Melbourne start-up Unlockd – which at the start of this year had been gearing up for an Australian Securities Exchange IPO – has gone into voluntary administration.
In a statement released this afternoon, Unlockd – which raised more than $60 million since it was founded in 2016 – laid the blame squarely at Google for its demise, in particular the search giant’s “anti-competitive conduct”.
Google followed through with the threat earlier this year, and also cut off access to its ad mobile advertising platform server Admob, from which the start-up’s app drew much of its content.
Unlockd was granted interim court injunctions in the UK and Australia to prevent Google from disabling AdMob-generated advertising content and removing Unlockd apps from the Google Play Store in the UK, Europe and Australia.
“Despite this, the ramifications of Google’s actions have had and continue to have a deep impact on the business when considering the valuation of Unlockd prior to these threats and the postponement of the planned IPO, which would have fueled the continued growth and expansion of the business,” the statement says.
Since Unlockd only works on Google Android phones, the threat from Google understandably spooked investors and scuppered the IPO, proving fatal for the company.
“As such, we have not been able to secure the capital we had expected to replace the IPO and therefore have been left no choice but to move into voluntary administration,” the statement continued.
Unlockd worked by displaying targeted adverts on a user’s smartphone whenever they unlocked it, in return for rewards like loyalty points, free data or special offers.
It has worked with a number of streaming and telco providers globally, and partnered with the likes of Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook Audience Network, McDonalds, British Airways and Doritos.
In February Coles’ Flybuys became the first loyalty program to partner with the company.
The app – if it reached a significant scale – had the potential to hurt Google, essentially by making consumers expect something in return for their in-app ad viewing.
“Unlockd launched in 2016 with a clear vision to change the way people use and pay with their digital devices. It is now a revolutionary platform that is fundamentally changing the way that people interact with the world of advertising, by returning value to users in exchange for their attention in a way that Google and other big tech companies do not,” the statement from Unlocked said.
Accusations of anti-competitiveness come at a sensitive time for Google, with a Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into digital platforms currently underway.
“We believe that Google’s conduct and the effect of its actions represents a further example by them of anti-competitive conduct toward innovative start-ups such as Unlockd, that might pose a future threat to their position in the market,” the statement added.
“Until wide reaching change is brought about to prevent companies like Google from abusing their dominant market positions, consumers and innovation will continue to suffer.”