Drivetime Closes $11 Million Series A Round with Investment From Makers Fund, Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Google

Drivetime announced this morning that the voice-first gaming startup had closed an $11 million funding round. The new venture capital investment follows a $4 million round in November 2018. This month’s funding was led by Makers Fund, included previous investors Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network, and Access ventures, and included new investors Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Google.

The latter two investors are particularly interesting as Drivetime only offers voice games through iOS and Android apps and not for Alexa or Google Assistant. Granted, Drivetime focuses solely on voice games for drivers and the presence of Alexa and Google Assistant is less pervasive in cars than use of mobile apps. As Alexa and Google Assistant become more widely available in cars, this is likely to change.

Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, said in a statement, “Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles. Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

A Focus on Commuters

Niko Vuori, CEO of Drivetime co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori has a background in both gaming and voice technology from his time as an executive at Rocket Games, Zynga, and Toy Talk which later became Pullstring and was acquired by Apple in late 2018. While other voice-first game makers have focused on users in the home, from the beginning Drivetime was dedicated to providing games and other entertainment for commuters. Various studies show that commuting time to work in the U.S. averages between 35 and 52 minutes per day.  He determined the time consumers play mobile games was about equivalent to the time Americans spent commuting to work annually and thought that voice could create an entirely new gaming category for previously unreached audiences.

The company’s first title, Drivetime, is a voice interactive Trivia game that uses human hosts that banter about popular culture as much as they do read the trivia questions. Vuori said in an interview on Voicebot Podcast earlier this year:

“The concept came exactly from the drive-time radio DJ…where you have a couple of personalities just bantering to and forth, talking about the events of the day coming up with some factoids and extra kind of layers that you go deep on the trivia.

“We’ve designed experiences for different types of contexts and different types of platforms and mobile PC social networks when you’re designing something new in particular, which of course this is, you don’t want to stray too far into the unknown…So, what we wanted to try and do is be instantly recognizable—something familiar, but with a twist. That twist…was instead of playing music, we’re having the players actually participate in this [trivia game].”

Since then, Drivetime has expanded its titles and now includes other types of trivia, brain training, and interactive fiction. It is also expanding into games provided by other companies since its focus is providing a platform for entertainment much like a radio network as opposed to creating every game it distributes.

Early Success

The company has moved quickly over the past year to build a customer base and add new titles. It launched in the iOS App Store in July 2018 in Canada which Vuori said was strategic. This allowed the company to do a market test and work out the bugs in a country similar to the U.S. but at a smaller scale. This followed with an App Store launch in the U.S. in October 2018 and the seed funding round in November. The company then started to add other games, an Android app in March 2019, and a subscription service in April. It is debuting Jeopardy! this month as its first third-party title.

Vuori told Voicebot in an interview last month that its retention rate for monthly active users is about 65% and conversion to subscription is trending positively. This figure is far higher than any data Voicebot has reviewed for retention of voice games designed for use in the home on smart speakers. He also indicated that the retention and conversion curves for both iOS and Android were similar with the exception of some lower-end Android devices.

Niko Vuori CEO of Talks Voice Games for the Car – Voicebot Podcast Ep 81

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