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As Pinterest and Instagram Soar, Curalate Gets $8.6 Million to Help Brands Capitalize

The visual Web is here to stay, and investors are lining up to get their piece.

Screenshot: Urban Outfitters by Re/code
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

It’s hard to visit any social network these days and not think that photos and images are taking over the Web.

For any brand or retailer, that realization comes with both a challenge and an opportunity: How do you know what potential customers are saying about your products when they are doing so in images, not words?

Curalate is among a host of young software companies tackling this problem, using an image-recognition technology to scour networks such as Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr to uncover where, and how frequently, photos of a brand’s products are being shared. And when words accompany one of these images found on a social network, it gathers that info, too.

Curalate is also striking partnerships with social networks to make this data gathering a bit easier. Pinterest, for example, recently announced that Curalate was one of a handful of companies that was going to start getting automated access to Pinterest’s datahose of image-heavy content.

Curalate displays all of the intel it gathers in an easy-to-digest dashboard for customers like Gap and Urban Outfitters to help them decide what images to share through their social media accounts or to build contests around; how they should describe specific pieces of clothing on product pages; and even, in some cases, what products to feature on their e-commerce websites and in promotional emails.

“The customer journey is starting earlier and ending later than ever before,” CEO Apu Gupta said in an interview. “Before people buy, they save an image of a product and pin it on Pinterest or post it on Tumblr. After they buy, they might take a selfie with their new sweater and post it on Instagram.”

Not surprisingly, this new shopping pattern has investors excited because many big brands don’t have the technology to go out and dig through the visual Web on their own. They need help. Curalate competitor Piquora, for example, recently took on a new $7.7 million investment.

And Curalate is announcing today that it has secured a Series B investment round of $8.6 million, mostly from existing investors. NEA led the round, and its general partner Harry Weller is joining Curalate’s board. First Round Capital and MentorTech Ventures also once again contributed, as well as new investor Gary Vaynerchuk’s VaynerRSE.

Weller said that NEA likes to double down on investments in companies such as Curalate, because it’s clear that the product is resonating with its hundreds of customers.

“For a firm like us, with a $2.5 billion fund size, when you’ve done the seed round you still don’t own enough of the company,” Weller said. “When we see our winners, we really have to get our ownership up.”

Last year, Curalate also began helping its clients gather customer-shot photos of a brand’s clothing or accessory on sites like Instagram and Pinterest, following in the footsteps of competitors like Olapic. Some Curalate customers, such as Urban Outfitters, then feature these user-generated images on their e-commerce websites to attempt to form a deeper connection with website visitors. The thinking is that it’s one thing for a customer to see an image of a model wearing a dress, but another to see a more candid photo of how it looks on an everyday person.

The fact that Curalate helps retailers find their own product images, as well as pictures of products uploaded by customers, is one way the startup is trying to differentiate.

Still, Curalate’s approach — essentially building a business on top of another company’s platform — does not come without risks. There’s always the chance that Pinterest, for example, could decide that it is cutting off analytics partners so it could build its own business around the idea. That reality seems unlikely for now, with the unveiling of Pinterest’s formal partner program. But Gupta does not ignore the possibility.

“It’s an obvious risk,” he said. “At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is demonstrate value to the network. And part of that is by working with the world’s biggest brands to ensure the brands continue to see value with that network.”

New customers pay Curalate anywhere between $24,000 and $100,000 a year. The company, which is based in Philadelphia and has 45 employees, is not profitable. Gupta said it will use the new funds for marketing and hiring in an attempt to accelerate growth.

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