No matter whether you live in Copenhagen, Chengdu or Cincinnati, everyone hates traffic jams. But that very painful aspect of commuter life represents a very big business.
And Kirkland-based Inrix, which today is announcing $37 million in venture capital financing led by venerable Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is poised to capitalize on the very acute pain point of traffic congestion. Spun off from Microsoft Research in 2004, the company is still relatively unknown even though its business is growing as fast as a Monday morning back-up on the 520 bridge.
The provider of traffic data to media companies, government agencies and in-car navigation systems is profitable, growing revenue by about 90 percent annually and poised to help drivers get from point A to point B in the quickest possible time. And, as the popular adage goes: time is money.
Inrix CEO Bryan Mistele — the former general manager of Microsoft’s automotive group — declined to disclose the specifics around the company’s revenue or valuation. But he did say that the valuation in the just-closed venture capital round was “quite remarkable,” more than double what the board originally thought it would achieve.
Mistele also tells GeekWire that the company is already bigger than Zillow, the online real estate company which went public last week and is now valued at more than half a billion dollars. Last year, Zillow posted revenue of $30.4 million.
Inrix didn’t need to raise money. But when Mistele opened up the round, venture capitalists flocked to his door. Within a few days, the entrepreneur said that he had received seven term sheets from competing venture capital firms.
Kleiner Perkins, a backer of Twitter, Zynga and others, won what was described as a competitive bidding war.
“I think that’s obviously a reflection of our revenue and our growth and our market position,” said Mistele of the interest in the company.
What’s Inrix planning to do with its new cash?
The company already is eyeing some potential acquisition targets, mainly overseas where Inrix sees big opportunity.
“We are absolutely committed to being a worldwide provider of traffic data,” said Mistele, adding that “traffic is a worldwide problem” and a “billion dollar opportunity.”
Inrix currently operates in 22 countries, but the vast majority of the company’s revenue comes from North American customers such as Ford, Clear Channel Communications, MapQuest and the I-95 Corridor Coalition. That mix will change in the coming months, with Mistele projecting that 20 to 30 percent of the company’s revenue will come from foreign customers by the end of this year.
Inrix sells its traffic data to a variety of customers, typically getting paid on a per unit and per month basis. For example, it is the provider of traffic and navigation information to the Ford SYNC in-car technology system. As a result of that deal, Inrix receives a fee from Ford on every vehicle sold with the system.
In the Seattle area, commuters come in contact with Inrix every day and probably don’t even know it. Its data is used by the Washington State Department of Transportation to notify drivers on digital billboards of how long it will take to reach certain destinations. Seattle’s KOMO 4 TV also uses the company’s information for traffic reports.
Nine of the top 10 traffic apps on Android and iPhone — including MapQuest Mobile, Telenav and Navigon — use the company’s information. Inrix also offers a free and premium version of its own mobile app which has recorded more than two million downloads on iPhone and Android and just arrived on the BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7.
In total, Mistele said that more than 100 million people every day use traffic data from Inrix. The company collects its data through mobile apps as well as real-time location and speed information coming in from taxi cabs, delivery vehicles, long-haul trucks and more.
Microsoft, as an incubator of the original predictive traffic technology, still receives royalties from Inrix. But Mistele points out that the deal “caps out” next year at which time Microsoft no longer will have any interest in Inrix.
Even with the cash infusion, Inrix plans to remain profitable. And the company — which just hired former Captaris and PivotLink executive Jeff deCilla as chief financial officer — is eyeing a public offering.
“We are certainly on the path of wanting to take this business public,” Mistele tells GeekWire.
Asked whether an IPO could occur this year, Mistele would only say that it plans to start the process “sooner, rather than later.”
Inrix last raised money four years ago, and the current funding brings total capital raised to $68 million. The $37 million marks one of the largest venture capital rounds in the state, surpassing the $30 million that Cheezburger raised in January.
As a B2B company, Mistele said that Inrix doesn’t get the attention of the Cheezburgers or Redfins of the world. But he said Inrix is helping to change the way people access traffic information in the car.
“If you look at the connected car and look at digital content going to cars down the road … we are the cloud service provider on the four largest companies creating these type of connected devices in the car,” said Mistele. “It is not a consumer brand …. but we are kind of the Intel powering all of these things and very few people know that we reach 100 million consumers a day with our data.”
Other backers of the company include August Capital and Green Growth Fund. No one from Kleiner Perkins is joining the board as result of the deal, with Mistele saying that the ownership percentage of the firm didn’t justify a board seat.
Inrix employs 100 people, and Mistele projects that it will likely double staff by the end of 2012.
It competes against TomTom and a European company by the name of ITIS Holdings. Its largest rival is Nokia-backed Navteq. But, because of the issues facing the Finnish mobile phone company, Mistele believes that Inrix is in a good position to capitalize.
“We are fortunate that it is not like social networking where there are 200 (competitors). There are only half a dozen that matter worldwide,” he said. “Right now, given our growth and the number of customers, we are arguably in the lead. And what we are trying to do now, as TomTom and Nokia are going through their issues, we are trying to capitalize on that and expand worldwide.”
After all, Mistele said that customers such as Ford, Toyota and Audi are looking for global providers of information.