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$8.5 million in new funding for txteagle, Boston firm that fields mobile phone surveys in developing countries

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 5, 2011 07:02 AM

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Boston-based txteagle is feathering its nest this morning with $8.5 million in new funds, in a round led by Spark Capital; the company had raised just over $1 million last year.

Founded in 2009 by alums from MIT's Media Lab and Harvard's statistics department, txteagle helps companies and non-profits reach mobile users in emerging markets. The company has amassed a contact database of 2.1 billion consumers; earned revenue in 49 countries so far; and developed its own approach for enabling consumers to send and receive messages that don't rack up additional charges (with the consent, of course, of mobile operators.)

The company wants to help companies and organizations like the United Nations (already a customer) gather information from and communicate with consumers in less-developed countries. "The current way of getting an understanding of what's happening in these markets," says co-founder and CEO Nathan Eagle, "is to fly in a team of people and drive to all kinds of remote places what we call the 'Land Rover methodology.' It's very expensive to get any kind of insight that way."

Txteagle aims to make it easy to use mobile phones to conduct market research (and also do marketing once a product or service is available). Consumers qualified to participate in a given survey are compensated with free airtime: in Kenya, it might be 25 cents worth, in Brazil about $2. "The core focus of the company is on providing global brands with better insight into their next billion consumers in emerging markets, and we're trying to use the mobile phone as a mechanism to illuminate these emerging markets," Eagle says. By the end of 2011, the company expects to be generating revenue in about 100 different countries.

Txteagle has just under 10 employees, according to Eagle, and expects to employ close to 20 by the end of the year. While the company is based in the Back Bay, co-founder and CTO Ben Olding works from San Francisco.

As a result of the new funding, Todd Dagres of Spark Capital will join txteagle's board.

Here's some background on txteagle from MobileActive.org, focusing on how their service has been used in disaster preparedness.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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