Sensor Data Startup Sense360 Leaves Beta Behind

SenseInContextLocation isn’t all that relevant without context.

That’s the thinking at Sense360, a startup co-founded by Thinknear vet Eli Portnoy to help apps tap into sensor data derived from smartphones.

Sense360, which landed $2.8 million in seed funding in January, opened up its platform to general availability on Tuesday after roughly six months in closed beta.

While location is a key component of any mobile strategy, it needs a helping hand, Portnoy said.

“When you’re trying to understand someone’s situation, it starts with location, but GPS is only accurate between 5 and 15 meters, and that’s not always enough to understand whether you’re, say, in your office on the 10th floor or having a coffee at Starbucks on the first floor,” he said.

But physical location is just one piece of the puzzle. What users are doing and the context in which they are doing it – say the weather or nearby traffic conditions ­– are also key.

That’s where sensor-based data can help provide the contextual relevance an app advertiser would need before sending out a personalized notification. Most apps look purely at GPS to derive location, but combine a phone’s barometer, which measures elevation, with GPS data and it becomes clear whether someone’s on the first floor or the 10th.

Sense360 collects raw data extracted from sensors – the accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light reader, proximity tracker, the aforementioned barometer and others – from real-world events and passes that information back to an app, which can use it to inform and personalize its push, text and email messaging.

Take Sense360 client Wallaby Financial, a company that develops apps to help consumers optimize their credit card usage.

Until now, if a user was about to make a purchase at a particular retailer, for example, he or she would input their location into the Wallaby app to see which credit card to use to get the best deal or the most reward points back.

Since integrating Sense360’s SDK, Wallaby is taking that a step further. Now, when users roll into a gas station, they automatically receive a push notification with information on which credit card will yield the best results at that specific gas station on that specific day.

Sense360 works with mobile self-help course provider Change Collective in a similar way. If a user is in the midst of taking a course on eating better, for example, Change Collective could proactively surface content with tips on how to order healthy food when that person enters a restaurant.

Although contextual messaging is one of the most practical use cases for Sense360’s technology, Portnoy and co-founder Kamil Mroczek (also Sense360’s CTO and a former software engineer at Thinknear), are looking to push boundaries.

To that end, the duo ran a 24-hour overnight hackathon at their LA office this past weekend, inviting developers to build whatever they could think of on top of the Sense360 platform to see where other minds might go.

One dev created an app that keeps track of how smooth or rough a driver is behind the wheel using the phone’s accelerometer. Another coder made an app which Portnoy referred to as a “Fitbit for how you spend your time” that tracks how long a person spends where – say 60 hours at work, 82 hours at home, three hours at bars, four hours at the gym – over the course of a week.

EliPortnoySense360“We’re trying to stay really flexible because every time I talk to someone they have a new and different idea about how this kind of data can be used,” Portnoy said.

But one way it won’t be used is without the proper privacy considerations in place. Sense360 only collects opt-in data and never connects it to personally identifiable information. According to Portnoy, the company never has access to device IDs and goes out of its way to obfuscate any potential PII that could theoretically be reverse engineered back to a specific user, including Wi-Fi access points.

Sense360 is also being careful with its $2.8 million in seed cash, which it raised from a long list of VCs and angel investors, including FirstMark Capital, FounderCollective, Qualcomm Ventures, DoubleMCapital, Metamorphic Ventures, Avenue A and location-based ad network Telenav, which bought Portnoy’s last startup Thinknear back in 2012 for $22.5 million.

Portnoy said Sense360, which upped its headcount from five to seven since January, doesn’t have plans to pursue additional funding for the moment. It does have plans, however, to grow its engineering headcount significantly over the next three months, followed with a few sales and biz dev hires down the line.

Although Portnoy declined to share the exact number of customers on Sense360’s client list thus far, he did note that in addition to Wallaby and Change Collective, it’s in the process of integrating with RazorGator, an online sports, concert and ticket reseller.

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