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Four Startups Marketers Need to Know

Contently, Piictu, Ambassador, Wantworthy Pitch Investors at Demo Day

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In an exposed-brick cavern usually occupied by contemporary ballerinas, 12 technology startups of varying ages pitched with varying degrees of showmanship hundreds of investors, media and a smattering of agency folks at incubator Techstars' Demo Day on the far-westside of Manhattan today.

Even New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg made a cameo to show his support of the city's growing startup scene. His parting words for the entrepreneurs: "I hope you hire a lot of people; I hope you make a lot of money and I hope you pay a lot of taxes."

There weren't many overarching themes among this clutch of startups, which ranged from online food-ordering infrastructure (Ordr.In) to the Facebook for education (Coursekit) to a local marketplace for entertainment experiences (Sidetour). To be expected, brands and advertising came up more than a few times when it was time to talk business models. And while some clearly don't understand how complicated the big bad world of advertising really is -- here's looking at you, Mobintent -- a couple stood out to Ad Age observers as companies that deserve a closer look.

Here are four startups we'll be keeping our eye on in the coming months.

Contently

This is a writer marketplace for marketers looking to produce branded content. It's like LinkedIn for unemployed journalists looking to use their skills and expensive masters degrees to lure some of the dollars marketers are dedicating to produce their own content. Journos get free profile pages to show their stuff and, on the brand side, Contently is a tool to manage workflow, payments and all the other joys of editorial production.

"Ninety-thousand journalists lost their jobs in last decade," said Contently co-founder Shane Snow. "Great writers are out there, but there's no great way to find them."

What we love is that this is the exact opposite of so-called content farms such as Demand Media, which pays anyone on the internet pennies for posts on search-friendly topics. Contently is about linking real, trained journalists with brands who need professionally produced content. After launching in beta in January, the company amassed a network of 2,000 journalists and works with publishers such as LinkedIn, Best Buy, Comcast and Mint. Mr. Snow today announced a pilot program with American Express's small-business site, Open Forum. The site takes a cut of all transactions on its site and is on track to clear $1 million in sales this year. Contently closed $335,000 round of funding this summer and is raising $3 million in additional funding.

Piictu

Yes, the photo-sharing space is already jam-packed, led by 2-year-old photo app Instagram. But the founders of Piictu see room for "a visual network" where people participate in a conversation simply by posting photos in response to each others', creating a picture stream around an idea or question in the process. Think photo memes like "planking" that find hundreds of people snapping pictures committing the same, strange act. The Piictu mobile app, which is free, has been downloaded 130,000 times, said co-founder Jonathan Slimak. While some of the most popular Piictu photo streams to date have been built around users posting pictures of simple ideas such as "jumping," Mr. Slimak said the service offers brands "a powerful tool to connect with their audience." He said the company has already worked on campaigns with JetBlue and Schick, the latter of which was dubbed "razorbombing" and called for photos showing razors in the foreground against cityscapes and landscapes that gave the illusion of razors being used to accomplish tasks such as cleaning skyscraper windows or mowing a lawn. Piictu has raised a $750,000; Buzzfeed President Jon Steinberg, who introduced the startup at the event, is an investor, along with betaworks, RRE Ventures and Softbank.

Ambassador

This is incentivized brand advocacy meets the social network and Mechanical Turk. Here's how it works: A marketer can create a campaign on the platform and assign the desired outcome -- it may it be clicks or purchases or recommendations. Then the campaigns gets sent out to the service's 15,000 ambassadors, who disseminate that message to their own social networks and ultimately get compensated with cash, virtual goods or swag for helping that marketer get what it needs. Ambassador reports it has 300 paying customers and is looking to raise $800,000 in new funding.

Wantworthy

Call it Instapaper for women's shopping. When browsing the internet, women can save products they're considering into Wantworthy to return to later or share with their friends. It's a place to store all a women's fashion wants from across retailers and brands. This makes the list for identifying a very real need in online-shopping organization. The user interface is clean and cute. What seems less fully formed is the business model; Wantworthy's cofounder-CEO Lauren McDevitt posits that retailers will pay to get data on its otherwise anonymous shoppers to deliver promotions, deals and recommendations. We, for one, want specifics. Wantworthy is raising $750,000 in early funding.

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Jason Del Rey contributed to this story.

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