TechStars Grad Lua Technologies Gets $2.5M from IA Ventures, Angels
New York’s Lua Technologies says it closed on a $2.5 million seed round Wednesday, led by Roger Ehrenberg’s IA Ventures. Lua, a graduate of this spring’s NYC TechStars class, developed a communication and collaboration platform geared for teams of workers who are constantly on the go.
Angel investors participating in the seed round include Aaron Stone, senior partner with Apollo Global Management; Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software; John Maloney, former president of Tumblr; and Charles Roven, a producer of this summer’s superhero blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Lua’s platform runs on most mobile devices and computer desktops letting users share messages and documents as well as arrange conference calls with fellow team members. The software is cloud-based and also available as apps for Apple iOS and Google Android phones.
Michael DeFranco, the CEO and co-founder of two-year-old Lua, says the platform is being positioned as a tool to cut down on time and materials used by television and movie productions where the staff is often scattered. If a production schedule changes, electronic documents can be sent to the crew’s mobile devices via Lua’s platform rather than passing around hardcopies. The platform’s analytics can also show how quickly employees are getting their jobs done.
Though collaboration and management software already exists for business, DeFranco says his company focused on the needs of mobile users first rather than deskbound office workers. “Most project management software was designed with an afterthought to build a mobile app,” he says.
DeFranco says the new funding gives his company some breathing room and the means to hire up to nine employees, largely engineers and developers, over the next 18 months. The company currently has a staff of 13. Lua also recently moved into new offices—along with fellow NYC TechStars grad 10sheet—in the Flatiron District, from its prior digs at Cooper Square.
As his company grows, DeFranco says he sees more opportunities to help the entertainment industry work more efficiently. “Hollywood studios have a $100,000 per hour burn rate at times,” he says, which includes such costs as printing and handing out script changes on paper while production is already under way.
DeFranco says his company’s software was used during production of director Terrence Malick’s romantic drama “To the Wonder,” starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, due to be released in the fall.
Initially, Lua offered the studios more features to help crews get organized, but DeFranco says the communication platform saw the most use among production crews. That swayed Lua to make communication the software’s focus. In addition to movies and television shows, the platform has been used to help coordinate crews at concerts and sports events.
The company is also preparing its platform for use by an undisclosed hotelier. “They were looking for a way to keep in touch with all the staff, the front desk, the bellman, and restaurants,” DeFranco says. “Right now they are clipboards and walkie-talkie-based.”
Cruise ships, construction companies, and other business where workers rely on a mobile device as their primary work tool might become potential future customers for Lua, according to DeFranco. Large enterprises including Cisco, for its mobile sales force, and General Electric, for its health care division, have taken an interest in using the platform as well, he says.
DeFranco comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His father, Laurence, co-founded iMapData, a Mclean, VA-based company which built some of the first digital maps on the Internet. “At a very early age I was taught that technology should be used to solve problems in the real world,” the younger DeFranco says.
Lua got its start in 2010, when DeFranco met co-founders Eli Bronner and Jason Krigsfeld at Wesleyan University. A love of the entertainment industry, he says, led him to develop technology to address costly breakdowns in communication among production crews.
Users of the Lua platform are charged up to $20 per seat, per month and DeFranco says he is exploring introducing a freemium business model for the software. The company wants to see its platform used by more production companies handling movies, concerts, and sporting events, television shows with the hospitality and construction sectors to potentially follow.
“We’re moving away from one-off projects to more enterprise organizations” DeFranco says. “The more people involved in the [production], the more we’re able help them move faster.”