MobileIron: Bringing Mobile Magic to the MOBL Workforce

It’s hard to imagine now, but when Bob Tinker, Suresh Batchu and Ajay Mishra first walked through the doors at Sequoia in January 2008, building a business around enterprise mobility seemed like a pipe dream. Blackberry’s position looked unassailable. The iPhone, which had shipped a few months earlier, was dismissed by everyone in corporate IT as a toy for consumers. The iPad and AppStore did not exist, and the letters “BYO” (“Bring Your Own”) were more likely to be followed by a “B” for “Bottle” than a “D”  for “Device”.

Yet the founders’ conviction was unshakeable. Bob, Suresh and Ajay had spent the prior six months talking to customers. They saw the emerging gap between an employee’s desire to work efficiently on a device of her choice, and a company’s need to secure corporate data. They realized iOS and Android would inevitably make their way into the workplace, creating a new and complex world for corporate IT to manage — and the opportunity for a new kind of company to help them. It was hard not to be impressed by the combination of Bob’s vision, Ajay’s product instincts, and Suresh’s technical depth. We quickly decided to partner with them, and joined Storm Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners as MobileIron’s first investors.

As often happens with the most visionary companies, MobileIron initially struggled to find its footing. The financial crisis was at its height; purchase orders were sparse and, the few that did materialize were smaller than expected. In retrospect, this was a blessing. Those challenging early days helped Bob shape the culture around his values of frugality and resourcefulness. They gave him time to build out the management team, and allowed the technology to mature.

It was not until 2011 that the world started to catch up with MobileIron’s vision. That’s when smartphone shipments surpassed feature phones, and mobile devices out-shipped PCs.  More importantly, apps and devices available to people at home overtook what was provided to them at work. Employees’ expectations changed and everyone from the CEO on down started using their personal iPads and storing files in “consumer applications” like Dropbox. IT departments could not keep up, and suddenly mobility became the number one priority for almost every CIO.

In the space of several years, MobileIron had sold to over six thousand customers, grew revenue to over $100m in 2013, and built a team of more than 500 people. Looking back over the company’s remarkable journey, two key things stand out:

First, Bob and team got the big decisions right.  In our very first investment memo about the company in January 2008, MobileIron describes its business as “enterprise mobility management”. That’s exactly the same term as Gartner uses today for its Magic Quadrant. From the beginning, Bob and team saw the bigger opportunity beyond Mobile Device Management (MDM), and built a platform for applications and content. As the space has evolved, and customer needs grown more sophisticated, MobileIron has moved with it, maintaining its leadership position in a very dynamic and competitive market.

MobileIron’s second standout quality is its unassailable belief in its own destiny. Bob and team have always focused on the long term, and were never distracted by the acquisitions of competitors, or the technical fad of the day (anyone remember “telecom expense management”?). All the founders have stayed with the company, and are as energized today about the future opportunity as they have ever been. Today’s milestone is just the latest in a series of events that demonstrate the company’s long-term commitment to building a lasting company.

We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to partner with Bob and team as they build such a transformational business. We are also thankful to have shared the journey with Tae Hae Nam at Storm Ventures, Matt Howard at Norwest Venture Partners, Frank Marshall, Tim Danford, and Paul Holland at Foundation Capital. Finally, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to Gaurav Garg, our former partner and now founder of Wing Ventures, who led Sequoia’s initial investment and remains intimately involved with the company today.

Huge congratulations to Bob and the entire team at MOBL. We could not be happier for you.

– Aaref Hilaly, on behalf of Sequoia Capital