Android-First Mobile Messenger Invi Raises $3 Million For Its SMS Replacement App

Invi, a mobile messaging app for Android which lets users search for and share photos, YouTube videos and more, is today announcing $3 million in seed funding. Investors in the round include Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary’s A-Grade Investments, Alpha Investment, UpWest Labs, and Silicon Valley angels from Google, Nokia, Yahoo, Groupon, Spotify, SRI, Cisco, Chegg and others.

The new funding comes on the heels of an earlier $750,000 round from Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, Atlantic Bridge, and various angels announced back in November. This $3 million round includes that previous raise.

“Messaging hasn’t been evolved much,” explains invi co-founder Iddo Tal of his company’s inspiration. Even though users are now sending out dozens if not hundreds of texts per day, the majority of those communications still take place over SMS.

Co-founder Lior Gonnen says that the idea with invi is to integrate every app on a user’s phone into invi’s chat. When you share a piece of content – whether an Instagram photo, YouTube video, song from Spotify, and more – the link (URL) for that content is transformed into a “virtual widget” inside invi displaying the rich media. Sort of like Gmail’s “preview” feature, recipients can then view that content right in the invi app.

In its original incarnation, invi was more of a private mobile messenger which offered users the ability to communicate with other invi users for free over data or Wi-Fi connections in order to avoid SMS fees. This is a model which has proved successful for a growing number of messaging startups worldwide, but still one that limits an app’s potential user base. So today, invi is attempting to expand its user base by also introducing the ability to text with other, non-invi users at regular SMS rates.

However, despite adding this new ability, users attempting to share a photo or video from their Camera or Android Gallery app, are still be met with an “Invi Only” flag in the messaging app. They can search and share YouTube videos, but other options like “Contact” or “Music” are listed as “coming soon.”

With the additional funding, the plan is to grow invi’s now six-person team with more engineering talent, including those who can help bring the app to iOS, Windows Phone, and the Chrome web browser, too. Longer-term the plan to monetize the free app involves letting users send each other gifting that are more transactional in nature.

And no, for once, a messaging startup doesn’t plan to make selling sticker packs its business model.

Instead, the founders explain that the company, once it has established a big enough user base, would help users send more meaningful items to their closet friends, like perhaps presents, cards, or even money.

In the near term, however, the plan is to add support for other user requested items like group chat and landscape mode, for example.

First launched in October 2012, invi has seen several hundred thousand downloads so far, with over 50 percent of those in the U.S. Today, the app is being localized in a dozen more languages, and is available worldwide in Google Play here.