MediaFriends, Maker of HeyWire and Bandwagon, Looks to Break Out in 2013

There’s a mobile-tech company in the Boston area that doesn’t get as much attention as it probably should.

Maybe because it has too many names: MediaFriends, HeyWire, Bandwagon (and going back further, Integra5). Maybe because it has been quiet about its fundraising ($30 million to date, from investors including Lauder Partners and Benchmark Capital). Or maybe because it sits in a dead spot of media coverage and marketing between the up-and-comers (e.g., Intrepid, Adelphic, Crashlytics) and the well-established mobile software guard (e.g., Raizlabs, Skyhook).

For whatever reason, Cambridge, MA-based MediaFriends has stayed below the radar. But here’s a quick peek. HeyWire, the company’s free international texting and social app, has been profitable since the middle of this year. It is one of the most popular apps based in Boston, on both iOS and Android devices. And it has made MediaFriends one of the largest mobile-app publishers around, serving more than a billion ad impressions a month.

Earlier this year the company released another app, called Bandwagon, which lets people form private social groups around events and media content. So if you’re watching a football game or election coverage, say, you can communicate with a bunch of hand-picked friends about the topic. Bandwagon (the name originally had no vowels) is also designed to help with social-media overload, in that it filters streams of information from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites into one unified place.

It’s a pretty interesting evolution from what the company’s predecessor, Integra5 (which started in 1999 and was reborn as MediaFriends in 2009), was known for: software to help cable, phone, and wireless companies provide unified data services across devices such as PCs, TVs, and phones. So, you can think of MediaFriends as being a three-year-old, consumer-focused mobile startup with a lot of experience in the industry.

I recently caught up with MediaFriends CEO Meredith Flynn-Ripley and chief product officer Bill Gianoukos at headquarters. They were heads-down on a range of new releases and initiatives, including a new HeyWire Web app; integration of Web search into HeyWire texts (if you message someone about a restaurant or movie, you can get Google results automatically); fine-tuning the Bandwagon user experience; and working with brands to see how the app can help their content and marketing efforts.

“Brands want to use Bandwagon as a private communication channel,” says Flynn-Ripley (pictured above). For example, the app could be a new way to offer promotions to customers who are talking about a particular brand. And there’s a lot of business intelligence to be gleaned from what consumers tweet and text, as any of 500 social-media analytics companies will tell you.

Beyond that, though, MediaFriends has far bigger plans. Flynn-Ripley describes part of its ambition as “driven by the need to help create order in what is an increasingly overloaded world.” As Gianoukos puts it, “We’re a communication company. Content is just another way to enhance the communication.” He adds, “We’re really an infrastructure play, not just an app play.”

Translation: The company is looking to power the next generation of mobile and social communications, through its cloud-based messaging technology. The HeyWire and Bandwagon apps target consumers, brands, and advertisers, but its platform can also be used by enterprises and other consumer apps looking to enhance their messaging capabilities. So, if MediaFriends builds a big enough customer base with enough influence, it could really cash in on advertising revenues, software-as-a-service subscriptions (for white-label products, for instance), and even e-commerce down the road.

“Things are fundamentally changing in this space,” says Flynn-Ripley.

Indeed, MediaFriends is looking to ride some huge global trends in social-tech behavior, mobile-device usage, marketing analytics, and information discovery as it builds its business. The company currently has 24 employees and looks to be poised for continued growth. Anyone interested in the mobile startup industry, particularly around Boston, would do well to keep an eye on this one in the new year.

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