by Jeff Vance

10 Cool Marketing Automation Startups to Watch

Dec 18, 201421 mins

Marketing automation can help can help businesses better target prospects, find and test new products and services. These 10 startups can help businesses plug gaps in their marketing strategy and offer solutions to problems companies might not even know they have.

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Marketing automation can help businesses target prospects, separate out the tire kickers from the real buyers, and even help you find and test ideas for new products and services.

The major platforms out there, such as ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud), Marketo, Pardot and HubSpot, are designed with larger enterprises in mind. For the midmarket on down, there are many point solutions, including MailChimp, Aweber, Hootsuite, Nimble and even a dizzying array of WordPress plug-ins, but these all leave gaps to be filled at a later date.

Many businesses don’t really have the time or the dedicated personnel to justify investing in the big platforms, but are completely satisfied with existing solutions, which may be a combination of point products spot-welded together with in-house developed tools. Even large enterprises using the established marketing automation suites still encounter gaps as they shift their focus to new channels or devices.

The startups below (listed in alphabetical order) will help you plug gaps in your marketing strategy that you may not even know you have, with many of them offering solutions to problems that the big platform players aren’t even aware of yet.

1. AerServ

What they do: Provide a mobile ad mediation platform that helps publishers monetize mobile inventory and increase revenue, with a focus on mobile video advertising.

Headquarters: Newport Beach, Calif.

CEO: Josh Speyer. He founded in 1998 and recently was CEO at BBV.

Founded: December 2013

Funding: AerServ has raised more than $2 million in seed and angel funding, coming primarily from Briteblue Ventures.

Problem they tackle: Marketers and advertisers know that there is gold in those mobile video hills, but they’re not sure how to mine it. The problem is even worse for publishers, many of whom have no idea how to even begin to monetize mobile.

Spending by U.S. advertising firms and marketers on mobile video ads will reach approximately $1.5 billion by the end of 2014, more than doubling the total spent in 2013, according to eMarketer. Spending on mobile video ads accounted for nearly 19 percent of all digital video ad spending in 2013, a number that eMarketer believes will reach 26 percent by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, continuous ad technology consolidation has left publishers with few choices for publisher-friendly, high-quality ad mediation, and the depression of ineffective, traditional banner CPMs is eroding publisher ad revenue.

Why they’re on this list: AerServ seeks to empower publishers by giving them control over how they sell their ad inventory, who they sell to, and what the ad formats are. AerServ works with thousands of apps, from premium publishers to independent developers, to optimize their existing ad network revenue through mediation. They also offer a marketplace, AerMarket, which publishers can use to better align ads with user demand.

According to AerServ, its entire platform and infrastructure were built with a publisher-first mentality. Technical integration of complex ad units like mobile video and SDKs are done for you, and publishers can serve multiple ad formats through one integration, reducing the time it takes to publish new ads.

Customers include: BitTorrent and

Competitive Landscape: AerServ will compete with legacy mediation and ad serving companies, such as DoubleClick (acquired by Google), Admob (also acquired by Google), Mopub (yep, another Google acquisition), and Liverail (acquired by Facebook).

As you can see, the companies serving up mobile ads at scale are the major social media companies, most notably Facebook and YouTube (i.e., Google), which leads one to wonder if AerServ is positioning itself for a near-term acquisition.

2. BloomReach

What they do: Provide data-driven marketing applications.

Headquarters: Mountain View, Calif.

CEO: Raj De Datta, formerly Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mohr-Davidow Ventures and Director of Product Marketing at Cisco.

Founded: 2009; remained in stealth mode until February 2012.

Funding: BloomReach has raised $41 million in three rounds of funding from Bain Capital Ventures, NEWA, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Problem they tackle: While ecommerce is often viewed as a trend that levels the playing field, allowing small businesses to compete with or even out-compete less nimble incumbents, the reality is quite different. Large retailers are already doing everything they can to monopolize e-commerce channels as effectively as they dominate brick-and-mortar retail.

Forrester Research estimates that the U.S. e-commerce market will hit $370 billion by 2017. eMarketer estimates that the worldwide B2C e-commerce market will top $1.5 trillion this year.

Connecting consumers spread around the globe with the products they want is an ongoing challenge, one larger companies are better positioned to meet. Companies like Amazon, Blue Nile, and even Walmart already leverage large-scale data and tech advantages. To compete with these companies, smaller retailers need to reach their audiences with increasing precision and accuracy.

Moreover, as content marketing pushes aside less effective forms of marketing, large businesses are able to hire teams of content producers that small to midsized businesses just can’t afford.

Why they’re on this list: BloomReach’s Personalized Discovery Platform powers all of the company’s applications across marketing channels. BloomReach Organic Search combines Web-wide intelligence and site-level content knowledge with machine learning and natural language processing to predict demand and dynamically adapt pages to match consumer behavior and intent. According to BloomReach, this approach helps companies capture up to 60 percent of net-new users.

BloomReach also takes a data-driven approach to mobile commerce, more accurately matching consumers with content and products. BloomReach argues that this increases revenue-per-site-visit by up to 40 percent and drives sales across all shopping channels. The company also provides site search and personalization technology in addition to big-data-driven decision-making applications for online merchandising.

Customers include: Staples, Forever 21, Guess, Williams-Sonoma and Neiman Marcus.

Competitive Landscape: Big Data marketing platforms are popping up faster than weeds after the first spring rains. While behemoths like Google, Amazon, and IBM have similar technologies, they keep them in-house. Others providing similar services the rest of us can use include Kontera, DataSong, and Persado.

3. Community Elf

What they do: Community Elf provides content generation and curation services, while also developing software that automatically identifies relevant, authoritative, and shareable content for multiple digital platforms.

Headquarters: Pittsburgh, Penn.

CEO: Scott Rogerson. Prior to joining Community Elf, Rogerson was the founder and Managing Director of the private investment fund Oakhill Equity.

Founded: 2010

Funding: The company is currently backed by friends-and-family funding, but intends to seek venture funding in Q1 or Q2 of 2015. They are also on track to generate more than $1 million in revenue this year.

Problem they tackle: Businesses are beginning to realize that it’s important to establish your company as a thought leader to gain the best possible position in the market. Yet, while many try to do this, most fail.

According to Pew Research Center, 46 percent of adults rely on social media to help them make purchasing decisions. Thus, the ability to position oneself as a reputable organization that is knowledgeable about consumer pain points and desires not only helps to convert leads into sales, but also significantly reduces the company’s total marketing spend by increasing emphasis on inbound marketing, which according to HubSpot costs 61 percent less than outbound marketing.

Carving out a niche as a thought leader is a labor-intensive, content-driven proposition, but most businesses skimp on even elucidating important insights that help people solve actual, pressing problems. Fewer still invest in creating a steady stream of actionable content to promote those ideas.

Why they’re on this list: Community Elf began as a services business that helped companies execute their online presence management (i.e., content creation and curation, social media engagement) strategies. Shortly after the startup was founded, the team realized that it was spending a great deal of time simply searching for relevant and engaging content that could be posted on behalf of clients. In other words, low-margin activities were consuming too much time and resources.

To address this problem, Community Elf developed a content curation engine, UpContent, which sifts through relevant content results by layering on a clustering analysis tool to separate heterogeneous topics, determine the content’s authority and shareability, and remove spurious results, as well as removing results that do not have the characteristics that will encourage engagement.

UpContent is currently in beta and is scheduled for G.A. in early 2015.

Customers include: GNC, Heinz, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and UPMC.

Competitive Landscape: For the services side of the business, Community Elf competes against freelancer writers, as well as against content creation service bureaus. Their content curation engine is more uniquely positioned, but other potential competitors include Boxter,, Shareist, Swayy, and Triblio.

4. Fliptop

What they do: Develop predictive applications for marketing and sales.

Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.

CEO: Doug Camplejohn. Prior to Fliptop, Camplejohn started myplay, a digital music locker, which was sold to Bertelsmann. After that, he founded Mi5, a Web security gateway, which was acquired by Symantec.

Founded: 2010

Funding: Fliptop is backed by $7 million in total funding. Their most recent round closed in March 2013, a round in which they secured $3.6 million from Longworth Venture Partners, Raptor Ventures, Data Collective, and Robert Goldberg.

Problem they tackle: Figuring out which campaigns generate the best leads is as much of an art as a science. Even if you do have high-quality leads, do you know what to do with them? Some leads will be ready to buy now, while others will be alienated if you try to sell to them too soon.

Why they’re on this list: Fliptop leans on data analytics to deliver “predictive lead scoring” that helps marketing teams figure out which leads are of high quality and should be handed directly to sales and which ones should instead enter a nurturing campaign. This helps sales teams focus their efforts on only the best potential leads.

Fliptop’s predictive model is built using your existing customer data. Fliptop looks at all customers and outcomes to determine what characteristics define success for your organization. From there Fliptop trusts the model to identify the signals and data points that make up your ideal customer, scoring all leads in your system based on their probability of converting into a customer.

Customers include: DemandForce, Inutit, InsideView.

Competitive Landscape: While lead scoring is built into a number of marketing automation suites, Fliptop’s most direct competitors are Lattice and Infer.

5. Iterable

What they do: Provide an automated email marketing platform.

Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.

CEO: Justin Zhu, who previously worked as the lead engineer on the Twitter growth team. He helped build Twitter’s email campaigns targeted at engaging new signups and turning them into lasting Twitter users.

Founded: 2013

Funding: $1 million in angel funding from Merus Capital, 500 Startups, 645 Ventures, AngelPad, and other undisclosed angel funders.

Problem they tackle: While email campaigns can be one of the most effective ways to acquire new customers – according to McKinsey, email is as much as forty times more effective than Twitter and Facebook combined – most companies have no idea how to structure effective campaigns.

A bad email campaign can do more damage than good, alienating prospects well before they’re even in a buying frame of mind.

Why they’re on this list: According to Iterable, truly engaging email campaigns are hard to create for two main reasons. First, traditional Email Service Providers (ESPs), such as MailChimp, Responsys, and Sailthru, are difficult to integrate with other digital marketing tools. Second, automating effective campaigns means marketers need to turn to engineers for help creating complex drip campaigns.

To tackle these problems, Iterable provides a platform designed for non-coding-savvy marketers. The platform provides instant subscriber segmentation for identifying who should get an email; A/B testing that learns as you test and allows you to test any part of your email; and drag-and-drop drip templates that let marketers create complex multi-step email campaigns in minutes.

Email marketing automation is an extremely saturated space, which is headed towards commoditization. However, best practices are rarely followed (just look at your own inbox for proof), and Iterable’s focus on baking best practices into the platform is worth your attention. Moreover, their team is comprised of a bunch of ex-Twitter engineers, which certainly can’t hurt.

Customers include: Dot & Bo, Eat24, Yerdle, Pinrose, BetterDoctor, and Memebox.

Competitive Landscape: It’s crowded. Very crowded. Competitors include MailChimp, Sendgrid, Campaign Monitor, ExactTarget (salesforce marketing cloud), Responsys, and Sailthru, just to name a few.

6. LeadiD

What they do: Provide a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that shows lead buyers exactly where consumer data comes from, where it travels, and how it performs.

Headquarters: Ambler, Penn.

CEO: Ross Shanken, who was previously one of the earliest employees at TARGUSinfo and while serving as EVP of Strategic Initiatives helped lead the company to a $650M exit to Neustar in 2011.

Founded: 2011

Funding: In April 2014, LeadiD closed a $7 million Series A funding round from Comcast Ventures and Tribeca Venture Partners. Genacast Ventures, an early-stage technology fund affiliated with Comcast, which had led LeadiD’s seed funding, also participated in this round. This brings the total of funding to date to $9.7 million.

Problem they tackle: As a company spokesperson put it: “In every bag of apples, there are a couple of bad ones. Same with online sales leads.” Industries like education, insurance, mortgage, and automotive buy hundreds of thousands of leads every month as part of their customer acquisition efforts.

However, as much as 30 percent of those leads are bad. They may be out of date, recycled, or even completely fraudulent with lead forms filled out by some guy in his garage or even by bots.

This means that buying a lead is a guessing game, one where the odds are stacked against you. There is simply no way of understanding some of the most basic aspects of lead quality. A lack of transparency and accountability means that lead sellers can and often do sell a lead as exclusive (which comes with a higher price tag than non-exclusive ones) to a lead buyer like a university, but there is no way for the university to verify that the lead has not already been sold to competing schools.

Why they’re on this list: LeadiD’s software helps you tell the difference between good leads and bad ones. LeadiD’s software provides visibility into the lead-creation process, monitoring every consumer event from the instant a lead form is opened through to when it is filled out and then submitted. With LeadiD, the buyer of that lead can tell whether it is seconds old, days old, or downright stale. It can also tell you if the lead has been re-sold to others, and even if it has been manipulated to look more attractive.

LeadiD witnesses over 100 million consumer events each month. No supplier-proprietary data is exposed, but, rather, LeadiD’s technology empowers lead sellers and lead buyers to make real-time decisions based upon definitive origin and history flags that are predetermined by platform users.

Customers include: Goji, Ultimate Medical Academy, Provide Media, Liberty University, Penn Foster, and Plymouth Rock Assurance. LeadiD claims to have a market penetration rate of over 95 percent in the online education vertical.

Competitive Landscape: Lead quality is a longstanding industry issue being tackled in varying ways by a range of companies, from analytics startups to large data providers like Experian, but there is currently no known direct competitor to LeadiD.

7. MobileROI

What they do: Provide mobile-first marketing automation software.

Headquarters: New York, N.Y.

CEO: Puneet Mehta, who formerly served as SVP of Technology at Citi Capital Markets.

Founded: 2010

Funding: $6 million from BMWi, Firstmark Capital, iA Ventures. and NYC EDC.

Problem they tackle: Despite the fact that more and more consumers consider smartphones and tablets their go-to computing devices, mobile advertising still leans on practices developed for the Web or even for older broadcasting mediums. Push messages seem random and intrusive, while in-app marketing tends to alienate users.

Meanwhile, consumers increasingly expect brand interactions to be highly relevant to their immediate situation – anything else is an unwanted interruption. MobileROI argues that today’s so-called “personalized” customer experiences are based on shallow data, such as your purchase history, your gender, whether you’re single or married, where you live, etc.

While this sort of demographic information certainly helps to tailor experiences to some degree, the biggest driver of what makes something personal and relevant – your immediate context and needs – has been neglected. Over the mobile channel, this is a major problem that costs brands serious money.

Why they’re on this list: MobileROI helps brands automatically deliver highly individualized mobile experiences, messages, advertisements, and offers using interest graphs, live signals, and current customer context.

MobileROI leverages predictive analytics, context-sensitivity, and personalization at scale and taps into the growing number of smartphone sensors and other external data signals to give brands a periscope into the lives of their consumers, ensuring every brand interaction is delivered when it’s highly personal and relevant to the individual customer’s immediate situation.

According to MobileROI, important up-to-the-second signals indicate things like the customer’s identity, location, current activity, physical situation (weather, traffic, etc.), purchase history, movement patterns, implicit and explicit intent signals, and social graphs.

Customers include: Macy’s, Hearst, BMW, Lacoste, MasterCard, American Express, and USA Today.

Competitive Landscape: The mobile marketing space is a bit of a land grab at the moment. Big players such as Oracle, Adobe, IBM, and have all staked claims, while other startups include Intercom and JUICE Mobile.

8. Offerpop

What they do: Provide a SaaS platform intended to transform “how global brands connect, engage, and convert today’s mobile and social consumers into long-term loyal customers.”

Headquarters: New York, N.Y.

CEO: Wendell Lansford. Previously, Lansford served as the COO and SVP of Business Development at Systinet, which was acquired by Mercury Interactive/ HP.

Founded: 2009

Funding: In June 2014, Offerpop closed a $15 million Series C round, bringing its total funding to $25 million. The Series C round was led by new investor Edison Ventures and joined by additional new investors Hearst Ventures and Existing investors Windcrest Partners, CommonAngels, and Mesco Ltd. also participated in the round.

Problem they tackle: When established brands head to social media to engage potential customers, more often than not, the results are underwhelming. Worse (from a corporate standpoint, anyway), social media campaigns can be easily hijacked by detractors to highlight whatever they don’t like about the brand or to call out the brand’s ham-fisted attempt to jump on a trend.

For proof points of this problem, look no further than Bill Cosby’s recent crash-and-burn Twitter fail or DiGiorno’s tone-deaf attempt to use the #WhyIStayed hashtag associated with domestic violence to make a lame joke about its pizza.

Why they’re on this list: Offerpop’s SaaS-based social marketing platform helps marketers build active fan bases, optimize their social content, and unlock rich, actionable data that converts fans into customers. Offerpop offers a library of digital resources that range from Facebook photo contests to curated Pintrest lists based on customer-submitted info to Twitter messages triggered by specific consumer actions.

Offerpop also tracks key metrics, including impact on Web traffic, unique visitors, and most popular content by clicks. Brands can then use consumer data to build customer profiles, including information about email preferences, demographic info, and the best social networks to use to connect with each person.

Customers include: Hyatt Hotels,, L’Oreal, Comedy Central’s Drunk History, Indianapolis Colts, and

Competitive Landscape: Competitors include ReachForce, Insighera, Right On Interactive, and SAS Marketing Automation.

9. Triblio

What they do: Provide content marketing software that helps marketers deliver proven content with personalized calls-to-action (CTA) to increase leads.

Headquarters: Reston, Va.

CEO: Andre Yee, who was previously SVP of Products for Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle for approximately $1 billion.

Founded: 2013

Funding: Triblio is backed by a $3.4 million seed-funding round led by Longworth Venture Partners and Kepha Partners.

Problem they tackle: Content marketing is the hot marketing trend these days. Marketers are spending more and more on a variety of content each quarter, yet as marketing communications channels proliferate, marketers are finding that they have trouble reaching their target audience with the optimal content and the right CTAs for each channel, which leads to sub-optimal lead-conversion rates.

Content marketing is a big deal to B2B marketers because it costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing, while generating three times as many leads, according to Demand Metric.

Even so, marketers aren’t quite sure how to effectively deploy content in their marketing strategies. According to the Content Marketing Institute, while 93 percent of B2B marketers report that they use content marketing, only 36 percent believe they are using it effectively.

Why they’re on this list: Most marketing software is channel centric, meant for specific marketing communication channels such as social, search, email, or a website, and then marketers just plug content in with little regard to channel, creating plenty of square content pegs hammered into round channels.

And let’s not forget that in this process, CTAs are often forgotten about or simply rendered ineffective by appearing in the wrong place.

In contrast, Triblio designed its software to be content centric. Marketers use Triblio’s software to select specific content items for their campaigns. Then, after choosing specific marketing channels for their content, they execute campaigns through Triblio. Analytics are computed by content item, topic, or format, and then by customer type and channel.

Triblio’s content marketing software enables marketers to promote proven content with personalized CTAs across their corporate channels including social, email, website, and sales. The software helps marketers plan and execute integrated content-based campaigns; create content rich microsites and landing pages; source corporate or third-party content that will resonate with a specific target audience; insert personalized CTAs; and analyze metrics by each specific content item.

Customers include: NetProspex, Deltek, Higher Logic, Vorsight, MarketBridge, and Parature (a division of Microsoft).

Competitive Landscape: Competitors include Newscred, Community Elf, and HubSpot.

10. TriggerMail

What they do: Provide software that helps ecommerce marketers implement automated and personalized behavior-based triggered marketing systems at scale.

Headquarters: New York, N.Y.

CEO: Fayez Mohamood. Previously, he was Head of Product at BigDoor.

Founded: 2013

Funding: $1.2 million in seed funding from undisclosed investors.

Problem they tackle: Many consumers visit ecommerce sites, browse around, and then never purchase anything. Many are just doing research or virtual window shopping, but a significant subset of these could be converted into customers if retailers knew how to better appeal to these people.

What many retailers attempt to do is convert prospects through behavior-based or triggered email campaigns. The trouble is that many retailers end up spending millions of dollars each year on email campaigns designed to reach these elusive customers, but the results typically aren’t impressive.

According to TriggerMail, the flaw with most of these campaigns is that they tend to rely on a hodge-podge of expensive, IT-intensive enterprise service providers, including ecommerce platforms, recommendation systems, ESPs, and business intelligence systems – all deployed in the hope of enticing customers to re-engage via a single email.

These systems are labor intensive to implement, scale poorly, and fail to deliver the speed and flexibility required to engage with customers in a timely, meaningful manner. Worse still, the concept of personalization in most of these campaigns is simply to address you by name in the email.

Why they’re on this list: Email remains the top marketing channel for ecommerce, and those that do it well – such as Amazon, the industry standard in this area, generating approximately $2 billion annually through their behavioral email channel – have a distinct advantage over competitors. However, those retailers that do it well are few and far between, with as much as 90 percent of Internet retailers not having any kind of behavior-based email trigger strategy.

TriggerMail addresses this problem with a turn-key JavaScript-based solution that helps marketers launch automated programs without ever having to consult with an IT team. Once set up, TriggerMail then automates the process of creating and distributing emails, dynamically reacting to both customer behaviors (browse, search, cart) and catalog changes (price change, back in stock, low inventory), all in seconds. This entire process from implementation to customer engagement takes days, not months or years.

Customers include: Tommy Hilfiger, BCBG, Wine Enthusiast, Perry Ellis Brands, Converse, Diamond Candles, Jack Threads, Evo, and Lolly Wolly Doodle.

Competitive Landscape: The most direct competitor is Smarter Remarketer. Additional competition will come from various established SaaS solutions like those from salesforce marketing cloud and Responsys. TriggerMail could also compete with data-driven personalization providers, such as Monetate and BloomReach, which include email as part of their marketing solutions.