When the road more traveled makes all the difference

What Microsoft’s acquisition of Mobile Data Labs means for road warriors and the world of productivity.

When Trinity led the first round in Mobile Data Labs, the company behind the popular MileIQ app, in January, my partners and I knew we were involved with something (and someone) special.

The company had tapped into the explosive growth of the on-demand and self-directed economies through a delightful and intuitive app that let road warriors intelligently and passively track their mileage for reimbursement, saving them hundreds of dollars per month. MileIQ quickly rose in the charts, becoming the top grossing finance app on the App Store and Google Play since launch. The app’s success, combined with the extraordinary leadership of the team behind the app, made it a standout star in the world of mobile productivity.

One of the many companies that took notice was Microsoft, and now that the companies are joining forces, I couldn’t be happier and more proud — as a friend, supporter and investor. (You can read the company’s blog about the announcement here).

On the books, I’ve been involved with MileIQ for a year, but the early seeds of this investment were sown over 10 years ago. Let me explain.

Before becoming a venture capitalist, I was one of those road warriors who traveled state-to-state and sold high-end enterprise software to large Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S and Canada. In this era of enterprise software sales, face time with the customer or prospective customer was imperative, not just recommended. I would drive tens of thousands of miles for work every year without accounting for a single one, and with a device in my pocket (Blackberry at the time) that was largely incapable of making the experience anywhere close to frictionless. It was years before the iPhone would change the world. It was also shortly before I would meet MileIQ CEO and founder Chuck Dietrich — now a close personal friend whose leadership and management skills are second to none — and through him, Dan Bomze, Chuck’s cofounder and product visionary whose passion fuels the company and its talented team.

In venture, especially in the early stages, I’ve often found that it’s one thing to identify a good company, but far more difficult to identify a great company since much of the potential greatness lies in the execution that happens after the investment decision. However, when a company starts crossing over that threshold, it quickly becomes obvious for investors who are fortunate enough to be intimately involved (my partners and I have actually analyzed this point thoroughly within our portfolio, so if anyone is curious to hear more about this, please email me!). In many of these cases, the difference comes down to the quality of the team, and specifically the quality of the first 25 employees. Within weeks of sitting around the table with Chuck, Dan, and their senior management team, I was struck by two things: the laser focus the team used to execute their roadmap without ever compromising their vision or the experience they provided to their users, and the depth of talent in the executive team across every functional area. As a VC, if you’ve seen success before, you can sense it when those patterns emerge. All my senses were tingling at that point. Over the following months, the company launched new versions of the product, optimized customer acquisition funnels, saw massive upticks in adoption, engagement and monetization, and geared up marketing efforts to become the undisputed leader in mileage tracking with a clear path and product roadmap to own mobile productivity.

On its own, MileIQ solves a problem for a lucrative market with demonstrated demand. Mileage reimbursements accounted for $83B in U.S. tax refunds in 2013, and the average MileIQ user saves over $500 each month in reimbursements. The app boasts a Net Promoter Score (NPS) rating of 72, and the growth rate of the business is accelerating with every passing month.

Microsoft recognized the opportunity and appreciated the company’s goal of empowering the mobile workforce by providing them with tangible, economic value in their everyday lives. On a path to reinventing mobile productivity, Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of email app Accompli, calendar app Sunrise, and to-do list app Wunderlist prove that they get it. With the addition of Mobile Data Labs, Microsoft gained not only a unique and compelling product, but also a team that is seasoned, highly differentiated, and fired up to execute.

While this deal means great financial return for founders and investors, its long-term potential extends much further. Under Satya’s leadership, Microsoft has articulated a vision around mobile productivity that is completely aligned with MileIQ’s goals. With the two joining forces, I can’t wait to see how the power of Microsoft’s go-to-market machine turbocharges the MileIQ story.

On behalf of Trinity, I want to extend my thanks to Chuck, Dan, and the Mobile Data Labs team. When I think of all the things that led me to partner with Chuck and Dan — my past career as a salesperson, the long standing relationship with Chuck across many companies, and my admiration of Dan and the passion he brought to the culture of the company — it does indeed feel that I was meant to take this road more traveled, and that has made all the difference!

Congratulations to the teams at Mobile Data Labs and Microsoft on your journey ahead, as you make the world more productive — one mile at a time!