Mass Relevance included on Venture Beat’s ‘startups to watch’ in 2014

Untitled-1Venture Beat recently posted a list of the “26 amazing startups you need to watch in 2014.” On the list was social ad tech Mass Relevance, an SaaS platform that creates real-time consumer engagement models by aggregating, filtering, and re-displaying social content from any social network to any digital property – TV, web, mobile, or jumbotron.

Founded by Sam Decker, Eric Falcao, and Brian Danton, Mass Relevance wants to help large media companies manage the flow of social information. The platform takes data streams from various social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) and aggregates them into a single visualization for clients. Brands can customize how they want to see or process the data: they can set word/hashtag filters, audience demographic filters (age range, gender, geography), and media or social network filters, among other things. The platform can also display the data through mobile apps, live TV broadcasts, websites, projector screens at conferences, stadium displays, and other visualizations that run alongside events. 

Here is a good example taken from their site: Mass Relevance helped CNN transform their Facebook data to create the Facebook + CNN Elections Insights page. The page incorporated a number of visualizations and allowed for a unique user experience. For example, users could view the election conversation by candidate, demographic, geography, or time-frame. According to Mass Relevance, the page drove a total of 1.4 million visits and 43,000 individual recommendations, and the top 5 posts on the page garnered an average of over 2,500 likes, with the top post capturing 7,500.

With the explosion of social media, processing and aggregating social data for large media companies and brands is a potentially lucrative market, and Mass Relevance isn’t the only company trying to capitalize. Apple recently bought the social media analytics startup Topsy, which offers users a way to analyze tweets, gather sentiment and measure the reach of a campaign, hashtag or message. Also worth mentioning is FeedMagnet, which “combines original content with curated ‘best-of’ 3rd-party articles and social posts, creating rich, diverse, and engaging brand experiences,” according to their site.

While the social aggregating space is gathering a full roster of competitors, Mass Relevance is clearly coming out as its leader. The company does a brilliant job of taking big data and turning it into meaningful insights. In a world on the verge of making sense of the constant flow of information, Mass Relevance has an enormous opportunity to help brands and other organizations understand the social universe.

Mossberg and Swisher launch new venture Re/code

This morning Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, formerly of WSJs AllThingsD, launched their new, independent venture in tech news: Re/code.net.

In their first post on the site, Mossberg and Kara give some explanation behind the team and name, “Re/code, a new tech and media news, reviews and analysis site launching today, with the same talented team we’ve worked with for many years at the former All Things Digital site we ran for Dow Jones & Co beginning in 2007…Why have we chosen Re/code as the name for our new creation? Simply put: Because everything in tech and media is constantly being refreshed, renewed and reimagined. And this is the reinvention of ourselves.”

Mossberg and Swisher announced late last year that they would not continue working with Dow Jones in 2014, but assured their audience that December 31 would not be the end of their tech news days. Sure enough, they tweeted their first “hello” from the new indie handle early this year:

Mossberg and Swisher are also well known for their AllThingsD conferences, and they have wasted no time getting a conference setup under their new red flag: “We are also immediately opening registration for our new premier executive tech conference, the Code Conference, to be held May 27 to 29, near Los Angeles. Like the site, the conference will be run by the same team that produced our former conferences under the D banner since 2003.”

So it seems that the exponential growth tech is not limited to just gizmos, gadgets, or lines of code. It’s not easy starting a new website, but Mossberg and Swisher have the connections and pre-existing reputation to give Re/code a fantastic start, and it will be exciting to see what sort of editorial and content they are able to produce, and whether a new edge will come with the site’s independence.

2013 saw 26 tech IPOs, 6 were ad tech

It’s the eve of a new year and once again every media outlet on the web and otherwise is posting their “unique” recap of the year and thoughts of things to come. For technology news outlets, 2013 is a phenomenal year to recap due to the amount of growth and activity that occurred in the industry (Facebook, Twitter, Xbox, Playstation, etc). I’d like to follow suite and take a quick look at the activity in the ad tech space this year.

Today Mashable is reporting that 2013 had the most tech IPOs since 2000, aka the .com era. While the article primarily emphasis the .com bubble parallels that can be drawn, I would like specifically focus on what portion of this year’s tech IPOs were ad tech company’s. Below is copy of the diagram from the Mashable article that lists all the IPOs for this year:

Source: Mashable.com

Source: Mashable.com

Below I’ve recreated the above chart, but isolated the companies that fall into the ad tech category:

UntitledWith the exception of Rocket Fuel and Marketo, ad tech wasn’t a phenomenal performer. While the entire tech IPO market saw a total of 77.84% in returns for this year, ad tech saw a total of 32.97% which comes in just under the NASDAQ year end ROI of 40%.

Ad tech is definitely not a sure bet right now in the investment market, but there is no denying we are just seeing the beginning of the sector’s potential. 2013 will go down as a major step in the digital revolution: Social Media took flight with Facebook and Twitter IPOs, mediums of communication evolved with Snapchat and Instagram, companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon redefined how we consume and think about content, and all forms of media finally realized the internet is not only here to stay, it is the future of everything. As more people come online and more companies think of creative ways to reach and entice customers, ad tech will become more innovative and more exciting, and, eventually, more profitable.

Adstrix raises $550K, wants to throw SMBs a lifeline

“…small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our nation’s promise.” Barack Obama via The Hill.

AdStrix SMB Life Line

Earlier this month, Adstrix raised $550K in seed funding. Adstrix is a cloud based advertising marketplace platform that aims to help media companies leverage their advertising offering for small and mid-sized businesses.

The recent spike in advertising solutions and revenue possibilities has led most 3rd party vendors to go for the bigger brands and larger payday. Consequently, small businesses with tight marketing budgets have been turned off by the larger commitments, but Avi Schneider at Geektime points out that the sum of these SMB parts should not be overlooked. “According to the US Census Bureau,” Schneider notes, “companies with less than 20 employees make up close to 90% of all US employee based businesses. Companies with under 500 workers make up close to 99%. Furthermore, small to midsized firms are responsible for close to 50% of all US non-farm GDP.”

So the SMB advertising market is still untapped; but why? One reason might be that smaller businesses depend on finite local markets, but local advertising is still an elusive and enigmatic science. Up until now, online local advertising companies have functioned much like the yellow pages: put up some sort of value proposition with little context to an uninformed audience, a.k.a. Spray and Pray. Only, it’s far more expensive, and SMBs have caught on. Companies like Supermedia and Dex One who specialize in online local advertising are down nearly 100% since they opened.

Adstrix want’s to change this. According to the company’s interview with Geeknet, Co-Founder Guy Amos not only wants to make the entire media buying process easier and more affordable, he hopes “to create a marketplace for both SMB’s and larger companies that will offer, among the usual online media buying options; recommendations, measurement tools and even offline media purchasing and recommendation possibilities.” Despite the recent digital craze, Adstrix believes offline tactics are still vital to the advertising process, especially for SMBs, but need to be aligned with the goals and measurements of a brand’s digital efforts. Their solution is a holistic, cross-platform engagement package that aligns the objectives and learnings of print, web, and mobile campaigns.

Making an easy, all-in-one platform for small businesses isn’t just a good idea, it’s an inevitable next step. The challenge will be the decentralized and constrained nature of SMBs. If Adstrix can pull all the pieces together, they could have one robust business model going to market.

AdSlot wants to take out the Transactional RFP

AdSlot_RFPPublishers whose business model relies on ad revenue live and die by the transactional RFP: emails for possible ad campaigns that flood the inboxes of so many sales reps on a day-to-day basis. They include goals, key performance indicators, flight dates, and, most importantly, proposed budgets. Publishers will send out 100 emails a day to get a chance at these coveted RFPs, and, should they win a piece of business, will send countless more regarding creative and implementation.

In the digital age and dawn of programmatic ad buying, a new question has been raised: is it worth it? When you look at the ratio of pitches to wins on the publisher side, is a $50K-$100K buy worth the hours, nights, and possibly weekends of work it takes to execute it? Companies like AdSlot don’t think so and want to bring in a new way to buy premium inventory: programmatic direct.

“Programmatic” is probably the hottest buzz-word in advertising right now, but agencies and publishers alike are still trying to figure it out. Most associate it with the idea of real-time-bidding (RTB), where publishers auction off their remnant inventory to the highest bidder, but AdSlot and similar companies want to be clear: “programmatic direct” is NOT RTB. Instead, it is more of what it sounds like: a deal for guaranteed inventory executed with the aid of technology.

On AdSlot’s platform, a publisher can offer as much or as little of their guaranteed inventory as they choose, set it at the price they want, and then make it discoverable to buyers, so they can search and buy media on the spot. Payments, creative development and reporting are also handled on the platform, saving time and reducing headaches. The goal for AdSlot is to provide a workflow solution that serves all the publishers’ display ad offerings.

Many publishers are starting to shift inventory and dollars into automated systems. The largest players have, for the mostpart, started to embrace programmatic sales methods, but mostly in the forms of private exchanges and deal IDs, which only reach a small, pre-negotiated group of buyers. “Publishers are never going to release their premium inventory to a black box where they can’t set the price and don’t know who is buying….Agencies are not going to accept it because an auction removes their buying leverage,” AdSlot CEO Ian Lowe told AdExchanger, “In our platform, the publisher sets the price and the agency can negotiate with that. There is no bidding algorithm, there is no auction. What they want to do is to simply automate what they do now.”

Programmatic Direct sits below a publisher’s more involved custom deals, but is above their remnant inventory. It is perfect for advertisers looking for standard display deals which require no customization. For many publishers these deals are a large portion of revenue which are being squandered by the time it takes to pitch, execute, and complete. Programmatic Direct might be answer to premium, yet automated ad deals.

iBeacon based Roximity receives $1.52M in Partial Close funding

logo-roximity-final-cs3Roximity recently received $1.52M in partial close funding, bringing them to $2.14M in total funding to date. See the SEC filing. Roximity is a Denver startup best known for their mobile app that presents real-time deals. While there has already been a lot of buzz around their app in cars, Roximity is starting to roll out a new iBeacon product that enables merchants to send targeted messages to potential customers via mobile as the customers pass by their stores.

If you don’t know what iBeacon is, it’s worth taking moment to go over this potentially ground breaking step forward in location-based technology created by — you guessed it — Apple. As a new protocol in iOS 7, iBeacon allows a developer to harness the latest Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and enable micro-trigger events in their apps. Essentially, it enables any device with the latest bluetooth technology to transmit or receive messages based on proximity. There have been a few articles that explore iBeacon at greater length (Apple InsiderForbes, Wired), but it’s apparent that the new technology opens up a lot of location-based advertising opportunities.

While iBeacon is technically a new piece of available code, Roximity is one of the handful of companies that is starting to create low-cost gadgets that specifically execute the iBeacon technology and continually beam out a Bluetooth signal, sort of like WiFi. The company claims that these small, wireless devices can be placed anywhere to deliver personalized messages to target customers through an app, SMS, MMS or feature-phone messaging. The device is able to customize the message to particular users based on the mobile data received.

While it’s unclear if the new Roximity messages push only to people that have the Roximity deals app, the hyper-targeting possibilities will be enticing to many merchants and brands looking to increase local foot traffic and sales. Furthermore, with recent growth projections in mobile usage, Roximity presents a new opportunity to advertisers looking to expand their mobile spend.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of the new Roximity beacon:

Middle East and Africa will get $400m in internet startups

TheNextWeb has reported that Rocket Internet partners with operator MTN will invest $400m in startups in Middle East and Africa. According to the article, the companies are creating two joint ventures: Africa Internet Holding (AIH), announced this week, and Middle East Internet Holding (MEIH), which will function like incubators to create new internet businesses. Read the full story.

Emerging markets are set to play a big role in the growth of the digital market and investments like these are particularly important for digital advertisers. According to the table below from an eMarketer 2013 study, the projected growth rate of digital ad spend as a share of that of total media in the Middle East and African region will exceed all others by 2016 and 2017. Investments like the one Rocket Internet and MTN is a great first step and important one for this growth: it will bring more consumers online, draw more ad dollars from bigger brands, and ultimately bring more investment to IT infrastructure in this developing region.

Digital Ad Spending Share of Total Media Ad Spending, by Region, 2012-2017 (% of total)