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Sprint acquires homegrown Handmark, OneLouder

Sprint didn’t have to call long distance to acquire app developer Handmark and its social and mobile advertising subsidiary OneLouder. The 13-year-old company is based about 20 miles north of Sprint’s headquarters in Overland Park, Kan.

The telecom giant today announced the move, one it says it made in an effort to boost its advertising platform, Pinsight Media+. Neither party disclosed terms of the deal, which was completed last month.

“Bringing the capabilities of Handmark and OneLouder in-house is an exciting move as we position Sprint for market leadership in emerging categories,” Mike Cooley, vice president of New Ventures at Sprint, said today in a press release. “The business, culture and technology they bring will be a huge asset to our business, and ultimately the customers of Pinsight Media+.”

Both sides say they are excited about what they’ve gained. For Sprint, it’s an opportunity to accelerate its growth in mobile advertising, raise its talent level—all 50 Handmark and OneLouder employees are being retained—and gain leadership, Kevin McGinnis, Sprint’s vice president of product platforms and services, told Silicon Prairie News. For Handmark and OneLouder, it’s an opportunity to scale what it’s building and to grow as a team, said Augie Grasis, the company’s founder and chairman. Handmark and OneLouder will continue to operate under the current brands and maintain their downtown offices. There will be no changes to apps or the product schedule for now, said Erica Cohen, Handmark communications manager.*

About eight years went into building the two companies’ relationship through products such as Sprint ID and Pocket Express—with its more than 20 million users—before joining forces could become a reality.

“Transactions like this don’t happen over night,” Grasis (near right) said. “A lot of trust and understanding has to be built first.”

Acquisition talk began loosely about a year ago, a little before Sprint’s October launch of Pinsight, which aimed to bring targeted, personalized solutions for mobile advertising in house. Handmark had started a similar effort more than a year earlier with the launch of OneLouder to create mobile, “socially powered apps,” such as BaconReader and TweetCaster, supported by ads it creates—a part of the business that has grown at a 200 percent yearly rate.

McGinnis (above, far right) said it was watching Handmark start a new business on top of pivoting throughout its history—it originally sold software for the now-defunct Palm OS—in an effort to always “focus on creating an exceptional customer experience” that got Sprint’s attention.

Now with the Handmark and OneLouder team a part of Sprint, McGinnis hopes his co-workers learn from them.

“We see the culture that has been created,” he said. “We fully intend to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive. If anything, I hope I see more of our business working in that direction.”

Just as the deal didn’t happen over night, Handmark is no overnight success, either. Grasis said between 2000 and 2006, his company raised $10 million from investors, including Motorola Ventures, Village Ventures, Borealis Ventures, APAX Ventures, Argnor Wireless Ventures and Hanna Ventures. The result is something McGinnis—after 18 years at Sprint—can’t remember ever happening, either in Kansas City or in the company.

“This is not a common occurence,” he said, noting Sprint acquisitions have usually been on a macro scale. “It’s great to be able to look at emerging businesses.”


*Update (10:45 a.m. Tuesday): Handmark confirmed there will be no changes to apps or the product schedule. 

Credits: Photos courtesy of Handmark and Sprint, respectively.

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