Kevin Costner’s location-based storytelling app, Autio, raises $5.9 million

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Autio, a location-based audio entertainment app co-founded by actor Kevin Costner and formerly known as HearHere, has raised $5.9 million in a second round of funding with new terms. The funding round was led by iHeartMedia. Autio uses GPS to tell stories about nearby landmarks, towns and villages with the aim of fostering deep connections and understanding of the places users travel through.

Founded by CEO Woody Sears, Bill Werlin, and Costner, Autio initially launched as HearHere in August 2020 with just 1,500 location-based stories. Autio now offers over 10,000 stories across the United States and has over 230,000 registered users. While Autio is currently only available on iOS, the company is currently testing an Android app in private beta and plans to release it to the public soon.

The stories, which range from two to four minutes, are designed to give listeners informative tidbits about their surroundings, including landmarks they may not have known about. Some stories are told by notable names, such as Costner himself, along with actors John Lithgow and Phil Jackson. Free accounts come with five stories, while paid accounts cost $36 per year and have unlimited access.

Once users have enabled location access, they can discover nearby stories on the go. When not traveling, users can still access the map of the United States and find content to listen to based on their interests. Sears told AapkaDost that while most users listen to stories on road trips, many use the app on planes, while walking, and even virtually traveling from home. This was why the company was rebranded as Sears and the team felt that the name “HearHere” was only associated with listening to a story in the actual location, while the company wanted to refocus on audio for traveling.

Image Credits: Car

Sears says the new funding will be used to expand the app’s content library, reach new audiences and grow the startup’s team. The funding will also be used to further expand into additional regions in the United States.

“We are launching enterprise integrations to surface our content in new and exciting ways,” said Sears. “We also have more community-focused features to encourage sharing of stories and discoveries over the course of this year. In addition, we are testing new markets for international expansion.”

The funding round included participation from Stonks, Cooley Law, Blue 9 Capital, Seraph Group, Eric Ries and Kern Venture Group. The extended seed round follows Autio’s $3.2 million seed investment announced last year, which came one year after the company’s $1.6 million pre-seed round in 2021. The latest round brings the total amount raised by Autio to $10.7 million.

In addition to leading the latest funding round, iHeartMedia is also launching a marketing partnership with the startup. Autio says the partnership will enable it to reach new audiences through iHeartMedia’s multiplatform audio network, which spans radio broadcasts, podcasts, digital, social and live events.

Image Credits: Car

The funding announcement comes the same month that Autio appeared on Shark Tank. The company says that although Sears turned down a $1 million investment offer from Kevin O’Leary, the app saw an increase in downloads and subscribers immediately after the episode aired. Autio saw an increase in app downloads by 464%, new subscribers by 105% and website traffic by more than 1,600%.

Autio also announced its first in-flight integration with JetBlue earlier this month, giving JetBlue customers access to audio content for 29 of their destination cities in the United States through their seatback screens.

As for the company’s future plans, Sears says Autio is pursuing a bold vision to become the global platform for local stories.

“It all starts with the power of a single story to surprise a listener and connect them to a place or person,” Sears said. “On a global scale, we envision millions of these kinds of connections being made every day as users explore the wider world around them through this highly private medium.”

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