With $6.5M Series A, Vinli Plans to Connect More Than Just Cars

Cars can feel a little outdated given the plethora of technology available nowadays, especially if they’re a few years old. That’s where Vinli comes in, a Dallas-based company that has received $6.5 million of venture funding for its connected-car device that lets developers build apps for automobiles.

Vinli sells a device that users plug into a car’s diagnostic data port, which became required in new vehicles made in 1996 and after. The device, which Vinli is selling on preorder for $99 through Indigogo, connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and offers people a marketplace of apps with various services, from roadside assistance to an app that connects you to a repair shop when a problem arises in the vehicle.

“You can pick and choose apps that are relevant to you,” says Mark Haidar, the company’s CEO. “You spend hours in the car. Now when you have a smart car, a connected car, it opens up a tremendous amount of opportunities—not only for the consumer experience, but it provides a lot of business opportunities, too.”

Vinli’s $6.5 million Series A round was led by Samsung Venture Investment Corporation; Cox Automotive, The Westly Group, and Continental also participated. The company expects its first units to ship in August, when it hopes to have 150 apps in its store. Vinli is using the new money to expand sales, try to make new partnerships with other companies in the automotive and tech industries, and for R&D.

Many startups have been building devices that plug into the ports—or apps that gather and analyze the data derived from them—as they attempt to capitalize on the time consumers spend in their cars. Google and Apple have both developed dashboard tools that are available in certain cars, which allow people to connect their smartphones to the car through a USB and control apps.

More focused app-based startups are trying to improve driver safety and knowledge of what’s happening with the car, such as Dash, a 2013 graduate of Techstars NYC. Dash, which was launched in 2014, tells users what problems a car is experiencing, and generates scores based on a driver’s behavior, as Xconomy’s João-Pierre S. Ruth reported in April. Meanwhile, Boston’s OpenBay offers users bids for getting repair work done on a car when the company’s device detects a problem.

While there are similarities, Haidar says he views Google and Apple’s dashboards as focused more on hardware, while Vinli is targeting the “cloud services of the car.” Plus, having companies like Samsung, Cox Automotive, and auto parts supplier Continental will help the startup remain competitive, Haidar says.

Vinli attempts to be an app store that connects users with any type of app or service. Dash will be available through Vinli (the companies announced in December they would work together), as will Lock & Key, an app that will alert you and authorities, while tracking your car if it goes missing.

Vinli makes money by offering its own app with services, such as an OnStar-style roadside assistance. The company charges app developers based on usage of their app, too, Haider says.

It also makes money off of data that users buy to connect its device to the Internet. Along with the new funding, Vinli announced T-Mobile as its data provider partner for the device, which can connect to LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, and also has a GPS, as well as accelerometer and temperature sensors.

Vinli gets paid for every gigabyte sold, Haidar says. It is working with other as-of-yet unnamed data providers in Europe, the Middle East, and Australia, Haidar says.

Perhaps the most money can be made on anonymous data that Vinli gathers about users, which could be used for various purposes, from advertising to marketing, Haidar says. Vinli has not yet figured out how it will do that, he says.

Safety is obviously a concern when it comes to smartphones and cars. Haidar says that the company wants drivers to not use the app while driving, and is also targeting passengers with its services. The company is also developing a heads-up display similar to Navdy, which it expects to bring to market in the fourth quarter of this year.

Vinli was built out of Dialexa Labs, a Dallas-based incubator operated by design and engineering firm Dialexa. Dialexa Labs works as a co-founder and equity holder in the startups it incubates, and has incubated one other company since its founding in 2014. Robin, a Dallas-based Web service that lets users price, schedule, and pay for lawn care online, announced $1.2 million of seed funding in May.

Haidar was previously the co-CEO of Dialexa, a position he left to take over Vinli.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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