Open Garden raises $11M as it adds more features to FireChat

Open Garden has built a name for itself with FireChat, an off-grid messaging app taken up by protest movements around the world, and it’s technology hasn’t gone unnoticed by the VC world. On Thursday, it announced it has closed its Series A funding round of $10.8 million, bringing in early investors in Skype, Google as well as the attention of the man who shook up France’s broadband and mobile markets, Xavier Niel.

The round was led by August Capital with Firebolt Ventures, Future Perfect Ventures, Kima Ventures, Tseung Kwan Ventures and Sherpalo participating. August partner Harold Hartenbaum, an early investor in Skype, has joined Open Garden’s board. Sherpalo is the venture firm of Ram Shriram, a founding board member of Google, while Kima was founded by Niel who started and still leads the Iliad group in France, including its breakaway wireless carrier Free Mobile.

Open Garden said it closed the round in March right as FireChat launched, but it kept the details secret for competitive reasons. Since then FireChat has been taken up the protestors in Hong Kong and other countries as a means of overcoming government censorship and internet outages by bypassing the internet entirely and allowing smartphones to connect directly to one another. I recently profiled Open Garden’s evolution from a mesh networking into a social communications company.

Open Garden also plans to announce today a new feature into its flagship messaging app that allows FireChat users to follow each other. While FireChat has made headlines as a protest tool, Open Garden has also been trying to make it a forum for celebrities and other influential people to communicate with their fans and followers in a local setting.