Younity raises $8M Series A for cross-platform data unity

Ronny Kerr · December 3, 2015 · Short URL:

Going directly after Plex and its hefty-priced "Plex Pass," Younity secures new funding

[UPDATED 2015-Dec-10: Corrected a statement regarding how Younity compares to Plex.]

Younity, an iOS app for streaming media from your Mac, today announced an $8 million Series A round of funding led by venture capital firm Marker LLC with participation from Tim Draper’s Associates and PROfounders Capital. Rick Scanlon of Marker will join younity’s board.

Draper and PROfounders in 2013 invested in Younity’s $3.5 million seed round, which also saw contributions from Crosslink Capital, Draper Associates, PROfounders Capital, Lowercase Capital, Bebo creator Michael Birch, Tekton Ventures, Knight & Bishop, Kamran Pourzanjani, Brian Lee, Brad Jones, and others.

Here’s the beautiful idea that younity is selling: You want to easily access your music, videos, photos and documents no matter whether you’re using your iPad, iPhone, or Mac. But you don't want to have to deal with syncing/uploading constantly or having to pay for storage limits.

So you download younity to your mobile device(s) and Mac, set everything up, and then start streaming your data from whichever device you prefer.

“Consumers should be able to access their content anytime, anywhere, and this funding allows us to continue to make this belief a reality,” said Erik Caso, co-founder and CEO of younity in the press announcement.

There are a couple issues that come to mind.

First, younity isn’t exactly lightning fast. I downloaded the app to my phone and computer, pointed it to a folder with 10 GB of music, and still couldn’t see any of it on my phone after half an hour. So the setup process takes some time, and who knows about the actual streaming capabilities.

Though I didn't end up seeing my files on my phone until several hours later, younity CEO Erik Caso tells me that "typically, 10GB of data would be scanned in a minute or two." So when the app works as it's supposed to, it should be lightning fast.

Second, this is not the first company to try solving this need, and they probably won’t be the last. Many of the major technology players actually try to solve this with their own proprietary services (i.e. Apple offers iCloud and iTunes Match for data and music syncing). Then there’s Box and Dropbox and tons of other file syncing services.

Of course, younity has an advantage over these players: “While most companies build giant storage solutions, they’re building an access platform that doesn’t care where media is stored - online or offline,” said Rick Scanlon, co-founder and partner at Marker and younity’s new board member.

The other major advantage of younity is that random data and documents aren’t its focus. Because it focuses specifically on media (music, videos, photos), the app is designed with those kinds of experiences in mind.

It’s this functionality that makes Plex its most serious competitor. Already well-established in the market, the free Plex app offers the same streaming capabilities as younity. The one difference is younity also lets you download from the server to the app, free of charge. To get this same feature on Plex, users must upgrade to a Plex Pass subscription.

Plex Pass subscribers also get premium features like TV apps, cloud sync to Dropbox and Google Drive, and more. On a monthly basis, the Plex Pass costs $60 yearly, while a yearly subscription costs $40. Or, if you're hardcore about it, you can jump for the lifetime $150 pass.

Younity says it has “unified” over 1.4 billion files for its users, representing more than 9.5 petabytes of data.

The company says it will use its new funding to improve the app, hire new team members in Encinitas, CA and Boulder, CO, and expand its office space.

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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).