Reflections On My Past: How Quickly 9 Years Can Evolve An Industry

For those that never knew (there may be a few of you), I started my life in mobile messaging. Back in 2001, 5 young men had a dream, albeit an impossible one at the time, to turn SMS into the most ubiquitous technology in the world. Strangely enough, the dream was met. Sadly enough I’m still working for a living.

Regardless, approximately 9 years ago I worked night and day in a loft in downtown Detroit. My company had just over $100,000 in angel funding, nobody had ever heard of a text message, or SMS, or mobile messaging or whatever you wanted to call it. Carriers gave it away for free on their websites but at the time no carrier could send a message to another carrier. Imagine explaining that to teenagers today! If your girlfriend was on Sprint and you were on Verizon? Tough luck!

We entered an industry that had no rules. No regulations. We were an anomaly and even more so, we were young, brash, and incredibly immature. In fact, as cliche as this sounds, I often describe the team of Joe Lauer, Howard Ditkoff, the Borromeo Brothers and myself as the Beatles. We could write hit after hit after hit. We were harnessing the power of SEO (How many articles did we publish that began with “How to send a text message in PHP/ActiveX/Shared Object/Perl/Java?!) before SEO was called SEO. We had a software beta program that was more sophisticated than IBM’s (seriously, no exaggeration) and the software we were selling was tied to a network that our closest competitor, who raised over $56,000,000 couldn’t come close to touching in terms of carrier reach.

However everything came crashing down quickly for us when personal conflict got in the way of the business. A sad day indeed when we all but broke up the magic that took us from a small startup to a wireless messaging powerhouse.

As I purchased a new phone today, I was amazed at how far the technology, the industry, the download speeds and the level of comfort has evolved. My Samsung Vibrant is everything my old Sony Ericsson wasn’t. But even as the T-Mobile sales rep took me through all of the phone’s features and the virtues of Android, there in the upper left corner of the phone was a “mail” icon.

SMS may be an old technology, but it remains because it is the lowest common denominator with 100% device support. Want an update via twitter? See SMS. Want to receive information in store while shopping for baby seats? SMS.

Think American Idol would have had nearly a quarter of the success it has seen over the years if it wasn’t for text messaging? Think again.

Technologies may advance, but some things remain the same. Of course, my inner nerd loves the idea of XMPP and using my Google Talk features on my device. But for an old standby, text messaging just isn’t that bad.

We started an industry before the words social + media married. We were celebrities in our CTIA inner circles. We had friends across the globe, clients as remote as Egypt. We have seen colleagues move on, start new ventures, and even join new ones. I wonder what would it have been like to have been on the cover of Wired, or been followed on Twitter by 350,000+ people. We entered the world quietly, made a huge noise, and exited the industry the same way. Yet here as I reflect on the billions of messages we see flow through SMSC’s, I do so content that when you see something before anyone else does, there is a healthy satisfaction in watching your vision come to fruition.

What Simplewire taught me was never take for granted the things you’re given. When something feels right, do all in your power to keep it, and above all else, fight for your ideas.

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