June 13, 2018
Jason D. Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter based in Chicago.
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Making money on the internet as an independent content creator can be a long and difficult road.

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There’s a lot involved, especially with video. Lights, a camera, and action aren’t even the bare minimum required to be a success. Creators need to be charismatic, and know how to edit well (if they don’t have the cash on hand to hire a video editor). But even if you manage to come off as cool and competent, your cuts are crisp, and the story is clear, there’s still the tricky business of making money on those videos.

Connecting Sponsors With Video Content Creators

One of the most popular ways to make money with online videos is through brand partnerships. And one of the most lucrative sponsorship verticals is for lifestyle-focused content. Think cooking and fitness. And a new media company is entering the fray, connecting specialized, expert content creators with brands.

Today, Inspo Network, a Seattle-based media company, is formally announcing its launch and venture capital backing. The company has raised $5.5 million in a round led by PSL Ventures, the $80 million investment vehicle raised by Pioneer Square Labs that Crunchbase News covered back in April. According to the startup, this is the first funding round the new fund has committed capital to. Besides PSL Ventures, Glassdoor co-founder and angel investor Rich Barton, Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners, former Razorfish CEO Clark Kokich, and Maveron general partner Dan Levitan participated in Inspo Network’s round.

The funding round adds three people to Inspo Network’s board:

Although the company is making its public debut today, Inspo Network was started back in early 2017 by Heather Christothoulou, a recipe author and prolific food blogger specializing in allergen-free cuisine, and her spouse Pete Christothoulou, the co-founder and first CEO of Marchex, which went public in 2004.

Crunchbase News spoke with Pete about the funding round and the company. Leading up to starting Inspo Network, Heather and Pete noticed a number of trends, as Pete relayed:

  • “Brands are interested in being part of [online video] experiences, not ads.”
  • Media, particularly video, was becoming cluttered, noisy, and depersonalized. “We thought there was an opportunity to create video that people feel was made just for them.”
  • There are a lot of talented creators out there, but producing quality content is expensive and resource-intensive.
  • On the media buyers’ side, “people are used to buying ads with a click of a button through AdSense,” but making a connection between brands and video content creators is full of friction.

The results so far? Over the past year, Inspo Network has produced over 2,000 high-production videos featuring brands like Vitamix blenders, McCormick seasonings, and Casamigos tequila. According to the company, these videos have reached some 120 million viewers.

And what do these videos look like? Based on the content on Inspo Network’s newly-launched Youtube channel, most are short (under 5 minutes) and fairly straightforward cooking videos hosted by food and recipe bloggers. Brands, when they do show up in videos, aren’t mentioned aggressively or gratuitously.

“We’ve created a network of world class creators,” said Christothoulou. “We built this production platform, which we’re framing as the ‘uberization’ of media. Because we’ve integrated with the creator, filming with them every month, we’ve been able to create a marketplace for product placement.

Christothoulou told Crunchbase News that, with their current model – which, thanks in part to the fact that Inspo Network’s CTO was a lead engineer on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, is quantitatively rigorous and increasingly automated – he’s convinced the company can produce ten times as many videos and still deliver a high quality experience for viewers, creators, and brands.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias