San Francisco-based startup Koozoo wants to help its users answers questions like ‘how big is the lineup at my favorite restaurant?’ or ‘how crowded is the beach?’ by crowdsourcing live video feeds of the world’s public places. The company announced today that it has closed a $2.5 million seed funding round led by New Enterprise Associates and Tugboat Ventures and other angel investors, which it will use to add to its engineering team. The company is set to release the service publicly in 2013 and is currently testing it with a handful of beta testers in San Francisco.
The idea for the company came to co-founder and CEO Drew Sechrist who questioned why even with advances in technology he couldn’t see a live video feed of his home while traveling (without installing a home monitoring system). “We have immediate access to any fact, and anyone, the digital world has been completely indexed,” said Edward Sullivan, Head of Marketing at Koozoo, in an interview with BetaKit. “But we still don’t know what’s happening around the corner. We don’t know how long the lineup at the coffee shop is or how foggy it is on the other side of San Francisco.”
Initially the company thought of building hardware, but after realizing the extensive upfront investment, it started developing software to accomplish the same goal. After doing some research the team recognized that not only were smartphones equipped with the necessary cameras, but that they were also being replaced roughly every 18 months by their owners. However, those old smartphones were usually just sitting around in their owners’ drawers. With Koozoo, users can download the company’s app and set up their smartphone to look out their window, where a live video stream can be accessed on demand whenever someone searches for it or clicks on the drop pin on Koozoo’s web page.
By doing so they can give access to the view from their window, which could relay information like how busy a particular restaurant is, or users may just want to share their view because of its beauty. As with any site relying on user-generated content, Sullivan recognizes that users won’t be able to search for any store front or location they want but rather that it would be a gradual process.
When asked about the monetization strategy, Sullivan also added that they’re looking at multiple opportunities once the platform launches, with potentials including location-based targeted ads, to working with venues to provide users with special promotions. They’re also considering aggregating data for brands.
Another startup, Vancouver-based UrtheCast, is taking a different approach by partnering with RSC Energia to install cameras on the International Space Station to provide high-definition video streaming of the earth from outer space. The company’s focus is more macro in nature, as it’s looking to provide anyone on the web or with a smartphone access to see world events unravel in real-time, while Koozoo’s focus is on the discovery of everyday things and events. There are other startups trying to crowdsource advice on local questions, including Localmind, which lets people get answers to their questions from locals, and is often used to find out about lines and events at large conferences like South by Southwest.
The company is currently looking to gather as much feedback as possible with its select group of beta testers before its launch in 2013. However, the company is relying on the assumption that enough users readily have a second smartphone lying around, and that they will readily broadcast the view from their window to the world. Google Street View’s collection of location-based images is comprehensive because the Google team compiled it, and relying on the average user to provide a comprehensive video lens into the world’s places will likely be a tough challenge to overcome.