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A Company that feels like a startup in 2015 but went IPO in 2003…please explain?

By Darin Vickery, CFO

2003 IPO, but 2015 Startup

I’m proud to say that is exactly what iPass feels like today. Energy, innovation, creative problem solving, long hours, big challenges, celebrated victories, and the occasional setback…if that doesn’t sound like the incubation of a Silicon Valley startup, I don’t know what does.

And a startup with $25+ million in the bank, no debt, an enviable list of globally respected customers with an average tenure of 7 years, a dedicated team of knowledgeable professionals, some really cool intellectual property, and a unique set of strategic assets – all in the burgeoning world of Wi-Fi connectivity. Heck, at the end of 2011 we were celebrating 680,000 global Wi-Fi hotspots…by the end of 2015 we will be approaching 50,000,000 — that is seriously impressive.

For those of you that don’t remember, iPass went public in 2003 as the leader in dial-up connectivity. And I’ll tell you, we nailed that business model, at one point growing revenues to nearly $200 million annually in 2007-2008. As far back as 2003 we were dabbling in the world of Wi-Fi, even noting in our 2003 annual report, “We believe that iPass is well positioned to benefit from Wi-Fi as it becomes adopted on a widespread basis by enterprises.”

So like a good startup, iPass anticipated the future. But anticipating the future is not enough; a successful startup must also figure out the steps necessary to move the world from the current status quo towards their future vision, and how to pull an addressable market along for the ride.

I remember signing up for Netflix in the late 1990’s and thinking that getting DVDs in the mail was a really cool idea; walking down to the mailbox sure beat driving to Blockbuster for ease-of-use. But Netflix’s vision wasn’t limited to being a snail-mail video store. Netflix wanted to be an entertainment mogul. Streaming, on-demand, subscriptions, OEM integration, original programming, independent film promotion, and the like have been the next steps that have propelled Netflix to a market capitalization in early 2015 that exceeded that of CBS network. From humble beginnings (and really good innovation), success stories like Netflix can blossom into the stuff of MBA case studies. Along the road, they encountered some rough spots. In the second half of 2011, Netflix saw its stock price fall by 75% as the company made a few pricing and go-to-market blunders. But they were committed to a vision, and over time, that vision has created a blue-chip company.

iPass made some important and necessary baby steps over the last 10 years to germinate its Wi-Fi business. The Open Mobile client is a thing of beauty and it continues to pack intuitive and meaningful functionality into a growingly seamless application. Grooming a footprint of global hotspots to create a ubiquitous blanket of connectivity was a must have, and a real barrier for entry to the competition. Exploring new go-to-market opportunities such as OMX has evolved into deals like HP, opening our addressable market through channels to the consumer, as opposed to only the enterprise. And most recently, reducing our operating expenses, rightsizing our team, and creating a lean-mean-fighting-machine that is ready to take iPass to the next level.

To execute on our current vision, we have been selectively hiring key personnel over the last several months. One of the things I get jazzed about in the interviewing process is talking about the iPass journey —- from IPO to maturity and back to start-up mode. It’s a lot of fun chatting with prospective entrepreneurs that want to join iPass because they believe in it…they believe in the technology, they believe in the strategy, and they want to build something successful. I know the end game is building something of incredible value, but I for one am going to enjoy the journey; I mean, it’s the thing that MBA case studies are made of, right?