Apr
08
2021
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Quiq acquires Snaps to create a combined customer messaging platform

At first glance, Quiq and Snaps might sound like similar startups — they both help businesses talk to their customers via text messaging and other messaging apps. But Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri said “there’s almost no overlap in what we do” and that the companies are “almost complete complements.”

That’s why Quiq (based in Bozeman, Montana) is acquiring Snaps (based in New York). The entire Snaps team is joining Quiq, with Brucculeri becoming senior vice president of sales and customer success for the combined organization.

Quiq CEO Mike Myer echoed Bruccleri’s point, comparing the situation to dumping two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor and discovering “the two pieces fit perfectly.”

More specifically, he told me that Quiq has generally focused on customer service messaging, with a “do it yourself, toolset approach.” After all, the company was founded by two technical co-founders, and Myer joked, “We can’t understand why [a customer] can’t just call an API.” Snaps, meanwhile, has focused more on marketing conversations, and on a managed service approach where it handles all of the technical work for its customers.

In addition, Myer said that while Quiq has “really focused on the platform aspect from beginning” — building integrations with more than a dozen messaging channels including Apple Business Chat, Google’s Business Messages, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — it doesn’t have “a deep natural language or conversational AI capability” the way Snaps does.

Myer said that demand for Quiq’s offering has been growing dramatically, with revenue up 300% year-over-year in the last six months of 2020. At the same time, he suggested that the divisions between marketing and customer service are beginning to dissolve, with service teams increasingly given sales goals, and “at younger, more commerce-focused organizations, they don’t have this differentiation between marketing and customer service” at all.

Apparently the two companies were already working together to create a combined offering for direct messaging on Instagram, which prompted broader discussions about how to bring the two products together. Moving forward, they will offer a combined platform for a variety of customers under the Quiq brand. (Quiq’s customers include Overstock.com, West Elm, Men’s Wearhouse and Brinks Home Security, while Snaps’ include Bryant, Live Nation, General Assembly, Clairol and Nioxin.) Brucculeri said this will give businesses one product to manage their conversations across “the full customer journey.”

“The key term you’re hearing is conversation,” Myer added. “It’s not about a ticket or a case or a question […] it’s an ongoing conversation.”

Snaps had raised $13 million in total funding from investors including Signal Peak Ventures. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Mar
24
2021
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Ketch raises $23M to automate privacy and data compliance

Ketch, a startup aiming to help businesses navigate the increasingly complex world of online privacy regulation and data compliance, is announcing that it has raised $23 million in Series A funding.

The company is also officially coming out of stealth. I actually wrote about Ketch’s free PrivacyGrader tool last year, but now it’s revealing the broader vision, as well as the products that businesses will actually be paying for.

The startup was founded by CEO Tom Chavez and CTO Vivek Vaidya. The pair previously founded Krux, a data management platform acquired by Salesforce in 2016, and Vaidya told me that Ketch is the answer to a question that they’d begun to ask themselves: “What kind of infrastructure can we build that will make our former selves better?”

Chavez said that Ketch is designed to help businesses automate the process of remaining compliant with data regulations, wherever their visitors and customers are. He suggested that with geographically specific regulations like Europe’s GDPR in place, there’s a temptation to comply globally with the most stringent rules, but that’s not necessary or desirable.

“It’s possible to use data to grow and to comply with the regulations,” Chavez said. “One of our customers turned off digital marketing completely in order to comply. This has got to stop […] They are a very responsible customer, but they didn’t know there are tools to navigate this complexity.”

Ketch orchestration screenshot

Image Credits: Ketch

The pair also suggested that things are even more complex than you might think, because true compliance means going beyond the “Hollywood façade” of a privacy banner — it requires actually implementing a customer’s requests across multiple platforms. For example, Vaidya said that when someone unsubscribes to your email list, there’s “a complex workflow that needs to be executed to ensure that the email is not going to continue … and make sure the customer’s choices are respected in a timely manner.”

After all, Chavez noted, if a customer tells you, “I want to delete my data,” and yet they keep getting marketing emails or targeted ads, they’re not going to be satisfied if you say, “Well, I’ve handled that in the four walls of my own business, that’s an issue with my marketing and email partners.”

Chavez also said that Ketch isn’t designed to replace any of a business’ existing marketing and customer data tools, but rather to “allow our customers to configure how they want to comply vis-à-vis what jurisdiction they’re operating in.” For example, the funding announcement includes a statement from Patreon’s legal counsel Priya Sanger describing Ketch as “an easily configurable consent management and orchestration system that was able to be deployed internationally” that “required minimal engineering time to integrate into our systems.”

As for the Series A, it comes from CRV, super{set} (the startup studio founded by Chavez and Vaidya), Ridge Ventures, Acrew Capital and Silicon Valley Bank. CRV’s Izhar Armony and Acrew’s Theresia Gouw are joining Ketch’s board of directors.

And if you’d like to learn more about the product, Ketch is hosting a webinar at 11am Pacific today.

Mar
01
2021
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Martech company Zeta Global raises $222.5M in debt

Zeta Global, the marketing technology company founded by David A. Steinberg and former Apple CEO John Sculley, is announcing an additional $222.5 million in new debt financing.

The company has gone down the debt route before — a Series F raised in 2017 combined $115 million funding with $25 million in debt. BofA Securities served as lead arranger and bookrunner for the new financing, with participation from Barclays, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley Senior Funding.

“For this round, we were able to both refinance our debt and add in a large amount of capacity for current operations and future initiatives,” Steinberg (Zeta’s CEO) told me via email. “We were able to work with our syndicate to capture a low interest rate and take advantage of the strong credit markets.”

The company emphasizes its data-driven approach to marketing, combining companies’ first-party data with artificial intelligence and what it says are more than 2.4 billion customer identifiers. Steinberg said this approach has only become more crucial, with 2020 delivering “a five-year acceleration” as brands face the challenge of “digitally transforming their business structure to be data-centric.”

“Zeta’s capabilities are helping marketers engage customers across the entire digital ecosystem more intelligently and efficiently, with individualized messages, offers, and content by way of our identity-based data and predictive AI,” Steinberg continued. “Our challenge is to continue to keep up with our customers’ needs and maintain our competitive advantage around data and AI.”

The company’s funding announcement notes that previous loans have been used to finance acquisitions and integrations, including commenting platform Disqus and machine learning-powered marketing platform Boomtrain. Asked whether this new debt will also be used for acquisitions, Steinberg said the company continues to “organically innovate,” with a focus on its customer data platform and connected TV capabilities.


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Feb
24
2021
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Blueshift raises $30M for its AI-based, integrated approach to marketing

The concept of the “marketing cloud” — sold by the likes of Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe — has become a standard way for large tech companies to package together and sell marketing tools to businesses that want to improve how they use digital channels to grow their business.

Some argue, however, that “cloud”, singular, might be a misnomer: typically those tools are not integrated well with each other and effectively are run as separate pieces of software. Today a startup called Blueshift — which claims to offer an end-to-end marketing stack, by having built it from the ground up to include both traditional marketing data as well as customer experience — is announcing some funding, pointing to the opportunity to build more efficient alternatives.

The startup has closed a round of $30 million, a Series C that co-founder and CEO Vijay Chittoor said it will be using to expand to more markets (it’s most active in the U.S. and Europe currently) and also to expand its technology.

“The product already has a unified format, to ingest data from multiple sources and redistribute that out to apps. Now, we want to distribute that data to more last-mile applications,” he said in an interview. “Our biggest initiative is to scale out the notion of us being not just an app but a platform.”

The company’s customers include LendingTree, Discovery Inc., Udacity, BBC and Groupon, and it has seen revenue growth of 858% in the last three years, although it’s not disclosing actual revenues, nor valuation, today.

The round is being led by Fort Ross Ventures, with strong participation also from Avatar Growth Capital. Past investors Softbank Ventures Asia (which led its last round of $15 million), Storm Ventures, Conductive Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners also invested.

The concept for Blueshift came out of Chittoor’s direct experience at Groupon — which acquired his previous startup, social e-commerce company Mertado — and before that a long period at Walmart Labs — which Walmart rebranded after it acquired another startup where Chittoor was an early employee, semantic search company Kosmix.

“The challenges we are solving today we saw firsthand as challenges our customers saw at Groupon and Walmart,” he said. “The connected customer journey is creating a thousand times more data than before, and people and brands are engaging across more touchpoints. Tracking that has become harder with legacy channel-centric applications.”

Blueshift’s approach for solving that has been, he said, “to unify the data and to make decisions at customer level.”

That is to say, although the customer experience today is very fragmented — you might potentially encounter something about a company or brand in multiple places, such as in a physical environment, on various social media platforms, in your email, through a web search, in a vertical search portal, in a marketplace on a site, in an app, and so on — the experience for marketers should not be.

The company addresses this by way of a customer data platform (CDP) it markets as “SmartHub.” Designed for non-technical users although customizable by engineers if you need it to be, users can integrate different data feeds from multiple sources, which then Blueshift crunches and organises to let you view in a more structured way.

That data can then be used to power actions in a number of places where you might be setting up marketing campaigns. And Chittoor pointed out — like other marketing people have — that these days, the focus on that is largely first-party data to fuel that machine, rather than buying in data from third-party sources (which is definitely part of a bigger trend).

“Our mission is to back category-leading companies that are poised to dominate a market. Blueshift clearly stood out to us as the leader in the enterprise CDP space,” said Ratan Singh of Fort Ross Ventures in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner with the Blueshift team as they accelerate the adoption of their SmartHub CDP platform.” Singh is joining Blueshift’s board with this round.

Feb
04
2021
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HubSpot acquires media startup The Hustle

Marketing software company HubSpot is acquiring The Hustle, the business and tech media startup behind the popular newsletter of the same name

Axios broke the news of the deal and reported that it values the startup at around $27 million. HubSpot declined to comment on the deal price, and while tweeting about the acquisition, The Hustle CEO Sam Parr wrote, “Early in my career I was transparent with money. But I didn’t like the result of sharing that stuff. So we’re not disclosing the price and HubSpot has agreed. I’m taking it to the grave!”

In its press release about the acquisition, HubSpot noted that customers are finding its products through content like its YouTube videos and HubSpot Academy.

“By acquiring The Hustle, we’ll be able to better meet the needs of these scaling companies by delivering educational, business, and tech trend content in their preferred formats,” said HubSpot’s senior vice president of marketing Kieran Flanagan in a statement. “Sam and his team have a proven ability to create content that entrepreneurs, startups, and scaling companies are deeply passionate about, and I’m excited to bring them on board to take that work to the next level.”

HubSpot says The Hustle’s flagship newsletter has 1.5 million subscribers. It also has a subscription offering called Trends and a podcast called My First Million.

“The goal is to build the largest business content network in the world,” Parr tweeted. “Soon, we’ll expand to a variety of mediums on a bunch of different topics and will have really innovative products coming out. We’re also going to hire the best content creators in the world.”

Jan
27
2021
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Following acquisition, Episerver rebrands as Optimizely

After acquiring Optimizely last fall, content management company Episerver is adopting the Optimizely name for the entire organization.

CEO Alex Atzberger told me that the company will be rolling out new branding in the next coming months, as well as renaming its entire product suite to reflect the Optimizely brand.

“We believe it’s no longer just about personalizing the experience or driving recommendations,” Atzberger said. “The brand and word Optimizely really signifies optimal performance. Companies today of any size, any scale [need to be] much more sophisticated in terms of how they digitally connect with their customers. It’s a never-ending story.”

At the same time, he emphasized that Episerver is making the change from “a position of strength,” with the combined company seeing double-digit revenue growth last year and going live with more than 250 new customers.

Asked whether adopting the Optimizely name was always part of the post-acquisition plan, Atzberger replied, “When we acquired Optimizely, we knew that we would be acquiring not just a great product, not just a great customer base, but also acquiring a very well-known brand. We had not yet decided on [rebranding], but it was certainly something that, for me, was part of the consideration.”

In addition to announcing the new company name, Episerver/Optimizely is also announcing a new platform that it’s calling Optimization-as-a-Service, which integrates aspects of Optimizely and Episerver products to offer web targeting, testing and recommendations. As Atzberger put it, this new platform allows customers to determine “who to show something to, what content to show and how to actually show this content.”

Jan
21
2021
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Soci raises $80M for its localized marketing platform

Soci, a startup focused on what it calls “localized marketing,” is announcing that it has raised $80 million in Series D funding.

National and global companies like Ace Hardware, Anytime Fitness, The Hertz Corporation and Nekter Juice Bar use Soci (pronounced soh-shee) to coordinate individual stores as they promote themselves through search, social media, review platforms and ad campaigns. Soci said that in 2020, it brought on more than 100 new customers, representing nearly 30,000 new locations.

Co-founder and CEO Afif Khoury told me that the pandemic was a crucial moment for the platform, with so many businesses “scrambling to find a real solution to connect with local audiences.”

One of the key advantages to Soci’s approach, Khoury said, is to allow the national marketing team to share content and assets so that each location stays true to the “national corporate personality,” while also allowing each location to express  a “local personality.” During the pandemic, businesses could share basic information about “who’s open, who’s not” while also “commiserating and expressing the humanity that’s often missing element from marketing nationally.”

“The result there was businesses that had to close, when they had their grand reopenings, people wanted to support that business,” he said. “It created a sort of bond that hopefully lasts forever.”

Khoury also emphasized that Soci has built a comprehensive platform that businesses can use to manage all their localized marketing, because “nobody wants to have seven different logins to seven different systems, especially at the local level.”

The new funding, he said, will allow Soci to make the platform even more comprehensive, both through acquisitions and integrations: “We want to connect into the CRM, the point-of-sale, the rewards program and take all that data and marry that to our search, social, reviews data to start to build a profile on a customer.”

Soci has now raised a total of $110 million. The Series D was led by JMI Equity, with participation from Ankona Capital, Seismic CEO Doug Winter and Khoury himself.

“All signs point to an equally difficult first few months of this year for restaurants and other businesses dependent on their communities,” said JMI’s Suken Vakil in a statement. “This means there will be a continued need for localized marketing campaigns that align with national brand values but also provide for community-specific messaging. SOCi’s multi-location functionality positions it as a market leader that currently stands far beyond its competitors as the must-have platform solution for multi-location franchises/brands.”

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.”

 

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