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LotusFlare Gets $6 Million to Fund Quest to Bring Mobile Data to Emerging Markets

Though still a tiny startup, LotusFlare is working with app makers and carriers to help make mobile data service more attractive to consumers.

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Investor Chamath Palihapitiya figures that mobile data service will eventually make its way to the developing world, both through traditional cellular networks and through other means, like drones or hot air balloons.

But access isn’t the only barrier to mass adoption — carriers also have to figure out how to market such services in regions where megabytes are an unheard-of concept.

That’s where Palihapitiya’s latest venture, LotusFlare, comes in. The startup, which is announcing $6 million in Series A funding on Tuesday, aims to work with carriers and app providers to offer service in more meaningful ways, such as serving up a month of Spotify and unlimited music for one price, including data.


“As Internet access increasingly becomes a human right, the issue won’t be availability — that will be solved by carriers, Google, Facebook, etc. — but affordability and making sure that the broadest set[s] of services are rationally priced and offered to consumers all over the world,” Palihapitiya told Re/code.

Despite having just 15 employees, Palihapitiya sees an opportunity for LotusFlare to grow to become a sort of next-generation carrier that can deliver services people want at a low cost. Palihapitiya’s Social + Capital led the new funding round, and Palihapitiya serves as the company’s chairman.

LotusFlare already has a number of projects in various parts of the world.

In the Philippines, where LotusFlare has been working with carrier Globe Telecom, its DataEye app has gotten a million active monthly users, allowing customers to see how their data is being used and to slow the spigot to apps that gobble data. That’s especially important, Palihapitiya says, in emerging markets where people can spend as much as 10 percent of their disposable income on their mobile phone service.

LotusFlare also wants to make it clearer to consumers what they are getting for their money. Consumers who might be less than eager to buy a certain number of megabytes might be far more willing to pay for, say, unlimited Facebook and Clash of Clans and the associated data. LotusFlare is working with both app makers and mobile carriers to make that type of pricing a reality.

It is somewhat similar in concept to what is being done by ItsOn, though the two companies use different technology and are targeting different markets. ItsOn has been focused mainly in developed markets, with its biggest deal to date with Walmart and Sprint-owned Virgin Mobile.

LotusFlare has also been working with carriers in Sri Lanka to help distribute the Internet access provided by Google’s Project Loon balloons. That’s emblematic of what LotusFlare hopes to do more of, though company officials said they couldn’t talk about their work with Google and Project Loon.

The company plans more tests this year and next in places throughout parts of Asia and Latin America.

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