In a world where consumers are just now beginning to understand how little privacy they have online and on their various connected devices, a company like AetherPal, whose pre-loaded software allows mobile carriers remote access to your smartphone may initially give you pause. But for AetherPal, its purposes are not surveillance or data collection, but rather remote support. And it has now scored a $6 million Series A round of funding to continue to grow its business.
The round is led by New Venture Partners and Boston-based Point Judith Capital, and comes at a time when the company has also just announced a new CEO, Daniel Deeney. Previously, Deeney led investments at New Venture Partners, and has served on the board of number of companies in the wireless and I.T. sectors, including Blinq Networks, Vasona Networks, Airclic, Neohapsis, and VPI Systems, according to his profile on NVP’s website.
Deeney explains to us that he became interested in AetherPal for an investment, but after spending time speaking with its founder Ron Parmar, he realized that there was a different opportunity for him to actually lead the company, not just invest.
“I told my partners I love venture capital and it’s really fun – I’ve been doing it for 13 years, but this is a company that I really think has a successful future here, and I want to jump in and do this as CEO,” Deeney says. Of course, he still gave NVP first crack at investment in the Series A, and they decided to proceed, putting up half of the $6 million. Parmar, meanwhile, is stepping back to serve as chairman, while co-founder and engineering head Deepak Gonsalves remains.
AetherPal may not be a household name, but its footprint involves preloads on over 20 million mobile devices, including those sold by two large wireless carriers in the U.S. The company is not permitted to disclose these carriers by name due to NDA’s, but we know from previous reports that one is Verizon.
The idea, from the consumer’s side, is simple enough to understand: if your phone is acting up, instead of having to drive to a store or call support and being frustratingly walked through various menus on your phone, a customer service representative could instead just take control of your handset – after you granted permission, of course – and fix the problem for you.
Remote access and support technologies were made popular in the PC era, typically in I.T.-led support scenarios, where you would phone a helpdesk, then allow a rep to take over your computer to better see what’s going wrong. But on mobile phones, the idea of remote assistance is still fairly new, and far from commonplace. AetherPal’s only real competitors in this space include LogMeIn, which has been repurposing its PC-based technology for mobile, and an Israeli startup called CommuniTake. Plus, in September, Amazon introduced its Kindle HD tablets which include a new kind of remote assistance, MayDay. Here, the support rep appears in a small window and can also see, annotate and even tap on user’s screens to help them solve tech support problems.
Like MayDay and some others, AetherPal’s software comes pre-installed on select mobile devices from various handset makers, giving reps similar levels of access (though without MayDay’s clever video chat window.)
Consumers can’t tell if the app is installed on their phones and can’t remove it if it is, but they don’t have to run the software if they don’t want to, says Deeney. However, if prompted by a customer service rep, they can choose to allow the rep to securely connect to their device to help them solve a problem. The software also includes a variety of security features, letting consumers block passwords at all times (even when reps are in control), pause or terminate sessions at will, and it supports access controls for more sensitive areas on the device, like messages, browser history and emails.
On the rep’s end, the cloud-based technology lets them see and control the end user’s screen using a web browser, and run diagnostic reports. (Unfortunately for power users on Android, it can also tell if devices are rooted, it seems, which has been cause for concern.)
The company also provides service reps with the info they need for supporting the device/operating system combination the consumer uses, which is something of feat, especially given the size and scope of the Android ecosystem, in particular, today.
Working With Apple On iOS App Approval, International Expansions Underway
The company says it’s now managing 20,000 remote connections per week. The product works on multiple mobile operating systems, including Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian. It’s also currently working with Apple to get its iOS app approved, which would involve some reduced functionality – for instance, it may not mirror the customer’s screen, but rather show a mock-up. (Apple’s iOS is more tightly controlled and more locked down than other operating systems).
Deeney says AetherPal is also working to expand its product offerings to include virtual device support in the cloud, self-care apps, and predictive care. And it’s working on tools that could automate the resolution to common problems users have today.
For its carrier customers, who typically buy the product on a SaaS-like basis along with an optional managed services bundle for 24/7 support bundled in, the goal with AetherPal is to reduce device returns – Deeney notes they’re targeting a 50% reduction here which would have a significant impact on ROIs. Carriers also want to improve customer satisfaction by increasing first call resolutions and reducing average call handling times, as well as reduce churn.
“We’re at a point now where we have two large Tier 1 customers in the U.S., another one in Europe, another in South Africa, and a couple of smaller ones,” says Deeney. “Now we can expand into other geographies.” He says they’re expanding into North America, Latin America, parts of Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region. AetherPal is working with channel partners in the customer experience management space who already have big systems installed at the carriers, but can’t yet disclose these partners by name.
The New Jersey-based company, which was a spinoff from founder Parmar’s earlier mobile device testing service in 2009, launched its commercial product just last year. The $6 million in new funding will also be put to use to grow AetherPals’ 50-person team with hires in sales, product and exec roles.