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Thinknear Founder Raises Angel Round For App Developer Tool Sense360

Eli Portnoy’s new project aims to keep app users active long after the download. And his former parent company is among its investors.

Sense360's Eli Portnoy
Sense360’s Eli Portnoy

Barely three months after Eli Portnoy exited Thinknear, the hyperlocal ad network he founded in 2011, he’s still deeply focused on the way consumers use their smartphones and connected devices with his current startup, Sense360.

The company has raised $2.75 million in an angel funding round with the premise of helping app developers realize more usage by “unlocking the power of sensors,” Portnoy tells GeoMarketing. In a sign that he’s not moved too far away from the geomarketing space, Portnoy can count location-services provider and Thinknear parent, Telenav, among the backers. Portnoy helped engineer the sale of Thinknear to Telenav two years ago for $22.5 million.

The Sixth Sense

Although Portnoy remains in an area that revolves around location data and mobility, Sense360 is a very different entity from Thinknear. In a way, the timing of its debut reflects how mobile usage has matured, while the ideas of how to drive it have not. For Portnoy, Sense360 represents how his own thinking about the challenges around deriving revenue from the rise of mobility has evolved as well.

“One of the things I’ve been thinking about for the last few years is this idea that location matters in mobile,” Portnoy says. “It’s absolutely true, but it actually extends further than just location. It’s about extending and using all of the senses on the phone.”

Three, four years ago, the predominant sensor in mobile devices was GPS, Portnoy notes. Since then, phones have just been getting “jam-packed with sensors.” Now, phones come embedded with accelerometers for determining movement more closely, and a gyroscope for showing direction. Portable electronics can also pick up ambient light and ultrasound to show an individual device’s exact proximity in a specific place.

“All of these incredible sensors can paint a truly rich contextual story that extends beyond just location,” Portnoy says. “It can tell you what people are doing in the moment. It can tell you what’s happening around them. And app developers should be using that understanding and awareness to build better experiences.”

Closing The App Gap

When Portnoy was first pondering the variety and value of all these rich sources of data, he noticed something else about the app landscape. It seemed that developers tended to spend a tremendous amount of money trying to get people to download their offerings. At the same time, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and others were building multi-billion dollar revenue streams on top app downloads. But, as Portnoy points out, “the reality is, almost every app has a massive drop off between the number of downloads and the number of active users.”

Not only did Portnoy want to find out what was causing people to ignore the downloads they had added to their devices; he wanted to do something about it.

“What we’re building at Sense360 is a toolset that helps app developers use all the sensors on a phone to create better, and more personalized, experiences for users,” Portnoy says. “The ultimate goal here is to help developers engage and retain their users better.”

Ties That Bind

Portnoy is fairly circumspect about the clients he’s currently working with. And beyond saying that the $2.75 million proceeds from the funding will go towards expanding Sense360’s engineering team, he’s not ready to divulge growth and revenue plans just yet.

Given that the funders were all individuals that Portnoy has worked with previously, the round can be considered a strong vote of confidence in what he’s attempting to build. In addition to Telenav, FirstMark Capital’s Matt Turck is the lead investor in Sense360 and someone who helped fund Thinknear as well. John Hinnegan, who was a co-founder of ThinkNear and presently serves as VP of software engineering there, invested in the angel round.

Rounding out the investment in Sense360 are Michael Kline, a Thinknear board member who is the founder and president of home services marketplace Serviz, and FounderCollective partner Micah Rosenbloom, who was an advisor to ThinkNear, and someone Portnoy describes as “a coach and mentor.” Lastly, Qualcomm Ventures is also providing financial backing to Sense360.