Mobile Marketing Startup Kahuna Raises $11M From Sequoia

Kahuna, a startup that helps marketers test and automate their push notifications, is announcing that it has raised $11 million in Series A funding from Sequoia Capital.

The company launched last fall (announcing at the time that it had raised $2 million in seed funding), and it says its customers now include Yahoo, trivia app QuizUp (whose makers are also backed by Sequoia), 1-800-Flowers, and the New England Patriots.

Kahuna describes itself as a “mobile engagement engine,” building user profiles that allow it to deliver push notifications to each individual at the right time and with the right content — which can be crucial for publishers and developers trying to increase engagement and spending among people who have already downloaded their app.

Co-founder and CEO Adam Marchick said that with some initial customers, using Kahuna is resulting in a 20 percent response rate to their messages. He highlighted “AtoE Testing” as a key part of Kahuna’s approach, a variant of A/B testing in which five different marketing messages are tested simultaneously.

The ultimate result, Marchick added, is apps that actually send fewer promotional messages, because the ones they do send are more effective.

“You don’t need to send five messages at 5am to get your point across,” he said. “If you send one at 8:30am on my commute to work, that’s awesome.”

Marchick also suggested that we’re still in the very early stages of this market: “A lot of mobile marketers got their jobs six months ago.” He said many of those marketers know that push notifications are an important part of their strategy and are willing to spend significant sums of money on it, but at the same time, “You’d ask them how push was going and they didn’t know.”

Not that he wants Kahuna to be focused on push notifications exclusively.

“Push is a fantastic way to engage people,” Marchick said. “That said, we have a bunch more engagement channels coming. Some are already in production — really, marketing automation in all forms.”

AdMob founder Omar Hamoui is joining Kahuna’s board of directors. Marchick said this is Hamoui’s first investment and first board seat since he became a partner at Sequoia last year.

“Kahuna has developed a sophisticated solution for marketers, combining best practices with automation,” Hamoui said in the funding release. “It has leapfrogged every other vendor to create the gold standard in mobile marketing automation.”

The startup is also announcing a partnership and integration with mobile commerce platform Branding Brand, which gives Branding Brand’s customers access to Kahuna’s tools.