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August 8, 2007
By Paula Bernier
MINO Wireless is another example of a company started by somebody trying to solve their own problem.
Jing Liu, CEO and founder of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mobile VoIP service provider says he got the idea for MINO in late 2004 when he was doing a lot of travel in Asia. At the time, Liu says, he had difficulty cost-effectively communicating with colleagues, customers and suppliers back home because cellular roaming abroad is so expensive and Internet cafes are not convenient.
So, in April 2006 serial entrepreneur Liu raised $1.5 million from TNP on the Road (Japan / Silicon Valley Fund), Freeze LLC, AWE net, and a few angel investors in Silicon Valley and Asia.
Later that year, Liu had launched MINO, which offered a Web site at which people could register and get instructions to download a VoIP client to their cell phones. MINO has a variety of international calling zones, but to offer an example of its pricing, Liu says if you use a Skype client to call a U.K. cell phone, the charge is typically between 22 cents to 25 cents per minute, whereas with a MINO-enabled device the same call would cost about 8 cents a minute.
At first, Liu focused on the prepaid market, but it didnt take long until he realized that those who really need this product the most are business people with PDAs. So, by September of 2006, MINO had retooled its business plan to enable corporations to sign up and manage multiple user accounts at once. That means organizations can bring all BlackBerry users into one central pooling plan regardless of mobile carrier, for greater insight and cost control. With this new business plan under its belt, MINO was able to convince Canaan Partners to provide it with an additional $7 million in funding.
MINO distributes its services to its customer target, the Fortune 500, with a direct sales staff (which as of late July numbered five) and a slightly larger collection of resellers (which at press time numbered less than 10).
Liu declined to provide details on the number of customers MINO has, but says the company signs on a couple corporate customers a week.
MINOs initial service is based on the Blackberry, but the company expects to add support for Windows Mobile devices this month.
The MINO Enterprise for BlackBerry solution has been designed for centralized deployment and maintenance of BlackBerry devices without the need for authentication PINs, user creation or wireless carrier selection codes. The MINO software resides on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server and can be pushed down to a users BlackBerry device, letting companies decide how and when to distribute the software. A management application allows visibility into individual calling logs, billing and other account information.
These management features are important given the MINO works with companies with 20,000 to 30,000 BlackBerries, notes Liu, adding theres no extra charge for these tools.
Calls are easy for users to make because MINO is integrated with their BlackBerry address book. Users can also select whether the call is charged to the enterprise or to their individual account. This capability is expected to greatly reduce the number of personal calls that are billed to corporate accounts, according to MINO.
MINO Wireless www.minowireless.com
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