Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

AirWatch, Mobile Device Manager for Enterprises, Raises $200 Million from Insight Venture Partners

There’s some big funding news coming out of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today. AirWatch, a privately held nine-year-old company that specializes in helping large companies manage and secure the mobile devices their employees use, has just landed a huge $200 million venture capital investment from Insight Venture Partners.

If there’s one thing there’s a lot of demand for right now, it’s in the area of mobile management. In English, it means basically making sure that all those iPhones, iPads, Android devices and BlackBerrys either issued to employees or brought to the office by employees are secured, are running the right applications, have access to the right resources, and when an employee leaves or when a device is lost, get cut off quickly.

It’s a pretty big market. Research firm Gartner estimated last year that about two-thirds of large companies and organizations will buy a mobile device management product within the next four or five years. And within four years, Gartner says, most companies will be supporting at least two mobile platforms.

I had a quick chat this morning with AirWatch CEO John Marshall, who called from Barcelona. The first thing I wondered about was the size of the deal. AirWatch is already pretty well established with 6,000 customers and 1,200 employees. It boasts customers as varied as home improvement retail chain Lowe’s, airlines like United and Delta, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, automaker Toyota, pharmaceutical giant Merck and Swiss Dutch bank ING.

In the nine years it has been operating, the company has been internally funded. Marshall and AirWatch chairman Alan Dabbiere have worked together before. In the 1990s they founded Manhattan Associates, a supply chain software company.

The product is a mixed software-as-a-service or on-premise solution. About 70 percent of AirWatch’s customers choose the cloud-based product, the remainder use it on-premise, he said.

“We feel like this is a great opportunity to push harder and continue to differentiate our company from the rest of the marketplace,” Marshall told me.

One competitor AirWatch sees is software giant SAP; computing giant IBM is also starting to make noise in this arena. And there will almost certainly be more companies talking about this. “The interesting thing here is that every single company has mobile devices, every single student will have a tablet, every single government agency has or will have mobile devices. The opportunity is so massive that it will boil down to the companies that have the scale and size to be able to manage across the entire spectrum of devices.”

He says AirWatch is about two to three times the size of other players in the business in terms of the number of people devoted just to mobile device management. “We’re pretty much the biggest one.”

So what’s he going to do with all that money? In a word: Grow. “The interesting story here is that we’ve been building the business in a consistent and accelerated way for the last two years. We’ve have 40 percent quarter-over-quarter growth for the last eight quarters.” Marshall wants to expand operations through Asia and the Pacific region. There’s also a possibility of some strategic acquisitions.

And down the road, maybe: An initial public offering. “We don’t feel the pressure to do that right now,” Marshall told me. “But we certainly view that as a viable option in the future.”

Update: I just had a quick chat with Richard Wells, managing director at Insight. He said AirWatch is the kind of company that Insight tends to like. “They got to where they are without having raised a dime of institutional capital. That’s the kind of DNA we love.”

You also can’t argue with the market opportunity, Wells said. “It doesn’t get any bigger in terms of potential and here-and-now demand than managing mobility in the enterprise. It’s really hard to overstate it.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald