Livescribe, a startup that’s trying to bring the pen into the digital age, just quietly raised a new, $6.4 million round of funding, including from VantagePoint Venture Partners, according to a regulatory filing. The capital brings the amount raised by the 20-month-old, Oakland, Calif.-based company to a stunning $34.5 million.
The company is arranging for me to speak with Livescribe CEO Jim Marggraff soon; in the meantime, it isn’t commenting on how the newest cash infusion will be used, said a spokeswoman.
Livescribe makes a paper-based computing platform whose centerpiece is a $200 smartpen, though “smart” is understating things. Called the Pulse, the pen — which contains a microphone, speaker, on-board Flash memory, and a tiny camera that work together to record audio while the user is jotting down notes — is more like a Montblanc on performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s most ideal for students, businesspeople, and journalists, as many journalists have already giddily noted in their coverage of the company. For example, if I were using one, I could tap on a word that I’d written during a long interview, then listen to the audio that was recorded at the time I wrote that word. (That’s great news for someone who either occasionally daydreams or who can barely read her own chicken scratch — not that I know anyone like that.) Other neat features include the ability to upload all that audio and written information to a PC, and a translation mode that allows you to write a word in English, after which the pen provides the word in Mandarin, Spanish, or Arabic.
Maybe a platform like Livescribe’s really will revolutionize the way that people like journalists and lawyers and secret agents perform their jobs. Maybe it will revolutionize the way that students absorb the avalanche of information that is thrown at them on a daily basis. Certainly, Marggraff’s background is reason for investors to feel optimistic. His last gig was inventing best-selling toys for LeapFrog Enterprises, including its LeapPad Learning System and, yes, its FLY pentop computer. (For the uninitiated, it works largely the same as the Pulse, although its market is 8-year-olds.)
Still, I can’t help but wonder how widely, or quickly, adults will embrace a $200 pen, considering how pens seem to come and go. I also wonder what the competition is going to look like in another year. Already, Livescribe is competing with Seattle-based Adapx, which also produces a paper-and-pen based computing platform and just raised an undisclosed amount of funding from the CIA’s venture arm, In-Q-Tel, according to VentureBeat.
More, Livescribe has licensed its technology from a Swedish company called Anoto. It bought the rights to develop its products cheaply — Anoto’s 2007 annual report says Livescribe paid it $3.5 million, and will pay Anoto royalties on every sale — but it’s not an exclusive agreement. Companies all over the world are licensing Anoto’s technology, and I’m sure Anoto has its own share of competitors…