You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Mobiata plans hiring at new Nickels Arcade office as travel apps take off

By Nathan Bomey

Consider Mobiata one of the first signs that the Ann Arbor region can generate jobs and economic activity from the mobile software startup community.

The firm, started by former Apple intern Ben Kazez in Minnesota and relocated to Ann Arbor in early 2009, plans to move into its first office on the second floor of Nickels Arcade. The company also expects to hire up to eight new employees this year to add to its existing staff of 10.

Mobiata, which is the largest mobile app company in the area, is riding momentum tied to its travel applications for the iPhone, iPad and other devices. Even visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave the company high praise.

Mobiata executives Ben Kazez and Jason Bornhorst.JPG

Mobiata's Ben Kazez (left) is leading the firm's own mobile applications, and Jason Bornhorst is leading the company's efforts to develop mobile software for travel companies.

Nathan Bomey |

The firm’s widely publicized FlightTrack app -- which helps travelers keep tabs on flight itineraries, gate changes and other flight details -- reaped more than $1 million in sales in 2009.

Mobiata’s new 475-square-foot office is on the second floor overlooking Nickels Arcade, a popular covered shopping corridor that connects State Street with Maynard Street. Kazez hopes to decorate at least one room with furniture from an old airport terminal.

The company’s new office is one of the first indications that the emerging mobile software industry can produce concrete economic activity for the Ann Arbor region.

“Basically we’re in a business right now where we’re only limited by the number of people we have,” Kazez said.

Mobiata FlightTrack_Airport_Board_View.jpg

This screen cap shows a new feature integrated into Mobiata's FlightTrack application for the iPad. The feature is called Airport Board View.

Photo courtesy of Mobiata

Kazez last fall successfully recruited recent University of Michigan graduate Jason Bornhorst, who co-created the DoGood application for the iPhone in summer 2009 and sold it earlier this year to a media company called

Kazez is leading Mobiata’s own apps, including FlightTrack, HotelPal and TripDeck. Bornhorst is leading Mobiata’s efforts to develop apps for travel companies, a significant market opportunity as the travel industry delves into the nascent mobile app world.

“We have tons of ideas, and we have some really incredible partners that are coming together with some of the really major players in the travel industry,” Kazez said. “The only thing we really need are the legs to make it work. The good news is I am finding people.”

Kazez said he’s spending a substantial portion of his time recruiting talented software developers, including people with expertise with Apple app development and Google’s Android operating system.

Possibly one of the company's next goals is designing improved versions of HotelPal and TripDeck for the iPad. The iPhone versions of those apps will run on the iPad, but Kazez said optimized versions are being discussed.

Mobiata — like other Ann Arbor app companies such as Mobatech — is jockeying for position in a dynamic industry in which consumer preferences are constantly changing. Sales for many mobile apps trail off weeks after they’re introduced.

Steve Jobs and Mobiata.png

Apple CEO Steve Jobs shows a screen cap of Mobiata's FlightTrack application for the iPad during a recent event.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Consumers are also constantly demanding upgrades to their apps. Mobiata, for example, recently added an $3.99 “airport board view” extension to the iPad version of FlightTrack. Now, users are asking for the new feature to be integrated into the iPhone version of FlightTrack, as well.

Mobiata’s growth meant that the firm no longer had space to grow at U-M’s TechArb incubator, which it left in the spring, and the Tech Brewery incubator on Jones Drive, which it is leaving now.

Mobiata is growing without venture capital or intellectual property from a university. Instead, the company has benefited from popular apps with sharp design, not to mention free marketing in some of Apple's ads.

“Mobiata is a great example of how young entrepreneurs are changing the face of Michigan and also how Ann Arbor ‘s brand as an entrepreneurial hot spot is growing,” said Doug Neal, director of the U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which cofounded the TechArb, in an e-mail.

“The great thing about student and young entrepreneurs is that they are not afraid to fail, take risks and attempt what many may believe is impossible. Their energy, enthusiasm and creativity is incredible and will have a long term economic impact to our state.”

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to’s newsletters.


Keith Bourne

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 5:04 p.m.

We now have an official Mobile Monday chapter here in Michigan ( that I helped co-found, and I am finding a lot of mobile activity throughout Southeast Michigan, with Ann Arbor really being the largest center of activity. As part of this effort, I have been asking everyone I meet in the mobile community what Mobile Monday can help with and recruiting is the #1 issue everyone has suggested (and not just for start-ups, there a lot of established companies that need mobile developers as well). I see quite a few job listings posted to the various mobile related email lists I am on as well. At the last Cocoaheads meeting (iPhone/iPad focused), there were several companies that were hiring. And many are having a hard time finding candidates. I suppose it is a good problem to have, but a problem none-the-less. So we'll be trying to help with this through the Mobile Monday website and meetings. The next meeting is July 19th at 6:30pm at Connor O'Neills, and we'll have them every third Monday of the month. If you are a mobile developer and looking for new opportunities, definitely come out to these meetings, as many of the companies that attend need your help!

Nathan Bomey

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

@Mumbambu That's a great question. I just relayed it to Ben Kazez and he said Mobiata does not use any ITA data and has no plans to.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 10:33 a.m.

Does Mobiata use data from ITA (the company that provides flight data to Kayak, Orbitz, Bing, etc.)? Google just announced their intention to acquire ITA for 700 million. This could be either very bad for Mobiata (Google puts them out of business) or very good (Google buys them to put others out of business).

Nathan Bomey

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

Dug raises an excellent point. I didn't attempt to address it in this specific article, but I agree: Mobile software talent is incredibly mobile. You could even say transient. That's both an opportunity for and a threat to Ann Arbor. Cultivating an atmosphere and community where talented software developers want to live is a significant challenge -- and not everyone agrees on how to accomplish it. Nonetheless, it's imperative that we figure it out -- because Ann Arbor is clearly well positioned to get a boost from this budding industry.


Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

With Mobiata outgrowing its space at the Tech Brewery ( ), we've got one private office available (a snug fit for 3 people) as well as a desk or two, and would love to help get another mobile startup going here (we also have Arbormoon, Saagara, Scio Security, Shepard Intelligent Systems, Mobtile,...) - see Keith Bourne's Ann Arbor Mobile Hub ( ) for other mobile companies and events in the area. The biggest problem growing startups like Mobiata have in Ann Arbor is in finding world-class hackers. Jason left months ago for Austin, where Mobiata's now heavily recruiting. Ben came here from the Twin Cities, excited to be near the talent pool at the University (and I was at least able to introduce Jason to him, preempting Jason's move to Boulder). But Ben has no ties to UM (not an alum) or Ann Arbor, particularly. It is imperative that we figure out how 1. how to grow more ambitious hackers here (hacker as in Hacker News - smart technologists who get things done), and 2. how to keep them here. Jobs aren't necessarily the issue - they can and will create their own jobs, in an environment they want to be in (I've actually heard "a2 is for old people"). Anyone with an interest in this should come support the growth of our young tech companies at the monthly Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup See, I found something to complain about.

Ted Annis

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

Good for you guys! Just make sure that you have the right Sales (not Marketing) person on board to not get abused by the large business partner (such as AT&T).

Marshall Applewhite

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 7:52 a.m.

It's great that a younger generation of entrepreneurs is beginning to see Ann Arbor as a quality location for a start-up. However, I'm sure the regular readership will find something to complain about here. Something along the lines of, "I am angry! My favorite balloon store used to be located there! The world is going to end!"


Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 7:21 a.m.

Congratulations! This is a great bit of news in an utter-wise economically stressed klimates. Way too go.

A Pretty Ann Arbor

Thu, Jul 8, 2010 : 5:57 a.m.

Let me be the first to say - congratulations and thank you for helping move Ann Arbor forward!