The guys who helped build Jay-Z's streaming service Tidal are raising money to follow your every move
- Two of the founders of Jay-Z's fledgling music service Tidal are building a startup focused on mobile location data.
- The two executives, Thomas Walle and Kjartan Slette, have raised $17.5 million to expand Unacast, which supplies data from hundreds of mobile apps to ad targeting companies.
- The plan is to build out the company's tech and team of data scientists - and to expand beyond advertising.
Thomas Walle and Kjartan Slette helped launch WiMp, a product that eventually morphed into Tidal - which of course is the music service now shepherded by Jay-Z.
Then in 2016, the two Norwegian entrepreneurs founded Unacast, a tech company that aspires to build something of a warehouse for location data from mobile phones, and then license that data to other companies including ad firms.
Now, to take its business to another level, Unacast has raised $17.5 million in a new funding round.
The investment round was led by White Star Capital, and included the European telecom firm Telia along with previous investors Open Ocean Capital and the Norwegian government-backed Investinor.
The new funding is noteworthy given how quiet the funding market for any companies associated with ad tech or data targeting has been. Plus, when it comes to companies mining data from mobile phones, several startups raised money a few years ago and there have been a glaring lack of big exits. Of course, ad tech and data-driven marketing just happen to be strengths of tech behemoths Facebook and Google, making it tough for new entrants
But in this case, Unacast says it has deliberately steered away from using mobile location data to sell ads directly. In other words, it's not promising to zap coupon ads to people on their phones when they walk past a Starbucks. That's the kind of location-data-driven mobile advertising that many companies have promised and rarely delivered. Not to mention that it's not clear that's the kind of thing consumers actually want.
Instead Unacast has focused on building technology designed to collect and transport that data, acting as a supplier for other ad tech firms such as Ground Truth or Factual which specialize in mobile ads.
Plus, Unacast sees a bigger opportunity to supply location data to companies in other industries, such as real estate and city planning, said Walle.
"It's true that location advertising hasn't come very far," said Walle. "And there is a lot of terrible location data out there, so the room for error is huge. So in order for the industry to be more excited, you need to have perspective. One key element that has been missing is how people move around in the physical world."
Unacast pulls that real world data - anonymously - from hundreds of different apps via which people have agreed to turn on location tracking, such as navigation apps.
Retail stores can theoretically use this kind of data to track what people do before they visit a store, while auto brands could test what sort of offers people respond to when visiting dealers, for example.
With the funding infusion, Unacast plans on investing in more data scientists, new database tools and in international expansion, Walle said.