Liz Gannes

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Q&A: Bill Gross's UberMedia Goes for a Third Name and Strategy

Last week the year-old start-up PostUp, formerly known as TweetUp, renamed itself UberMedia. So much for worrying about brand recognition!

The Pasadena, Calif.-based company also acquired the independently developed BlackBerry application UberTwitter, adding to its acquisition of Echofon (the Twitter client for iPhone and other Mac devices) at the beginning of the month and Twidroyd (Twitter for Android) in September. Update: On Monday UberMedia said it had acquired an additional company, Mixx, the former competitor to Digg that now curates social media channels for brands.

UberMedia, despite its seemingly perpetual identity crisis, has particular notoriety because its founder and CEO, Bill Gross, first popularized paid search advertising with his company in the late ’90s. When Gross first launched the company last April, he said he’d do the same thing for Twitter.

Since then, Twitter has launched its own ad system and tightened up on permissions for rival ad networks.

UberMedia has let its Twitter account recommendation widgets languish, but says they will be relaunched soon as a new product called FollowMe. Meanwhile, the Twitter clients the company has acquired have a combined three million active users. They are some of the leading independent options, despite somewhat precarious positioning now that Twitter has launched its own official clients for most every platform.

Gross is traveling in Europe this week, but UberMedia COO Jon Kraft got on the phone with NetworkEffect over the weekend to say that there is indeed a method behind all this name-changing and client-acquiring madness. Here’s an edited transcript:

NetworkEffect: Why the name UberMedia?

Kraft: Obviously we’re very excited about the acquisition of UberTwitter, and we felt like our mission had expanded a bit since we first launched. It was really all about this paid search platform, and PostUp was a great name….

And before that you had another name, TweetUp.

Yes, but as we started to grow our business on the client side, we saw ourselves increasingly as a media company. We’re not crazy about the fact that we’ve changed our name twice now, but hopefully we’ll build a company around that brand.

How did this acquisition strategy come about?

We first bought Twidroyd seven months ago, and we really loved what we learned about the way consumers use Twitter.

What is the involvement of the founders of the companies you bought? Are they all running their respective apps?

Obviously a big part of what makes those companies exciting is the passion of the founders, so we encourage them to operate fairly independently.

Who is the staff of UberMedia?

We have some business development to create partnerships, but the vast majority is engineers. We have a little over 40 employees as a distributed team.

And what’s happened to the sponsored Twitter accounts and tweets?

We’re still very excited about what we’re doing with the marketplace, but there are a number of other innovations that we’re planning. The bigger vision is to innovate inside the Twitter ecosystem.

What does that mean in the context of Twitter competing within its ecosystem, especially through Twitter clients? That doesn’t seem like a category other start-ups and investors are investing in as much today.

It’s not easy to organically grow a new Twitter client from scratch, it’s a real challenge. But I think the Twitter platform is still greatly under-leveraged, and there’s surprisingly low penetration of Twitter users today.

But it’s not as if Twitter allows application makers to just make whatever money they want on its platform.

Twitter has been understandably conservative about wanting to protect the user experience across their platform, so we’re being conservative as well and thinking of other ways to innovate and monetize.

What is your company’s relationship with Twitter?

It’s a great relationship. I can’t talk details about what we’re discussing, but the relationship is quite good.

Are you raising more funding? [UberMedia, which launched out of Gross’s Idealab, had previously raised $3.5 million from Index Ventures, Betaworks, Revolution, First Round Capital and others.]

We’re not talking about our funding right now, but obviously you have to raise money in order to grow aggressively.

Will you keep acquiring? It seems like you have Twitter clients for most of the major platforms now.

It is possible, but not top of our priority list.

One things you have not had is a problem with agility.

That’s a concise way to put it.

What about Bill Grosss involvement? Is he still CEO or is he doing other Idealab stuff?

Absolutely. He’s head-down 100 percent on this project.

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