Earlier this week, Los Angeles-based Burstly (www.burstly.com) announced that it had raised $1.8M in a venture round from GRP Partners and Rincon Ventures, for the firm's mobile ad management platform. Mark Suster lead GRP's investment in the firm, and Jim Andelman led Rincon's investment. We caught up with founder Evan Rifkin--who previously founded and sold TagWorld/Flux to MTVN in November of 2008--to learn more about the startup.
What is Burstly?
Evan Rifkin: Basically, we are an open and free ad management platform. We cater to mobile phone developers--right now the iPhone, and coming soon to Android. Our space is pretty young. You have advertising networks and mediation players, but you don't really have an ad management platform like ours. As an Internet publisher, you know what an ad management platform is, and that it allows you to optimize your ads and sponsors. We're very similar to OpenX, from the standpoint of ad management tools, in that we also have built in a marketplace and also allow you to go direct to advertisers. Our main differentiation from what's out there now in the mobile area, is we allow developers to target their audience segment however they want, whether that is by time of day, by campaign, and we also turn control over to application developers, so they can transparently see and target their ads, to a greater degree. For example, if you're running Admob and a number of other different ad networks, we enable you to say that you want to serve Admob ads to a unique user at most three times each hour, then serve up these other things for the rest of the time. We let you set up complex rules like that.
How long has the firm been around, and why did you decide to start the company?
Evan Rifkin: We started in Q1 of last year. We were enamored of the iPhone at Apple. Had it now been for the application ecosystem that developed, and had someone not bridged the fragmentation in the mobile market, we wouldn't have started the company. If it was just Motorola, Sprint, or BREW, and four other platforms--I don't know if we would have gotten into this. We became enamored of the iPhone and its apps, and saw how fast the market was moving, and it appeared to us that the tools out there were not build for app developers. They weren't able to take advantage of their inventory for themselves. Ad networks were springing up, but there was no infrastructure to power them. We felt we could build a very robust platform that could be transparent for developers, so they could manage their inventory.
The big difference with apps, is you have a lot of cross promotion which allows you to sell your other applications. Imagine if you're running an application, with ads, and five of those ads are for your own applications where you're making money if people download them. That's a reality for the app developer, which is they need tools to run, promote, and track their own in-app purchases. They need to not just track clicks, but also to track downloads, and the conversion they are getting from that, and to compare that eCPM for those sales versus the eCPM for the ad networks. That may seem very simple, but those tools are not there today.
I've been in the ad network business, helping Adconian, and know the web site publishing world. From that standpoint, if it wasn't for the iPhone, I wouldn't be as excited. In early 2009, no one was paying attention to that, so we spent some money and devoted resources to build this. It's been a long process, and a pretty significant build out, not something you could do in less than six months.
Are you now deploying your products in applications?
Evan Rifkin: We opened in December with our closed beta. As of today, anyone can now sign on as a developer, and we're announcing the release of our marketplace.
What kind of application developer benefits most from what you do--is there a specific type of app you work best with?
Evan Rifkin: Any iPhone developer, who needs cross promote their apps, or has ad inventory space on their platform.
Finally, you're one of the few companies that has raised some significant funding in this market, how tough was it for you to go through that process?
Evan Rifkin: Whenever you're raising money, it's always an interesting time in a company's life. For us, it was really more a matter of bringing on the right partners and making the decision of who we wanted around us. We believe there are going to be lots of changes within the mobile space, and what was most important was who our partners would be, and who we would want along for the ride, and who we really would be married to. With Mark and Jim, we saw that we really liked working with them, and figured out a deal that would work for all of us. They have been phenomenal to work with.