This is a story of serendipity and how that led to our firm leading the Series B for AppOnboard (“AOB”) which was announced today. AOB is a mobile app demo and analytics platform that powers app demos, which allow users to instantly experience an app or game without a download.
The story begins in January 2017 when Andrew Allison, co-founder of Gawkbox, introduced Paul Heydon, our co-founder, to Jon Zweig, founder of AOB. Paul had led the seed round at Gawkbox on behalf of his last firm and Jon was an angel in that round too. Jon had founded Jirbo in 2008 which was one of the first app developers on the iOS App Store. They ended up building their own video ad tech to monetise their apps which led to pivoting the whole company to Adcolony which was the first mobile video platform company. Adcolony was acquired by Opera Software in 2014 for $350m.
After multiple calls and meetings with Jon, Paul led his last firm’s investment in the seed round of AOB in May 2017. At the time AOB’s strategy was to build a native playable demos platform which mobile game publishers could use to show as demos on their games but also to make and distribute playable demos of their games.
A few months later, Paul suggested to Jon to try to find a way to get their playable demo units on the pages of the App Stores. Jon loved the idea and logged it for the future.
In early 2018, Paul helped Jon to bring together the Series A and introduced him to Korea Investment Partners who led the round which closed in April. Paul had just left his firm but invested personally in the round as he was a big fan of the team. Also in April, Bryan Buskas joined AOB as COO from Adcolony where he had been CCO. This was a monumental hire for the company as Bryan had been instrumental in Adcolony’s success having joined soon after the pivot in 2011.
Summer 2018 rolled around and Jon called Paul to let him know they had partnered with Google to power their Try Now buttons on Google Play Instant with AOB’s playable demo technology. As part of this, they would be licensing their tech to app developers with a SAAS business model for these App Store Demos which leverage AOB’s playable demo engine, optimized creative, and user behavior analytics. Paul got the importance of this milestone immediately and was very impressed.
In August, 2018, Jon & Bryan called Paul to let him know they were thinking about raising a Series B round to build on the SAAS business opportunity. Paul suggested various VC’s they should talk to.
In September, Paul decided to co-found our firm with Chris Albinson during an offsite in Sonoma, California. 24 hours later, they flew to LA to meet Jon & Bryan to talk about the Series B round. Post the meeting, Chris & Paul discussed the opportunity and there was 100% agreement that BGF had to be in this deal.
There were many reasons for the decision to invest:
- Team: strong experience working together at Adcolony (a big part of the team came from Adcolony) which led to a big success. Decisions are made fast and executed as fast as possible. Speed matters to them.
- Playable app demos: huge market opportunity ($200bn+ mobile ad spend by 2021) and right time due to our expected evolution within App Stores
- SAAS platform: the deal with Google and the SAAS business model fit perfectly with the opportunity to scale fast
- Existing relationships with App developers: this was important to know that there was a route to building a significant revenue base fast
- Culture: AOB has a very special culture built in a way that we have seen work very successfully before. A quiet confidence focused on learning, growing, and a competitiveness to win their market in their own way. The team is aligned and focused on doing what’s best for the company.
The key part of our thinking is that we believe that the way apps are presented, promoted, advertised, etc. will change dramatically. Static app store pages are the way of the past. App store pages may still exist going forward but they will become dynamic, personalised (in many ways) and real-time updated. Consumers will not read app store pages, they will try an app demo and if they like then they will install it immediately. This will all enhance the overall quality of installs that will drive more engaged and retentive users for app developers and at a lower cost per new user. The whole app experience is going to evolve and AppOnboard is positioned perfectly for this disruption with their app store demo platform.
By the way, AOB is hiring, see here more info.
The AOB team has achieved a lot in 2018 and our firm is overjoyed to have the opportunity to invest in them and help support them with their ambitious plans for the coming years.