Unacast Raises $5M In Bid To Link Up The World’s Beacons

UnacastfundingLocation data newbie Unacast is looking to help mature the still nascent beacon market.

The Norwegian startup, which aggregates beacon and sensor data across proximity solution providers, announced its $5 million Series A on Tuesday led by Open Ocean Capital and Investinor, bringing the company’s total funding to $6.6 million.

Unacast will double its headcount to nearly 30 people, adding data scientists in Oslo, where the engineering team is based, and account managers in New York, according to company CEO and co-founder Thomas Walle.

Like a lot of new technologies, Walle says beacon tech became a victim of its own hype.

Even though the technology has been available for years, most retailers haven’t gone beyond the experimentation phase, gravitating toward real-time messaging, in-aisle ad targeting and proximity-triggered push messaging, because those are the easiest use cases to understand and apply.

There also remains some confusion among marketers as to what beacons actually are and how they work.

In 2014, Forrester VP and principal analyst Thomas Husson observed in a report on beacons that marketers “believe there is a lot of intelligence in the beacons themselves,” when “the reality is that beacons are dumb pieces of hardware that simply communicate location information.” It’s a misconception that persists today, Walle said.

The “super-fragmentation” of the beacon market has further muddied the waters, he said. As of April, there were 6.2 million proximity sensor deployments across the globe, up from 5 million in Q4 2015, and more than 350 different proximity and beacon companies plying their trade. Unacast has relationships with 52 of them.

Historically, beacon technology has been criticized for its lack of scale. The real value of beacons will come when all of those disparate sources are housed in a single network, Walle said.

And that’s Unacast’s play. The company onboards, validates and tags the offline behavior data collected from interactions with beacons and makes it available to DSPs – Unacast works with MediaMath, BlueKai, Oracle, Lotame and Opera Mediaworks – so that they don’t have to partner with each beacon provider individually.

“Sensors are just sensors, and someone needs to attach context to them, to add metadata that says, ‘This sensor is placed in the shoe department of this particular retailer,’” Walle said. “Retailers are only really going to understand offline consumer behavior if they have the full picture, and to get the full picture you need to work with as many proximity companies as possible.”

Walle said Unacast will be well-positioned when marketers start embracing more advanced use cases like collecting data for online retargeting, attribution and tracking return footfall.

He predicted that market will materialize in the next 12 to 18 months, and said Unacast is in discussions with several of the major holding companies, including WPP, to test its tech.

Founded in 2014, Unacast launched in 2015 and maintains four offices, including London, New York, San Francisco and its headquarters in Oslo. The company brought on ironSource and Appssavvy vet Chris Cunningham in April as CRO.

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