Powa Technologies, a UK startup that’s been working on an integrated mobile payments and e-commerce platform with some augmented reality thrown in, is today announcing its first round of outside funding — and it’s a doozy. The company says that it has picked up a Series A round of $76 million to take its technology global, and to a retailer near you with what CEO and founder Dan Wagner describes as the ultimate “killer app” for commerce.
The funding is coming from a single investor that Powa has declined to name, describing it only as “one of the largest investment management funds in the world.” But well-placed sources tell us it is Wellington Management, a Boston-based investment specialist with billions of dollars under management. Prior to this round, Powa’s growth was funded privately, largely by Wagner himself investing under $20 million to date.
Powa first emerged in the public eye in June 2012, looking like another Square-style mobile payments clone (complete, even, with some contentious use of photographs with hands that looked suspiciously like those used in Square’s promotional photos). One exception was that mPowa, as the service is called, was aimed early on at bigger corporations, as well as the small businesses that have been the focus of Square, iZettle, PayPal’s here, SumUp and the rest. Since last year, mPowa has inked deals with companies like Portugal Telecom and First National Bank in South Africa to resell the product.
But the bigger plan, according to Wagner, will go well beyond mobile payments.
It will extend to include a wider transacting platform that brings together online and offline retail transactions with a further product called PowaTag. This has yet to be released, but Wagner describes it as a technology that can recognize “any image” taken on a mobile device and subsequently send a user to a site to buy it. Wagner says that those who have signed on for the full Powa platform include Electrolux, the BBC, and Harper Collins, among others. “We were always dangerous to competitors,” Wagner told me in an interview. “Now we’re deadly.”
The company is nothing if not aiming very high. Part of the funding will go towards staffing up the company, which is currently at 130 but soon hiring 250 more in the UK and 200 more employees elsewhere in the world. (One executive that’s getting announced at the same time as the funding: George Thaw, the former COO of SAP, who will be the CEO for channels, overseeing Powa’s re-seller and system integrator initiatives. Wagner tells me there are some more interesting executive recruits to be announced soon.)
It’s a piece of news that is good enough in these teetering-economy times that no less than the UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, has provided a statement endorsing the company:
“We have seen some great British success stories in technology lately, as well as more encouraging news for the economy. So I am delighted that Powa is further contributing to that with the creation of 250 jobs to expand their growing business,” he said. “E-commerce is vital to our economic success. One in five of our small businesses export. If we could change that from one in five to one in four we would wipe out our trade deficit at one stroke. That is why this expansion of Powa is such good news – helping British Business increase trade both at home and abroad.”
Powa is not giving an exact valuation except to note that the $76 million values it in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Wagner also says that this is his first step to raising the profile of the company en route to a public listing — whether that would be in the U.S. or UK has yet to be determined. He says he chose to go the route of an investment management company rather than a VC or private equity house so that he could continue to have “complete freedom” to make business decisions. Powa retained Barclays to help find a backer and eventually help prepare Powa for listing.
For as crazy as such a large investment sounds for a company that may only vaguely ring a bell, Wagner is not someone to be overlooked. He’s a serial entrepreneur with pretty extensive e-commerce and analytics experience, who well understands that one of the Holy Grails for a lot of businesses has been a solution that integrates everything, including legacy and new streams of revenue, in a way that is painless for everyone involved.
Wagner’s first company, the market analytics startup M.A.I.D., was sold to Thomson Reuters many years ago for $500 million; his second company, Venda, has developed e-commerce sites for companies like Tesco, Orange, and the Universal Music Group — which could give some clue to where he holds contacts today and who Powa may count as clients in the future.