Four years ago, I had the great privilege of standing alongside an amazing leadership team in New York City as Boingo rang the NASDAQ opening bell in celebration of going public.
As anyone involved in a venture-backed business will tell you, the road from start-up to IPO is incredibly difficult. In fact, only 5% of VC-backed companies ever go public. So the fact that Boingo succeeded where so many others have failed was not simply the result of a great idea, good timing, sound leadership and patient investors. It included plenty of luck, too. And believe me, every one of us who had a hand in Boingo’s journey from start-up to IPO felt very lucky that day.
But in many ways, it was a day like any other. That’s because – as I shared with our team many times – “going public” was never Boingo’s ultimate goal. It was just one more step in the ongoing journey of building a great company. That’s really important. Because if we felt we’d “arrived” on May 3, 2011, then we wouldn’t have been prepared to take on the significant headwinds that blew our way not long after going public.
Boingo was built on the foundation of selling Wi-Fi access to consumers at airports. Today we consider it our “legacy” business – still an important part of who we are, but not the entire story. Not by a mile. Over the last four years, almost every single airport in North America has transitioned from providing Wi-Fi as a premium, for-pay service, to a complimentary service that passengers expect for free. As it turns out, giving away service that you once charged for puts a rather significant dent in your revenue. So as you might imagine, this required a major pivot in our business model.
The good news is, we were prepared to do so because the goal was never about “cashing out” but rather about building a great long-term business. So that’s what we continued to do.
Today, Boingo is the leading small cell company in the world. We secure long-term wireless rights in large venues like airports, stadiums, universities and military bases, and then we monetize those rights with a number of different products. In addition to the retail Wi-Fi service that most folks know us for, our products include cellular service via DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems), advertising/sponsorship, high-speed Internet service and IPTV to Military bases, and Wi-Fi offload with carriers. Just last week our leadership team met to discuss what the next few years of Boingo will look like. Because change and evolution is always a part of any thriving business.
When I joined Boingo in 2001 – before the company was even called Boingo – I didn’t know we would be one of the lucky 5% to go public. It has been an incredibly fun ride. Today we celebrate an important milestone in Boingo’s history. But for us, it’s not about the anniversary of going public. It’s a reminder of the question we never stop asking ourselves: How can we build a great company?
Thanks for being part of this journey with us.