How Mahana Is Powering The Future Of Location and Context

It's a new world out there of mobile devices. However, mobile devices are not smart enough--yet--to figure out the context of where you are and what you need, without prompting. Austin's Mahana (, headed by Bryan Menell, is looking to bring that context to make mobile devices smarter, by using things like beacons. We spoke with Bryan about the company and its vision.

What is Mahana?

Bryan Menell: Mahana is a platform that is comprised of three components. One is an iBeacon management platform to manage the deployment and usage of iBeacons in mobile applications. The second part is a set of tools to do point-of-sale analytics for hotels, restaurants, and other merchants. The third part is a proximity display, which takes customer proximity data and put things like a customer picture, profile, or status on either a wearable, or a tablet, or a point of sale touchscreen itself. It will let you know who walks in, and let you see a picture and a name, and be able to provide more personalized service upfront, rather than wait for the end of a transactions when they hand you a credit card or when you ask for a loyalty card or punch card, which can be very important to you as a business.

As a startup veteran, why did you get involved with Mahana?

Bryan Menell: My cofounder, Richard, is the CTO, and is the technology genius behind all of the stuff that goes on at the company. The thing that interested me about all of this is the iBeacon stuff is all very new and revolutionary. Mary Meeker, who is one of the famous people who reports on the status of the industry, says that beacons are the Internet of Things trend. Mary said the Internet of Things are the first thing in the world that will be over a billion devices. She has a chart, showing that the first thing to reach millions of units were the Sony Walkman. The first thing to hit ten million devices was the personal computer. The first to hit 100 million devices were mobile phones. The Internet of Things and beacons will become the first to reach a billion units. It's a huge, huge opportunity. Understanding presence, location, and proximity is a game changer in many ways.

GPS is great, knowing in general where you are. GPS can tell you at the mall, but beacons can tell you that you're not only at the mall, but that you're at Dillards, and specifically in housewares. That last mile is incredibly important for doing anything with customer service, loyalty, coupons, and any incentives. That's what attracted me, the vastness of the opportunity. The whole area is just brand new. People just barely understand the technology now, piloting the technology, sampling the technology, just to see how it works. The segment is absolutely brand, spanking new and full of potential.

Where is the company now in terms of product, customers?

Bryan Menell: We spent the past year building the platform, and we're now getting ready to deploy on an enterprise scale. We just recently starting letting our first, pilot customers in since March, and have been having a field trial of the technology out there. We're doing the pilot ourselves with companies who are just beginning to understand the implications of this technology, and how to apply this to business.

You're a serial entrepreneur, what's the biggest thing you've learned over the years in making successful companies, and how are you applying that here?

Bryan Menell: I wish there was only one thing. There are so many. I think people are very important. My cofounder, Richard, he and I work very well together. We provide a very complementary mix. The early team sets the pace, and sets the tone for the whole rest of the company through its lifespan. The power of business relationships is also very important. The network of people who I know, who I understand, who I know and have worked with in the past, which helps us leverage and bring products to market, and get referrals. The value of people's business networks are very important. I've been luck that I'm old, have been around, and my network is bigger than most.

What's the most exciting thing you see happening in the Texas startup market right now?

Bryan Menell: The Internet of Things is super exciting, and we're part of that. The thing about mobile, is it's a huge, massive trend. Everything has gone mobile. Right now, if you're at your desk, on your web browser, things are really good. If you go to a weather site, now, we'll see that there is a storm blowing through today, it knows I'm in Austin and will show the weather from my area. The browser does a great job being a context aware tool for my life. But, when I take my phone and leave my desk, and go into the real world, everything is lost. There's no context, and it doesn't know where I am, or where I'm going. I have this phone in my hand, full of silos of information which don't talk and don't work together. I love that people and companies and ideas which are trying to fix that and change that. One reason we like iBeacon technology and proximity awareness, is that it provides context and does something for me. It should be able to figure out that I'm opening up Google Maps on my phone, at 6pm downtown, and it should show my restaurants because I'm hungry and want to find someplace to eat downtown. It should understand context, where I am going, and what I want to do, to make the device more useful. There's nothing in mobile like that today. As cool as the hardware is, the software is behind the hardware in these devices. There's a large frontier left to be explored in mobile, which will make my life better as a consumer and user of the device.