Spotlight on: Modo Labs, StartHub’s Startup to Watch for October 2016

October 7, 2016

Each month as part of StartHub’s Startups to Watch Program we connect with the winning company to learn more about them. Our October Startup to Watch is Modo Labs, a mobile engagement platform that empowers ordinary people to create extraordinary apps. Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Yu, Founder and CTO of Modo Labs. Here’s what we learned:

StartHub:  Tell us about your company. What does Modo Labs do?

Modo Labs empowers ordinary people to create extraordinary campus apps. With our enterprise-scale mobile engagement and communication platform, users can quickly create a powerful and sophisticated app experience that connects audiences with essential information when they need it, where they need it. 

StartHub:  What is your background?

I've been in the internet and mobile software business for over 17 years. In 2007, the early days of smartphone adoption, I led a group of mobile developers at MIT to create the MIT Mobile Framework. The vision was to enable college students to easily create content-rich mobile websites and native applications using data and content from university back-end systems and other data repositories.

StartHub:  How did you come up with the idea for Modo Labs? Who is your target customer?

Modo Labs was formed to productize the MIT Mobile Framework and expand the original vision to enable anyone, regardless of one’s level of technical skill, to quickly create amazing mobile campus apps.  

Today, our target customers are universities, large corporations, and hospitals that are looking to proactively drive meaningful and directed engagement and communication with their students, employees, and visitors.  

StartHub:  How do you think Modo Labs is going to disrupt the market? What are the main differentiators between you and your competitors?

Modo Labs empowers every customer, no matter their level of technical skill, to create mobile apps for almost any purpose. Unlike lightweight, quick-app or event-builder products, apps created on our platform are deeply integrated with a customer’s information systems, and becomes an integral part of an organization’s digital strategy. Our apps are endlessly scalable, and can be easily expanded to meet employee and student needs across the entire university or workplace lifecycle. For example, a university can engage students from recruitment through alumni stewardship. 

StartHub:  Who are your main investors?

Our main investors are Storm Ventures; New Magellan Ventures; and Education Growth Partners, from which we recently received a Series B round of funding. 

StartHub:  Why did you decide to start your business in Boston? How long has your company been around?

After getting our start at MIT, we made a firm decision to stay local. Not only are Boston and Cambridge home to some of the best universities in the world, but they have thriving technology ecosystems.  

Modo Labs has a strong connection to the Red Line subway. After MIT, Harvard became our first customer. Then our business expanded along the Red Line to Massachusetts General Hospital, Fidelity, and Tufts University.  Since then, we’ve expanded globally, but the fact that we were able to find so many of our early, name-brand customers right in our backyard shows what a great location Boston is for a new startup to gain traction. 

StartHub:  What resources in the startup community have contributed to the success of Modo Labs? (For example, co-working spaces, accelerators networking groups)

Our first company office was at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). In fact, our office was right next door to HubSpot. The CIC was a great place to launch a business because of its affordability and access to a thriving community of entrepreneurs and networking opportunities. 

StartHub:  How do you use StartHub professionally?

I recently discovered StartHub, but quickly found it to be a great way to keep up with local startup news and events, and to learn about new and interesting companies in the area. 

StartHub:  What are the next steps for Modo Labs?

We work with hundreds of colleges and universities, and over the years as the mobile-born generation has entered college, we've witnessed mobile apps going from "nice-to-haves" to "must-haves" on campus. We now see this trend carry over into the workplace, especially among millennials, who demand mobile experiences. We’re well positioned to capitalize on this trend.  

StartHub:  What is the most important thing our readers should know about Modo Labs?

With Modo’s engagement and communication platform, anyone can become a mobile superhero within one’s organization. At universities, we're seeing Marketing, University Communications, Student Affairs, Alumni, Admissions staff, and students collaborate to build mobile apps; and in enterprise organizations, Facilities and Real Estate, Corporate Communications, and Human Resources are all participating in app development. It’s an exciting time, because gone are the days when an organization needed to hire expensive developers to achieve their mobile vision. With our platform, there’s no reason an organization shouldn’t have a mobile app for engagement and communication.

Because of our long history in working with students and University staff, we have a deep understanding that colleges and universities needed to use mobile to connect with their audience. Our solution is used by hundreds of universities, from top Ivy League institutions, to large state schools, to community colleges. Universities are on the front lines of the mobile-born generation, and recognize that the ability to connect with students on their smartphones is a necessity. When students can easily accomplish important tasks, such as adding and dropping classes, tracking shuttle buses, or finding the next campus event, their engagement with the university immediately improves.     

Even better, when the university can communicate directly with students for their specific needs when they need it, and where they need it, that engagement goes to an even deeper level, and the school increases their competitive edge. Taking that a step further, when the university can connect with the single student in need, with directed outreach to individuals who clearly need attention—for whatever reason—retention improves by working with these students in need well before the University discovers they’ve already decided to exit the university.

Workplaces have many of the same basic needs as universities, and our solution is ideally suited for organizations with large numbers of employees spread across multiple locations. A mobile app created on our platform serves as a central communication hub, yet can also provide a personalized experience based on a user’s location or role. And like universities, recruitment and retention are top-of-mind. Similarly, hospitals use our solution to connect with patients, visitors and staff, and enable them to find a doctor, book an appointment, search for important resources, and greatly improve patient satisfaction.

StartHub:  Can you share with us any new milestones or new features/offerings?

As a company, one of our core values is to make it easy for customers to make mobile apps, and this drives our product roadmap.  We’ve recently released some exciting new features. Our Collage screentype within our app assembly system allows users to freely mix and match curated content, real-time data feeds and access powerful modules, such as mapping, deeplinked systems, and many types of media into almost any app design imaginable. It’s quite remarkable!      

We’ve also just released Modo Communicate, which allows users to send highly-targeted mobile communication via their apps. As a result, we’re the only enterprise-grade solution that enables non-developers to implement beautiful and feature-rich mobile apps in combination with mobile communications, all from within a single mobile platform.

To illustrate the power of our platform, we’re currently holding the Great Mobile Appathon, the first-ever hackathon for non-developers, at five major universities across the county.  Students are encouraged to submit app ideas that improve life on their campuses, and then bring those ideas to life in our platform over the course of a weekend. The Harvard competition took place on October 8th and 9th. We’ll be announcing the $10,000 national prize winner at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, on October 27th.  

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