Nathan Eagle and his company Jana have an ambitious goal in mind: make the internet free for the next billion people. Whether it be for the altruistic goals or for the giant market opportunity, the company has attracted a lot of investor interest; Jana just announced yesterday that it has raised a $57 million Series C round led by Verizon Ventures.
Jana was born out of a simple question: how does a company get mobile internet connectivity to people who cannot afford the expensive airtime? The answer is behind what makes Jana work. The company’s app mCent allows users in disadvantaged areas of the world to download certain apps, which then reward the users with airtime for using them. Companies are able to get in front of these hard to reach markets and previously unconnected people are now able to access the mobile web in its entirety.
The funding announcement comes at an interesting time as Facebook’s Internet.org Free Basics program, which offered free access to certain sites and services, was recently shot down in India, as many agreed it was in violation of net neutrality (the idea that internet providers should not be allowed to favor or block particular products or websites). And although the two companies were taking different approaches to bringing internet to emerging markets—Facebook had the customer ultimatley footing the bill once they expanded their use beyond Basics, while Jana has companies subsidizing airtime—the news of Facebook Basics being blocked was most assuredly met with a sigh of relief in Jana's offices. Battling a tech giant for market share that has as many resources as Facebook is not for the faint of heart. With Facebook’s expansion into India hitting a major roadblock, the future looks bright for Jana, which already has seen around 20 million Indian users sign up since entering the market in July 2014.
So what’s next for this social internet startup? The company plans to use the latest investment to expand into another huge market—China, where mobile ad spend is said to be set to increase by 191% by 2018. The company has already made some solid headway into the huge, attractive Chinese market. Not only has it built out a team of engineers, product people and sales that will be focused directly on this huge opportunity, it already has partnerships with three large mobile operators: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.
While some companies are holding meetings to discuss a China and India strategy, Jana looks to have made some serious progress penetrating these upcoming markets. Armed with a freshly filled coffer of VC funding and some favorable events hitting direct competitors, Jana is seemingly well on its way to potentially being one of the internet giants of tomorrow.