SAN FRANCISCO – While attending college in the late 1980s at University of California, Berkeley, TelEvoke founder and chief executive officer, Rick Bentley had his motorcycle stolen. Since it was never found, Bentley had plenty of time to ponder the event while walking back and forth to campus. “I thought something that’s important to me is missing, how do I find it? And more importantly how could I have been notified that something nefarious was happening in the first place.”
A few years into Bentley’s career – working in the hardware and services spaces – he begin to see that the technology to track and control things was really coming together. “By using the Web and automated telephony with lower-cost wireless networks and smaller and less expensive GPS chip sets, there was now an opportunity to build something that was marketable from a cost standpoint,” he says.
Bentley seized that opportunity and founded TelEvoke in 1998 with the concept of delivering low-cost tracking and control services to a variety of markets. Simply put, the company is an ASP that provides notification, control and tracking services via the phone and Web. Based in San Francisco, TelEvoke employs a staff of 25, including 15 engineers.
The company recently closed its $6.7 million series B financing, led by WI Harper. Softbank Venture Capital and Cardinal Venture Capital also participated in the funding.
“We did an oversubscribed up-round in a very tough capital market,” Bentley says. “Not only did we get a higher per share price on our series A round, but also raised more money than planned.” Bentley attributes the company’s good fortunes to what he calls “good-old American know-who.”
Through a string of contacts, Bentley met Mario Rosati, of the law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, who agreed to represent the company. Then by attending venture forums to build up his network of contacts, Bentley met one of Softbank’s entrepreneurs-in-residence at a forum in Marin, Calif. That encounter led to a meeting with partners at Softbank, resulting in TelEvoke’s $3.3 million series A round in January 2000.
As for the company’s series B round, WI Harper learned of TelEvoke through GPS Skylink – a WI Harper portfolio company and TelEvoke customer. The VC firm saw some synergy within their portfolio and decided to invest in the company.
Bentley says proceeds from the latest round “will really be used as a runway, giving us plenty of time to get our partners’ products to market and put a significant number of subscribers on our service.”
Making the Connection
Users of TelEvoke-enabled devices can be notified via phone, email or pager of such events as a car alarm being set off, a child not arriving home from school on time, a family pet gone missing or even office equipment leaving a specified vicinity.
TelEvoke’s products are not sold directly to the public, rather the company partners with businesses to provide customized features for each partner’s needs. TelEvoke assists its partners with integrating the right hardware and wireless network services to provide a complete end-to-end solution for their customers.
The first market TelEvoke is targeting is automobile security. “Stripped-down cell phones and GPS receivers [which comprise the tracking devices] are still too big to place on a child or pet,” Bentley explains. “We want to be established in the space while waiting for the hardware to catch up. By starting with cars, we can get into the space, prove ourselves and gain credibility. We also get revenue, and time to prepare to attack the other verticals as they become technologically practicable.”
TelEvoke has partnered with such companies as Omega Research & Development, Satronics, Securatrack, GPS Skylink and Inter Trak to develop tracking systems for cars and other assets.
According to TelEvoke’s Web site, an example of tracking a stolen car could play out like this: John Doe purchases a TelEvokeenabled security system for his new Mercedes Benz SLK 230. Mr. Doe parks his car every night outside his house on Elm Street. Late one night, he receives simultaneous phone calls on his home phone and his cellular phone that his car alarm has been triggered, and that his car is now traveling east on Main Street at 70 miles an hour. Mr. Doe looks out the window, sees that the car is missing and then through the touch-tone pad on his phone sends a command through TelEvoke’s Network Operation Center that will cut the engine when the car goes under five miles per hour – at the next stop light or intersection. Mr. Doe then stays online monitoring the location of his vehicle until the system informs him that his Mercedes is now stationary at a specific location. He notifies the police and then makes his way over to meet the police and recover his car – all in matter of minutes.
“Everyone wants the great liquidity event in the sky – whether it’s an IPO or an acquisition; however it’s all a matter of timing,” Bentley says. “I think we’ll build a very compelling story for an IPO, and obviously we would like to see the market turnaround.” He says the company will probably do a series C funding round; however, Bentley is fairly convinced TelEvoke would not have to do another round unless it wanted to. “If we wanted to say this is the last money we’re going to get, we could execute to that plan, break-even and reach profitability; however, it would limit our growth and our ability to prove the story.”