AvantGo mobilizes Web

By Published on .

Richard owen, the CEO of AvantGo, has a clear vision of what he wants the wireless Internet software company to be: "We're in the business of creating wealth for investors and serving our community."

A big vision for a company that managed a successful September initial public stock offering in which shares opened at $20 after pricing at $12 each. The stock has bounced around, and recently was trading just below its IPO price.

"Mobile devices are becoming a very powerful force in the economy. And I think the convergence of wireless mobile technologies is very interesting," he says. "At Dell, large corporate customers were looking at this area, deeming it important, and it was apparent to me that this is becoming an interesting marketing space."

AvantGo provides free software that enables users of devices running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE as well as Palm systems to read Web content from more than 600 channels including Hollywood.-com, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, Trip.com and the Weather Channel. It usually bundles its software on mobile devices and licenses customized versions of its software to companies such as American Express Co.'s travel-services unit, Ford Motor Co. and drug distributor McKesson HBOC, among others.

ONE MILLION USERS

Users either link up directly to Internet pages specifically designed to fit on the small screens of mobile appliances or download selected Web sites to their desktop computer and then transfer the content to their handheld device to browse offline.

As of early October, more than 1 million users had registered for AvantGo's mobile Internet service.

Mr. Owen says what is unique about AvantGo's approach is the business model is based around the idea of creating value for customers.

"We're not trying to be a portal, but to introduce (content providers and advertisers) to a network of users, and to provide them with tools and technology that enable them to do commerce, to make money. If this was a movie, we would be the producers, not the star of the show. Our objective is to make the content provider the star."

AvantGo mobile Internet offers three mobile advertising products: The first is a home page banner ad, which users see when they visit the AvantGo site to adjust content preferences on their wireless devices. Advertisers include Buy.com, CNET Networks, Intel Corp., Mercedes-Benz USA and Sun Microsystems. Another ad product, usually three to six special offers from various companies, appears on the bottom of the mobile device screen. A third type of advertising appears within specific content channels on the devices.

Tonic 360, San Francisco, (recently purchased by J. Walter Thompson Co.) handles AvantGo's ad campaign that includes print, outdoor, direct marketing and e-mail. The campaign launched in June; spending is undisclosed.

MOBILE INTERNET

Most of its users find out about AvantGo through word-of-mouth, Mr. Owen says.

While AvantGo has a more difficult time tracking ads that are served through its content providers, the company says it is seeing click-through rates of 1.5% to 2% on its own banners and special offers, a rate AvantGo executives claim is five times greater than the non-mobile Web.

Another key selling point to advertisers is the demographics of the AvantGo audience: It's highly educated, high-income ($60,000-plus), technology-savvy and predominantly male, ages 25 to 45.

"That's a very desirable audience," notes Mr. Owen. "Some of it is the novelty of it all and others are clearly strategies on the part of advertisers that want to jump in and test the mobile Internet."

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