Contently, a New York City-based startup that runs an online marketplace for freelance writing and editing work, has closed a $2 million Series A round led by Lightbank. Lightbank is run by Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, the first two angel investors in Groupon. Both serve on Groupon's board, Mr. Lefkofsky as executive chairman.
The round also includes investments from ff Venture Capital, Consigliere Brand Capital, Behance founder Scott Belsky and Hubspot founder Dharmesh Shah. Contently, which went through the TechStars program this summer, previously raised a $335,000 debt round that has now converted to equity.
Though only a year old, the six-person startup has already shifted its focus a bit. The company launched with a platform that hoped to match journalists looking for work with media companies looking to assign freelance writing and editing work. Shane Snow, a Contently co-founder and journalist by training, said he had originally hoped that Contently could become something like "the freelancing software marketing arm of The New York Times. "I was hoping to save journalism or something," he said.
Contently has moved on from those aspirations -- at least for now -- focusing instead on pitching its journalist marketplace to brands looking to launch, or beef up, their content marketing programs:think industry-related blog posts on a brand's site or reported articles for a specific audience, such as the work Contently is doing with Federated Media to write articles for the AmEx-owned small-business site Open Forum. That's because Contently has found that there's more demand for quality freelance content coming from brands-turned-publishers than traditional media companies.
Contently's marketplace lets journalists create online portfolios and profiles for free and provides tools to brands to find the right journalist for a project, and manage assignment workflow and payments. Contently pays journalists as soon as a completed assignment is approved -- a rarity for freelance journalists who are used to waiting as long as 45 days for payment. The company takes a cut of what brands pay the writers or editors, with individual assignments usually ranging between $125 and $350, Mr. Snow said.
The company has worked with brands such as LinkedIn, Best Buy, Rackspace, American Express and Vault.com.
"The promise for the journalists now isn't 'Hey, you can write for the New York Times,' it's 'Hey, you can write for AmEx," Mr. Snow said. "Not as glamorous, but it often pays better."
Mr. Snow said the company would use the funds to hire three or four developers and a sales leader with experience closing deals with agencies and big brands. The company is also building out its analytics capabilities to give brands more metrics by which they can evaluate journalists as well as testing a self-serve platform to bring smaller brands into the fold.
"Right now we cater to brands with larger scale needs," Mr. Snow wrote in a follow-up email. "But the future of our platform is a marketplace that allows smaller brands to easily commission one-off assignments or campaigns."
Contently was originally looking for $3 million and got a term sheet for that amount, Mr. Snow said. But the founders decided to take less money to go with Lightbank, which has experience investing in and advising online marketplaces such as Zaarly and Betterfly.
Lightbank saw promise in Contently because of its of commitment to supporting quality online content amid industry pushback against content farms that can no longer game Google search as easily as they could before.
"What we know from our research is that good content can impact conversion by 25% to 50%," said Paul Lee, a partner at Lightbank. "What we need to do over the next few years is more formally show that quality had a direct impact on ROI. Once that direct relationship is established, the coffers of media companies, in addition to brands and commerce companies, start opening up more."
In addition to Mr. Snow, Contently co-founders include Joe Coleman and David Goldberg.