Monthly Archives: September 2013

Social Analytics Startup Socialbakers Hires Its First CMO, Former Adobe VP Neil Morgan



Socialbakers, a social analytics startup headquartered in Prague, is announcing that it has hired its first chief marketing officer — Neil Morgan, who recently left Adobe.

The company says it has 190 employees in 10 offices worldwide. When I spoke to founder and CEO Jan Rezab last week, he described it as as the largest independent player in the market (following the acquisition of competitors like Buddy Media) and as a “hidden gem”. By hiring Morgan (who he described as “a star”), Rezab is probably hoping to remove the “hidden” part of that description.

Morgan was most recently vice president of digital marketing solutions for Europe, Middle East, and Asia at Adobe, a role in which he led marketing efforts for Adobe’s Marketing Cloud products (yes, it’s kind of meta). His marketing experience also includes time at Oracle, Chordiant, Siebel, and Omniture (which was acquired by Omniture).

Socialbakers allows big brands to monitor their activity, and that of their competitors, on social networks. Last week, it launched a new Ad Analytics product. Rezab suggested that the ads that will be successful on social media are the content-driven ones that show up in newsfeeds. So Socialbakers’ Ad Analytics is focused on ads that run in Facebook’s News Feed for now, with plans to add new platforms every eight to 12 weeks.

The product also includes features for testing different ad types and managing campaigns.

“Basically, we’re trying to make ads more intelligent,” Rezab said.

In Race With Twitter, Facebook, Like, Fluffs Its Social TV Numbers



On the same day that Twitter and Nielsen are debuting their first TV Ratings report emerging from the two companies’ partnership, Facebook is slyly releasing official numbers designed to give its own TV efforts a boost.

Facebook claims that AMC’s hot “Breaking Bad” finale was a hit across its social network, generating more than 5.5 million interactions from 3 million+ users. Twitter, meanwhile, saw 1.47 million tweets in comparison from 682,000+ uniques for the same show. What does this mean for Twitter, whose forthcoming IPO is heavily dependent on its TV partnerships and ad business? Is Facebook moving in for the kill?

Well, maybe. But Facebook’s numbers feel a little fudged here.

For background, Facebook announced that it will begin sending out weekly TV reports to the U.S.’s top four networks this week – a move that was not coincidentally disclosed just ahead of the Nielsen Twitter TV Rating report’s launch. Facebook says it will send data to ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS as well as a few other select partners, in order to demonstrate to what extent social conversations around TV programs are now taking place on its own network.

For example, Facebook found that ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” generated over a million interactions across 750,000 users on its network. Previously, reports had stated that Facebook sees five times as much TV-related activity on its network than on Twitter. But as TechCrunch’s Josh Constine said before, that’s not a fair comparison.

 

A Like Is Not Equal To A Tweet 

To state the obvious, Facebook is much bigger than Twitter: 1.15 billion monthly actives versus Twitter’s 200+ million. One could argue its numbers for almost anything will be bigger. But really, it’s Facebook’s looser definition of active engagement that makes comparing its figures to Twitter’s a problem. Facebook, you see, counts nearly any engagement with its content among its “interactions” – it includes not only those posting status updates themselves, but also others who then like, comment or re-share that post to their own networks of friends.

Facebook counting a “like” as an “interaction” is like Twitter counting a “favorite.” It’s not an ideal metric to lump in with Facebook posts or re-shares, but, rather, should be treated as a separate category of interaction.

After all, there are a number of reasons why you may like someone’s Facebook status, and it’s not always directly related to the TV content they’ve shared. You might like a post because your friend also cracked a funny joke of some sort along with their note about the show they’re watching, but that doesn’t mean you’re also a viewer or a fan. Or the post might contain more information beyond the TV show identified through basic keyword matching, and it’s the other part of the post that you’re actually “liking.”

Many social networks like to fluff their numbers when it serves a purpose. Google reports steady increases in Google+ growth, for example, making it sound like Google+ (the destination website) is a bigger player in social than it really is. In reality, Google+ numbers are growing because Google+ is being baked in as the social layer across Google products ranging from Gmail to, most recently, YouTube comments.

Facebook’s Social TV Data Could Become Better In Time 

At launch, Facebook’s TV reports are not on par with Twitter’s. It will not include other data like how many people saw activity where a TV show is being discussed – something Twitter and Nielsen’s TV Rating report is already doing. And tracking this metric will be more difficult on Facebook, because its filtered News Feed doesn’t show users every post from friends.

There are also hints that Facebook has had to work quickly to overcome potentially bad data here, indicating that its move to court TV networks is more reactive than proactive in this situation. In The WSJ’s relaying of Facebook’s news, it noted that before fine-tuning its system, which relies on keywords, Facebook had problems where it reported CBS’s “NCIS” too highly because “NCIS” is a string of letters found in the more often mentioned term “San Francisco.” (To address this issue, Facebook had to create a database of characters and other keywords related to each show in order to not end up with false positives.)

That said, as Facebook ramps up its efforts in this space, its data could become more valuable in the long run because there’s more of it, and it includes profile demographics. The company has already unleashed anonymized data to select news outlets and marketers for other purposes, so there’s no reason why it couldn’t do the same for TV networks now.

Twitter Winning The Second Screen For Now 

Meanwhile, as Facebook gets up to speed with social TV data, Twitter is building out a business based on being the preferred “second screen” app. To serve up TV ratings and analysis, Twitter partnered with Nielsen, which owns SocialGuide, for TV ratings. It acquired companies like Bluefin Labs and Trendrr to further beef up its social TV efforts. With Twitter Amplify, it’s allowing broadcasters to embed short video clips in their tweets in near real-time. And it partnered with CBS on Amplify just this month. It’s also privately experimenting with a DVR-like functionality that would allow you to replay TV-related tweets as you watch a show after its original airing.

In addition, Twitter rolled out TV Ad Targeting programs this summer, which let U.S. advertisers target those who just saw their TV commercials while watching a given show. Twitter has a semantic understanding of what people are talking about here, too. Most importantly, being pushed the ad twice seems to work well, according to early reports. Nielsen found that the combination of TV ad and follow-up tweet delivered 95 percent stronger message association and 58 percent higher purchase intent than TV ads alone.

With all these initiatives underway, Twitter, though smaller and less diverse (the site sees a disproportionate number of young female users CBS’s chief researcher officer told The WSJ), is for now ahead of Facebook in terms of making a business out of the social TV data it has on hand.

Intel To Buy Security Company Sensory Networks For $20M



Intel has acquired Sensory Networks for $20 million to further extend its security capabilities.

Sensory Networks, based in Palo Alto,  was founded in 2002 as a hardware company, providing high-performance technology that maps networks by looking for patterns such as spam, malware and other types of intrusions, said Matt Barrie, one of the company’s co-founders who is now chief executive officer at freelancer.com.  Over time, the company moved from a hardware to a software model. Today, the technology runs at 160 gigabytes per second on Intel processors.

Barrie said the challenge with a startup in the high-performance networking space is getting the attention of a company like Cisco that could get considerable value in integrating the security technology. Intel, though, has long-term credibility that would help in forging a relationship with such a networking giant.

The company’s clients include McAfee, which Intel acquired for $7.7 billion. In that light, the acquisition by Intel makes sense when considering the chip maker’s focus on security. In May, the company acquired Stonesoft a firewall company for $389 million.

Intel has made some big bets on security technology . But often overlooked is the company’s focus on software. Software helps Intel differentiate and be more than just a chip provider. That’s important as software increasingly does what was once required of hardware to do.

Salesforce Is A Platform Company. Period.



You can bet what would have happened if Salesforce.com had not focused on becoming more of a platform company than a CRM provider. It would have faced a market with more modern CRM vendors, putting it in a corner as a legacy provider.

Instead, the company today hit a milestone of sorts, with 2 million apps downloaded and installed on its AppExchange, making it clear that Salesforce is now a platform provider more than anything else.

There is really no doubt about it. Look at all of the company’s efforts over the past 18 months and it’s possible to project what it will be focusing on through 2014. The company is doubling its efforts on developing its app platforms and using its acquisitions to build out its marketing cloud.

The company has spent $3.5 billion in acquisitions for its marketing cloud. This past spring, Salesforce.com announced Social.com, which pulls data from a customer’s CRM environment to craft campaigns. Through its acquisition of Radian 6, the expectation is that companies can also get a view of the social stream with its CRM data. With ExactTarget, Salesforce.com added an email-marketing platform that it can use with Social.com.

In essence, Salesforce is using its CRM platform as a data source with apps serving as data-integration packages, which it makes available on its AppExchange platform. This data can then be integrated with third-party apps from companies such as Dropbox, Marketo and Evernote, its latest partner.

Salesforce.com launched AppExchange in 2006. In 2011, the company reached the 1 million installation mark, and with today’s totals it is growing at a pace that reflects the broader adoption of mobile in the enterprise.

The market for enterprise apps first emerged with the iOS and Android app stores. These are still core channels for developers, but more recently, third-party marketplaces have emerged that provide a different avenue for developers to sell apps.

As more apps were developed, apps marketplaces emerged that have served as hubs for both end users and developers. Google Apps was one of the first to offer a marketplaces. In recent months, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers have started offering application exchange environments. Heroku, for example, has a diverse add-on marketplace. AppDirect now offers Cloud Foundry developers with a way to connect with channel reseller partners that are using the platform.

Other companies such as Bitnami, which helps power the Amazon app marketplace, are finding success as well in helping companies build out app marketplace environments.

Salesforce does get criticized for its closed-platform environment. That’s true to some extent but notice that the conversation is about the platform, not about Salesforce’s CRM strength. It’s about Salesforce as a platform company. Period.

Bang With Friends To Change Names After Trademark Settlement With Zynga



Bang With Friends’ catchy name unfortunately is getting tossed after the startup reached a settlement with Zynga.

The social gaming company had accused the casual sex app of infringing on its “With Friends” line-up. But now both are saying they’ve reached a settlement. Neither company is talking about the terms, however.

It seems like a clear win for Zynga. Bang With Friends had to acknowledge Zynga’s trademark rights and it’s now changing its name. They have a placeholder site called The Next Bang. It seems like there was some worry that Bang With Friends — if it ever got big enough — could color the reputation of Zynga’s more family-friendly games.

Both companies said in a statement:

Zynga Inc. and Bang With Friends, Inc. are pleased that they have reached an amicable resolution of their dispute. Although the terms of the settlement are confidential, Bang With Friends, Inc. acknowledges the trademark rights that Zynga has in its WITH FRIENDS marks and will be changing its corporate name and rebranding its services in the near future. Details on the next version of Bang With Friends can be found at http://www.TheNextBang.com.

The settlement is yet another in a recent string: Zynga recently settled with an executive who defected to mid-core social game-maker Kixeye over theft of trade secrets. Zynga also settled with EA earlier this year over whether an earlier game “The Ville” was a copy of EA’s classic “The Sims.”

To Put Its Listening Rooms On More Platforms, Soundrop Picks Up $3.4M Led By Spotify Investor Northzone



Norwegian startup Soundrop first made its name as an app on Spotify, tapping into the streaming platform’s catalog to create real-time group listening rooms that were popular places for Spotify users to congregate for more social listening experiences. But as Spotify itself has become a more social platform by default, Soundrop is expanding what it does, and where it does it. Today, it is today announcing a $3.4 million round of funding — led by none other than Spotify’s lead investor, Northzone — that it wants to use to turn up the volume on its growth to more platforms beyond Spotify and into more areas beyond simple listening rooms.

In addition to Northzone, Norwegian-government-back Investinor also participated. Northzone also led the previous $3 million round in the company last year.

The news comes at the same time that another listening room service, Turntable.fm, is also expanding its focus, in its case from listening rooms into shared live music experiences online.

Inge Sandvik, the CEO and co-founder of Soundrop, tells me that while Spotify is currently the only music platform where Soundrop has an app, in the coming weeks this is due to grow. As for where Soundrop apps might appear in future, think about other music streaming platforms such as Deezer that also offer app stores as one likely port of call. Another could be other kinds of streaming services that may operate more around video rather than audio; Soundrop already offers an integration with YouTube on its standalone play.soundrop.fm service for its web app at play.soundrop.fm, its Facebook integrations and its standalone apps for iOS and Android.

While it makes sense that Soundrop will expand to be used in more places as a way of capturing more users, on the other this is quite a change for a company that started out at first working very closely with just one: not only was Spotify its first platform, but the two share an investor, and for a while Soundrop was actually working out of Spotify’s offices.

As Soundrop looks to expand its scope to more platforms, so too, is the focus of the app changing somewhat. “We are quite tired of talking about ‘music discovery,’” Sandvik told me. “That is a crowded space and everyone wants to solve music discovery.”

So, Soundrop is gravitating to where it has seen not just a lot of interest from users, but from labels on the business side, too — specifically in the creation of rooms dedicated to specific artists. Those who have created rooms on Soundrop include Imagine Dragons, Robin Thicke, Zedd, Owl City and some 130 others. The most successful of these are not trivial: Universal Music’s DJs Sebastian Ingrosso & Alesso picked up 28 million OTS users (a traffic metric standing for “opportunities to see”) after heavy marketing from both Universal and Spotify.

“Labels see us as a promotional platform,” Sandvik told me, noting that this is also where the company is generating the most revenues today, too. “We have seen that our artist events have been growing a lot. We are doing artist events almost every day now and several per day and we think we can scale this up quite a lot. This will again drive up their market share where music has been licensed and their revenue will grow.”

That is not to say that larger user-generated listening rooms are disappearing but they will increasingly be complemented by these artist-specific or label-specific rooms. “Music discovery and engaging a crowd is living in symbioses,” he said. “We think we are very well positioned to help out in both areas, but we think we need to focus on what tools we can give artists to amplify themselves when they are aiming to create a engaging relationship with listeners.”

At a time when Spotify is still looking for the magic formula to turn its popularity with consumers into a profitable enterprise, it’s interesting to see Soundrop making a sharp turn to services that, while popular, are also squarely aimed at revenue generation effectively as a music marketing platform. This is one of the reasons that Northzone re-invested. “In the year since Northzone invested in Soundrop, the company has had a focus on product development and tight integration with Spotify,” noted Torleif Ahlsand, General Partner in Northzone and Chairman of Soundrop’s Board of Directors. “Now that the product has reached a new level of maturity, the company is ready to take its next steps. It feels so very right to bring Investinor in to provide additional rocket fuel. With the product well-established, Soundrop is now in pole position to drive revenue and growth in 2014.”

Facebook Starts Rollout Of Graph Search For Posts, Comments, Check-Ins To Reveal The Past And Present



What’s everyone saying about Breaking Bad? What about just my friends? What do my old photo comments say about me? A trillion posts full of this info start getting unlocked today as Facebook begins rolling out Graph Search for posts to a small subset of US English users. It will allow us to see what the world thinks of anything, but could also dredge up the past, defeating ‘privacy by obscurity’.

When Facebook launched Graph Search in January, it started with indexing people, photos, places, and interests. It let you find people based on certain characteristics, browse specific sets of photos, find local businesses, and discover media and brands your friends enjoy. But there were three big things missing: International access, mobile access, and the ability to search posts.

Since then Facebook has expanded Graph Search from a limited beta to a product available to all US users that browse in English. Since Graph Search is a semantic search engine based on sentences, not keywords, it’s tricky and slow to internationalize.

There’s still no mobile support, which is facepalm-worthy consider Facebook is supposed to be a “mobile first” company, and much of Graph Search’s potential lies in helping people find things and friends while on the go.

Today, though, Facebook starts solving the third problem by making almost anything you post accessible via Graph Search. That includes status updates, comments on anything, photo captions, Notes, and check-ins. No Events yet, though. Only a small group of US-English users are getting post search today, and Facebook tells me it plans to to monitor usage and take feedback before refining post search and rolling it out to all Graph Search users.

The End Of Privacy By Obscurity

Looking to the past, Graph Search for posts will help Facebook and its users realize the ambitions of Timeline. Suddenly everything we’ve written on Facebook isn’t just clunkily navigable from our profiles. It can be searched by anyone with permission to see it. Your bitter posts from your college library, silly comments on friends’ wedding photos, and dispatches from distant vacation check-ins can all be distilled from the rest of your content.

That could make for some fun nostalgia, or some embarrassing fiascos. Before Timeline, your old posts were essentially locked away behind hundreds of clicks of the “more posts” button at the bottom of your profile. This is known as ‘privacy by obscurity’. Technically your old content was still accessible, but it was really tough to find, essentially making the past a secret.

Timeline let you find content on the profiles of friends if you knew what you were looking for and when to look. Graph Search for people let you find a non-friend’s profile and comb through their public posts. But Graph Search for posts essentially eradicates ‘privacy by obscurity’. If you said it, and it’s technically visible to someone, they will be able to easily find it. That includes any time you’ve mentioned you’re “drunk”, “high”, “depressed”, “pissed”, or cursed like a sailor.

I don’t mean to scare you. There’s a lot of fun, learning, and ‘connection’ that will come from Graph Search of old posts. But this is a good time to go to your Activity Log and make sure any sensitive content you have has the right privacy settings. I’d definitely recommend doing this when you get the feature yourself. That’s actually one problem with the slow rollout. Some people’s content will be searchable by others before they can search it themselves.

The Global Townsquare, Indexed

Looking at the present, Graph Search for posts could do a lot to help Facebook win the war against Twitter to become the web’s premier water cooler. Perhaps more than Facebook adding hashtags, verified profiles, trending topics, and other features from Twitter’s playbook.

Now when there’s a big live television event or world news, you can browse more than your News Feed or hashtags. You can search for “Post about Syria” to see every public post on Facebook mentioning the word. Want to just see what your friends are saying about the latest teen pop drama? Search “Posts about Miley Cyrus from my friends”.

These searches could become popular places for Facebook to advertise. Right now there’s no way to target ads to appear on post Graph Search results, but Facebook could unlock that soon. If Facebook can convince users there’s more going on than what’s immediately visible in their News Feeds, it could get them spending more time on the site in front of brands who know what they’re thinking about. That could let Facebook accomplish its goals of connecting the world while finding a way to pay for all the servers that host our digital lives.

Leaked YouTube Video & Tumblr Blog Reveal All About Stealthy Payments Startup Clinkle



Clinkle, a much-hyped mobile payments startup which raised $25 million in funding ahead of having a publicly available product, has been notoriously secretive about its user interface and the details of how it all works. TechCrunch has been able to grab some screenshots in the past that demonstrate how the app functions, and spoke with beta testers and former employees to get a sense of its differentiating elements. But nothing comes close to this tell-all video which appeared a few days ago giving away much of Clinkle’s secrets.

The video’s creator is currently unknown, but it appears to be someone with direct knowledge of Clinkle’s plans. A lot of people who worked for Clinkle for a short time were strung along with promises of equity and then dropped, we’ve heard. That’s why it makes sense that there’s some potential for a leak of this nature to occur. However, the tipster who sent in the video claims they were able to bypass the Clinkle waitlist in the app, which is how they were able to see all this functionality.

For starters, the video shows off the Clinkle user interface in action. These images include a lot of shots where photos of America’s founding fathers are used in the place of “dummy” user accounts. This correlates with the placeholder images we had previously pulled out of the app’s APK, again lending credence to the video being either a direct capture, or at least a very knowledgable recreation.

The video demonstrates how Clinkle can manage cash, credit and debit cards, transfers and withdrawals, as well as other things, like peer-to-peer payments, and transaction histories. Toward the end of the video, it also shows a screen that says “Aeorlink enabled,” which refers to an ultrasound connection between a phone and an iPad acting as a register – basically the app sends encrypted sound waves that act as the payments. A Register app had earlier appeared in the iOS App Store before being pulled.

From the details on an accompanying tell-all Tumblr blog, a tipster explains that with Aerolink, the ultrasonic sounds encode a store, register, and transaction identifier but the process may be open to security vulnerabilities. It also may be technology sourced from a third-party, the post states. (The video and Tumblr blog were sent in by the same tipster, but we can’t be sure at this point that his or her claims to be the author of both are legitimate. This same tipster has apparently also been in contact with ValleyWag.)

This Tumblr blog reveals that Clinkle’s accounts are actually being held by Zions Bank, which is why the app asks for things like your driver’s license photo and Social Security number. That allows Clinkle to transfer money to your real bank account with the app’s “ATM” functionality. Using a real bank behind the scenes is not altogether different from how other startups, like Simple and Dwolla, operate. It’s very difficult for a startup to actually be a bank itself, so it instead innovates on the front-end.

The phone number 1855CLI-NKLE, also featured in the Tumblr blog, when called, did respond “hello this is Clinkle,” when tested a few days ago. It appears to be an office number.

To be clear, most of the leaks confirm functionality we already knew about, but now it’s a case of being able to see how it works, rather than just hearing about the details from sources.

The potential for more leaks around Clinkle continues, as the company is not planning to have some grand launch event, but is rather quietly expanding its tester base while launching around college campuses.

We’re reaching out to Clinkle for comment on the leaks now and will update with their response.



Tackk Raises $1.2M For Its Content Creation Tools



Tackk, which offers tools for creating content that combines text, images, audio, and video, is coming out of a beta today and announcing that it has raised $1.2 million in a second round of seed funding.

If the premise sounds a bit general, well, it is. When I wrote about Tackk a year ago, the company described the content that users could create as “e-fliers” — the online equivalent of the fliers that you’d see pinned on the bulletin boards of neighborhood coffee shops. That was pretty broad already, but when I spoke to CEO Christopher Celeste about the funding, he said his goal is to build a “universal content creation tool.”

There were two big advantages for Tackk that Celeste and the company’s co-founder Eric Brockmuller touted in our conversation. First, there’s the simplicity — using the Tackk template, it shouldn’t take much work or expertise to combine different types of media in a non-ugly way. Second, Tackk doesn’t force users to be “locked in,” with all of their media stuck on a single network. Users don’t need to create a Tackk account to create a Tackk, and they can post their content to social networks, as well download the content as a PDF.

Since launching a year ago, Tackk says it has received 700,000 unique visitors (despite minimal marketing), and its users have the used the platform to create photo journals, Craigslist postings, recipes, real estate listings, and more. You can see featured Tackk content here.

Brockmuller told me that Tackk was originally built to serve solely as a content creation platform, but it has added social features since then, like profiles and the ability to follow other users. Celeste said this allows Tackk to address both the creation and the consumption of content, but he added, “We’re not trying to create a Tackk social network. We want to empower people with the ability to tag and organize their content so that they can push it out for discovery.”

The new funding was led by ff Venture Capital, with participation from previous investors Hatch Partners and Drummond Road Capital. Celeste (who joined Tackk from Hatch) said that one of the appealing things about working with ff is that the partners aren’t forcing Tackk to specialize: “They know how to be patient with an early-stage play like this.”

Email Is The Godfather Of Native Ads, So TellApart Makes AdStack Its First Acquisition



It’s dark days for email marketing. Gmail’s new tabbed filters are hiding messages from brands. Email promotions have to be highly personalized in order for opens to equal clicks and conversions. TellApart wants to sell that personalization, so today the four-year-old, big-data, ad tech player announced its first acquisition: email targeting, A/B testing, and personalization startup AdStack.

In cash and stock, buying AdStack and six of its employees cost TellApart in the single-digit millions, the company tells me. It can afford it, since TellApart is both profitable and has raised $17.75 million over three rounds from SV Angel, Greylock, Bain Capital Ventures, and angels including Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and ex-eBay VP Michael Dearing.

In fact it was mutual investor Dearing who introduced TellApart CEO McFarland to AdStack CEO Evan Reiser.

TellApart was launched in 2009 by McFarland and Mark Ayzenshtat who spent five years building the core infrastructure of Google’s ads business. They’d found Google’s weakness: it’s not sure of when you buy things online or offline; it has to guess. Meanwhile, McFarland says he discovered that “retailers are as scared of Google as they are of Amazon. It controls a lot of their traffic and a lot of their livelihood. They don’t want Google to know any more about their sales.

So McFarland and Reiser left to create an independent data platform to help retailers “tell apart” low-quality leads from people likely to buy something. By applying big data and machine learning to online and offline purchase data, TellApart devised a way to target personalized, relevant ads to high-potential customers.

When people came to a TellApart-powered site, it could analyze their browsing history and shopping patterns to optimize ads and offers. For example, if someone came to Neiman Marcus’ site, seemed to have been to expensive shopping sites before, and were browsing pricey items, TellApart could determine they had a high lifetime value to the business and were worth offering an initial discount.

TellApart learned to serve retargeted display ads and dynamic offers, was one of the first companies running on Facebook’s FBX retargeted ad exchange and putting those ads in the News Feed, and took advantage of Facebook’s CRM-based Custom Audiences ads.

The kicker is that TellApart doesn’t sell impressions or even clicks. Its business model only sees TellApart get paid when people delivered by its ads buy something from its clients. That’s helped it turn 50 of the top retailers into its clients, including Warby Parker, Brookstone, and One Kings Lane.

But there was still a big piece missing. Clients were using email to drum up traffic, not just ads. It’s a tough channel, though, because email has fallen victim to the tragedy of the commons. Anyone can send it, so everyone does, and overloaded recipients become fatigued and disinterested.

“Retailers, spammers, social networks, even my family forwarding jokes — the resource gets trampled and becomes much less valuable to everyone,” McFarland tells me. Brands need a way to stand out. That’s what AdStack does by making bulk emails less cookie-cutter. It figures out who the recipient is, fills the email with products they’ll actually want, and A/B tests designs and targeting. So TellApart bought it.

Together, they’ll use TellApart’s big data background to make email marketing even more effective. “Email truly is the godfather of native advertising — commercial messages designed to be consumed as content,” says McFarland. The combined company’s goal is to help businesses augment that one-size-fits-all content, like a “6 Reasons You Need  A Juicer” email with suggestions of other appliances the recipient might want.

Personalization won’t necessarily help TellApart’s clients escape the Gmail Promotions filter. That could be a problem if the startup extends its “only pay when you earn” pricing model to email. The startup is also at risk as Google attempts to shift the industry away from standardized cookies to its own proprietary browsing tracking system.

At the same time, though, retargeted social advertising is growing fast thanks to Facebook and Twitter, and it’s one of TellApart’s specialties. As businesses come looking to optimize ads in our news feeds, TellApart could convince them to invest in one of our oldest feeds: the inbox.

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