After wowing with its digital ocean theBlu, Wemo Media gets $2.5M and another co-founder, has more in store
Wemo Media has built some impressive tools to help digital creators collaborate remotely, but the company realized early on that the power of this idea might be difficult to appreciate in the abstract. So it created a luminous crowdsourced digital underwater ecosystem called theBlu, which invites artists, animators, programmers, and composers to create and sell custom fish both for profit and to support charitable causes.
With the project in public beta since May 2012, Venice, California-based Wemo is nearly ready to pull the curtain back on the rest of its creative platform, but is first bolstering its leadership team and bank account. Today, the company announced $2.5 million in Series A financing, as well as the addition of former BuzzMedia (now SpinMedia) founder, Katalyst Networks president, and early Craigslist collaborator Anthony Batt as EVP and co-founder.
TheBlu marketplace has been a big hit, according to the company, with species now ranging from standard, common fish, to user creations, to exotic and rare species linked to philanthropic causes, with prices dictated by the popularity of the designs. The list includes the Pink Skunk, Queen Angelfish, Palette Tang, and Black Ocellaris Clownfish, among other wildly named creatures. The average purchase price has been a remarkable $20, according to Wemo co-founder and CEO Neville Spiteri. Given the cost of the average saltwater fish tank, maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising.
And where else can you design your own virtual fish to raise money for charity?
Spurred by the success of theBlu, and the high levels of engagement among children, the company is in the process of adapting their digital underwater world into an iPad game called SuperFugu, which is expected to launch in April 2012.
“People are consuming tons of traffic on mobile, obviously,” Spiteri says. “We think that there needs to be more purpose built media for these devices, but to build that content, you need some sort of platform and system to use that’s tailored for that purpose. Wemo is a platform that provides specialized code to connect all the collaborators required move content from ideation to product.”
The newest member of the team, Anthony Batt, joins Wemo after two years as a strategic advisor, at a time when it’s ready to move past this MVP (minimum viable product) to create more original content and production tools purpose built for a touch driven mobile environment. The company is not yet ready to reveal exactly what it has planned – although I was told to expect more shortly – but Batt’s wealth of experience delivering original digital programming will surely be an asset along the way. The new EVP and co-founder’s focus will be on productizing the wealth of technology that the Wemo team has already built, he tells me. He’ll also oversee marketing, audience development, and business development, while Spiteri manages the overall creative and technical functions.
Despite his pedigree, Batt may not be the most decorated member of Wemo’s 12 person team. TheBlu boasts Avatar animation director and The Titanic animation supervisor Andy Jones among its key contributors. Spiteri is no slouch either, having earned motion picture and video game digital effects credits on True Lies, Apollo13, Terminator 2/3D, Final Fantasy, and Medal of Honor.
Wemo’s $2.5 million Series A financing closed in October 2012 and was led by Leo Spiegel’s Spiegel Capital Management with participation from MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito’s Digital Garage, Palantir Capital. The company is also advised by former Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chair Yair Landau, Academy Award Winner and creator of The Cove Louie Psihoyos, and others. The latest round brings the company’s total financing to $4.5 million, following a $2M seed investment in October 2010 by Wemo co-founder and former Greenplum co-founder Scott Yara.
The virtual goods model is an attractive one, given that the worldwide market for these items has swelled to nearly $15 billion, from just $3 billion a year prior, according to the latest research. And theBlu’s charity angle is a smart one for attracting interest and support.
But Wemo aspires to be much more. It aspires to be a software platform for content creators. That’s a much more challenging space, with both deep pocketed incumbents and highly demanding users. To succeed, the company will need to prove not only that it can offer functionality and value not available elsewhere, but that it can do so in a reliable manner. When people rely on your software for their livelihoods, there’s very little forgiveness. No matter how magical its fish are, Wemo will need to earn this trust over time.
“After people use their mobile devices to communicate, they still want to be entertained,” Spiteri says. “We believe that the touch screen changes everything, and we’ve created a set of one-of-a-kind tools that helps makers, from 3D artists to illustrators to coders, make engaging content for mobile digital natives.”