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SBA, WA state export assistance helps high-tech location sharing firm reach new heights
Bryan Trussel could not believe the deal being offered his company by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Washington state Department of Commerce. The two agencies gave him a State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant worth $5,000 that paid for his company to travel to Spain and participate in the 2013 Mobile World Congress last February. The grant also assisted in getting contracts for his company’s mobile application Glympse. “(The STEP grant) allowed my small business to play with the big boys,” Trussel said.
Trussel is the CEO and co-founder of Glympse, a mobile service that allows GPS-enabled mobile phone users to share their location temporarily on a web-based map with anyone they choose. The company was founded in 2008 by Trussel and his friend Steve Miller. The former Microsoft employees decided to turn away from the security of a guaranteed paycheck and went to work for themselves. Having started in a basement in Redmond, the two have grown the company to 17 employees and moved to the South Lake Union district in Seattle.
They have big dreams for their company – to have “Send me a Glympse” replace “Where are you” when people call or text each other, wondering if they are stuck in traffic or going to be late for dinner or a meeting. The Glympse application is safe, as the user selects the contact to send their location, including a timer feature for the person to decide how long the other person has to see his or her location.
Trussel has had success in the United States, but its overseas where the company’s real success is happening. The most popular countries using Glympse are Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Sweden, to name a few. Companies focused on application development may not be aware that they are exporters, just by nature of clicking a few buttons in iTunes or at the Google Play store. With 96 percent of the world’s buying power outside the U.S., it just makes sense to be set up in as many places as possible, Trussel said. Exporting makes up 40 percent of Glympse’s downloads now. “It’s clicking a checkbox to have Glympse available in the Germany or British app stores,” he said. “It easily takes a developer two seconds to be exporting.”
Offering Glympse free to the app’s end user and focusing on obtaining revenues from partnerships created with car manufacturers would be the business model. Instead of ads or charging users to send Glympse notifications, the company wanted to develop partnerships with automobile companies to have Glympse be a third-party application already installed in a new vehicle. Their model has worked, as Trussel has his application natively configured into some of the vehicles sold by Ford and Mercedes-Benz. “Lots of people are doing location applications, but not like us,” Trussel said. “We were first, we have the brand recognition, and we have the partnerships.”
When Trussel and his staff found out about the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and that BMW would be there looking for applications to put in its vehicles’ Connected Drive special equipment option for the heads up display. The Mobile World Congress consortium represents 85 of the world’s leading automobile, mobile communications and consumer electronics companies from around the world. “Having the STEP grant considerably helped us get the meeting with BMW,” Trussel said.
The STEP grant program is funded through the SBA. The program helps financially bootstrapped small businesses take advantage of key trade shows by offsetting part of their travel and registration expenses. The vouchers also cover translation services, international marketing campaigns and international product certification. “We are thrilled to be a part of this program for a second year, not only to promote our technology but also to represent the highly talented and innovative start-up community in Washington state,” Trussel said. “We’re excited to be able to showcase location sharing in automotives and discuss the technology fits into other industries as well.
Thanks to SBA and Washington state, Trussel was able to meet with BMW at the trade show, and if all goes well, will have the opportunity to have Glympse in future BMW automobiles. Just like he wants Glympse to move from being a noun to a verb like “Google”, Trussel wants his application in every vehicle on the market. “We are trying to be really strategic; we want to nail the automobile space, create those partnerships and build out the platform,” he said. “Four times we have been on thin rope and were boostrapping everything, but now we have (marketplace) momentum.”