Wayin, the company co-founded by Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy, announced a $14 million series B funding round this week. The company provides a quick and easy way for people to weigh in on virtually anything in real-time from mobile devices and the web, and can also be used as a second screen for events. The round was led by U.S. Venture Partners, and that firm’s Rick Lewis joins the Wayin board of directors as part of the deal. Wayin’s primary aims for that funding are two-fold, CEO Tom Jessiman said in an interview.
The Wayin platform provides a simple way for anyone to post polls and surveys, allowing people to answer with one click, but also add comments, share via social networks, and embed questions on their websites as code-based widgets. Wayin has leveraged its ability to connect brands with their audiences to form partnerships with clients like The Hertz Corporation, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and the Washington Capitals.
Jessiman said that the first priority for the company regarding the funding will be financing engineering efforts aimed at expanding the network’s presence. “Today you can Wayin [the company’s term for participating in its posted activities] on a dedicated website, on an iPhone and on Android, and also on U-verse,” he said. “But we need to be everywhere.” The way to achieve this, Jessiman explained, is by ultimately making it possible to click a single Wayin button on any online content, similar to a Twitter share button, and instantly create a Wayin poll around that item.
“Where we want to get to is, whatever you’re doing in life, whether you take a picture, and you want to create a Wayin around that, or you’re on a web page and you automatically want to turn that into a Wayin, it’ll be as easy as clicking a single button,” Jessiman told us. “It’s not about having a destination site,” he explains but rather about making Wayin a platform for web-wide sharing.
Wayin can work in tandem with televised events, providing a second screen social interaction channel for televised broadcasts like the LA Kings game, for example. That ability to operate as a real-time interaction tool is one of the areas Wayin will be focusing on in the future, Jessiman said.
Far from the only player to attempt to make inroads in the second-screen viewing market, Wayin keeps company with not only startups like GetGlue, Miso and Gracenote, but also major companies like AT&T, which is pushing second-screen experiences in its U-verse smartphone and tablet applications. Wayin actually partnered with AT&T to bring its content to U-verse users late last year.
“We’re hooked up with U-verse now, but you can expect to see us have more partnerships with satellite providers, cable providers or terrestrial networks,” Jessiman said. “We think there’s a big opportunity for us to make watching TV more fun.” He admitted that Twitter is the “beast” when it comes to live interaction, but he says Wayin is looking at ways to enhance what Twitter’s achieved, and provide brands with a way to “establish a backchannel to their customers and users that Twitter and Facebook just haven’t been able to focus on, since they’re so busy building their own platforms.” He provided the example of the NBA’s all-star dunk contest; fans voted via hashtags on Twitter, and the NBA released a final tally, but there’s no real transparency, no sense of where the final number came from. Wayin, with its live updated polling features, can make that much more of an event both during and after the votes are counted.
Second-screen viewing is an opportunity that seems to have a lot of growth potential. 20 percent of U.S. connected mobile device owners look for information relevant to what they’re currently watching on TV while they’re watching it, according to recent research by market intelligence firm Parks Associates. Many networks now display Twitter hashtags prominently during shows, and President Obama’s State of the Union address for 2012 was greeted with 700,000 tweets during its airing. Offerings like Wayin, however, provide brands with a way to connect in a more targeted way with easier to measure responses.
Wayin’s goals, from its second-screen initiatives to its desire for ubiquitous, dead-simple sharing options are definitely ambitious. But with $20 million in total funding to date, and a team that includes McNealy, Jessiman (a former SVP of CBS SportsLine.com) as well as others with solid backgrounds in Hollywood and professional sports, it’s well-positioned to go up against its competitors.