Celebs back Backbone’s mobile gaming controller with $40M round

Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot for work. My suitcase packing list, honed over the years, was pretty much set in stone. Backbone’s iPhone gaming controller is one of a few new things in recent years to elbow its way onto that list. A damn solid gaming experience on the go, it’s worth the little bit of suitcase real estate it requires.

It seems I’m not the only one who likes it. The company just announced it closed a $40 million round, with support from folks like The Weeknd, Post Malone and Diddy.

Back in 2018, founder Maneet Khaira was an intern at YouTube. “Every single day,” he says, he’d get home from work and start playing Fortnite with his friends — almost always on their phones, as it was the one device they all had in common. The touchscreen experience was rough, but it let them play together. After seeing demos of what cloud gaming could bring to mobile devices, he wrote a presentation on how gaming, as he puts it, “would be the single biggest opportunity for Google in the next decade.” Hoping it would actually get read, Maneet wrote a script to automatically send it to the company’s VPs on Monday morning — by the time he woke up, he says, thousands of people were looking at the document.

One of those VPs asked Maneet to present his thoughts to his team in person. “It was somewhere in that conversation that I realized there could be an opportunity to build something incredible,” says Maneet. His internship came to its pre-scheduled end, and he jumped headfirst into building Backbone.

Beyond the single (quite good!) peripheral it’s launched so far, Backbone’s goal is to be an all-in-one hub for gaming on the go. As Roku built a business out of bringing all the video services to one place, and Sonos did the same for music, Backbone aims to do for mobile gaming. Games running on the device, games running in the cloud, games running on your console back home and streamed remotely — it’s all the same to them, they just want to be the hub.

With this in mind, much of Backbone’s more advanced capabilities are tied into Backbone+ — an optional premium subscription service that adds richer functionality, high-quality gameplay recording, Twitch streaming support and more. Backbone+ is free for the platform’s earliest adopters; for newer users, it costs around $50 a year.

Image Credits: Backbone

So what are people actually using Backbone’s hardware for? Maneet tells me that they’ve seen a sizable audience in folks tapping it for remote play — that is, playing things on your phone or tablet as streamed from your next-gen console, whether you’re on a break at work or just don’t want to tie up the living room TV.

He also says they’ve started to find a following in more casual players. “This could be someone’s first kind of dedicated gaming device,” he says. “And we’ve seen that play out in our metrics. Folks who maybe don’t consider themselves ‘core gamers’, or wouldn’t even self identify as gamers, are using it.”

This latest round, a $40 million Series A, was led by Index Ventures. It’s backed by a pretty wild list of celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher (by way of his fund Sound Ventures), The Weeknd, Kevin Hart, Post Malone, Diddy, Amy Schumer and Marshmello. On the tech side, the company says that Discord co-founder Jason Citron, Rec Room co-founder Nick Fajt and Sonos CEO Patrick Spence also invested.