Fierce 15 2016: Unlockd enables carriers to deliver ads through the lock screen

Fierce15 2016

Editor's note: Welcome to the 2016 Fierce 15, an annual list that recognizes 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. We'll publish one profile a day for 15 days; Unlockd is the sixth company to be recognized this year.

Company: Unlockd
Where it's based: Melbourne, with operations in New York
When it was founded: 2015

Why it's Fierce: Unlockd takes the lock screen of an Android smartphone and turns it into a revenue stream for wireless carriers.

The startup sells carriers technology that allows them to insert advertisements onto users’ smartphones immediately after they unlock their devices – in return for viewing the ads, customers receive a discount on their mobile service plans. The company has so far reached half a million customers through its service via carrier agreements with Sprint’s Boost Mobile, Lebara in Australia, and Tesco Mobile in the UK.

“Unlockd helps telcos find new revenue streams by embracing a value exchange model which also helps customers lower their phone bills providing a win-win-win, for telco, consumer and the media/content/brand wanting to reach people,” noted Sarah La Roche, the head of marketing and communications for Unlockd.

For Sprint specifically, the carrier announced its deal with Unlockd earlier this year; users of the Boost Dealz app see 25 to 30 pieces of content or ads a day in return for a $5 discount on the MVNO’s $30 and $60 plans.

As Bloomberg notes, Unlockd offers ads from roughly 300 advertisers globally including Starbucks, MTV, Lyft and others. The company, which counts just under 100 employees, hasn’t yet disclosed revenues, but it’s funded with more than $20 million by the likes of Fox’s Lachlan Murdoch, former managing director of Seven Peter Gammell, chief executive of the Bank of Melbourne Scott Tanner, chairman of Spotless Margaret Jackson, and Catch of the Day founders Hezi and Gabby Leibovich.

Of course, Unlockd isn’t alone in chasing the intersection of mobile and ads. Facebook, Google and others continue to work to cash in on the massive opportunity, but Unlockd is offering wireless operators a bigger piece of the pie. Unlockd joins the likes of RingPlus and Amazon in inserting advertisements directly into the mobile experience: MVNO RingPlus replaces the “ring” that callers hear with advertisements, while Amazon sells its Prime members cheap phones that sport advertisements on the lock screen.

What's next: Unlockd soon expects to launch its service through Digicel in Jamaica, and the company’s La Roche said Unlockd’s next major push will be to expand into new markets across Asia.

Read more: FierceWireless's Fierce 15 2016