Q&A: MobileIron CEO Talks Apple-IBM, Verizon And More

Tinker Talks Shop

MobileIron, a leader in enterprise mobility management, is coming off its first earnings report since going public last month.

After showing impressive year-over-year growth in the second-quarter earnings, CEO Bob Tinker spoke with CRN about the direction of the company and the importance of the channel to its business strategy. He also shared his take on the recently announced partnership between IBM and Apple, his own company's partnership with Verizon and the direction the mobile enterprise is going.

Here's what Tinker had to say.

How fast is MobileIron and the enterprise mobility space growing?

Enterprise mobility management is a large, fast-growing market with no incumbent. That combination doesn't happen very often, so we feel very fortunate. If you look at MobileIron's business in the market, the growth rate that we reported in the first half of the year was over 50 percent year-over-year growth. We believe that we gained market share with that growth.

What was behind the decision to take the company public last month?

As a business, we've been executing well and growing fast. We grew from zero to $100 million in a little over four years and, frankly, we see the opportunity to build one of the next great enterprise platform companies for the new mobile era. And the reason why we went public is that we don't look at it as a short-term trade. We look at it as a long-term, strategic decision to build a market-leading company, and provide the confidence to our large enterprise customers that we are extremely well-capitalized.

Your company has a reputation for being very channel-partner-friendly. Why is the focus on the channel so important to you?

MobileIron has a channel-focused go-to-market that includes over 300 resellers around the world and 35 mobile operators around the world. The reason why we have a channel-focused go-to market is that channel partners allow us to scale our global business both effectively and at a reasonable cost.

The thing we hear most often from our channel partners is that they see an enormous opportunity as the mobile industry and the IT industry come together inside the enterprise, and that mobile is everywhere. Mobile is hard and, as a result, that creates a large business opportunity for the channel.

When was the decision made to focus on the channel?

We made that decision at the very beginning. Part of that came from my background where, in past companies I worked with, we very effectively scaled our business quickly by working with great channel partners around the world. I had experience in seeing a successful model. When we looked at the enterprise mobility market, I said, 'We want to be able to reach, sell and close large and midsized enterprises around the world.' Mobile is fundamentally a global phenomenon, and the best way to do that is to find great channel partners and make them a part of our extended MobileIron family. We really do look at our channel partners as an extension of our sales organization. That's why we have the reputation of being a channel-friendly company.

Is that established partner relationship an advantage for your company?

Yes, I think our channel is a huge competitive advantage, because, as you know, building a great relationship between a channel and a vendor takes time, and it requires commitment from both sides. We believe the large, global, well-educated channel we have is a competitive advantage for MobileIron, and we believe our channel experience with MobileIron and enterprise mobility is an advantage for them. I think that's a real win-win.

IBM offers MobileIron solutions. How big of a role does IBM play in your business?

Enterprise mobility is now becoming a strategic topic for large companies around the world. As it is becoming strategic, IBM Global Services is increasingly engaging with large enterprise customers around mobility projects. Our reseller relationship with IBM began at least a year ago, and we have jointly won many large customers together and continue to work together closely to help large enterprise customers be successful with mobility.

What does IBM's recently announced partnership with Apple mean for your business?

We look at the IBM-Apple partnership as great news for the mobile industry and for MobileIron. Interestingly, from a historical perspective, IBM and Microsoft started working together in the late 80s, early 90s, and that sort of heralded the beginning of the PC era. At some level, the IBM-Apple partnership that's now happening around IBM building applications for mobility, I think signals the end of the PC era and the death of the desktop, and really the beginning of the new mobile-first era.

Specifically, IBM is going to build applications for Apple and iOS, which is going to accelerate the adoption of mobility for large companies around the world. That's going to drive adoption for enterprise mobility, which is great for MobileIron's business, because we win our disproportionate share.

Can you describe the 'mobile-first era' that you are envisioning?

The future computing world in the enterprise works. The future desktops and laptops are not going to be desktops and laptops. They are actually really a mobile operating system with a bigger battery, screen and keyboard. If you look at Windows 8.1, it's really a mobile operating system with a bigger battery screen and keyboard. There is a paradigm shift that is happening where the future of computing will be mobile and the form factor may look like a desktop or laptop, and that's an enormous transition for the industry to go through.

How quickly can we expect everything to be completely mobile in business?

You're seeing Apple harmonize Mac OS and iOS. You're seeing Windows 8.1 phone and Windows 8.1 desktop are fundamentally based on the same operating system model, so the future of computing is coming together, and it's actually based on mobile operating systems in different form factors. Really, it's just another element based on my earlier comment about the death of the desktop.

It feels like the transition to the new mobile world is accelerating. Applications are being rewritten for mobile. Computing platforms are transitioning to mobile, and user behavior is primarily mobile, so I think it's going to happen faster than any of us is expecting.

You don't see the Apple-IBM partnership as a new large competitor?

Not at all. IBM Global Services is going to do whatever the right interest of the customer is. Given that, we win a disproportionate share of our deals; it's the right thing to do. IBM did buy [in November] a tier-two player [Fiberlink] in the industry that is focused on small business, but frankly, we don't see them in deals, because they are a small business product, and cloud only.

They don't compete with MobileIron in the mid- and large enterprise. If you look at where the IBM and Apple announcement is focused on, it's about building apps for the large enterprise. That's where MobileIron owns the market.

So you're saying IBM and Apple have a lot of catching up to do?

Yes. Frankly, enterprise mobility moves in consumer speed, so I am very skeptical and our customers are skeptical of any large company's ability to effectively compete in mobility. In order to win in enterprise mobility, you need to be focused on enterprise mobility.

Did IBM contact you about its partnership with Apple?

Absolutely. IBM Global Services called us the day of to ensure we knew that nothing had changed, and that our goal is to go in lots of business together. That's the way it should be. They should be doing the right thing for their customers.

There may be occasionally times when IBM tries to bundle in their acquisition from Fiberlink, which was built for small business, but large companies are making decisions about best-in-class technology, particularly around mobile security. Bundling is what legacy software players do when they have weak products that can't stand on their own. Enterprise customers are going to pick the right product for them.

Do you see the IBM apps and services being exclusive to iOS products? Are they carried over from Android or other platforms?

What we hear from our large enterprise customers around the world is the mobility is multi-OS: iOS, Android, and now it's Windows Phone.

I can't comment on what IBM is going to do in terms of what types of apps they are going to build, but I can tell you from a customer perspective, they are looking for a partner and provider that can help make all the different operating systems successful, no matter who it comes from.

Multiplatform support is an advantage for MobileIron?

MobileIron is purpose-built for this industry. We started building security and management from the multi-OS mobile world back in 2008. We've been doing this for seven years now, and iOS is clearly taking off in the enterprise. In our last customer forum, in our survey of our attendees, over 70 percent of them deployed Android, so Android is now mainstream in the enterprise. Frankly, Windows Phone is right behind that. In North America, we don't see a lot of it, but in Europe we see a lot of Windows Phone. In fact, recently, we just announced support for the Amazon Fire Phone.

What sets MobileIron apart from others in the EMM space?

The biggest thing is focus. MobileIron is 100 percent focused on enterprise mobility and EMM. In a market that moves as fast and is as complicated as enterprise mobility, customers want a vendor that is investing 100 percent of their energy in order to make them successful in mobility. In order to be successful in mobility, it can't be No. 2, No. 3, or No. 10 on your list. For MobileIron, enterprise mobility is No. 1, and our customers recognize that. I think that's why we continue to occupy the leadership position of the market. Enterprise mobility focus matters. If you look at everybody else, mobility is one of many things they do, or they used to do something else, and now they're trying to do mobile.

I understand Verizon was once a reseller and now it's a customer of yours. What's the story there?

In March we announced that Verizon had now become a MobileIron reseller. The partnership is getting off the ground quickly. We've already closed a number of deals together. The new news is that Verizon is now also a MobileIron customer, and Verizon selected MobileIron as their internal security and management solution for mobility.

We're thrilled to have them as not just a great reseller partner, but as a customer as well.

Verizon, particularly in North America, is a large, very effective business-to-business sales team. We believe this represents a large business opportunity for MobileIron, but it's up to the both of us to continue to meet the needs of customers. We're looking forward to it. It's a big deal.

What is the future of enterprise mobility?

Phase one of enterprise mobility was people getting email on the device of their choice. Phase two, which is where we are right now, is employees need mobile applications and mobile content to get the job done. Phase 3 is what we call ’mobile first,’ which is when mobility becomes a first-class citizen in the enterprise, and becomes the primary computing platform for the employees in the business. Our job at MobileIron, and our channel's job in conjunction with MobileIron, is to enable our mutual customers on that journey to becoming a "mobile first" organization.

What's next for MobileIron?

We are going to invest R&D to drive innovation and build great products. We are going to continue to win our disproportionate share of customers around the world, and we are going to continue to help make our customers successful. We do those three things, and great business results will follow.