Mobile mesh networking platform GoTenna has raised $24 million in a mix of equity and debt funding. Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund led the series C equity element, with backing from Comcast Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Walden VC, MentorTech, and Bloomberg Beta, while Silicon Valley Bank served as the debt financier.
Founded out of New York in 2012, GoTenna is setting out to help consumers and businesses keep in touch through their smartphones even when there is no cellular or internet connectivity. Mesh networking is the industry term for a local network that connects through a series of “nodes” that relay messages along a line, which can run for hundreds or even thousands of miles. In the case of GoTenna’s core consumer product, the “node” is a smartphone that connects to a little $179 dongle, which in turn connects with other GoTenna dongles within a range of roughly four miles.
The extended range depends on the number of dongles in a given network, but there are no real limits — 60 people in a chain could theoretically be enough to connect someone in New York to someone in Boston, though environmental factors may necessitate more nodes.
It’s also worth noting that users are required to download the GoTenna app (Android or iOS) to pair the dongle with their phone and to then use the same app to message other users or share locations via offline maps.
The story so far
GoTenna was founded in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy, a devastating storm that knocked out much of the local telecom infrastructure. This points to the kinds of use cases GoTenna is targeting — emergency services, first responders, and the like. Via its Pro service, the company claims a number of “multi-million dollar” contracts with the U.S. government, military, and agencies within Homeland Security.
At its core, however, GoTenna is more about decentralizing connectivity — it enables a peer-to-peer system of communications that circumvents the need for cell towers and satellites. Indeed, it can be used in any number of situations, from hiking in the wilderness to crowded festivals that often lead to overloaded cell networks. It could also be used by international travelers looking to bypass roaming charges.
GoTenna had previously raised around $17 million, including its $7.5 million round two years ago, and with another $24 million in the bank it plans to fund an “exciting development path for the company,” including doubling down on its public sector partnerships and investing in R&D to explore other applications of its technology.
GoTenna fits into a broader trend that has seen technology companies scramble to plug the connectivity gaps around the world through major infrastructure projects spanning subsea cables, urban Wi-Fi projects, balloons, and satellites. But GoTenna is more interested in serving what it calls “the last mile” of connectivity, where there is either no traditional infrastructure or the existing infrastructure has failed.
“Gaps in centralized communications put lives and livelihoods at risk,” noted GoTenna cofounder and CEO Daniela Perdomo. “As we prepare for a world with hundreds of billions of connected things, we should never again have to contend with an unconnected last mile. Paired with phones or integrated into any device or machine, GoTenna mesh networking turns everything in the world around us into programmable mobile infrastructure.”
Mesh networking isn’t only about connecting people outdoors; it can also be used to extend connectivity through large internal spaces — and the growing number of connected devices permeating our homes has made this a big area for investment. Earlier this year, Amazon announced it was buying Wi-Fi mesh network startup Eero for an undisclosed price, while Samsung revealed it was leveraging AI-powered network optimization tech from a startup called Plume to power its SmartThings Wi-Fi mesh system.
Nabbing Founders Fund as a lead investor on this round is a notable development for GoTenna, given the VC firm’s track record — it was one of the earliest investors in Facebook and has also backed Spotify, Airbnb, Lyft, Stripe, SpaceX, Palantir Technologies, DeepMind, Oculus, and Twilio. In other words, it has helped grow some of the most disruptive technologies to emerge in the past decade.
“GoTenna is fundamentally changing the game for emergency responders and military forces by enabling connectivity at all times,” Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens said. “We are excited by the growth opportunities in the public sector and beyond, and proud to support GoTenna’s mission to extend the edge of connectivity around the world.”