VUZ raises $20 million to scale its immersive social app

VUZ, a social app that allows users to stream and experience immersive realism in extended reality (XR) and metaverse digital experiences, has raised $20 million in Series B investment.

Investors in the round include Caruso Ventures, Vision VC Fund, e& capital (investment pillar of e&, formerly known as Etisalat Group), DFDF (Dubai Future District Fund), WIN (Webit Investment Network), SRMG, Elbert Capital, Yasta Partners, Faith Capital and Panthera Capital. Seven existing investors participated as well.

The Dubai-based VUZ says that this round, which has seen it onboard a mix of U.S.- and EMEA-based investors, will be pivotal to its international expansion.

Founder and chief executive officer Khaled Zaatarah launched VUZ, formerly 360VUZ, as a platform to bridge the gap between physical and virtual worlds by offering premium immersive content to a global audience. According to Zaatarah, VUZ’s vision is to connect people by providing “authentic, immersive experiences while removing the constraints of travel, time, and access.” The platform offers more than 20,000 hours of content covering entertainment, creators, sports and XR, VR and AR experiences virtually anywhere in the world.

Users can access and engage different content — in addition to those mentioned above, live events, concerts, celebrity interviews and masterclasses, through its 360-degree live streams — by downloading VUZ’s iOS and Android apps. About 70% of its content is free and VUZ monetizes by showing ads to users in this category; on the other hand, users must pay between $4-8 for its exclusive content. The company is planning to allow users access content via different media: Meta/Oculus headsets, Qualcomm, immersive avatars and a web platform, Zaatarah said to TechCrunch.

The web3 platform claims to have reached over 1 billion screen views from more than 10 million users since its launch. Over 44% of these views come from the Middle East, 32% from the U.S. and 24% from Egypt. VUZ said it aims to reach 3 billion views in 2023 and double its user base 2x yearly. Creators’ immersive content collaborations have also been a core driver for VUZ content, where its top creators get over 100 million views globally.

The funds will be used to fuel these plans, including improving its 10% month-on-month recurring revenue growth, investing in content, hiring additional senior hires, new social features, launching web3 products and NFT projects and scaling with asset-light operations into eight new international markets. The investment will also see VUZ scale its Los Angeles office and scale with creators and content in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

“Our plans for the future are 10 times stronger than what we have been building for the past six years,” added the chief executive. “We have built the base and are now ready for sustainable scalability and growth at a scale-up stage,” Zaatarah adds.

Telecoms are betting on immersive media and see it as one of the most robust use cases for 5G and the future of video streaming. Zaatarah said partnership and integration with 45 telecom operators is the backbone behind the company’s global expansion. Even Dan Caruso, the managing director of Caruso Ventures, said his firm invested in the company because it is uniquely positioned to build a global platform and partner with top telecom operators globally. One such partner is the newly rebranded UAE-based telecom operator, e&; its VC arm, e& capital, launched a $250 million fund this week.

VUZ, which has raised over $30 million since inception, is one of e& capital’s maiden investments in the MENA region. The immersive media platform said it will leverage the telecom operators’ infrastructure to expand into countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Speaking on the investment, Kushal Shah, the head of VC at e& capital, said VUZ is in line with his firm’s commitment “to collaborate with visionary tech businesses that we believe will contribute to building a better and brighter digital future. We will continue to invest in the company’s success, partnering with them to help them achieve growth and enable meaningful progress that moves this digital world forward.” He told TechCrunch that his firm plans to make 20 investments across Series A and B-stage startups in the MENA region in the next four years.