FiftyThree, Maker of Paper App, Raises $15M To Build New Tools

6/18/13Follow @bromano

FiftyThree, the Seattle- and New York-based company behind one of the most successful iPad apps of the last year, has raised $15 million to expand its minimalist approach to mobile digital creativity tools.

The Series A funding round is being led by Andreessen Horowitz with new investors Thrive Capital and Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey, and existing investors High Line Venture Partners and SV Angel.

The investment allows FiftyThree—co-founded by a quartet of Microsoft veterans who worked on products ranging from Xbox to Photosynth to Courier to PowerPoint—”to expand our software, service, and hardware teams to take on bigger questions around collaboration and physical creation,” according to a company blog post.

Andreessen Horowitz investor Chris Dixon, who will become a board observer, writes that FiftyThree aims “to build the essential suite of mobile tools for creativity.”

The company’s blog post, attributed to its co-founders—at least one of whom, CEO Georg Petschnigg, worked on the Microsoft Office Suite—elaborates on the “bigger questions” FiftyThree is pursuing:

“TRUE COLLABORATION—Social media has changed the way we communicate, but real collaboration has been left behind. Still nothing has surpassed the simple act of sitting down in a room with a group of motivated people. We believe a breakthrough around collaboration will revolutionize the creative process. How we work together. How we discover new collaborators to work with.

“PHYSICAL CREATION—Tools have helped us evolve and we’ve evolved to use tools as a way to extend our ability to express something. And that doesn’t end at the touch screen. Moving beyond touch and into the physical world of accessories opens up creating with greater dexterity and expressiveness.”

FiftyThree has a foot in two cities vying—sometimes against each other—for position on the leader board of innovation hubs. The company’s Web site carries the tag line “Made in New York City”—a nod, perhaps, to one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to promote Big Apple tech and creative companies—”and Seattle.” The company says that the 12 employees in its New York office are focused on services and software, and that the 10 employees in its Seattle office are focused on hardware. But it’s not being very explicit yet about what aspects of hardware; in theory, it could be working on anything from fancy styli to a new design-oriented tablet device (perhaps the second coming of Courier?).

The latest investment in the profitable, two-year-old startup follows a small undisclosed seed funding round from Shana Fisher’s High Line Venture Partners in New York and Ron Conway’s SV Angel firm in San Francisco, a spokesperson says.

Dixon writes that FiftyThree “didn’t need to raise money, but decided that the opportunity was so large that it made sense to accelerate their efforts with additional capital and resources.”

The Paper app makes a very strong argument for the tablet as content creation platform, rather than just content consumer. FiftyThree is one of the startup companies in the Seattle area—others include Haiku Deck for iPad presentations, and Flowboard for “touch publishing”—attempting to put the create-versus-consume debate to rest.

Paper presents your work in a collection of notebooks that look a lot like Moleskine journals, with their tidy elastic bands—and the app has in many ways become the digital equivalent of the iconic Moleskine brand: a blank slate, favored by generations of writers and artists.

Apple selected Paper as its App of the Year for 2012. It has been downloaded 8 million times, the company says.

(The company gives Paper away for free, but users pay $1.99 per tool for drawing tools beyond a basic fountain pen.)

In a review of several notepaper apps a year ago, my colleague Wade Roush described Paper as “a minimalist’s dream. … [A]t a poetry slam, the guys from FiftyThree would be the ones off in the corner scribbling haiku.”

He also examined stylus use, noting that while the iPad is designed to work without one, there are times it comes in handy. “You get the benefit of a more controlled stroke, plus you sidestep fat finger syndrome,” Roush wrote.

Could this be the direction Paper is heading with its “physical creation” plans? Or is there more?

The company is staffed with veterans of successful products including Xbox 360 accessories and the Arc mouse from Microsoft, and the Sonos wireless home HiFi systems.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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