfortunately, last year we spent a lot of time trying to raise money, and with the market and specifically in a major contraction, it was extremely difficult to do that. But, we also realized the only way to control our destiny was to go ahead and build our product. We had the capacity to do it financially, so that's when we decided to fund it ourselves and supplement our income through wives, contracting, and long hours, and belt tightening--and that's where we are.

Where is this in terms of deployment with customers?

William Chow: We've just started rolling out initial pilot sites. We're trialing it at a few locations, mostly SharePoint sites, and also trying it with other Intranet servers and public applications. But their users are in the mobility/remote access area to SharePoint content. What we do is provide them with 100% availability of their SharePoint content. They have a mobile workforce, or at least a distributed workforce, with lots of documents. SharePoint is really the new file server--people aren't using file servers or NFS anymore, they're using SharePoint and similar, cloud-based file management systems. That's exactly the kind of product and need we solve very well.


 

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