Drivetime Funding Round – FI

Drivetime Closes $4 Million Seed Round, Launches Voice Trivia Game for Commuters

Drivetime announced this week a $4 million seed round and the official launch of an iOS app that provides a trivia-based voice game for commuters. The app first launched in Canada and the company used feedback from that effort to refine the game experience before becoming available in the U.S. Niko Vuori, Drivetime founder and CEO, told Voicebot in an interview that there are over 110 million commuters in the U.S. that travel to and from work alone. The total car travel time adds up to an estimated 2.5 billion hours each month. Vuori said in a prepared statement

Our mission is to bring fun and laughter into the car through interactive social games…we are very well-positioned to go after the blue ocean opportunity that is interactive entertainment in the car.

Funding for the investment round came from a number of venture capital firms including Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Steadfast Venture Capital, Webb Investment Network, Sinai VC, Canaan Partners, Access Ventures, Founders Fund, Index Ventures, and The Chernin Group. Angel investors also participated in the round such as Zynga co-founders Mark Pincus, Eric Schiermeyer and Justin Waldron, and Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy. Pitchbook shows this is Drivetime’s first funding round and included 17 different investors.

Mobile-First and Voice-First, but Not Voice Assistant First

Drivetime Co-founders: Cory Johnson (CTO), Niko Vuori (CEO), Justin Cooper (Chief Creative Officer)

Drivetime was founded by Vuori along with Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson. All three are veterans of mobile and social gaming. Vuori spent time at Zynga and was a co-founder of Rocket Games which sold to Penn National Gaming for $170 million in 2016. He also served as Head of Product at Toy Talk, the company that eventually became the voice app development platform PullString. Johnson and Cooper worked for Zynga and Rocket Games in addition to game giant Electronic Arts.

When looking at options for voice, the company decided that the smart speaker segment was quickly getting crowded and Vuori said he was concerned there are too many other gaming options in the home that are both compelling and visually based. However, his team saw the car is an untapped market and ideally suited for voice-interactive games. Vuori commented:

“The inspiration was seeing my children interact with voice-powered technology and that got us thinking there is a natural use case in the car that is really untapped right now. With the tech giants creating interest in the home, we looked at the car and said it was a perfect use case. Voice is the really the natural interactive method for the car. There is a clear opportunity and a clear need.”

The decision to focus on the car also means that building on Alexa or Google Assistant were not an option. The company needed a solution that could work on mobile. The choice was Google’s cloud speech recognition service. A synthetic voice is also used to read out game stats between questions and commentary read by human show hosts.

A Cross Between Lucky Trivia, TRT World, and HQ

There are three key differences about Drivetime compared to other trivia games. There is high production value with live hosts and witty banter between questions that has the feel of a morning radio program with an emphasis on current events. There is new content every day. It is designed to be played over a more than 30-minute commute. The production value immediately made me think of Google Assistant’s Lucky Trivia with its sound effects and joke-making host. With that said, Lucky Trivia is a synthetic voice using text-to-speech so it lacks the human authenticity of Drivetime. And, the two hosts discussing topics that happened this week offers it a timeliness and relevance you won’t find in many other voice trivia games. TRT World does this with its weekly news quiz, but no one else is doing this on a daily basis for voice games.

HQ also includes timeliness, high production value, and competition with other players. In some ways, Drivetime is an asynchronous version of HQ without the set time, cash prizes and visual dependency. HQ has had as many as two million concurrent players and despite a recent decline still attracts hundreds of thousands of trivia players daily. Because commutes are variable particularly across time zones, Drivetime doesn’t insist on synchronous play, but still pits you against another player for each individual game to create a sense of competition. And, there is a leaderboard so you can compare yourself to all players or friends from your contact list. There are no cash prizes yet and it would be harder to implement since one player could give the answers to another that started the game later in the day.

Volley, the voice games company where Vuori has also served as an advisor, uses a similar concept in its trivia games such as Song Quiz where you are lined up with another player that has already completed a similar quiz. A key difference is that Drivetime’s content is new each day. That leads to a lot of added production costs but makes each episode seem more timely. If you miss it, you cannot go back. That bakes in an incentive to play each day. Vuori said the company has not decided whether to make the back catalog of shows available, but it is easy to imagine access to older shows an incentive behind a subscription program. Today, Drivetime is completely free with no paid options.

A Content Studio or a Game Company

It is worth noting that each daily session of Drivetime is far longer than a standard voice game or mobile game for that matter. Vuori says that is because of the length of commute time. Mobile game sessions are typically about seven minutes according to industry data. A complete Drivetime session is more than four times that length with three trivia segments of about 10 minutes each. The seven-question segments are augmented by additional facts about the category theme and the answers which give it more of a variety show feel than a straight mobile quiz game. If you want to engage in a quick trivia game to get a dopamine rush about how smart you are, this is not it. The filler adds time but also creates a unique feel that allows the company and show hosts to express their personality. This is a good fit for a captive audience stuck in traffic.

A trip to Drivetime’s San Francisco headquarters reinforces the sense that Drivetime if more of a content production shop that a technology company. A quick review of LinkedIn and scan of the office personnel suggests that there are more creative professionals than technical team members at the company. This makes sense. Drivetime is not differentiating itself based on new technology, but instead by a unique user experience designed for a specific user context. Maybe Drivetime will eventually show up on Alexa and Google Assistant for play in the home (it should), but for now it is perfectly suited for the commute. I could even see it adding a deal with Spotify to roll right into music after completing the day’s competition for users with longer commutes. There are a very few companies creating interesting voice interactive games, but Drivetime is certainly near the top.

You can read the company’s full announcement here.

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