A husband-wife founding team has raised cash from investors like Rich Barton and Nick Hanauer to build what they hope will be the next transformative company in Seattle.
Former Marchex CEO Pete Christothoulou and his wife Heather Christothoulou are the co-founders of Inspo Network, a new video platform that matches original content creators with brands looking to reach targeted audiences.
The Seattle-based startup today announced a $5.5 million seed round led by PSL Ventures, the new venture capital arm of Pioneer Square Labs. Other investors include Barton, co-founder of Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor; Hanauer, co-founder of Second Avenue Partners; Dan Levitan, co-founder of Maveron; Clark Kokich, former Razorfish CEO; Rob Norman, former chief digital officer at GroupM; and several other individuals.
Inspo Network aims to solve problems for both lifestyle content creators and big brands with its own media purchasing marketplace. It uses a crowdsourced production model to film original TV-quality shows for nationally-recognized influencers in the home, fitness, food, and DIY categories.
The company helps brands integrate their products into the shows. Brands come to Inspo with intended audience targets — demographics, reach, etc. — and the startup uses the latest technology to facilitate matches with content creators, who split cost-per-view revenue with Inspo and push out the videos on their various platforms.
The whole process takes a matter of weeks and is more cost-effective than traditional video production, the company says. Inspo has tested its model with agencies and brands including Horizon Media, Williams Sonoma, and Vitamix.
“We’ve validated that we’re able to help the creator and brand wash past all the noise and put them together in a way that helps the creator feel good about what they’re doing and allows brands to reach their targeted audience at scale,” Pete Christothoulou said.
The idea for Inspo Network arose after Heather Christothoulou started a popular site focused on allergy-free food recipes. As she tried to transition from writing blog posts to creating videos, it became difficult to produce her own high-quality video segments. The award-winning author and chef shared the same frustration with other bloggers and content creators.
“I’d have my phone attached to a fridge with duct tape to film shows,” Heather Christothoulou said. Even so, she was still getting offers from large brands who wanted to work with her.
But her husband, Pete, thought there was a better way. As co-founder and former CEO of mobile advertising analytics company Marchex, he knew influencers like Heather could make more money from their content — media buyers just needed an easier way to find the right match.
“There’s no platform that allows brands to connect with creators as easy as it is to buy search keywords on Google or display ads on Facebook,” he said.
The U.S. digital video marketing industry was expected to reach $135 billion in 2017. Inspo follows three trends in the market to capitalize on this increased video spend, according to Pete Christothoulou:
- Online media is becoming more personal and oriented around leading creators who develop niche content, versus “sensationalized” mass market programming like reality TV.
- Bringing creators together in a collective-like model can be just as powerful as any media company. Content creators are not just educators and inspirational leaders, “but also commerce generators,” Pete Christothoulou said.
- Brands are looking for new authentic ways to reach consumers — women in particular — beyond video ads. Inspo offers a way to do product integration in premium video shows. “Powering the experience economy,” is Inspo’s tagline.
Part of Inspo’s secret sauce is its production model. The company’s CTO, Clay Colburn, previously helped run Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace and has experience with crowdsourced technology. In its first year, Inspo worked with 10 leading brands and helped produce more than 2,000 original, television-quality shows that reached more than 120 million viewers.
“Video is the fastest growing digital media format and the preferred way for today’s modern storytellers to reach and engage their followers, yet it’s extremely difficult for a creator to do well,” PSL Venture Managing Director Mike Galgon said in a statement. “Inspo changes that.”
For now, you won’t see much Inspo branding on its videos other than a small watermark. But that could change in the future as the company amasses more and more original content.
The vision is to create one of the “largest lifestyle media properties,” Pete Christothoulou said.
“You’ll see us building out the back end, building out the network side for creators, and starting to expand our distribution footprint in interesting ways,” he added.
After founding Marchex in 2003, taking it public in 2004, and departing in 2016, launching Inspo with his wife has certainly been a change of pace for Pete Christothoulou. He said it’s “the most inspiring thing I’ve done.”
“I’ve loved this experience,” added Heather Christothoulou. “When you are in it together, there is a really deep understanding of what our process is and how passionate we both are as a family about this company and our mission.”
Other executives at the company include former Marchex leaders and ex-Microsoft and Amazon employees.
Inspo has an impressive list of backers. Barton said the company fits into the same category of companies that “give power to the people” — something that Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor all share.
“Technology is enabling the world’s category experts to become next generation media powerhouses and Inspo makes it easy to deliver personalized, hyper-targeted video content to hundreds of millions of engaged fans,” Barton said in a statement. “By bringing ‘power to the people’ in this massive category, Inspo is reimagining the media value chain and challenging traditional studio-based models.”
Galgon, Norman, and Kokich are joining the company’s board of directors as a result of the funding. Other investors include Acxiom CEO Scott Howe; Acxiom CFO Warren Jenson; BlueKai co-founder Grant Ries; BlueKai co-founder Omar Tawakol; Dwellable co-founder Kirby Winfield; Pixvana co-founder Forest Key; OpenX CEO Tim Cadogan; and hedge fund manager Dino Christofilis.