Serial entrepreneur Brian Handly is betting with his own money as an investor that the “pivot” of direction for the company he leads will deliver a nice return on investment.

The new company (Reveal) built around the remains of the old (StepLeader) will be pitching AOL Founder Steve Case for a possible $100,000 investment next week. In the first of a two-part interview, WRAL TechWire discusses the “pivot” that turned StepLeader into a new company with a new mission, $1 million in new funding – and it’s looking for more.

First, some backstory:

Handly, an Internet and interactive advertising industry veteran, was hired by Capitol Broadcasting Company (the corporate parent of WRAL TechWire) to run its News Over Wireless venture in 2012. Handly later became an investor after CBC spun off the company, and its name was changed to StepLeader.

Just a few weeks ago, Handly made what he called a “pivot” – shifting the company to new opportunities as the original StepLeader market for app development changed. StepLeader downsized, sold some of its intellectual property, and is now known as Reveal which takes its name from the product developed for tracking and harvesting mobile data.

Jared Dean, a veteran analystics executive at SAS, had joined StepLeader last fall and remains chief technology officer of the new venture.

In an exclusive Q&A, Handly talks about all aspects of the pivot:

  • Why the change in direction of the company? What happened within the market you were pursuing as StepLeader?

StepLeader innovated mobile app development for the media industry for over a decade. While still not a simple task, the process of building native apps is becoming commoditized. This limited our ability to make StepLeader a high-growth company. We knew we had to change direction if we wanted to remain innovative, as well as generate a return for our shareholders and investors.

  • What’s the new focus, and why the pivot? What excites you about the new direction?

We saw first-hand the difficulty of making money in mobile with content producing apps. This was our customer base for 11 years; we knew their pain. Mobile struggles to monetize as effectively as other channels for three big reasons.

First, the ad formats are poor, but improving. The small banner image excites neither advertisers nor app users.

Second, there’s much less advertising real-estate than a desktop website. Ten ads on a website make more money than two ads on an app.

Finally, and most importantly, mobile lacks the ability to build defined audience segments, which advertisers expect and demand.

Traditional website advertising built enormous profitability off the “cookie”, which powers 99% of desktop advertising today. Cookies don’t work in mobile, at all. There’s extremely limited capability for advertisers to reach their target markets in mobile. The companies that do very well in mobile today – Google, Facebook, Twitter – do so because they know more about their audience than the hundreds of thousands of other revenue generating apps.

Our goal, and why we’re so excited, is that our mobile audience platform levels the playing field for app publishers and media companies everywhere. We provide incredibly informative audience understanding tools, segmentation, and targeting capabilities in mobile where none existed previously.

  • Why the name change?

Anytime a company goes through a major change, you evaluate the pros and cons of your existing brand equity versus the new direction. Ultimately, the StepLeader brand was a well-known and well-respected mobile brand, built up by the core team over a decade, but our industry knew us as an app platform for local media companies.

The opportunity with Reveal extends well beyond our previous customer base, and we’re doing something entirely new, although still in mobile. Plus, the name truly speaks to what we do. We reveal to app publishers audience demographics and psychographics that they’ve never seen, nor been able to target to, before.

  • I understand you have a smaller staff as a result of the changes. How many are left?

The most difficult part of any major change in business direction is the potential loss of talented employees. Over the course of 18 months we transitioned from an app platform to a data analytics company, which required an almost complete overhaul of our development and operations teams. We now have a core team of seven employees.

​Coming in Part Two: How much did Reveal raise, who make up the core team, and why pitch to Steve Case?

(Note: This story has been updated to shorten the name to Reveal from RevealMobile.)