Jan
12
2021
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‘Brandtech’ company You and Mr. Jones adds $60M to its Series B

You & Mr. Jones announced today that it has added $60 million in new funding from Merian Chrysalis, bringing the Series B round announced in December to a total of $260 million.

The round values the company at $1.36 billion, post-money.

You & Mr. Jones takes its name from CEO David Jones, who founded the company in 2015. After having served as the CEO of ad giant Havas, Jones told me that his goal in starting what he called “a brandtech group” was to provide marketers with something that neither traditional agencies nor technology companies could give them.

“At that moment, the choices were to go work with an agency group, which is great at brand and marketing, but they don’t understanding tech, or with a tech company, which will only ever recommend their platform and don’t have the same [brand and marketing] expertise,” he said.

So You & Mr. Jones has built its own technology platform to help marketers with their digital, mobile and e-commerce needs, while also investing in companies like Pinterest and Niantic. And it makes acquisitions — last year, for example, it bought influencer marketing company Collectively.

You & Mr. Jones has grown to 3,000 employees, and its clients include Unilever, Accenture, Google, Adidas, Marriott and Microsoft. In fact, Jones said that as of the third quarter of 2020, its net revenue had grown 27% year-over-year.

That’s particularly impressive given the impact of the pandemic on ad spending, but Jones said that’s one of the key distinctions between digital advertising and the broader brandtech category, with he said has grown steadily, even during the pandemic, and which also sets the company apart from agencies that are “digital and tech in press release only.”

“We’re not an ad agency, we’ll never acquire agencies,” he said. “We have the technology platform, process and people to deliver all of your end-to-end, always-on content — social, digital, e-commerce, community management.”

In addition to the funding, company is announcing that it has hired Paulette Forte, who was previously senior director of human services at the NBA, as its first chief people officer.

“The Brandtech category didn’t even exist before You & Mr Jones was established,” Forte said in a statement. “The company became a true industry disruptor in short order, and growth has been swift. In order to keep up with the momentum, it’s critical to have systems in place that help talent develop their skills, encourage diversity and creativity, and find pathways to improving workflow. I am excited to join the leadership team to drive this crucial work forward.”

Nov
02
2020
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Email creation startup Stensul raises $16M

Stensul, a startup aiming to streamline the process of building marketing emails, has raised $16 million in Series B funding.

When the company raised its $7 million Series A two years ago, founder and CEO Noah Dinkin told me about how it spun out of his previous startup, FanBridge. And while there are many products focused on email delivery, he said Stensul is focused on the email creation process.

Dinkin made many similar points when we discussed the Series B last week. He said that for many teams, creating a marketing email can take weeks. With Stensul, that process can be reduced to just two hours, with marketers able to create the email on their own, without asking developers for help. Things like brand guidelines are already built in, and it’s easy to get feedback and approval from executives and other teams.

Dinkin also noted that while the big marketing clouds all include “some kind of email builder, it’s not their center of gravity.”

He added, “What we tell folks [is that] literally over half the company is engineers, and they are only working on email creation.”

Stensul

Image Credits: Stensul

The team has recently grown to more than 100 employees, with new customers like Capital One, ASICS Digital, Greenhouse, Samsung, AppDynamics, Kroger and Clover Health. New features include an integration with work management platform Workfront.

Plus, with other marketing channels paused or diminished during the pandemic, Dinkin said that email has only become more important, with the old, time-intensive process becoming more and more of a burden.

“We need more emails — whether that’s more versions or more segments or more languages, the requests are through the roof,” he said. “The teams are the same size … and so that’s where especially the leaders of these organizations have looked inward a lot more. The ways that they have been doing it for years or decades just doesn’t work anymore and prevents them from being competitive in the marketplace.”

The new round was led by USVP, with participation from Capital One Ventures, Peak State Ventures, plus existing investors Javelin Venture Partners, Uncork Capital, First Round Capital and Lowercase Capital . Individual investors include Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Okta CMO Ryan Carlson, former Marketo/Adobe executive Aaron Bird, Avid Larizadeh Duggan, Gary Swart and Talend CMO Lauren Vaccarello.

Dinkin said the money will allow Stensul to expand its marketing, product, engineering and sales teams.

“We originally thought: Everybody who sends email should have an email creation platform,” he said. “And ‘everyone who sends email’ is synonymous with ‘every company in the world.’ We’ve just seen that accelerate in that last few years.”

Oct
16
2020
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Lawmatics raises $2.5M to help lawyers market themselves

Lawmatics, a San Diego startup that’s building marketing and CRM software for lawyers, is announcing that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

CEO Matt Spiegel used to practice law himself, and he told me that even though tech companies have a wide range of marketing tools to choose from, “lawyers have not been able to adopt them,” because they need a product that’s tailored to their specific needs.

That’s why Spiegel founded Lawmatics with CTO Roey Chasman. He said that a law firm’s relationship with its clients can be divided into three phases — intake (when a client is deciding whether to hire a firm); the active legal case; and after the case has been resolved. Apparently most legal software is designed to handle phase two, while Lawmatics focuses on phases one and three.

The platform includes a CRM system to manage the initial client intake process, as well as tools that can automate a lot of what Spiegel called the “blocking and tackling” of marketing, like sending birthday messages to former clients — which might sound like a minor task, but Spiegel said it’s crucial for law firms to “nurture” those relationships, because most of their business comes from referrals.

Lawmatics’ early adopters, Spiegel added, have consisted of the firms in areas where “if you need a lawyer, you go to Google and start searching ‘personal injury,’ ‘bankruptcy,’ ‘estate planning,’ all these consumer-driven law firms.” And the pandemic led to accelerated the startup’s growth, because “lawyers are at home now, their business is virtual and they need more tools.”

Spiegel’s had success selling technology to lawyers in the past, with his practice management software startup MyCase acquired by AppFolio in 2012 (AppFolio recently sold MyCase to a variety of funds for $193 million). He said that the strategies for growing both companies are “almost identical” — the products are different, but “it’s really the same segment, running the same playbook, only with additional go-to-market strategies.”

The funding was led by Eniac Ventures and Forefront Venture Partners, with participation from Revel Ventures and Bridge Venture Partners.

“In my 10 years investing I have witnessed few teams more passionate, determined, and capable of revolutionizing an industry,” said Eniac’s Tim Young in a statement. “They have not only created the best software product the legal market has seen, they have created a movement.”

 

Oct
14
2020
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With a new focus on marketing software, NewsCred relaunches as Welcome

The company formerly known as NewsCred has a new name and a new product: Welcome.

Co-founder and CEO Shafqat Islam explained that this follows a broader shift in the company’s strategy. While previously known as a content marketing business, Islam said NewsCred has been increasingly focused on building a broader software platform for marketers (a platform that it uses itself).

Eventually, this led the company to sell its content services business to business journalism company Industry Dive and its owner Falfurrias Capital Partners over the summer. Now Welcome is officially unveiling its new brand, which it’s also using for its new marketing orchestration software.

“It’s not often that startups like ours get to close one chapter and open another chapter,” Islam said. “We kind of went back to being a Series A, Series B startup, iterating and working very closely with our customers.”

While today is the official launch of the Welcome platform, Islam said the company has been moving the software in this direction for the past year, and that this side of the business has already seen significant growth, with daily average users up 300% year-over-year.

Islam also suggested that while this was the right time to come up with a new company name, it’s something that’s been discussed repeatedly in the past.

Welcome Gantt Calendar

Image Credits: Welcome

“Every time we raised money in last 10 years, the new investor would say, ‘What about the name? Can we change it?’ ” he recalled. “We could never do it, because we had this content heritage built up and enough brand equity. Finally, with this deal, and with the launch of the new software … we came up with the name Welcome.”

While there’s no shortage of marketing software out there already, Islam said marketers need an orchestration system to manage their projects and workflows — most of them, he said, are stuck using “horizontal” project management tools that aren’t really built for their needs, such as Asana or Jira.

“Marketers have very specific needs,” Islam said. “It could be a simple thing like … marketers work with campaigns, so what are your specific campaigns, marketing briefs or marketing-specific workflows? Our approach was: How do we create something that’s really specific to marketers versus all horizontal solutions out there?”

He also noted that “close to half the engineering team works on the interoperability problem,” so that Welcome can integrate all the other tools that marketers are using, like HubSpot and Marketo. The goal, Islam said, is to become “something marketers standardize on,” the way that salespeople log into their Salesforce accounts every day.

Islam also argued Welcome will take advantage of the way that the pandemic has accelerated changes in the enterprise sales process.

“I personally believe the way people buy software is changing,” he said. “The days of wining and dining and selling to the CMO, that still exists, but that’s not how everyone wants to buy anymore.”

To adapt to this new world, Islam said the startup is adopting a more “bottoms up” sales approach, with a free version of the platform due for release next month.

Sep
24
2020
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Airship acquires SMS commerce company ReplyBuy

Airship is announcing that it has acquired mobile commerce startup ReplyBuy.

The startup (which was a finalist at TechCrunch’s 1st and Future competition in 2016) works with customers like entertainment venues and professional and college sports teams to send messages and sell tickets to fans via SMS. It raised $4 million in funding from Sand Hill Angels, Kosinski Ventures, SEAG Ventures, Enspire Capital, MRTNZ Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase.

Airship, meanwhile, has been expanding its platform beyond push notifications to cover customer communication across SMS, email, mobile wallets and more. But CEO Brett Caine said this is the first time the company is moving into commerce.

While sports and concerts tickets might not be a booming market right now, Caine suggested that the company is actually seeing increased purchasing activity “in and around the Airship platform” as businesses try to drive more in-app purchases. He also suggested that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions on mobile data collection and ad targeting are going to “accelerate direct-to-consumer motion by large brands.”

Airship isn’t disclosing the deal price, but Caine said the seven-person ReplyBuy team will be joining the company, with CEO Brandon O’Halloran becoming Airship’s general manager of commerce and CTO Anthony Saia leading the commerce engineering team.

“Nobody directly connects more brands to mobile consumers than Airship,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Joining Airship offers ReplyBuy the opportunity to serve the global market with a more comprehensive solution across more industries, and provide more valuable mobile customer experiences.”

Caine added, “These are really key roles, demonstrating the importance, in our view, of extending commerce to the customer engagement experience.”

He also said that Airship will continue to support ReplyBuy as a standalone product, while also integrating and extending its capabilities to other areas of the Airship platform.

“This one-to-one commerce at scale is a key part of the ReplyBuy solution,” he said. “We’re going to bring it into all the digital channels that Airship powers [to create] a seamless, fast, easy experience around commerce.”

Sep
09
2020
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B2B marketing company Metadata.io raises $6.5M

Metadata.io announced today that it has raised $6.5 million in Series A funding.

It’s been more than four years since I wrote about the startup’s $2 million seed funding. At the time, co-founder and CEO Gil Allouche described the product as helping business-to-business marketers target their ads as people who resemble their existing sales leads.

Since then, the company has launched its product in general availability, and Allouche told me yesterday that it’s become “really the middleware for the sales and marketing stack.”

“It doesn’t just … give you insights, it skips the human as the bottleneck of execution for marketing [operations],” Allouche said, adding that this makes marketing teams more efficient while also eliminating much of the drudgery. “If you’re a Don Draper who’s really good at creative or content, you should spend your time on that and not in an Excel spreadsheet.”

At the same time, ad targeting remains a key part of the company’s capabilities. For example, its new product MetaMatch allows advertisers to build and target custom audiences on Facebook, LinkedIn and programmatic display.

Allouche also said that demand has increased “quite significantly” since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s counter to larger digital ad trends, but he noted that B2B companies still need to reach customers, and many of the old tools — like in-person events — are now off the table.

Metadata leadership team

Gil Allouche and the Metadata leadership team

In addition, he said that Metadata’s proprietary database of 1.4 million customer profiles have given it an additional advantage in the face of privacy regulation and ad-tracking restrictions.

The platform has been used by companies including Zoom, Drift, Pendo, Udacity, and Vonage.

The new funding was led by Resolute Ventures, with participation from Greycroft, York IE, Stormbreakers, Eloqua founder Mark Organ, Segment founder Ilya Volodarsky and others.

Metadata isn’t another marketing technology,” Organ said in a statement. “From the origin of the company transforming marketing operations by eliminating tedious manual work, to today, creating a category that transcends demand gen, it is enabling the autonomous marketer to be a reality. It is the marketer that’s needed for the future.”

Sep
09
2020
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Socialbakers acquired by customer engagement company Astute

Astute, a customer engagement platform headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is announcing that it has acquired social media marketing company Socialbakers.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak will become president of Socialbakers for the combined company, and he told me via email that the entire Socialbakers team will be joining as well, resulting in a combined organization with more than 600 employees and $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

Socialbakers was one of the last independent players from the first wave of social analytics. Founded in 2008 and based in Prague, the company raised a total of $34 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, from investors including Earlybird Venture Capital and Index Ventures. And it’s used by more than 2,500 brands globally.

Astute, meanwhile, has been around for 25 years, and focuses on unifying customer data. Ben-Itzhak said that by acquiring Socialbakers, Astute will be able to add social media-focused features like audience insights, content planning, influencer marketing and ad analytics.

“Socialbakers and Astute are already sharing dozens of mutual brand customers in the enterprise segment,” he said. “This is, in fact, how the acquisition talks came about. The platform integration process has already started and is expected to continue through Q4.”

In a statement, Astute CEO Mark Zablan also emphasized the comprehensiveness of the resulting platform.

“The lines between customer care, customer experience, and marketing have become increasingly blurred, presenting real challenges for companies,” Zablan said. “Combining the market-leading social media marketing capabilities of Socialbakers with Astute’s engagement suite not only helps our customers tackle this challenge more effectively, but also marks a major milestone along Astute’s journey towards becoming the end-to-end customer engagement platform that the Chief Customer Officer needs to succeed.”

Aug
18
2020
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Movable Ink raises $30M as it expands its personalization technology beyond email marketing

Movable Ink, a company that helps businesses deliver more personalized and relevant email marketing, is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series C funding.

The company will be 10 years old in October, and founder and CEO Vivek Sharma told me that it’s always been “capital efficient” — even with the new round, Movable Ink has only raised a total of $39 million.

However, Sharma noted that with COVID-19, it felt like “a good idea to have some dry powder on our balance sheet … if things turned south.”

At the same time, he suggested that the pandemic’s impact has been more limited than he anticipated, and has been “really focused” on a few sectors like travel, hospitality and “old line retailers.”

“Those who are adopting to e-commerce really quickly have done well, financial services has done well, media has done well,” he said.

The company’s senior vice president of strategy Alison Lindland added that clients using Movable Ink were able to move much more quickly, with campaigns that would normally take months launching in just a few days.

“We really saw those huge, wholesale digital transformations in a time of duress,” Lindland said. “Obviously, large Fortune 500 companies were making difficult decisions, were putting vendors on hold, but email marketers are always the last people furloughed themselves, because of how critical email marketing is to their businesses. We were just as critical to their operations.”

Movable Ink Image

Image Credits: Movable Ink

The company said it now works with more than 700 brands, and in the run up to the 2020 election, its customers include the Democratic National Committee.

The new funding comes from Contour Venture Partners, Intel Capital and Silver Lake Waterman. Sharma said the money will be spent on three broad categories: “Platforms, partners and people.”

On the platform side, that means continuing to develop Movable Ink’s technology and expanding into new channels. He estimated that around 95% of Movable Ink’s revenue comes from email marketing, but he sees a big opportunity to grow the web and mobile side of the business.

“We take any data the brand has available to it and activate and translate it into really engaging creative,” he said, arguing that this approach is applicable in “every other channel where there’s pixels in front of the consumer’s eyes.”

The company also plans to make major investments into AI. Sharma said it’s too early to share details about those plans, but he pointed to the recent hire of Ashutosh Malaviya as the company’s vice president of artificial intelligence.

As for partners, the company has launched the Movable Ink Exchange, a marketplace for integrations with data partners like Oracle Commerce Cloud, MessageGears Engage, Trustpilot and Yopto.

And Movable Ink plans to expand its team, both through hiring and potential acquisitions. To that end, it has hired Katy Huber as its senior vice president of people.

Sharma also said that in light of the recent conversations about racial justice and diversity, the company has been looking at its own hiring practices and putting more formal measures in place to track its progress.

“We use OKRs to track other areas of the business, so if we don’t incorporate [diversity] into our business objectives, we’re only paying lip service,” he said. “For us, it was really important to not just have a big spike of interest, and instead save some of that energy so that it’s sustained into the future.”

Aug
04
2020
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Yotpo raises $75M for its e-commerce marketing cloud

“Marketing cloud” has become an increasingly popular concept in the world of marketing technology — used by the likes of Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle and others to describe their digital tool sets for organizations to identify and connect with customers. Now, a startup that is building its own take on the idea aimed specifically at e-commerce companies is announcing some funding after seeing a surge of business in the last few months.

Yotpo, which provides a suite of tool to help direct-to-consumer and other e-commerce players build better relationships with customers, is today announcing that it has raised $75 million in funding, money it will use to continue growing its suite of products, as well as to acquire more customers and build out more integration partnerships.

The Series E included a number of Yotpo’s existing investors, namely Bessemer Venture Partners, Access industries (the owner of Warner Music Group, among a number of other holdings) and Vertex Ventures (a subsidiary of Temasek), new investor Hanaco (which focuses on Israeli startups — Yotpo is co-headquartered in Tel Aviv and New York) and other unnamed investors.

It brings the total raised by the startup to $176 million, and while it’s not disclosing valuation, its CEO Tomer Tagrin — who co-founded the company with COO Omri Cohen — describes it as “nearly a unicorn.”

“I like to call what we’re building a flamingo, which is also a rare and beautiful animal but also a real thing, and we are a proper business,” he said in an interview, adding that Yotpo is on target for ARR next year to be $100 million.

The company had its start as an app in Shopify’s App Store, providing tools to Shopify customers to help with customer engagement by way of user-generated content, and while it has outgrown that single relationship — it now has some 500 additional strategic partners, including Salesforce, Adobe, BigCommerce and others — Yotpo’s CEO still likes to describe his company in Shopify-ish terms.

“Just as Shopify manages your business, we manage your customers end to end,” Tagrin said. He said that while it’s great to see the bigger trend of consolidation around marketing clouds, it’s not a one-size-fits-all problem. He believes Yotpo’s e-commerce-specific approach to that stands apart from the pack because it addresses issues unique to D2C and other e-commerce companies.

Yotpo’s services today include SMS and visual marketing, loyalty and referral services and reviews and ratings, which are used by a range of e-commerce companies, spanning from newer direct-to-consumer brands like Third Love and Away, to more established names like Patagonia and 1-800-Flowers. Some of these have been built in-house, and some by way of acquisition — most recently, SMSBump, in January. The plan is to use some of the funding to continue that acquisition strategy.

“Since our first investment more than three years ago, Tomer and Omri have executed flawlessly, expanding the product suite, serving a wider range of customers, and continually hiring strong talent across the organization,” says Adam Fisher, a partner at BVP, in a statement. “Yotpo is singularly focused on helping direct-to-consumer eCommerce brands solve the dual challenge of engaging consumers and increasing revenue, and with their multi-product strategy and innovative edge, they are uniquely positioned to dominate the eCommerce industry for years to come.”

Yotpo is built as a freemium platform, with some 9,000 customers paying for services, and a further 280,000 customers on its free-usage tier. Customer count grew by 250% in the last year, Tagrin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a well-documented impact on internet use, and specifically e-commerce, as people turned to digital channels in record numbers to procure things while complying with shelter-in-place orders, or trying to increase social distancing to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

E-commerce has been on the rise for years, but the acceleration of that trend has been drastic since February, with revenue and spend both regularly exceeding baseline figures over the last several months, according to research from digital marketing agency Common Thread Collective.

That, in turn, had a big impact on companies that help enable those e-commerce enterprises operate in more direct and personable ways. Yotpo was a direct beneficiary: It said it had a surge of sign-ups of new customers, many taking paid services, working out to a 170% year-on-year ARR and lower customer churn.

The bigger picture, of course, is not completely rosy, with thousands of layoffs across the whole tech service, and a huge number of brick-and-mortar business closures. Those economic indicators could ultimately also have a knock-on effect not just in more business moving online, but also a slowdown in spending overall.

That will inevitably have an impact on startups like Yotpo, too, which is definitely on a rise now but will continue to think longer term about the impact and how it can continue to diversify its products to meet a wider set of customer use cases.

For example, today, the company addresses customer care needs by way of integrations with companies like Zendesk, but longer term it might consider how it can bring in services like this to continue to build out the touchpoints between D2C brands and their customers, and specifically running those through a bigger picture of the customer as profiled on Yotpo’s platform.

This is a big part of our product in our meetings and debates,” Tagrin said about product expansions.

“I do think any celebration of growth and funding comes to me with something else: we need to be internalising more what is going on,” he said. “The world is not back to normal and we shouldn’t act like it is.”

Jul
14
2020
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BlueOcean uses automation to deliver affordable brand audits in seven days

BlueOcean is a new startup offering companies a relatively fast and affordable way to see how their brands are performing and what they can do to improve.

CEO Grant McDougall and COO/President Liza Nebel (the pair founded BlueOcean with Chief Data Scientist Matthew Gross) told me they’ve been developing the technology for two years. And although the startup is only officially launching now, it has already worked with prominent brands like Microsoft, Panda Express and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

BlueOcean is focused specifically on the world of brand audits, which are basically detailed analyses of the aspects of a brand that are and aren’t working — and according to Nebel (whose experience includes working on brand and digital strategy at Ogilvy), a single audit can cost brands millions of dollars, often resulting in reports “that aren’t even actionable.”

With BlueOcean, on the other hand, a brand provides only two things — their website and a list of their competitors. Then they get their brand audit one week later, for just $17,000, including recommendations for how to improve.

To do this, the company says it’s applying an “automation-first approach.” McDougall said BlueOcean is pulling from hundreds of different data sources, which will vary from industry to industry, and applying algorithms to understand things like, “What’s the right taxonomy? How do we acquire that data?”

BlueOcean founders Grant McDougall and Liza Nebel

BlueOcean founders Grant McDougall and Liza Nebel (Image Credits: BlueOcean)

He added, “Strategically, we tend to move up in the organization,” giving both marketing teams and C-level executives the advice they need.

For example, Nebel said that one of BlueOcean’s clients include a large alcohol holding company, which recently launched a line of hard seltzer under an existing alcohol brand. The startup’s brand audit recommended that the company (which Nebel declined to identify) launch a separate hard seltzer brand instead — and now, the company will be launching three different brands.

Nebel also walked me through what she called the “five-minute version” of a brand audit for TechCrunch, which looked at our performance in terms of potential customers, positioning, messaging, offerings and existing customers. Ultimately, BlueOcean gave us a “moderate” score of 97 (but hey, we scored well on being “memorable” and “inspiring”) and recommended steps like publishing a more “steady drumbeat” of content on social media and improving our app experience.

“BlueOcean has become a great addition to further enable us to sharpen our ability to monitor, understand and act through the lens of brand across all of our commercial offerings,” said Microsoft’s director of brand strategy Tim Hoppin in a statement. “We’re excited to work with BlueOcean and use their tools and expertise to strengthen our relationship with the millions of global customers we connect with daily.”

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