Stickybits, a startup aiming to slap barcodes on real-world objects to link them to virtual information, has raised $1.6 million in additional seed funding on top of earlier $300,000 in initial funding. The company scored some new investors, bringing in First Round Capital and Lowercase Capital, who join previous investors Mitch Kapor and Polaris Venture Partners.
The aim of Stickybits is to capitalize on the growing prevalence of smartphones that can read barcodes with built-in cameras and combine that with the surge of interest in social networking location-based services. Stickybits barcodes can store messages from users and can be accessed by other users with a special mobile application that reads the code.
First Round’s Howard Morgan is taking a seat on Stickybits’ board of directors. Stickybits said it plans to use the money to hire an additional three employees on top of their current five full-timers. The company was founded in January, and is based in New York with an office in San Francisco.
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Stickybits launched at SXSW in Austin, Texas, last March. The company sells barcode stickers to people who then put them on objects such as greeting cards or business cards—or anything, really—and use the Stickybits smartphone app to record a message (text, image, video, audio) and upload that message to the barcode. When the next user comes across the barcode, he or she can scan the barcode with a smartphone and access the message. The next user can also record a new message and add that to the barcode, so the content keeps growing. Every message is geo-tagged, so the location of the object at the time of uploading a message is recorded, too.
Stickybits sees this as a way of giving the all the objects in the world a story. This is reminiscent of art project Yellow Arrow, which does the same thing over SMS: Someone can take a Yellow Arrow sticker that bears a unique code, slap it on an object in the real world such as a park bench and record a text message saying, well, whatever that is pertinent to the place. The next user can send an SMS to the number on the Yellow Arrow and read the message. And then there is Book Crossing, a phenomenon of tagging books with codes and leaving them out in public for random people to pick them up and read and then pass them on after they have read them—all the while documenting the travels of the book on a website.
This essentially turns the world into a giant box of secrets one can unlock, if one knows where to look. The game-like applications seem fun but won’t probably appeal to everyone, but, as cofounder Seth Goldstein explains, Stickybits is looking to a broader set of applications. Rather, the company is about “building technology that allows people to comment on things.”
“We are not in the barcode business,” said Goldstein. “There are applications with courier companies or storage facilities tracking their items with our technology. There is no proprietary hardware, it’s a web service with mobile clients, smartphones. And the proliferation of smartphones today means that a huge number of users have hand-held scanners.”
Stickybits has released an application programming interface for developers, which enables reading and writing bits on any code, be it conventional barcode or QR code, a more advanced kind of barcode increasingly seen on shipping packages. Conceivably, Stickybits could be an alternative to things like radio frequency identification (RFID) technology (RFID) for tracking items in the retail world, for instance.
Goldstein is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of SocialMedia. Stickybits CEO Billy Chasen was part of New York-based investor John Borthwick’s Betaworks incubator where he created Chartbeat, a real-time online analytics service.
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