Signpost Raises $20.5 Million to Provide CRM-Based SMB Services


Signpost announced today it has raised a new $20.5 Million round, which will let it build out an evolved, CRM-based “close the loop” strategy of tracking SMB digital sources via transactions, social media, websites and email.

The current round has been led by led by Georgian Partners along with Spark Capital, OpenView Venture Partners, Scout Ventures and Jason Calacanis’ Launch Fund. The company has raised $36.5 Million since its founding in mid-2010. Earlier funders included Google Ventures.

Signpost’s evolution has been a dramatic one, fully reflecting the changes in local online marketing. The company launched as a provider of sales agents for local SMB deals, then evolved into an SMB-oriented SAAS company with offices in New York, Austin and Denver. In its case, deals gave way to a broad range of marketing services, including analytics, marketing automation, loyalty marketing, referrals and review acquistion.

The company says it is eyeing a large customer set of six million very small businesses with 2-10 employees. Most of these have not previously had access to CRM and are unlikely to subscribe to pricey CRM tools such as Salesforce.

The inclusion of financial transaction information provided by a third party is something that is increasingly being added to marketing services. Google, ForwardLine and others similarly incorporate financial transaction information.

ReachLocal Now Captures SMB Leads from Across the Web

Leads are coming from everywhere, and the digital marketing firms have adjusted to this reality. ReachLocal, for one, has now opened up its ReachEdge lead conversion and marketing automation software. It now has the capability to track leads and other activity from a wide variety of unassociated marketing sources.

Chief Product Officer Kris Barton briefed BIA/Kelsey on the ReachEdge’s evolution, noting that the company’s efforts to increase transparency and simplicity will ultimately boost conversion rates. Barton says that “decoupling” the software is the direct result of customer input. Some customers, for instance, had invested in redesigned website and didn’t want to have to abandon it in order to sign up with Reach.

The new version of ReachEdge is $149 a month and includes a free trial. It also features plug-ins for publishing systems such as WordPress and Drupal. The software has also been enhanced for mobile. Customers can use their phones to receive emails and text alerts. It also has integrated reports that are “focused entirely on ROI” and are much clearer than Google Analytics, says Barton.

FiveStars Links Growth to Big Data Analytics; Projects 8,000 + SMB Customers by Year-End

FiveStars, the well-funded SMB loyalty company that competes against Belly, SpotOn and others, is projecting it will grow its merchant base to 8,000-9,000 businesses by year-end, up from its current base of 6,000 customers. Customers who subscribe to FiveStars premium service pay as much as $200 a month. The San Francisco-based company has received over $45 million in funding.

Growth Manager Brian Lee, in a Webinar discussion with Radius Product Manager John Hurley, said the company is now positioned for rapid growth. Radius’ big data analytics helps it better understand its sales prospects and vertical segments, and manage its sales team.

Specifically, the company has grown increasingly confident in growing its sales team, which consists of 35 inside reps and 50 outside reps. “We had been stuck in neutral” with 15-20 reps for a long time,” notes Lee, who likes to call himself a “revenue hacker.” “But we asked ourselves: ‘Where can we grow as a team?’ Half the battle has been figuring out the addressable market,” he adds– something that Radius has helped with. “We are now ready to grow and talk to customers.”

Lee adds that it hasn’t been a matter of simply adding 20 sales people. “This isn’t a product you can (sell by reading) from a script. Every rep we bring on represents ‘X’ percentage of revenue. It is a very refined model that takes in both the performance of reps and the performance of leads. We look at what leads (the reps) are getting. And how are verticals performing.”

MyTime to Compete for Scheduling, SMB Services

We’ve long seen scheduling as a possible anchor for SMB marketing services (coupons, leads, promotions, analytics, upsells et al). Obviously, we are not alone. More than 75 players are positioning themselves to lead the way in scheduling, including MindBody, Booker, Intuit, ReachLocal, Yodle, Square, GenBook, Agendize, Schedulicity, Moon Valley Software, MaxiPage, Hakema and others.

An alternative approach to the space has been taken by PingUp, a new player that just launched this week, and three- year- old MyTime. Both players have focused primarily on searching, aggregating and confirming online appointments from scheduling providers, while adding in marketing services as an additional layer.

From its inception, however, MyTime has also positioned itself up as an intermediary and a media and commerce channel in its own right. Now, MyTime has crossed the line, armed with a new round of $9.25 Million from Khosla, Upfront Ventures, shopping mall giant Westfield and others — on top of $3 Million raised in 2012.

While it will continue to aggregate and work with other scheduling providers, the 100 person, San Francisco-based company will also compete directly against them via two products: MyTime Scheduler, a sophisticated scheduling program.; and MyTime Marketplace, a “fully responsive consumer destination to find and book appointments with nearby service businesses.”

The services cost from $9.99 to $39.99 a month, depending on the number of employees supported and types of services taken. The pricing is seen as significantly lower than other scheduling software providers.

Anderson notes that the launch of MyTime’s Scheduler and Marketplace products is a natural extension of its appointment aggregation service, which is already driving “nearly one million people” a month to its Web site and mobile apps. He contends that the company’s efforts have also been set apart by a more seamless consumer experience.

Driving MyTime’s new strategy is the rapid adoption of mobile tools and services by consumers. “We know consumers prefer to book and pay for things through their smartphones now, but most businesses haven’t made it possible to book them online yet,” says Anderson. “Everyone knows that consumers are ahead of the SMBs.”

Businesses that take leads from MyTime will pay a 37 percent commission. MyTime also provides an attractive 2.69 percent rate for payments, undercutting Square’s 2.75 percent commission.

The company says it has built a relationship with 10,000 businesses, with 1,000 new businesses are signing up a month. Anderson hopes to see that number double or triple during the next quarter and converted into paying accounts– due in part, to the new products, and its sales team. “Our goal is to go after the two million local businesses and get them on Scheduler within 5 years,” he says.


MyTime CEO Ethan Anderson

Pingup’s Mark Slater: Why ‘Task Completion’ Scheduling is Key for LODE

More than 75 companies are now providing scheduling solutions, resulting in a super fragmented marketplace where no single company has even five percent of the existing market. One by-product of the glut: the need for a one stop, API-driven product that can confirm bookings across the different platforms.

MyTime, which has been developed by Red Beacon founder Ethan Anderson, is one aggregator. Another is Avalon Ventures-funded Pingup, which has been in development for two years and just announced a deal with CityGrid Networks’ Citysearch and InsiderPages to embed task completion on their pages.

Pingup CEO Mark Slater talked with BIA/Kelsey about the space. He says it has become especially critical with the development of the Local On Demand Economy (LODE), which allows consumers to set up appointments on an on-demand basis (and is also the subject of BIA/Kelsey’s June 12 LODE conference in San Francisco.)

“We want to be the platform that powers LODE,” he says, noting that the traffic that had once been focused entirely on search has now broadened to also include task completion. Services such as Pingup are “an extremely efficient way to provide access to businesses,” he adds.

Pingup, which is based in Boston and has 19 employees, is “only about integrating the software,” says Slater. It has no aspirations of its own to be a media player or a destination in its own right. “We don’t represent a competitive threat to the demand side or the supply side,” he says.

Slater adds that its deal with CityGrid Networks’ Citysearch and InsiderPages will bring in thousands of businesses on the appointment supplier side. The company expects to name at least five more publisher announcements in 2015, potentially including listings partners, search engines, ecommerce companies and messaging companies.

The Chairman’s Session at BIA/Kelsey: The Top 4 Things to Know

Video is now available for purchase from the third and most evolved edition of BIA/Kelsey NATIONAL, which took place March 25-27 in Dallas. At the show, we saw that industry leaders were in general agreement that major progress has been made among all the stakeholders in “national marketing, local targeting.” Many speed bumps, however, are still being felt along the way. Key stakeholders, including agencies, media companies, franchises and local franchisees are, by necessity, transforming their identifies as they adjust to the new digital (and mobile) marketplace.

During our Chairman’s Session that closed the show on Day 3, Houston Chronicle, Yahoo and Fox Interactive Media vet Warren Kay, Speakeasy CEO Mike Orren, SuperPages vet Robyn Rose and 3rd Act Marketing CEO Gregg Stewart provided their summary insights into four key topics in “national marketing, local targeting.” Among them:

1. The time is finally ripe for National Local. Research by the CMO Council – cited by BizHive’s Dave Walker – noted that 57 percent of CMOs say that local programs are important, but only seven percent of CMOs have a successful program in place. Success, however, will soon become more apparent.

National local programs are “at the beginning of becoming the next big thing,” said Orren. “If there was a graph that showed where innovation and cost effectiveness begin to make sense for local, the line has now begun to be crossed.”

“Scar tissue” remains from the “embarrassment and disappointment” of early local marketing efforts, added Warren Kay. But now “informed decision makers really understand national local, and how they might apply the type of budget they have. That will drive the local marketing space in the future.”

2. Media and directory companies are transitioning to the new environment. Local newspapers and directories still play a real role in targeting locally – and regionally. But they are also being forced to re-evaluate their core strengths.

It is a simple admission to note that many advertisers really aren’t getting ROI from the traditional products, notes Robyn Rose. But they can reposition themselves by providing consultative services with their advertisers. “You really have to understand your partners. If you are targeting local or franchise locations, for instance, you need vertical and regional experts, she says.

Mike Orren notes that media companies are well positioned to guide and sell local businesses and even national business in their market. But they can’t get “hung up” over moving their own inventory. Their core asets are not their product, but their “brand, reputation and feet on the street,” he says.

Gregg Stewart says that the key thing is that media companies are now being judged entirely on their effectiveness. “At the end of the day, the advertiser doesn’t care if (the media is) local or not. They want to sell something. They will look at whatever they can buy that is fastest and cheapest,” he says.

3. Some things are automated, and some things are not. Relying solely on automation and “air coverage” doesn’t work at every level, especially in local.

“There is a paradox in local,” says Gregg Stewart. Marketers build their attack the CMO level. Programmatic sales and other automation are highly effective for doing that, he says. But you need to also execute work with door to door sales.

“Companies need to understand the partnership with sales and marketing,” adds Warren Kay. They must ultimately collaborate to leverage customer insights and customize aspects of the marketing campaign. Companies such as Simpli.fi, for instance, do very well in developing content marketing programs to complement their programmatic sales.

4. Platforms can bring local franchisees in line, and also liberate them. Brands are “schizophrenic” from top to bottom, with the national brand representing one thing, and each local outlet representing something else. The question is to what degree is it healthy to have “local franchisee stars act like franchise choir boys” – as Yext’s Christian Ward put it.

“The trend with national organizations is to get more control,” says Gregg Stewart. “The stakes are too high. I see that as a trend for a while, until we get these things figured out.” But franchises should do everything they can to encourage local innovation. “You need local stars,” says Rose. “You need to figure out how to embrace them, not bring them into everything. You need to get everyone else to emulate their success.”

Groupon Re-thinks its Ambitious SMB Platform

Groupon is apparently thinking hard about dismantling its ambitious SMB platform, and refocusing on its core strengths in daily deals, goods and travel. Reports have come out saying that Groupon is offering to sell its Breadcrumb POS platform, which had been rebranded as Gnome; and also sell its interest in Serviz, a Local On Demand Economy home services company that has been developed as ClubLocal by former ReachLocal CEO Zorik Gordon. Groupon has also been in talks to cash in on T-Mon, the South Korean ecommerce service that it bought last year from Living Social for $260 Million, but could now been seen as a cash cow that could allow Groupon to invest in other areas.

According to Bloomberg Business Week, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks that the Breadcrumb part of Gnome could fetch $100 million, and that Groupon’s stake in Serviz could be worth $30 million. T-Mon, which is seen as an ecommerce winner in Asia, could ultimately get as much as $800 million. Groupon’s apparent decision to explore the sale of Gnome is the most interesting to us. A report in Re-Code said that executives casually offered to sell at least a portion of it to Square.

In developing Gnome, which has been built on top of its June 2012 purchase of Breadcrumb, Groupon assessed its widespread, international merchant base and concluded it could reinforce and upsell that base and position itself as a global ecommerce giant. It would do so via a compelling package of highly discounted point of sales devices, payment services merchant analytics and strategically targeted offers to customers.

The investment in Serviz – which gave the greenlight to Gordon’s team to continue developing a service that was not going to go further at ReachLocal – was also seen as strategic as Groupon looked for more and more ways to connect and broaden the local marketplaces. Coincidentallly, it looks like Groupon is giving up on having a piece of the home services market just as Amazon and Google are diving in.

Is Groupon giving up too early? We’ve been impressed with the capabilities of the Gnome platform and the strategic vision behind it. The Serviz product is also impressive, although perhaps too rarified for Groupon, as it aims for higher ticket repairs and services. And separately, T-Mon is going to require enormous investments to grow and maintain its market share in a business that has come to not only include deals but also ecommerce, fashion and services.

The bottom line here, however, is that Groupon may have concluded that its merchant base sees it as a 3rd, 4th or 5th choice for this kind of activity – rather than as a substitute for blue chip and diverse players such as American Express, VeriFone, First Data and Salesforce . While Groupon can always work to keep repositioning itself, it currently seems most secure as a provider of discounted goods and deals that it continues to mold into an always on marketplace.