API-powered startups are having a good year, with Plaid’s mega-exit to Visa still fresh in mind. And digital video-powered startups are also having a good year, as the world stays home more than before and work shifts to a more remote-friendly landscape. What about a company that does both?

Well, they’d probably raise money and see their usage spike, right? That’s precisely the case with Daily.co, a startup that has both raised new capital this year and has seen usage of its product rapidly rise.

New capital

In simple terms, Daily.co is a startup that provides an API that lets users and customers quickly integrate video chat into their product or website.

Today’s news is that Daily.co put together a $4.6 million round that was led by Jenny Lefcourt from Freestyle. The round was closed in January, but announced this week. (It’s common for venture rounds to close and then ripen in a dark cellar before they are uncorked and shared with the world, though increased Form D vigilance is changing the game.)

Freestyle was not alone in the new round. The investment was funded by a bevy of investors, including three new institutional investors (Moxxie, Slack Fund, SV Angel), and a host of angels (April Underwood, Sarah Imbach, Ellen Levy and Elizabeth Weil, among others). Three prior investors also took part: Haystack, TenOneTen and Root.

If the round didn’t have a lead investor the deal would feel like a unicorn-era party round. Daily.co previously raised $2.5 million in 2016, co-founder Kwindla Hultman Kramer told TechCrunch in an interview. TechCrunch’s first question was how the startup lasted so long on just a few million dollars. The answer was a surprise.

Hardware is … easy?

Daily.co’s path to an API-powered service was not as simple as you’d imagine. In fact, it’s the first startup I’ve ever spoken to that used a hardware product as a temporary method of funding itself.

According to Kramer, his company built and sold a video-conferencing hardware box that it sold for a few hundred dollars and a regular stream of SaaS payments (you can read more about it here, and here, if you want to go spelunking). The income its boxes generated helped the startup keep at its longer-term plan of building a WebRTC-powered API.

According to the firm, handling a “non-trivial” number of minutes via that first product was also an important learning mechanism.

Daily.co’s thesis that the live video tooling that large companies built into expensive conference rooms would come to everyone’s pocket now feels somewhat obvious. But back in 2015 when the company got started (it went through Y Combinator in 2016) the future wasn’t as clear.

A few market trends came together to make the company’s original vision bear out, including growing device power (your new iPhone has more oomph than your old iPhone), better, faster internet penetration, and the uptake of the WebRTC protocol. As each trend matured, Daily.co’s product wager has gone from possible to likely to existing in the market.

After moving away from the hardware world, Daily.co launched its video chat API in 2019, a year in which the company did not grow its staffing. However, 2020 has seen the startup’s headcount quickly expand (recall that this round was closed in January) and its usage skyrocket — according to Kramer, Daily.co has seen 12x usage growth in the last six weeks.

Daily.co charges a hybrid price for its service, including a small SaaS fee and usage costs. Given that it is a SaaS company, effectively, TechCrunch was curious about its margins. According to Kramer, the firm’s margins are attractive, and there are ways for the startup to actively manage its bandwidth costs (thus lowering revenue costs, and bolstering its gross margin profile). So, the startup should be valued at a SaaS multiple during its life.

Looking ahead, Daily.co is seeing increased attention from larger companies, it told TechCrunch, something that could power future growth. But those clients will require hand-holding, we presume, which means an ever-larger staff. It will be interesting to see how much Daily.co can grow in people and revenue terms in 2020 while the rest of the global economy slips into negative territory. More when we have it.

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