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GoTenna, the startup that lets you text without cell signal, raises $7.5M and launches with REI

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GoTenna, the device for people who want to stay connected when they don’t have cell signal, has found a natural launch partner — outdoor equipment retailer REI.

Daniela Perdomo, goTenna’s CEO and co-founder, told me that REI has signed on to be the startup’s exclusive retail launch partner. For the next three months, the only place you’ll be able to buy goTenna, aside from the goTenna website, will in REI stores nationwide (where they’re getting prominent placement, as you can see in the New York store photo above) and the REI website.

GoTenna has created a lightweight device (1.8 ounces) that uses Bluetooth technology to pair with your smartphone and then generates long-range radiowaves to connect with other goTenna devices. That means you can send text messages and share your location (via pre-downloaded maps) even when you don’t have a cell connection.

It’s not just for use in the great outdoors, but that’s probably the most obvious use case, so REI seems like a natural partner. In a press release, REI category merchandising manager Egan Whitley described goTenna as “an innovative solution for groups and friends who still want to stay in touch via text during their outdoor adventures.”

The startup is also announcing that it has raised a $7.5 million Series A led by Walden Venture Capital, with participation from MentorTech Ventures, BBG Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, Wareness.io, Cellular One founder Kenneth Horowitz and Howard Finkelstein. (BBG, which stands for “built by girls”, is a subsidiary of Verizon, which also owns TechCrunch.)

Perdomo said the funding will allow her to expand the 13-person goTenna team (well, 13 plus interns). For one thing, she said she’s been “almost a one-person marketing operation,” so she’ll be expanding that part of the company. At the same time, goTenna will also continue to invest in product development, particularly improving the existing hardware through updates to the software and firmware.

Perdomo also talked about the consumer response that she’s seen since shipping the first products last fall. She told me that at this point, goTenna has sold “tens and tens of thousands” of devices.

“It’s not about using it every day,” she added, but rather making sure it’s useful “when it’s your only choice,” like when a group of friends goes into the woods and they need to stay connected. Perdomo also said customers are discovering new uses: “People might buy it for skiing and then realize, ‘Oh, I can use it for traveling abroad.’ Or they might buy it for hiking and then keep it for emergencies.”

GoTenna currently costs $199 for a pair of devices. Looking ahead, Perdomo said this is just the first goTenna device, and will ultimately serve as “the basis for a whole stack of technologies that we are developing — firmware, networking protocols, software, hardware addresses — that addresses the need for totally resilient, bottoms up communication infrastructure.”

Update: The post has been updated to correct the description of how goTenna works.

Featured Image: goTenna