Hailo has scooped a whopping $30.6m Series B funding round led by Union Square Ventures (USV), with participation from a slew of high-profile investors including Richard Branson and Japanese telco KDDI.

USV has a strong track record in big-name tech investments, and was among the first institutional investors in Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr.

Today’s news confirms what has been rumored for more than a month already, with USV’s Fred Wilson also alluding to this on his blog in December…the same day the round officially closed, we’re now told. The latest round takes Hailo’s total funding to just over $50m to date, and follows on from its $17m Series A round last March.

New York, Tokyo…the world

While Hailo launched exclusively in London at first, it later rolled out to Boston, Chicago, Dublin and Toronto, with a handful of new cities scheduled to launch this year. New York is next on Hailo’s radar, and is expected to go live in The Big Apple within weeks, after NYC finally gave approval to e-hailing apps back in December.

Indeed, in preparation for the big NYC offensive, Hailo has also brought on board former Starbucks Head of Coffee (yes, that’s a real job title) Tom Barr, as its new President and COO for the US. In his twelve years at Starbucks, Barr helped grow the omnipresent coffee shop chain from 2,500 outlets to more than 16,000.

The inclusion of KDDI (Japan’s second largest telco) is no coincidence either, with Tokyo next on Hailo’s hit-list. It’s expected to arrive in the Japanese capital in Q2 2013, and KDDI has signed an exclusive partnership with Hailo, leveraging its 35 million subscribers to support its entry into Asia. Tokyo has 40,000 taxis and the Japanese taxi market is though to be worth $25bn, making this a key part of Hailo’s rise to global prominence.

As for Richard Branson, that was one name that came as a bit of a curve ball when Hailo co-founder and CEO Jay Bregman name-dropped him in a conversation with TNW just a few hours ago.

“I met him in a cafe in SoHo, he’d heard about Hailo, and he just loved it,” explains Bregman. “We talked, and when we were doing the investment round, he just wanted to get involved. He’s been absolutely supportive in trying to build this into a brand that’s every bit as recognizable as his own very successful transportation ventures. It really is an all-star cast.”

Other participants in this round include Moscow-based Phenomen Ventures, Felicis Ventures and Red Swan Ventures, while existing investors Accel Partners, Wellington Partners, and Skype Founder Niklas Zennström’s Atomico Ventures were also involved.

In terms of how the investment is divided between the various parties, we’re told that Union Square Investors’ input constitutes more than half the total sum, with each of the remaining investors putting in a “substantial” amount, though Bregman wasn’t able to give specifics.

In addition to Barr, Hailo also announced that Kiyotaka Fujii is joining Hailo as President, Japan and Asia Pacific, and has also joined Hailo’s Board of Directors. Fujii is a key strategic hire for Hailo, as an expert at bringing western brands to Asia. He was McKinsey’s first ever employee in Tokyo, and also went on to bring business software giant SAP to Japan, and recently joined the Board at Olympus.

Meanwhile Colm O’Cuilleanain, who launched Hailo in Dublin, is now President of EMEA, and will be charged with taking Hailo to Spain, starting with Madrid and Barcelona, with more European capitals to follow.

The Story so far

The Next Web first covered Hailo way back in November 2011, noting that it could change the way you book taxis forever. Available to download for free on Android and iOS, our impressions when we first tested it out was that it was really pretty good.

When you download Hailo, you see the real‐time location of the closest cabbies, including how many minutes away they are, and a couple of taps on your screen will beckon the closest one using the wonders of GPS.

Hailo Hailo closes $30.6m Series B round from Union Square Ventures, Richard Branson, KDDI and others

Bregman says that Hailo is now notching up $100m in annualized sales, with a ‘hail’ accepted somewhere in the world every five seconds. The company has carried more than 2.5m passengers to date, and has ten offices in six countries, including its London HQ.

While an exact date hasn’t yet been given for the New York launch, it’s expected to take place within a couple of weeks, and Bregman says that it’s now good to go, pending formal approval from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

“Hailo is mobilizing a massive, global shift in consumer behavior from hail to e-hail which will substantially improve the control passengers and taxi drivers have in their lives,” says Bregman, a native New Yorker. “We now have the senior team, resources, and the investment and corporate partners to deliver our vision of bringing Hailo to NYC, Tokyo, and every street corner in every  in the world. We have shifted into overdrive.”

There’s no doubt that Hailo has grown at a phenomenal rate since its launch a little over a year ago, and it’s fast becoming one of Europe’s biggest tech startup success stories. Bregman’s ultimate goal, it seems, is that wherever you touch down in the world, you can pull out your smartphone and beckon a cab with a touch of the Hailo app.

But Hailo’s not alone in the space – far from it. There’s Click A Taxi (earlier coverage), myTaxi, ubiCabs, Taxi.eu, TaxiZapp, TomTom, GetTaxi and, of course, Uber. The latter is probably the most well-known competitor in the space, and has long-since evolved beyond its original driver-for-hire roots into an all-encompassing taxi/car/ice cream truck (seriously) service – it will be interesting to see how this pans out. Uber has secured $49.5m in funding to date, so the two companies are roughly on a par in terms of financial muscle.

“Hailo puts ten thousand taxis in your pocket,” adds Bregman. “Games and music made smartphones fun. Maps made them useful. Hailo will make them indispensable. Get ready to take back control of your life.”

Feature Image Credit – Thinkstock