A Vancouver startup hoping to emerge as a leader in the connected-car business has scored a $30-million venture investment led by Toronto's Kensington Capital to help continue the rapid adoption of its technology.
Moj.io Inc. offers a combined hardware/software system that acts as a WiFi hotspot for vehicle passengers, and can also remotely identify the vehicle's location, detect if it has been in an accident and alert drivers about mechanical problems. By persuading wireless carriers to retail the service to their existing customers – Mojio is currently marketed by seven carriers in five countries under their own brands, including T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom and Canada's big three telcos, Bell, Rogers and Telus – it has added 500,000 users in the past 12 months and is on track to generate $1-million (U.S.) in monthly revenue by year's end.
"We'll be at 1.5 million to two million customers by the end of 2018" with the company slated to add about a carrier per month next year, said chief executive officer Kenny Hawk, a veteran wireless entrepreneur who joined the five-year-old company in 2015. "We're crushing competitors; we've beat them in every request-for-proposals."
"I have not seen another company with this kind of growth rate. It's been a very exciting story to watch." said Kensington managing director Rick Nathan.
The financing, which values the company at more than $100-million prefunding, was also backed by Trend Forward Capital, German electric-car power supplier Innogy Ventures and past investors, including Amazon Alexa Fund, BDC Capital, Deutsche Telecom Capital Partners and Relay Ventures.
Mojio's technology is a clever sidestep of efforts from software giants including Apple, Google and BlackBerry, as well as auto makers themselves to power in-car digital operating systems. It includes a small piece of hardware – a "dongle" in industry parlance – that plugs into a port near the steering wheel typically accessed by mechanics to do diagnostic assessments. The device contains a 4G LTE wireless modem, a GPS tracker and an accelerometer to detect motion. It can also read the codes generated by a vehicle with mechanical issues, providing users with a more precise diagnosis when engine problems arise.
All the data are then sent to Mojio's software application, which users download to their smartphones. Potential future uses include tracking driving behaviour for insurance purposes and collecting and "monetizing" data recorded by the device.
Wireless carriers typically pass on part or all of the hardware cost to consumers – up to $199 in Canada – and charge $10 to $15 a month for the service (Mojio typically gets a $1 to $2 cut of that amount), with some kicking in free roadside assistance for users. "That's usually less expensive than the service from the car companies," said Mr. Hawk, adding users with multiple cars can use the dongle in any of them.
Mr. Nathan said Mojio's offering "can be a very significant new business for telecom carriers," making it "a very interesting play in that broader battle among all these industry giants for control of the car operating system."
Upinder Saini, senior vice-president of wireless products with Rogers Communications, said when the Canadian giant set out to introduce a "smart drive" solution, "this innovative Canadian startup stood out with proven technology that offered a complete solution that would give our customers a seamless connected car experience – family and car safety features, in-car WiFi connectivity and vehicle diagnostic tools." The carrier began offering the service to customers in July.
BDC Capital senior managing partner Robert Simon added that Mojio is also hoping to strike relationships with auto makers "for whom this multifunctional solution is not their strong point," he said.
When Mr. Hawk joined Mojio, it was attempting to sell the solution directly to consumers, with three separate apps that weren't easy to use. He refocused the company by simplifying the software and altered its go-to-market strategy by persuading carriers to sell the solution and source the hardware directly themselves.
Unlike its startup rivals in the space, Mojio from the beginning eschewed developing its own hardware, relying instead on wireless hardware giants such as ZTE to make the dongles. "It was definitely the right decision, to let the big handset makers do what they do best, focus on what we do best – the software and app – and leverage the carriers who have amazing customer bases," Mr. Hawk said.
Finally, he recruited experienced talent, including San Francisco-based engineering vice-president Vidhya Ranganathan, a former senior director of engineering with Oracle, and vice-president of product Andrew Morrison, who previously held senior product roles with Fitbit, Amazon and T-Mobile; and New York-based senior vice -president of automotive Rich McLeer, former chief information officer with automotive retailer software provider DealerTrack Technologies, Inc.