Urban Airship starts filling Apple’s digital wallet with Tello buy

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In-app message pusher Urban Airship has acquired Tello (see disclosure below), a specialist in digital wallet cards for Apple’s new Passbook platform. As with its purchase of SimpleGeo last year, Airship plans to use its platform to expand its appeal to marketers and consumer brands beyond mobile app messaging.

Tello started out by developing customer feedback apps for retail businesses, but with the emergence of iOS 6 it changed its focus to Apple’s new digital wallet. It has developed a platform called PassTools, which allows for the easy creation of passes, loyalty cards, tickets and coupons that slide digitally into the iPhone or iPad.

Boarding Pass TelloWhile American Airlines and Walgreens may have the resources to churn out digital boarding passes and loyalty cards, your typical gym or local pizza chain doesn’t, explained Joe Beninato, Tello’s co-founder and until recently its CEO. “We came to the realization that it was very difficult for people who weren’t engineers to build these passes,” Beninato said.

PassTools is capable of generating the tens of thousands of individual boarding passes a day required by an airline or a monthly coupon for a pizzeria, which is why Airship found the technology so appealing, said Urban Airship CMO Brent Hieggelke. Airship can sell passes to the current roster of big brands using its app-based push messaging services, and it can target smaller companies who otherwise have no presence in an app store or even on the mobile web. For a small local business, a loyalty card or coupon may be the only digital presence it needs, Hieggelke said.

The companies, which were brought together by their common investor True Ventures, wouldn’t reveal and financial details of the deal. Urban Airship will keep Tello’s staff of five full-time employees on board in Palo Alto (Airship is based in Portand, Ore.). Before the acquisition, Tello had raised $2.7 million in a Series A round led by Bullpen Capital and True.

DisclosureUrban Airship and Tello are both backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, the founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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