Younity gets $3.5M to unify content across devices

Bambi Francisco Roizen · August 12, 2013 · Short URL:

Zettabytes of data will be in the cloud tomorrow, but Younity makes your life easier today

Recently, my husband and I got a Slingbox to watch our TV from our laptops while away from home. Why would we do this if most television shows and films are accessible online? Well, firstly - not everything is accessible (like local sports games) - which is why we have a Slingbox.

To this end, despite predictions that there will be 4.1 zettabytes of data in the cloud by 2016, according to Gartner, I believe there (at least for the foreseeable future) will always be technology needed to allow people to access content that resides on one device, from all other devices.

What I mean is that if you could access your photos and music on your desktop from your iPad and iPhone without having to transfer that data (and avoid having to waste storage space on all your devices), wouldn't you want that? You would. 

This is why Younity's technology has a place in our lives. 

Younitiy allows users to access their content - mainly photos, videos, music - from one device (say your desktop) from another (your iPhone or iPad). Today, the service works with Mac and Windows and iOS devices. An Android rollout is on the roadmap for this fall. 

Younity, which was a finalist at Splash February, just received $3.5 million in seed funding from Crosslink Capital, Draper Associates, PROfounders Capital, Lowercase Capital, Michael Birch (founder of the social network Bebo), Tekton Ventures and Knight & Bishop. The new capital will help the company roll out an Android version and hire more engineers in the Boulder area. 

The Santa Monica, Calif. based six-person startup is betting on consumers who prefer to keep their content on multiple devices (like myself). Even though I use the cloud service Box to store all my photos, often - err more like always - I find myself wanting to access photos or videos from one device that's on another. In fact, just an hour before I wrote this, I was showing my mom videos of my 16-month-year-old son. She asked if she could see another video, which I shot on my iPhone just a day ago. Unfortunately, my iPhone wasn't accessible.

But with Younity, I could just hit the Younity icon on my iPad, and click on photos. Folders of photos from devices connected to Younity, like my iPhone and MacBook Air appear so I can click on them and access them.

Not only is this convenient (I didn't have to run to my home office to grab my iPhone), my iPad now holds thousands of gigabytes, which is a good thing because I don't have much capacity on my iPad.

The other upside is that Younity doesn't store any of this data, like cloud services do. Its technology just for lets you see what you already own on your devices.

At the moment, tens of thousands of people have downloaded Younity, said Erik Caso, CEO at Entangled Media, in an interview. Entangled Media, which was part of the Mucker Lab Fall 2012 class, is the creator of Younity. 

Now some people might wonder how useful technology like this will be in the future. After all, as mentioned above, data is moving into the cloud. At the same time, there's still an abundance of data fragmented across multiple devices. Only 7% of consumer content was stored in the cloud, according to the same report. That means 93% of content is still all over our devices. As Caso has said to me in my first write-up when they launched, some 250 million people have three or more devices. 

Moreover, the storage services are not cheap. "What we’ve seen is, people don’t generally store photos in Dropbox and Box as permanent storage," said Caso. 

Younity certainly solves a pain point for me, and I'm sure for many. The question is: how does Younity get distribution?

Caso is planning on a number of distribution channels. One example is working with photo-sharing apps, like Instagram. Today, most give you an option to take a photo or access an existing one on the device. With Younity, there's a third option, accessing photos from any device.

Congrats Younity team. 

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder Vator, Managing Partner - Vator Investment Club; Former Columnist/correspondent Dow Jones MarketWatch; Business anchor CBS affiliate KPIX

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younity creates a personal cloud for all your files, built from your devices and your online services, so that all your devices work as if they were a single device. With younity, you can grab whichever device is most convenient without ever thinking about where a file is.

younity is a ubiquitous data protocol that integrates into device OSes, making them inherently multi-device aware. With younity, users can use any device they own and have access to any file as if it was stored locally on that device, regardless of available storage. With younity, devices simply become screens. Customer Problem:  Consumers today are overwhelmingly multi-device users, yet OSes are still designed around single device usage. Consumers have lots of data stuck on their devices. They are unable to put it all in the cloud and/or it costs too much; existing solutions are also management intensive, requiring constant user interaction.

Solution / Product:  younity makes all a consumer’s devices work as if they were a single device. By extracting the file system from an OS and putting it into the cloud, younity establishes a singular file system from multiple devices that is pushed back into the native OS. Thus, the OS does not know where files are stored – on the local hard drive, on another device or some online service or all of those places. This eliminates a file’s stored address from a device to an identity. Any device registered to a user has all that person’s files and all devices look the exact same. The only difference between devices is whether there is enough storage to store local or virtual copies.

 Competitors:  younity is most similar to iCloud. However, unlike iCloud, younity is OS agnostic, application agnostic, file-type agnostic, vastly easier to use and cheap or free for any amount of data. 

Target Market:  Consumers with 3 or more Internet-enabled devices (over 220M people in the US alone). Research shows: the average household will have 2.2TB of data by 2013; consumers will have an average of 5.8 devices/person by 2015; and 51% of households have both MS and Apple products (as of late 2011). Data synchronization products that accommodate partial data start at about $450/year for 250GB of online storage, with utility online storage costing vastly more. There are currently no cross-platform solutions for users that can accommodate all their data, let alone deliver it into their native device functionality.

Questions and Answers

Q. You've been around since 2010, What's the traction been like?

A. The idea for younity was born in 2010, but the company was angel funded and started hiring in summer of 2011. Our product is not a strong fit for "lean methodology"- it is enormously complicated and simply requires a lot of hands working the keyboard to make it work (typical for heavy duty, client-server software). 

The additional challenge was making it simple for consumers. After hiring our team late in 2011, we were able to take our prototype and get a private beta done by July, then launch into public beta in December 2012. Traction has been good since launching in December 2012, we've been adding thousands of users/month and engagement is high.

Q. How are you marketing this? Is there a viral component?

A. Our product is inherently personal (it's a "personal cloud"), which makes the viral coefficient low. However, we've been developing a unique way for people to share any file that is stored on any device making them sharable directly to another person via a private Facebook post. This will be launched the week of Vator Splash.

Q. What's the distribution model? What's the business model? How much will you be charging for this service?

A. younity has a direct to consumer strategy and will be offered as a freemium service that is free for up to 3 devices. For 4 or more, there is a flat annual fee that we anticipate will be around $24/year (although we have not finalized this yet). Other than the limit on devices, the free version of younity is not limited in any way- it is the same as the premium version.

Q. Where do you go from here? What other services could you offer?

A. Currently we are working with a variety of app vendors to enable offline data in their apps via our API. As a ubiquitous data protocol, younity is really about unifying data around a user's identity. This has a variety of applications, with younity being the first. 

Q. Is this a consumer-only product? Are you making something for the enterprise?

A. For now, we are focused on leading in the consumer market. However, we are well aware of a variety of enterprise applications to enable an on-premise younity server with a policy engine attached to it. In fact, we regularly are asked if this would be available now (it isn't).


Erik Caso

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Product guy and CEO of Entangled Media, where we're trying to make the Internet work better for you.

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