Brian Shin Raises $4.5M for Mustbin, Looks to Mobilize Your Personal Data

Brian Shin has a good friend who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately for him, Mustbin did not exist yet. If it did, Shin says, his friend could have at least made digital copies of his most precious papers such as passports, insurance forms, taxes, contracts, and photos.

“His life would be so much better,” Shin says.

Shin (pictured) is the founder and chairman of Boston-based Mustbin, a young Boston startup that has developed a mobile app that helps people capture and organize their real-world personal data.

The idea is simple: use your phone camera to take pictures of your most important paperwork, store that information in secure cloud-based “bins” that can be shared privately, and access it in the app when you need it. It’s sort of like having a safety deposit box in your phone—and its mobile-first design is key to its chances in a competitive market.

As of today, the free app is available for iPhones (designed natively for iOS 7), with an Android version planned for early 2014.

“Mustbin is something that just has to exist,” Shin says. “People just need this thing. If we develop this app in the right way, it can really positively help people.”

For those who don’t know, Shin is also the founder and CEO of Boston-based Visible Measures, a video analytics company that makes software for Web publishers and advertisers. So he is doing double duty with Mustbin (more on that below).

Mustbin app screenshotThe new app has been a labor of love, and of necessity. Shin was increasingly having trouble keeping track of paperwork on things like warranties, contracts, and bills, he says. He started taking pictures of things with his phone, but having to scroll back in the photo stream was a pain. So he had the idea to create an app and call it Mustbin, to signify the opposite of a dustbin or garbage can. (“It must be in your Mustbin,” he says.)

Shin’s ideas and reputation were enough to raise a $4.5 million VC round for Mustbin, led by DAG Ventures. Other investors in the round include General Catalyst, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Northgate Capital, and angel investors Dharmesh Shah and Jonathan Kraft.

All of those investors, with the exception of Kraft, are also investors in Visible Measures. That makes for an interesting—and unusual—situation with the Visible Measures board.

“They said, ‘It’s not ideal for you to be working on something else, but it’s a pretty good idea. What if we invest in Mustbin?’” Shin says. The fundraising moved quickly, as it often does when investors already know and trust an entrepreneur. It sounds like the deal closed with Shin’s board basically saying, “This is interesting, but don’t compromise Visible Measures in any way.” (So far, so good—Shin says Visible has grown to 175 employees and its revenue run rate is “climbing dramatically.”)

Dharmesh Shah, for one, says he generally leans against “parallel entrepreneurs,” in part because he knows firsthand how hard it is—and on average it doesn’t work out. So why is he investing in Mustbin? “Brian Shin is not average, he’s exceptional,” Shah says. “And, I enjoy making a return on my angel investment dollars.”

Shin’s first task was finding the right person to lead Mustbin’s engineering and product development efforts. That turned out to be Satyender Mahajan, a software engineer and iOS developer previously with Modo Labs and Motus. The total team is about eight people now.

In the broader tech landscape, you can think of Mustbin as sitting adjacent to big cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote. Shin calls it one of the first apps that “uses your cellphone not to view information, but to capture and generate information.” Of course, there have been plenty of efforts in personal information management, photo organizing, and online backup and notebooks—think also of Springpad, Shoebox, and others—but not many have a mobile-first design.

Shin acknowledges that existing products like Evernote help consumers take notes, file information, and scan and sync files, but he says there’s “nothing to help unify information and make it useful in your pocket.” (It sounds like the key, as usual, will be in Mustbin’s user experience and its focus on a few specific use cases—we shall see.)

As for other differentiators in the market, Mahajan touts the Mustbin app’s guided interface for creating bins and capturing data, as well as its military-grade security and encryption. “We can’t actually look at any of the information or files,” he says. “Your data is your data.”

Mustbin will probably add new capabilities and change a fair amount as it tries to pick up as many users as possible. “We have a good sense of how to evolve the platform,” Shin says. “It will start as a simple little app. But as you trust it more and use it more, we have a strong path to increase value to the consumer.”

Shin comes back to his feeling of inevitability about the app. “Mustbin is a product that needs to exist somehow,” he says. At the same time, he admits, “it’s just an app, we’re not curing cancer.”

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