Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot for work. My suitcase packing list, refined over the years, was pretty much set in stone. Backbone’s iPhone game controller is one of the few new releases in recent years to make its way onto this list. A damn solid gaming experience on the go, it’s worth the little suitcase real estate it requires.
Looks like I’m not the only one who likes it. The company just announced that it has closed a $40 million round, with backing from the likes of The Weeknd, Post Malone and Diddy.
In 2018, founder Maneet Khaira was an intern at YouTube. “Every day,” he says, he would come home from work and start playing Fortnite with his friends — almost always on their phones, as it was the only device they all had in common. The touchscreen experience was difficult, but it allowed them to play together. After seeing demos of what cloud gaming could bring to mobile devices, he wrote a presentation on how gaming, as he put it, “would be the biggest opportunity for Google over the next decade.” Hoping it would actually be read, Maneet wrote a script to automatically send to the company’s vice presidents on Monday morning – by the time he woke up, he said, thousands of people were looking at the document.
One of those VPs asked Maneet to present his thoughts to his team in person. “It was somewhere in that conversation that I realized there might be an opportunity to build something amazing,” Maneet says. His internship came to its pre-scheduled end, and he jumped headfirst into building Backbone.
Beyond the single (pretty good!) peripheral it’s launched so far, Backbone’s goal is to be an all-in-one hub for on-the-go gaming. While Roku built a business by bringing all video services together in one place, and Sonos did the same for music, Backbone aims to do so for mobile gaming. Games running on the device, games running in the cloud, games running on your console at home and streaming remotely – it’s the same for them, they just want to be the hub.
With that in mind, a lot of Backbone’s more advanced features tie into Backbone+ – an optional premium subscription service that adds richer functionality, high-quality gameplay recording, Twitch streaming support and more. Backbone+ is free for the first users of the platform; for new users, it costs about $50 per year.
So why do people actually use Backbone hardware? Maneet tells me that they’ve seen a significant following of people using it for remote gaming – that is, playing stuff on your phone or tablet streamed from your next-gen console, whether you’re in break at work or you’re just doing I don’t want to tie up the living room TV.
He also says they’ve started to find an audience among more casual gamers. “It could be someone’s first kind of dedicated gaming device,” he says. “And we’ve seen that play into our metrics. People who might not consider themselves “core gamers”, or who wouldn’t even identify as gamers, use it.”
This latest round, a $40 million Series A, was led by Index Ventures. He’s backed by a pretty wild list of celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher (via his Sound Ventures fund), The Weeknd, Kevin Hart, Post Malone, Diddy, Amy Schumer and Marshmello. On the tech side, the company says Discord co-founder Jason Citron, Rec Room co-founder Nick Fajt, and Sonos CEO Patrick Spence have also invested.