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The guys who helped build Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal are raising money to follow your every move


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Kjartan
Slette, Unacast’s COO & Co-founder and Thomas Walle, CEO
& Co-founder

Unacast

  • 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
t
here 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 m
ore data scientists, new
database tools and in international expansion, Walle said.


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