80108, local content via SMS

Twitter is just the beginning. SMS is finally going mainstream in the U.S. and start-ups are getting creative with this messaging technology that is part of daily life across the planet. Venture capitalists have been funding a lot of these startups that use the SMS platform to create social networks, share content, organize groups, or create promotions.

Mozes went out of beta in March and Frengo launched around the same time. The latest to join the ranks is 80108 Media that is officially announcing their localized SMS-based media and event info service on Monday.

80108’s idea is to create 70 different SMS channels in 15 cities that send updates about events and local insider news from the company’s hired “correspondents.” These citizen reporters are happening folks with roots in industries like music and fashion. When I signed up I chose indie rock in San Francisco, and I started getting info and news about the local indie music scene. The indie rock correspondent Nicholas T seemed like a fun enough guy. He’s a musician, hangs out in the Mission and likes veggie burgers from Sparky’s — they have the SF indie rock caricature pinned down pretty well.

Like any other publication, the strength of the service will depend on how interesting the information and news is from the correspondent. We’ll see if Nicholas can win me over in the next month. If he’s good, it could be like getting texts from an in-the-know attentive friend. If he’s not so good, it could be a tedious way to fill up my inbox and add SMS charges to my bill.

Boston-based 80108 was co-founded by CEO Rob Adler, VP of Operations Dan Smith, and VP Marketing Matt Cutler. The team raised a total of $12 million in two rounds from General Catalyst Partners, IDG Ventures Boston, Khosla Ventures, and Borealis Ventures, and is announcing their funding on Monday, too. The 80108 is their web site, short code (not random) and somewhat unusually, their company name.

80108 has an interesting business model and they’ve basically built an SMS publication for niche localized content from scratch. Like for most publications the costs of the writers is a big expense (uh, sorry Om). Hiring 60 or so contributors that they are paying what the company says is the equivalent of “freelance rates,” is a “huge investment” for the company. When I talked to the team last week they said there are 3 things they need to excel at:

1). programming/content

2). user experience, so the mobile and web platform, and

3). marketing

It’s also important for the company to run the service like a publication. For that they hired Sid Holt, formerly of Rolling Stone and VNU Business Media, to lead the content publishing effort. Hopefully Holt can help the company maintain the separation between editorial and business. When Nicholas sent me recommendations of products or restaurants I double checked with the company to see if these were true editorial content or sponsored updates. The company assured me that writing from the correspondents is pure editorial and not affected by business. Good thing, as thinly veiled ads would be a big mistake.

I definitely wondered if the company might do better to partner with local independent publications that already have a user base and want to extend content to the mobile phone. But 80108 is focusing on creating new content, that is local and relevant to get on your mobile phone. “We are mobile from the ground up,” says Adler.

80108 also has yet to establish how it will monetize the service, and now the offer is free. They say they will build the audience first and then monetize it possibly through a choice of subscriptions, premium content, ads on the site, or click-to-call. In the future the company will also work on services for the mobile web.

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