Lua, the NYC-based startup and TechStars graduate looking to make mobile team communication more powerful and less painful, announced a new $2.5 million funding round this week. The seed round is led by IA ventures, which contributed $1.25 million of the total, and includes noteworthy angel investors, including Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick, TechStars NYC’s David Tisch and many others. For Lua, which enables real-time communication for teams who need to be kept up-to-date on the ground as things develop, the funding means being able to focus on bringing on new talent in engineering, opening offices in LA and generally improving its product as it looks to tackle new markets.
Initially, Lua’s been focused on the entertainment market, mostly because that’s where its special breed of real-time two-way messaging, document sharing and conference calling initially had the most success. The tool was used during the filming of the 2011 Brad Pitt film Tree of Life, where Lua co-founder and CEO Michael DeFranco says it proved extremely effective in coordinating cast and crew. Lua is also device agnostic, and can work not only on iPhone and Android devices, but also via SMS on feature phones, which helps especially when wrangling teams that aren’t necessarily all outfitted with the same gear.
“We’re starting in entertainment, but we’re really excited about all the different use cases,” DeFranco said in an interview. “There are 1.3 billion mobile workers around the world, we’re getting inbounds from General Electric’s healthcare division, Cisco’s mobile sales team, different hotels, restaurants, retail, cruise ships and casinos. When we see people getting information faster than they’re used to, and they’re able to do their job better and everyone’s happy, that’s really why we’re building what we’re building today.”
The inspiration for Lua, according to DeFranco, came from watching his parents (both software engineers) work. Together, they created a tool for on-the-ground response teams and pitched it for use by the U.S. government after Hurricane Katrina. The government opted to use another solution, and DeFranco’s parents’ products instead got bought by Walmart. Thanks to the planning and coordination tool, Walmart’s staff were on the ground 48 full hours before the U.S. army arrived, DeFranco says. Watching people not be able to react to situations as quickly as possible inspired him to go one step further and create a solution not only to help with planning, but also to keep teams connected and informed, much more effectively than clipboards and walkie-talkies, but without requiring any additional, specialized tools.
“When mobile devices came up, we really saw that there’s no elegant solution to connect you with your back home office,” he said. “There’s a way of making the walkie-talkie a much more functional device; you need to be able to store your documents there, you need to be able to call people, you need to be able to have everyone’s contact information, and so that’s really the mission of Lua.”
With this new funding, DeFranco says the startup can survive without generating any revenue for the next 12-18 months, though judging by the talks it’s already in with clients, that shouldn’t actually be a problem it has to face. For use of its platform, Lua charges a standard price of about $20 per user per month, which could be pricy depending on how it’s used, but the company is looking at alternative pricing options as it expands its business to new markets.