TechFaster: Today we’re sitting down with Micha Benoliel. He’s the CEO of Open Garden.
Micha: Hi Andrew, Hi Ryan.
TechFaster: Thank you for joining us, we appreciate it. Can you tell us a little bit about Open Garden, the project you’re working on?
Micha: Sure. Open garden is a project we started in San Francisco two years ago and the vision behind Open Garden is to create a network made of people and divisors. I’m going to explain that a bit further. Basically we figured out that the density of Smartphones, tablets, and laptops was becoming so important and so huge that there would be an opportunity to recreate the network by just interconnecting directly all these devices together. We believe that network one day could not only improve access to the internet for everyone, but also why not become like a national network because it’s a mesh network and the more devices are in the network, the better the connectivity is. As you all know today we all have laptops, smartphones, and very often a table also and we are surrounded by people with all these devices all the time. That’s the vision behind Open Garden. We started with a very simple project just to validate the idea and the vision so we did what we call in Silicon Valley a minimal viable product, the basic tethering application that was allowing you to share the WiFi from your mobile phone with you other devices. When we did the project it was pretty much to test the market because it required users to root their phone in order to use the application, which is the equivalent of jail breaking an iPhone to be able to have the application working. Despite this, we had like 50% of all users becoming an administrator on their phone. It was quite impressive. We still have more than a million users on this application and it was a perfect way to validate that market, the need for mobile data and improving connectivity in mobile situations.
TechFaster: What’s been the biggest technical challenge of the whole project?
Micha: The minimal viable product was just a test to verify the need for mobile data. The big challenge was the new application we launched last year during TechCrunch in New York. It was the end of May, 2012. First we wanted an application that didn’t require the user to be an administrator to the break their phone because we wanted Open Garden to be a product for the masses, for the consumers and we wanted Open Garden to be very easy to install. So that was a big challenge because when it comes to connectivity, then you have to find ways to enable the sharing of mobile data from your carrier with other devices simultaneously without having to ask the user to do anything complicated to make it work. So that was really a big challenge for us. We explored different ways: are we going to use WiFi in a dock mode? Are we going to use Wifi direct? Are we going to use Bluetooth or are we going to use the latest version of the evolution of WiFi which will implement mesh features? We asked ourselves all these questions. That was one of the first big challenges we had to solve with that application. There was a big challenge because it’s a dynamic network and we don’t want you to actually have to accept the connectivity with another or to ask you to connect to another user. We wanted the network to be completely dynamically and seamlessly in the background without any user intervention. So that was the second big challenge. Other challenges that were not that important in the beginning, but are also very important is how do you share connectivity without affecting your battery? Because if you are on your mobile phone most of the time it’s important to have a solution that doesn’t affect the battery life. All these challenges were not little challenges.
TechFaster: Good deal. In doing my homework in preparation for our discussion here I came across a reference to your partnership with TextMe. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Micha: Sure. TextMe is a very interesting partnership. It’s the first one we did with another startup and communication app. We had discussed it with TextMe for a while and what happens is when you have a tablet, specifically an Android tablet because most of the Android tablets only have WiFi, they don’t have 3G or 4G interface, but when you want to use a communication software it’s not going to be easy. You really have to have access to the internet to be able use the communication software. So both businesses saw an opportunity to partner and to enable people who were studying TextMe on their tablet to do text chat and voice calls and video conferencing even if they didn’t have WiFi access. What happens is when users install TextMe on their tablet, if Open Garden is not already installed the user will be prompted to install Open Garden. At that point if the user has another device like an Android phone – and very often people who have Android tablets happen to have Android phones or if they are kids maybe their parents have an Android phone – then the tablets will automatically, when it cannot switch to WiFi, connect to the connectivity of the phone and enable the user to keep on using TextMe or place a call or do a video conference. So it’s a win-win partnership and we are very happy with the partnership. We can bring a lot to mobile applications, specifically in the field of communications, and the future can benefit from the Open Garden ecosystem. It’s really in the beginning, but it’s a good experience for us. I think it’s a good experience also for TextMe and we are already thinking about how we can improve and make the experience even better for people who will be partnering with us.
TechFaster: A lot of things that I was reading about Open Garden in preparing for this spoke to the scale and scaling. I was just wondering; say you guys reach 50 million users, what is truly possible with Open Garden.
Micha: That’s an excellent question. I try to avoid this question. In theory if you take a city with a good density of population and we achieve a penetration ratio of 25 percent of the smartphone users, in theory we would create a network in the city and be able to hop onto WiFi access pretty much all the time. So that’s what it means in theory. Not that a 25 percent penetration ratio is high because if you look at game for example like angry birds, they’re penetration ratio is huge. It’s like 60% of the population. So we believe it’s not unachievable, but obviously it requires a lot of installations. We want to go in that direction, but until we reach that kind of density then we cannot tell how everything is going to behave or if we would really be able to offer all the time the data to WiFi. We are going to create more and more tests with the densities especially with the new version we are going to release in a couple of weeks, which implements very interesting features like channel bonding.
TechFaster: Great. We really appreciate your time, Micha. Is there anything that you would like to leave us with in closing that would go along with Open Garden that you would like to share with TechFaster?
Micha: It’s always nice to share about technology and to talk about what we do. We are always very excited and we want more and more people to adopt this software and be part of the Open Garden Network. It’s really disruptive, it’s a challenge and I think we have a strong network made of people and devices that can really disrupt this whole mobile industry and that’s what we’re looking at.
TechFaster: Thank you very much Micha for joining us. It’s Micha with Open Garden building incredible things. Thank you for joining us and we’ll be in touch soon.
Micha: Thank you, Ryan. Thank you, Andrew.