From the January 2009 issue of Entrepreneur

 

17%

 

of United States households--a total of 20 million--have abandoned landline phones in favor of mobile ones, which is up from 8.5 percent in 2005.

(Source: Nielsen Mobile)

Before preteens and parents alike began using text messaging like a fifth limb, Brian Levin was envisioning the potential for mobile services. In 2000, he co-founded Mobliss, a Seattle-based wireless media and marketing company, based on the idea that cell phones would eventually be used for more than just making calls.

Levin's initial claim to fame was pioneering American Idol's voting system, SMS texting, whereby viewers could vote for their favorite contestants securely and accurately via text message. Idol was the first show to use SMS voting on a mass scale, and the system's success quickly spawned a new industry.

Levin sold Mobliss in 2004, but two years later, he started Useful Networks with David Hose, 46, and Scott Voigt, 48. With hundreds of thousands of users today, the Denver-based mobile content enabler provides location-aware gaming and advertising, as well as applications like SNIFF (social network integrated friend finder), which allows users to locate each other on a permission basis through their phones or Facebook.

Since last year, Useful Networks has expanded from four wireless carriers in two countries to 11 carriers in seven countries, with plans to launch soon in France, Italy and Turkey. After nearly a decade in the business, CEO Levin sees how rapidly the industry has evolved, partly due to his innovations. "We got it going in a bunch of different mediums that weren't using it before," says Levin, 36. "To this day, it's still just getting started. It's almost like the second inning."