Mok Oh, Founder of EveryScape, Joins Where in New Innovation Role

The one thing Mok Oh was afraid of getting last month was an offer he couldn’t refuse. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Oh, the founder and former chief technology officer of Newton, MA-based EveryScape, had just left the company and was looking at his options for what to do next. He wanted to start another company. He had a 10-page slide deck ready for prospective team members. He was talking to angel investors. Then Walt Doyle stepped in and put an end to that. At least for now.

Doyle, the CEO of Where, a Boston-based mobile software firm, played the godfather role and hired Oh as chief innovation officer, starting this week. The two have known each other since around 2005, as they were both broadly involved in the field of local search. “Where makes sense in many different ways,” Oh says. “The company is growing, and the marketplace is changing.”

In the past year, Where has grown from 30 to 85 employees, most of whom work on the development side. The company says it has been profitable for the past six quarters. Its mobile application for consumers has about 4 million users and counting, and its location-based advertising network includes 250 publishers and reaches 50 million people in North America, Where says. Its third business unit is still emerging: merchant services and group-buying deals. The company acquired deals site LocalGinger last fall. And in December, Where said it had been granted a key patent covering a swath of location-based services related to delivering certain kinds of advertising, alerts, and coupons to mobile devices.

So, what does a 3-D imaging guy like Oh bring to a mobile startup like Where? A lot of what it needs, apparently. EveryScape is about providing immersive photos and virtual tours for restaurants and stores in local search results. Where is about helping consumers find places they want to go and connecting them with local businesses that want to find those customers. As Oh says, it’s all about “connecting with merchants in the mobile, local, and social space.”

Whether you call it local search or small-business brand marketing, all the big players—Google, Bing, AOL, Groupon, Amazon—want to own the sector. Which makes the field pretty interesting (and dangerous) for startups. One question is what expertise in this sector Oh will specifically bring to his new company.

For now, it sounds like his “innovation” role at Where is fairly loosely defined. Oh says he’ll “be involved in all aspects of the company, from the business side of things to the technical and product side of things as well.” He adds, “When we think ‘innovation,’ it’s not just creating something new, it’s also a supporting role in supplementing existing products and technologies and business strategies as well.”

Talking more broadly about his new job, Oh says, “It’s the intersection of the place graph and the social graph. The vision of Where is using mobility and location to accelerate [different] types of markets. Innovation happens when it’s not something out of the blue. It’s combining multiple ideas and being able to work with a team.” (On a related note, David Beisel of NextView Ventures has penned a series of blog posts about “how to find the perfect startup job” as an employee rather than a founder; many of the issues would seem to be relevant to Oh and others who are joining startups.)

It will be interesting to see how Where ultimately fares in the ultra-competitive field of location-based ads, recommendations, and deals. And we’ll be watching to see what a veteran startup founder (and deep thinker) like Oh will bring to this fast-moving and ubiquitous field.

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