Mobile payments for micro-transactions on the web are steadily gaining traction. This morning, the space received more validation as several prominent venture capital firms made a significant a investment in recently launched mobile payments startup, Boku. Boku has raised $25 million in Series C funding led by DAG Ventures with previous investors Benchmark Capital, Index Ventures, and Khosla Ventures participating in the round. This brings Boku’s total funding to $38 million since the startup’s launch in June. Boku’s marketing chief Ron Hirson tells me that the startup is also rebranding its consumer platform as Paymo, but will retain the name Boku on the merchant and publisher side.
Boku, which acquired competitors Paymo and Mobillcash in June, doesn’t require users to have a credit card or bank account to make a micropayment. Users enter their cell phone number on the site, reply to a text message and then all virtual charges are automatically charged to the user’s monthly cell phone bill. As we’ve said in the past, it’s ridiculously easy. Because of its acquisition of Paymo and Mobillcash, systems that had significant international reach, Boku gained a strong base of users around the world.
Today, Boku’s reach extends to 58 countries and 190 carriers, with two more countries (Latvia and Lithuania) being added by the end of the week. Carriers in Brazil and Argentina will also be added shortly and is expected to bring a large amount of users because of the high mobile phone usage stats in South America. Hirson says the new cash will be used to further the companies international growth and expand product offerings.
The startup is also seeing success on the publisher side, announcing 12 new partnerships with online game developers in the past month. In fact, since June, the company has developed mobile payment relationships with over 1,000 game and app developers to help power payments for virtual goods and currencies on many of the top social networks, including Facebook and MySpace. The startup currently powers mobile micropayments for both Playdom and Playfish, which was acquired by Electronic Arts.
One potential obstacle to mobile payments platforms is the high fees that mobile carriers charge to the payment systems (which are then passed on to the publisher). Boku told us last June that different cell phone carriers charge varying fees that range between 10% to 50% of the purchase price, which is a hefty amount in transaction fees. But it looks like Boku is on its way to remedying this problem. Hirson indicated to me that the company is in negotiations with carriers to bring fees. He said that carrier fees in parts of Europe will come down first and hopefully roll out to the Americas and remaining parts of the world.
Of course, its worth mentioning Boku’s main rival in the mobile payments space, Zong, which struck a large deal last year with Facebook to pay for the social network’s virtual currency. Zong also recently launched an alternative payments system, called Zong+, which lets users bill microtransactions to credit, debit and prepaid cards.
With $25 million in the bank, its hard not to imagine that Boku could snap up a few smaller players in the mobile payments and microtransaction space. When asked about the possibility of further buyouts down the line, Hirson said that while acquisitions aren’t currently part of Boku’s immediate strategy, he couldn’t rule out the possibility in the future.