FreeCharge, an India-based online platform that lets user earn coupons when they add money to their prepaid mobile phone plans or pay utility bills online, has raised a $33 million Series B from returning investor Sequoia Capital, as well as Sofina, and RuNet.
The money will be used for marketing and to build FreeCharge’s offline-to-online advertising platform, which allows brands to target users by tracking their offline purchasing behavior using FreeCharge’s coupons. The company was founded in 2010.
Alok Goel, FreeCharge’s CEO, formerly global product management lead for Google Display Ad Network, says FreeCharge “wants to be an offline-to-online bridge in a unique manner.”
To use FreeCharge, consumers either go onto its website or mobile app and top up their mobile phones or pay utility bills. In return, FreeCharge emails them coupons worth the amount of money they spent, that can be redeemed at businesses like McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza, and Amazon, as well as several major coffee shop and movie theater chains.
There are currently about 700 million mobile phone users in India and about 95 percent use a prepaid plan, says Goel. The company’s main competitors are offline shops and other vendors where users can top up their phone plans.
“In India, there are 40 million transactions that happen every day in the prepaid mobile phone market. Only a fraction of that is online, but the market is growing rapidly,” says Goel. The company currently claims 10 million registered users and that mobile transactions on Freecharge’s app have increased 30 times since the beginning of this year, with 70 percent of transactions now coming from its mobile app.
In terms of advertising, FreeCharge’s main competitors are Facebook and Google’s advertising products and network.
In order to compete, FreeCharge plans to use its Series B funding to expand into other forms of advertising.
“We are working on top of the transaction behavior we see from consumers and that insight is totally different than what Google and Facebook have. Google is working search keywords, Facebook is working on demographics, and we work on products that you consume in the offline world. We can see what movie interests you have. We observe what users are buying, based on transaction data that we see, which allows us to build a very interesting ad ecosystem that Google and Facebook don’t have,” Goel says.
“We will use it to expand into a transaction advertising platform. Coupons are one form of transaction advertising, but we have more ideas. We want to create an ad ecosystem around users,” he adds.
After focusing on expansion in its domestic market, FreeCharge plans to target other countries where many mobile users use prepaid plans, including markets in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
The company recently acquired two companies, Wishberg and Preburn. Wishberg was an acqui-hire, while Preburn is currently developing a product that will provide owners of new smartphones with suggestions for apps they should download.
In addition to its Series B, FreeCharge also announced that it has added Gokul Rajaram, Koh Boon Hwee, and Dhiraj Rajaram to its board of advisors. Gokul Rajaram is known as the “Godfather of Adsense” for his role in developing Google’s AdSense network and was also formerly Facebook’s product director of ads. He currently has a lead role at online payments company Square. Hwee is the chairman of Credence Capital, a private equity fund. Dhiraj Rajaram is the CEO of Mu Sigma, an analytics services provider.
In a statement, Shailendra Singh, managing director of Sequoia Capital India Advisors, said “FreeCharge is creating a unique new category, an advertising platform with the ‘consumption graph’ for the most valuable online consumers. We are very impressed with the team’s execution and the rapid growth and engagement of users on the platform.”