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Fidelity Ventures invests $15M in Vibes Media

Veteran mobile marketing firm Vibes Media has won $15 million in private equity investment from venture capital company Fidelity Ventures.

The Series A funding round will be used to grow the Chicago-based Vibes through acquisitions, new product launches and development of research. The 10-year-old company was funded so far through private means.

"We've been timing this and we see the signs that the market is ready to embrace mobile," said Jack Philbin, cofounder and president of Vibes.

"There's been a lot of people that have been too strong too fast too early," he said, "and I think the market is finally catching up to the ideas."

Fidelity Ventures now holds a minority interest in Vibes, though it would not specify the percentage.

A specialist in text messaging, Vibes offers a technology platform with full- and self-service options.

The company has launched more than 50,000 mobile marketing programs for clients such as Coca-Cola, Texas Instruments, Unilever's Dove, Intel, Warner Bros., Brooks Brothers, Disney, MTV, Versus, Madonna and Bon Jovi.

Vibes has also run mobile marketing campaigns for sports teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kansas City Royals and Dallas Mavericks.

Mobile power
Among its many claims to fame are the industry's first Text-2-Win program, the first Text-2-Screen event and the first Text Adventure game.

Vibes was founded in 1998 by Mr. Philbin and CEO Alex Campbell. The company has 72 employees.

Mr. Philbin is a well-known fixture in the speaking circuit, espousing mobile marketing and his company to vertical-industry, interactive and direct marketing audiences.

"You have a huge market that's hard to navigate and hard for traditional marketers to understand," Mr. Philbin said.

"We can help these big brands with their mobile strategy and execute with our technology," he said. "We're a full-service mobile marketing company."

As part of the investment, Fidelity Ventures partner Dave Power has joined the Vibes board of directors.
Also, Vibes has hired Charley Cassell as chief financial officer. He held the same title at FeedBurner, a Chicago online firm.

Mr. Power is a marketing veteran and has led several digital investments at Fidelity Ventures, which manages more than $800 million in investments from its offices in Boston and London.

A 40-year investor, Fidelity Ventures is the venture capital arm of financial giant Fidelity Investments.

"I came at Vibes not from the mobile angle, but from the marketing angle," Mr. Power said. "Marketing is one of the last functions to be transformed by the Internet and it hasn't.

"I've been looking at both digital and mobile solutions for a while," he said. "I think this is a very interesting area. Vibes for us was a company that hit right in the middle of bull's eye."

Vibes is Fidelity Ventures' first mobile marketing company investment.

Mobile marketing's charm to Mr. Power is threefold: its function as a personal communication medium with the individual consumer combined with its location aspect and the time of day. Of course, such marketing has to be mindful of privacy concerns, he said.

But even with mobile marketing, it is the text side that is more attractive and a key reason for investing in Vibes.

"We saw mobile text as so much more interesting than mobile ads because the mobile ad is a static ad and you really don't know who the audience is at the other end," Mr. Power said.

"Whereas, as a text message, first of all you're communicating with an audience that's indicated an interest and you can customize and they can interact," he said.

"The usage of text is growing exponentially and some early-adopter users are using it to engage customers. But it really is the tip of the iceberg."