The founders of a mobile startup, Azuki Systems, are aware of a complicated problem – that Web communities are all the rage, from teen social networking sites like MySpace to myriad niche discussion forums – but there’s no good way to bring that content onto handsets.
To help, Azuki today announced its first product, called MashMedia. The software uses APIs to let content providers develop personalized and ad-supported versions of their traditional Websites, which then can be accessed by mobile devices. MashMedia is currently starting its beta phase and should be in production later this year, officials said.
After talking with television networks, Azuki CEO Jim Ricotta understood the scope of the problem: “They all have a VP of mobile and they all say the same thing – ‘We want to make money on the third screen’ – and they can’t do it right now,” he said. “The basic problem is that because of the special qualities of the mobile device – the small screen, the limited bandwidth, the battery power issue – you need to put more intelligence into the cloud to really create a good experience for the consumers.”
Azuki, previously called Peermeta in its stealth mode, plans to target such content companies first and wireless carriers second, offering its software as a hosted service and taking a slice of the advertising revenue for itself. The company has 30 employees and raised $6.6 million in Series A funding.
So far the only announced beta customer is Automotive Networks’ WheelsTV.net site. There will be others, “including some big-name media companies who are in discussions,” Ricotta said. In addition, “we’ll start to go outside North American as we get toward the end of this year.”
WheelsTV CEO Jim Barisano is using MashMedia to give viewers custom versions of content such as car reviews and social networking. The company already partners with AOL, AutoTrader.com, Comcast Video-On-Demand and Vehix.com. “We’re very excited about it. It really takes what you see online these days, in the form of what you see in niche communities, and it takes it to cell phones … It’s building up your [virtual] garage with all the things you love,” he said, referring to the My WheelsTV feature. Users can forward content to friends and upload their own video as well.
If successful, then chances are Azuki will be sold for a huge profit. Ricotta led startups such as DataPower Technology and SightPath, which were sold to IBM and Cisco Systems. The company’s chairman is Cheng Wu, who led Arris Networks, ArrowPoint Communications and Acopia Networks, sold to Cascade Communications, Cisco Systems and F5 Networks, respectively. In total, Ricotta and Wu sold those five startups for more than $7 billion.