Sense360 Bets On Mobile Sensor Data, Snags $2.8 Million In Seed Cash

Sense360Most mobile devices have 14 or more sensors – and they’re all continually gathering mountains of raw sensory information.

Eli Portnoy, the founder and former CEO of Telenav-owned Thinknear, has a new venture on the horizon that intends to help make that data accessible to app developers.

That’s the idea behind Sense360, which raised $2.75 million in seed funding from a veritable buffet of VCs and angels, including FirstMark Capital, FounderCollective, Qualcomm Ventures, DoubleMCapital, Metamorphic Ventures, Avenue A and Telenav, which bought Thinknear back in 2012.

“There’s an enormous amount of money of being poured into app downloads, and Facebook and Twitter are building multi-billion dollar revenue streams just by helping drive downloads,” Portnoy told AdExchanger. “A lot of people clearly download stuff – but only a small number of those people engage with the apps they’ve downloaded.”

The promise of mobile is about more than just location – it’s about context, he said. A contextual, personalized experience can help developers make their apps stickier and more useful to the end user.

There’s a sensor in your phone that tracks GPS, yes, but there’s also an accelerometer that tracks speed, a gyroscope that measures a phone’s orientation, a compass, a sensor that calculates ambient light, etc.

“Each of these things alone can give you a tiny interesting insight, but when you combine them, you can start to see a holistic and much more interesting picture,” Portnoy said. “You can figure out if someone is in a gym or an office, if they’re sitting or standing, if their phone is in their hand or in their pocket, if they’re walking or running – you can combine all of those signals to find out exactly what a person is doing and provide a contextual experience that makes sense.”

Portnoy plans to use the seed money to go on an “aggressive” hiring spree and add engineers and product people to swell the ranks of Sense360, where headcount now stands at five.

In terms of product development, Portnoy is aware of the challenges that come with mobile sensor data. For one, there’s just so much of it. It’s a matter of creating technology that can identify the signals in the noise.

“Sensors are incredibly sensitive and they bring in tons of data, which tends to need a lot of cleanup to normalize it and make it usable,” he said. “That’s a big project we’re working on, but we need to build out a team first.”

There’s no word yet on an official launch date for the technology.

Portnoy is quick to note that Sense360 isn’t creating ad tech, but rather a tool to help app developers answer three questions. One, where is the user?; two, what is that user doing?; and three, what is happening around that person?

“If we can do that we can help developers build more engaging experience to retain more users,” he said.

But if a better app experience leads users to spend more time in-app which then leads to more advertiser interest, that’s just so much gravy.

“We’re looking to harness the one-to-one connection that happens between a user and an app, but we’re not a media company and we’re not selling tags,” Portnoy said.

That said, Portnoy isn’t ruling out a potential collaboration with Telenav and its location-based ad network down the line.

“They’re focused on the ad piece and we’re focused on the app ecosystem,” Portnoy said. “But at the end of the day we can all get smarter about data by hopefully share our learnings.”

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