Unlockd raises $12M to offer ad-funded discounts on your cell phone bill

Unlockd, an ad startup that helps you get discounts on your phone bill, has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

We’ve written about other startups that show advertising on your smartphone lockscreen, but the Unlockd model is different in a couple of key ways. First of all, as the name implies, the ads only appear (briefly) after you’ve unlocked your phone.

CEO and co-founder Matt Berriman said that when an ad is only shown on the lockscreen, “You can’t guarantee [the consumer has] seen it.” On the other hand, by popping up an ad at the moment that you want to use your phone, there might be a risk of annoying the user, but Berriman also said that maintaining the consumer experiment is paramount — if an ad or offer doesn’t interest you, you can just flick it away.

Unlockd is also distinguished by the fact that it partners with telecom companies — the idea is to give consumers a discount on their cell phone bill in exchange for seeing those ads. The appeal should be obvious for the consumers who opt-in (hey, discounts), and Berriman said it’s also valuable for cell providers who are seeing revenues decline on a per-customer basis — as he explained it, “Revenues are being squeezed and pushed down due to competition.”

[vimeo 151943221 w=640 h=360]

Unlockd Demo Video from Unlockd on Vimeo.

With Unlockd, a cell company can provide the lower prices that consumers are looking for, then pay for the discount (and, potentially, make even more) through ad revenue. The service launched in Australia last fall and then, at the beginning of 2016, in the United States, where customers of Sprint-owned Boost Mobile get a $5 discount on their monthly bill. U.S. advertisers already include Starbucks, Lyft and Hulu.

Next up: Expanding into the United Kingdom and then Asia. The company plans to be active in more than five international markets by the end of the year. Berriman said the startup strikes exclusive deals with telecom companies in each country and handles the ad sales itself. (The platform only works on Android.)

The Series A comes from previous backers PLC Ventures, Peter Gammell Sam Mostyn and Lachlan Murdoch, as well as new investors Radek Sali (CEO of Swisse Wellness) and Greg Roebuck (CEO of carsales.com.au). Unlockd has now raised more than $17 million total.