17 advertising and marketing startups that investors say are poised to take off despite the coronavirus

  • Business Insider asked 11 investors and VCs which advertising and marketing companies they think are poised to take off this year, despite the major hit the industry took from the coronavirus.
  • Their picks, including ones they haven't invested in, span startups like Narrative that are using software to manage and collect data, programmatic advertising firm Beeswax, and design software Canva.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The economic downturn wrought by the coronavirus has ripped apart the advertising and marketing industry as advertising slash spending and layoffs hit advertising agencies, adtech companies, and brands.

Still, investors are bullish on startups that are solving complex problems. Firms like Narrative and Perksy are helping marketers comply with data privacy laws like California's Consumer Privacy Act and Europe's General Data Protection Regulation. Mobile app Triller wants to take on Gen Z giant TikTok. And companies like Marpipe and Slate want to use artificial intelligence to change how ad creative is made.

Business Insider asked 11 investors, including personal investors to top VCs, to name companies that they think will take off this year and why, including ones they haven't invested in.

Here are 17 startups they predict will take off this year, in alphabetical order.


Total funding: $163 million

What it does: Attentive works with brands like Sephora and Coach to power text messages. Data privacy laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act make it harder for marketers to target digital ads, and Attentive is one of a handful of companies that helps marketers collect first-party data from mobile messaging. The emphasis on first-party data has attracted investor attention over the past year, with the firm closing two rounds of funding totaling $110 million this year.

Why investors like the company:  The opportunity for brands to use personalized text messages is growing, said Katie Reiner, an investor at Torch Capital, who has not invested in Attentive.

"As consumers get more comfortable engaging with the brands they love over SMS, Attentive allows businesses to receive actionable ROI metrics," she said.


Total funding: $28.3 million

What it does: Five-year-old Beeswax sells adtech software that marketers use to buy programmatic advertising in-house. Marketers license Beeswax's technology to customize an advertising-tech stack and pay a flat monthly fee that starts at $10,000.

Why investors like the company: Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, is not an investor but said that he's bullish on Beeswax because the firm's software as a service (or Saas) model generates recurring revenue and helps brands vet and maintain relationships with multiple adtech companies.

Jennifer Lum, cofounder and general partner at Biospring Partners and a Beeswax investor, added that a recent partnership with cloud-data platform Snowflake differentiates it from other adtech firms.

"The process of making very granular performance data available to data scientists and marketers is an extremely time consuming and expensive," she said.


Total funding: $120,000

What it does: CabinetM pitches technology to marketers that categorizes all of the vendors they work with and identifies any overlaps in companies that do the same thing. Marketers use CabinetM's technology for vendor audits and to identify companies to trim.

Why investors like the company: It's common for CMOs to work with dozens of adtech and martech companies but not understand what they all do. CabinetM gives marketers a look at the areas where they may be overspending and underspending. Email platforms, for instance, typically offer redundant services, said CabinetM investor Sarah Fay, managing director of Glasswing Ventures. 

"There are a lot of audits happening today [and] all of the departments do their own negotiations," she said. "This streamlines the processes."


Total funding: $301.6 million

What it does: Canva is a free online design platform that marketers use to create assets like social media posts, videos, and media kits with a paid tier that gives users more tools including a library of images and backgrounds. The Australia-based company claims 30 million monthly users and is valued at $6 billion after closing a $60 million round of funding from Blackbird Ventures and Sequoia China in June.

Why investors like the company: Mike Kelly, CEO of Kelly Newman Ventures, is not an investor in Canva but said its focus on disrupting design giants like Adobe and Microsoft positions it well.

"It is a fundamental need that most people probably thought was covered by Powerpoint and Getty, but the Canva entrepreneurs reimagined the category," he said.

Gravy Analytics

Total funding: $26.7 million

What it does: Gravy Analytics is one of a handful of marketing firms that collect and analyze location data for marketers and helps them target messages to audiences and verify the places where consumers visit.

Why investors like the company: Privacy laws like California's Consumer Privacy Act have restricted how marketers can use consumer data. The number of location-based companies has also consolidated with Foursquare combining with smaller firms Placed and Factual. Eric Franchi, operating partner at MathCapital, is an investor in Gravy Analytics and predicted the company would take off by helping marketers understand foot traffic during the pandemic.

"In a COVID-19 world, understanding location and population movement is absolutely critical for public health and business planning," he said.


Total funding: $35,000, according to a SEC filing.

What it does: Loginhood provides free software to publishers that collects compliant data under the California Consumer Privacy Act. Here's how it works: Consumers download a Chrome extension and earn a small amount of money for sharing their data with Loginhood. Loginhood then collects their web browsing data and sells it to advertisers. Advertisers pay Loginhood for the web browsing data and the firm splits the money with publishers and consumers.

Why investors like the company: Publishers and advertisers are increasingly looking for ways to sell and buy ads that don't use third-party cookies while consumers want to know how their data is used and be rewarded for sharing it, said Andrew Gluck, general partner at irrvrntVC, who has invested in Loginhood. "There's a lot of stuff coming out around people wanting to be paid for their data, but the mechanics behind that are challenging," he said. 

Magellan AI

Total funding: Not disclosed

What it does: Magellan AI provides podcast measurement software that agencies, brands and publishers use to verify that ads actually run.

Why investors like the company: The audience and advertising interest in podcasts continues to grow; Omnicom recently said it plans to spend $20 million on podcast ads with Spotify this year, and research firm eMarketer expects podcast advertising will hit $1 billion next year. With that growth, marketers want to measure their spend and track which programs result in conversions for marketers, said Chris Cunningham, founder of C2 Ventures, which has invested in Magellan AI.

"This is like Nielsen and Comscore for the traditional ad space," he said.


Total funding: $1.7 million

What it does: Marpipe wants to solve the cumbersome process of testing ad creative in social media. The firm's software uses artificial intelligence to create ads and see which work the best, depending on things like the background color and whether products are featured in the ad.

Why investors like the company: It's getting harder for marketers to stand out on Facebook as ad prices increase and consumers' attention dwindles. Andrew Gluck, general partner at irrvrntVC, is not an investor in Marpipe but said that he thinks the company's business will take off because it solves creative challenges for marketers.

"One of the last places where I think there's an opportunity to differentiate is creative," he said.


Total funding: $5.3 million

What it does: Founded and led by Nick Jordan in 2016, Narrative helps direct-to-consumer brands and data platforms buy and sell data. Narrative is one of a handful of companies that helps marketers navigate data privacy laws like California and Europe's privacy laws by working off compliant data sets. Marketers use Narrative's tools to make marketing strategies and set up data-selling businesses.

Why investors like the company: Narrative stands out because it stays away from being labeled as a data broker, which are known for murky tactics of collecting and storing data, said investor Jennifer Lum, cofounder and general partner at Biospring Partners. 


Total funding: $1.5 million

What it does: The 4-year-old Omnichain uses blockchain to track supply chains, predicting product levels so brands like frozen food brand Ruby Rockets can plan manufacturing schedules and cut costs from shipping inventory. Omnichain competes with giants like SAP and Oracle.

Why investors like the company: Bill Wise, managing director of Click Ventures and CEO of Mediaocean, is an investor in Omnichain, and said that he thinks the company will take off this year because the coronavirus has made brands more aware of who touches products.

"Because of COVID there is a heightened awareness and sensitivity around managing the supply chain," he said. "They have added artificial intelligence and machine learning to the software. I expect this to be another example of legacy software companies not being able to keep up."


Total funding: $7.7 million

What it does: Pathmatics tracks where advertisers spend money and pitches the data to marketers so they can track their competitors and agencies can win new business. The 10-year-old firm monitors ad spend across social media, video, and display advertising and looks at the number of ads served and impressions. Pathmatics' data showing how much money brands spend on Facebook and Instagram have been cited in numerous reports about the Facebook ad boycott.

Why investors like the company: Michael Mizrahi, venture partner at Wavemaker Partners, is an investor in Pathmatics and said that the firm "provides the guidebook on how to advertise," and solves big issues for marketers and agencies.




Total funding: $4.5 million

What it does: Perksy is a Gen Z-focused research firm that wants to take on giants like Nielsen and Kantar. Perksy uses a mobile app to have people answer survey questions in exchange for points that can be used to buy gift cards. Marketers like Pepsi and Airbnb pay to run surveys and collect sentiment data that then be used in marketing campaigns.

Why investors like the company: The app helps marketers collect anonymous and compliant data that's increasingly becoming more important due to data privacy laws, said Torch Capital's Katie Reiner, who has invested in Perksy.

"These large brands have no idea how to target millennials and were out of date. As we shift towards a generation that's much more data-conscious and have a stigma towards traditional advertising, you get a first-hand view into what this generation wants," she said.


Total funding: $4 million

What it does: Plannuh pitches software to help marketers organize budgets and metrics in one place with a cloud-based system that multiple departments can access. Plannuh's CEO and founder Peter Mahoney founded the company after working in marketing for 30 years and becoming frustrated with the lack of budgeting tools that he had access to.

Why investors like the company: Investor Sarah Fay, managing director of Glasswing Ventures, said that Plunnah has grown during the coronavirus because Plannuh tracks the impact of cut marketing budgets and recommends where an advertiser's marketing dollars should go.

"When a marketing plan is agreed, it gets confusing," she said. "This organizes how a plan is running and keeps track of KPIs."

Players' Lounge

Total funding: $3.7 million

What it does: Players' Lounge is a platform that allows video game players to compete with each other for money. People are matched up and place bets against each other in console or PC games. As more marketers look to advertise in esports, Players Lounge targets casual gamers instead of the professional gamers that other esports companies target. The company also hosts physical tournaments in addition to online tournaments.

Why investors like the company: Fatima Husain, principal at Comcast Ventures, and investor in Players' Lounge said that the esports market is poised to take off as people spend more time at home during the coronavirus.

"It's been able to engage individuals in a manner that has really kept the consumer growth going well," she said.



Total funding: Not disclosed

What it does: Slate wants to solve the challenges sports teams have in cranking out an endless amount of social media content manually. Slate is geared for social media managers at sports leagues like the National Football League that use the platform to create layouts for Twitter and Instagram using a team's assets and publish social media content. A mobile app lets marketers create content to theoretically cut down the work flow of editing content on a desktop computer. 

Why investors like the company: Slate addresses marketers' growing needs to publish social content quickly with consistent messages across multiple platforms, said Slate investor Angela Lee, founder of 37Angels.

"While Slate is still in their first year, they've been very quickly adopted by trailblazers in the social media world," she said.


Total funding: $37.5 million

What it does: Triller wants to take on TikTok to become the go-to app for Gen Z. The app uses artificial intelligence to let users create and upload short music videos using built-in editing tools and filters. Triller has licensing partnerships with studios like Universal and Warner Media Group that power its music catalog. Triller claims to have 85 million downloads and 30 million monthly active users.

Why investors like the company: Michael Mizrahi, venture partner at Wavemaker Partners, is not an investor in Triller but said that he likes the company's model of competing against TikTok for Gen Z.


Total funding: $106.6 million

What it does: VideoAmp's software helps marketers measure digital and TV ads by consolidating and analyzing their ad spending. Agencies like Omnicom and WPP use VideoAmp to help choose which platforms and channels to use and avoid bombarding people with the same ad repeatedly.

Why investors like the company: While more money is moving into over-the-top streaming and digital video, VideoAmp is trying to help marketers identify how to best spend it, said Michael Mizrahi, venture partner at Wavemaker Partners, which has invested in VideoAmp. 

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