Many of us are moving around these days a lot less than we used to -- because of COVID, we're working from home instead of an office; and we are traveling and going out less. Now, as we shift back into more "normal" behavior, a startup that's helping to better understand where and how we are getting around has picked up a significant round of funding. Placer.ai, which has built a platform to track and understand footfall in a variety of venues, has raised $100 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its platform. Placer has confirmed that the round values it at $1 billion.
The round is coming from an interesting mix of strategic and financial investors. It's being led by Josh Buckley (the CEO of Product Hunt), with participation from WndrCo (Disney/Dreamworks' supremo Jeffrey Katzenberg's investment firm), Lachy Groom, MMC Technology Ventures LLC, Fifth Wall Ventures and Array Ventures, as well as a swathe of real estate names, including J.M. Schapiro (CEO of Continental Realty Corp), Eliot Bencuya and Jeff Karsh of Tryperion Partners, Daniel Klein of Klein Enterprises/Sundeck Capital and Majestic Realty. This round is coming less than a year after Placer.ai's Series B of $50 million.
Today, Placer has around 1,000 customers across real estate and property, retail, consumer packaged goods and municipalities -- some of the names include JLL, Regency Centers, Taubman, Planet Fitness, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Grocery Outlet -- which are using it to determine anonymized crowd movement, size and sentiment to help with their decision making and strategic planning.
The plan is to invest both in building out that user base further and in the platform itself, by bringing in more physical and digital data sets -- for example vehicle traffic, planned construction data, web traffic and purchase data to augment the 50+ data sets that it aggregates today -- which in turn will lead to more use cases for Placer's technology.
Given how much our movements have been curtailed in the last couple of years, it's somewhat ironic that a company whose currency is physical presence in open places would be growing, much less raising money on the back of its potential. In actual fact, Noam Ben-Zvi, Placer's CEO and co-founder, tells me that business has been stronger in recent years than ever before.
Growth is largely coming in two areas. First, people were still shopping, and going to other places, so existing customers were using it to figure out how, where and why people were moving around when they were (indeed Placer.ai created a recovery dashboard to track specifically around this idea and how it related to COVID-19). Over time, that core business has gotten smarter.
"We've been around for five years working with early adopters giving us feedback," Ben-Zvi said. "They pass us known information about their properties and we can use that to retrain and calibrate our models so they get more accurate." A lot of this to date has been about historical data but now the company is shifting into providing more predictive insights as well, he added.
Second, the pandemic gave rise to a new set of reasons to need this kind of data, whether it was to determine crowds at testing or vaccination sites, or because the changing economy was precipitating real estate dealmaking, or something else. This meant new customers were, for example, using Placer's tools for M&A due diligence, or to help determine interesting opportunities for investment.
Interestingly, he notes that one salient point that Placer has determined is that even with the rise of virtual experiences, physical is not quite dead yet. "Everywhere the rebound is impressively fast," he noted. This is in marked contrast to when the pandemic first descended on the world in early 2020. "When COVID hit we were concerned. We froze our hiring, and waited since some of our customers weren't even opening anymore."
A lot of the data that Placer is able to pass on to customers -- who essentially construct their own parameters for searching using a self-service tool -- has traditionally been out of their reach despite their best efforts. Katzenberg's previous work in the entertainment industry gave him first-hand experience of those black holes in consumer behavior and sentiment, which is one reason why he has gravitated to a company building technology to solve that now.
"Placer provides instant, simple and actionable insights to questions we've been asking as operators for over 30 years. The pace of innovation, the unique trust that the company has developed, and the massive market demand all point to the magnitude and scale of what this team can achieve,” said Katzenberg in a statement.
"We have long felt like the disruption Placer can bring is massive, but the market demand has far exceeded our initial expectations," added Josh Buckley. “We see a powerful opportunity to continue partnering with Placer to improve the way decisions are made in the physical world, fundamentally improving the way these businesses and organizations operate."