Summary:

Who gives money to an iOS calendar app when every iPhone comes with Calendar built in? Investors who see the importance of using design to solve productivity problems.

Money Bags
photo: Corbis / Don Mason

Sunrise has come a long way from its days as an email newsletter. Less than four months after launching its free calendar app on the iOS App Store, its founders — former designers from Foursquare — are announcing their first round of funding, totaling $2.2 million. The round was led by Resolute.VC and Next View Ventures, with additional participation from Lerer Ventures, SV Angel, Box Group, 500 Startups and Terrapinbale, all investors that Sunrise’s founders say understand their approach to putting product design first.

sunrise_screens01Adding to the VC firms’ total is a who’s who of angel investors, many of them fellow product designers: Dave Morin of Path, Adam Nash and Elliot Shmukler of LinkedIn, Hunter Walk from YouTube, Gustaf Alströmer from Airbnb, Loic Le Meur and Facebook’s Adam Mosseri. (The list goes on; for more see Sunrise’s blog.)

Sunrise’s rise has come in a pretty short amount of time. But who gives money to an iOS calendar app when every iPhone comes with Calendar built in? Investors who see the importance of using design to solve productivity problems. It’s the same reason why an iOS-only email app like Mailbox could be scooped up just months into its existence by Dropbox. The default Mail, Calendar, Weather and Contacts apps on the iPhone are very bare-bones and lots of developers are making progress improving them.

The guys who started Sunrise are designers by trade: Pierre Valade and Jeremy LeVan helped design Foursquare before striking out on their own. Valade likes to say that they approach the mobile calendar as a “design problem, not an engineering problem” and that has informed how they’ve built Sunrise. As I demonstrated in my video review, the app can take your Google Calendar events and integrate them with data from Google Maps, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn and weather info in a way that displays a lot of information without being overwhelming; it also has a really interesting and intuitive way of expanding and shrinking the view from day, week or month.

The app is iOS-only, but from the way Valade was talking, I don’t expect Sunrise to stay that way for long. With the funding infusion that will allow him to hire more people for the team, Valade said Sunrise will be experimenting with other platforms. “The calendar is something people expect to have on a lot of different platforms, like web and Android,” he said. He just started using an Android phone and he said he finds the experience very “interesting.”

He made no promises and didn’t set any deadlines, but it’s clear that while mobile is key to engaging users initially, the team at Sunrise has to think bigger. “We can’t go too far in mobile if we don’t build for the web,” he said. “So being cross-platform is one of our top priorities.”

We’ll be highlighting some of the most forward-thinking designs for mobile, the web, and connected devices at our annual RoadMap conference in November in San Francisco. Tickets will go on sale later this Summer, but you can sign up to be one of the first to access tickets here.

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