Bluefish Swims Away With Series A Round

Quietly operating just outside of the tech world?s radar scope since its 1999 founding, Bluefish Wireless Inc. is expected to officially swim out of stealth mode today.

In conjunction with its formal launch, the San Francisco-based company, which provides personal digital assistant (PDA) users with a passageway to the Internet without the aid of wireless modems, is also expected to announce that it recently hooked $2.5 million in venture capital financing.

Essentially, the Series B round is a stepping stone to buoy Bluefish for the next few months, as it plans to return to the private equity pond in February for an additional $10 million to $15 million. Previously, the company was funded by friends, family and other angel investors.

At the moment, however, Bluefish CEO James Fisher is relieved to be taking a breather after four arduous months of fund raising. “We were probably raising money at the worst time possible, it?s very difficult out there,” he said. “I wish we had been raising [the money] 12 months ago.”

Nonetheless, lead investor Network Asia signed on to back the company, as did Australian VC Allen & Buckeridge. Despite the sluggish fund-raising climate, however, Fisher said this was an up round for Bluefish.

The company received a post-money valuation of approximately $7.5 million, and added Jason Cornell, a partner with Network Asia, to its board of directors.

Ahead Of The Tide

Although Fisher characterizes himself as a “judicious spender,” Bluefish raised such a small round this time out because it is already ahead of the game in many respects. Its interactive JavaScript- and HTML-based technology, which allows users with Palm OS-enabled PDAs to send and download content and make purchases through the Internet, has already been developed with the aid of industry partners like AvantGo and Transportation Media Incorporated.

Moreover, the company is ready to roll out its patented Bluefish consumer network nationwide by year-end. Starting this month, its signature 7″ x 7? blue and silver boxes embossed with the Bluefish logo will appear at Chicago O?Hare and Hartsfield Atlanta International airports, as well as in selected retail stores. Other Bluefish access points are expected to crop up in the San Francisco Bay area this summer.

The way the product works is that users of handheld devices simply sync up with a Bluefish access point, then beam their requests to the Internet through their PDAs, similar to making a purchase, sending e-mail, reading news or sharing files on the Web. The difference is that transactions can take place wherever there is a Bluefish access point, and the process doesn?t require a wireless modem. Moreover, all Bluefish transactions are free and users can download the necessary software right from the company?s Web site, or get it automatically the first time they access the network.

Although Bluefish already has contracts with e-commerce and content providers such as Tower Records, E*Trade Group Inc., Powell?s Books, LaptopLane, Reuters Group PLC, Windsor Vineyards and Inc., Fisher said he expects 90% of its revenue to come from enterprise network users, not consumers.

“The consumer launch is a way to roll the network out and get on people?s radar screens,” he said. “Once we?ve demonstrated the capability, we expect [it to catch on] with enterprises. It?s valuable to them because it?s quick and cost-effective for enterprises to roll out [the network] around their software and the network.”

Bluefish competes with the likes of Inc., but Fisher said his company has a leg up in that it offers rich content and transactional capabilities rather than primitive text and applications standards.

He isn?t concerned with doing an IPO anytime in the near term, although he acknowledges that the company?s VCs certainly are interested in such an exit. “We can see a clear path to revenue, but an IPO is still a couple of years off,” he said. “Right now, we?re just focused on building the business and generating cash as quickly as possible.”

Robyn Kurdek can be contacted at: