Around the world, people stare at the Israeli start-up scene with amazement wondering how the country does it. For a lesson in how Israeli innovation works, they can look no further than Tel Aviv start-up IronSource, a company that is barely three years old and is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars; Company revenues, according to analysts, are estimated to be as much as $200 million a year. IronSource company partners with just about every tech and web giant there is, from Microsoft to Google to Yandex (the giant Russian search engine). Over 100 million people a month use IronSource’s tech services, the company says.
Impressive numbers, but what is perhaps even more impressive is that IronSource didn’t really invent anything new — it just improved the already very common practice of downloading and installing computer programs.
The company’s most important brand, InstallCore, is a platform used by companies large and small to deliver software downloads to PC and mobile users, and is “an end-to-end platform solution for software installation delivery and monetization,” said Arnon Harish, General Manager of InstallCore, in the company’s first comprehensive English-language interview.
And it happens to be the most popular such platform in the world. Among the company’s customers are software makers and distributors – including one of the largest software download sources in the world, which uses InstallCore exclusively to deliver products to millions of users each day.
Most importantly, said Harish, the company’s successes have all come in the past two years or so. “Until 2011, we were involved in a number of businesses, and we developed software for customers that we would deliver by downloading,” said Harish. “We used existing delivery platforms, but we realized they left a lot to be desired, so we developed our own – and this was the basis of InstallCore, IronSource’s most important product and the biggest software delivery platform in the world.”
There are numerous reasons why software companies prefer InstallCore over its competition, said Harish. “Software companies want customers to have as smooth a downloading and installation experience as possible, but until we came along, they had no way of knowing whether or not people downloading their products were even able to install them, much less the problems they faced in the installation process. We developed tools that allow software companies to keep track of the entire download process. From then the user clicks on a link until a program is completely installed.”
Dropouts (called “bounce” in the download business) – potential users who download a program but do not complete installs – are a major problem for software makers. On average, over a quarter of downloaded software gets “lost,” with downloaders failing to actually install the program on their systems. “There could be a lot of reasons for this,” said Harish. “For example, Windows programs often require pre-installation processing in the Temp folder on drive C:.
“But users sometimes change the name of that folder, and when the installer can’t find it, it gives up. InstallCore is the only download platform that can tell software distributors about this problem and others.” Armed with this knowledge, programmers can compensate, ensuring that technical issues do not prevent a program from installing. “Our platform has a 95% install success rate, compared to the 75% industry average,” said Harish.
Another InstallCore innovation is improving the ad experience during the install process. For years, companies have been inserting ads in their software install routines, often with poor results. The reason, said InstallCore executive Pamela Becker, is because companies were inserting the wrong ads with the wrong messages. Because InstallCore keeps track of the install process so closely, it can gather statistics on user behavior and provide superior analytics. The trick, she said, is understanding and applying that data to the ad display process, she said
“Firms that invest in the proper installer software with integrated analytics can save time and money by automatically collating this critical ratio of interaction points to calls to action, and ensure that it is optimizing its approach,” said Becker. “By bringing the message full circle and ensuring that the attention ratio is optimized for a sale, firms can minimize bounce and focus on getting real returns for their monetization efforts. The right software installer will pay a crucial role, and ensure that a firm starts to get paid for downloads faster.”
Observing what IronSource has done with InstallCore, several competitors have tried to duplicate the company’s success – unsuccessfully, said Harish. But with leadership comes responsibility, and in order to ensure that the company’s reputation remains top-tier, InstallCore is very discriminating in the kind of software it allows on its platform. “We make sure the software is well-protected so no rogue elements get downloaded, and we also ensure that all components are configured in such a way that the user will get the best experience possible,” said Harish.
“It also has to be compliant with system requirements, does not deceive, and can easily be removed if the customer so desires,” Harish said. The company even tests applications with various editions of Windows, so that an XP user does not install something that requires Windows 8. “If they do try to install it we can prevent the installation from going through and messing up their system,” he said. “In such a case we would offer a version of the software that is compatible with their system.” The InstallCore desktop and mobile platform (called MobileCore) currently works with Windows and Android systems, said Harish; Mac and iOS versions are in the works.
Thanks to InstallCore, IronSource’s growth has been phenomenal; In January 2012, 40 people worked at the firm, and today there are 250, mostly at the company’s Tel Aviv R&D center, with a satellite staff at the company’s Silicon Valley sales office. That growth has mostly been organic, with more engineers hired to work on InstallCore, but IronSource has also acquired several other Israeli start-ups over the past two years. The company plans to open offices in Europe, Asia, and South America in the coming year, Harish said.
Explaining the unprecedented growth, Sagi Bakshi, InstallCore’s Chief Operating Officer said that it was a matter of quality winning out. “We were really developing this for ourselves, building a platform that we as customers would seek out. We’re still our own biggest customers, providing a download platform for IronSource products. Others saw what we were doing, and beat a path to our door. Now we are the premier download platform in the world, working exclusively with some of the largest software distributors around the world.”
The future for IronSource and InstallCore is bright, said Harish. “Israel is a hotbed of Internet technology, and our goal is to build a big, if not the biggest, Israeli Internet company. We are doing that by focusing on quality, user experience, and technological development. Creating tech solutions for problems that people face is what drives us, and we plan to continue doing that in the coming years.”