Umbel Aims Publisher Data Services At Offline Media, Events

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Higinio "H.O." Maycotte, UmbelAs publishers have become more comfortable with the idea of programmatic direct for their online sales, sell-side-focused analytics provider Umbel is trying to get sellers to expand that comfort zone to include audience targeting around offline media and live events.

The 2-year-old Austin, Texas, startup's pitch to publishers has rested on the idea that they need to take greater control of their first-party data. That has long been the view of other analytics providers like Quantcast and Krux, but Umbel CEO and founder Higinio "H.O." Maycotte emphasizes the company's interest in powering programmatic-direct deals as opposed to unsold inventory funneled through real-time bidding and private exchanges.

Umbel wants to build on the ties it's developed with publishers like Vox Media, which operates tech news blog The Verge, sports site SB Nation and local entertainment listings app Yplan as proof it can create custom audiences for nondigital ad sales. Vox has been one of its bigger clients during that past year and Maycotte believes the digital-only publisher's success is predicated on it not being encumbered by an existing media legacy.

"Umbel is completely aligned in our view that high-value, premium content attracts high-value, premium audiences," said Ryan Pauley, Vox's executive director for revenue operations. "The Umbel team helps us spread that message, and it's what sets them apart."

While Vox would seem to be the polar opposite of the offline media properties that Umbel would hope to attract, Maycotte noted that the publisher's traditional approach of relying solely on direct sales, as opposed to ad networks and exchanges, will interest offline content companies.

"We've expanded from digital publishers to anyone creating content for an audience, which can include live events, entertainment and traditional publishing as well," Maycotte said. "Our platform's features have gone from insights to letting sellers take action on creating unique audience segments as well as optimizing campaigns through social channels, which helps them build an even larger pool of consumers. That's where the trend in big data is going -- it's not just analysis anymore."

Maycotte realized, during his time as CTO at the Texas Tribune, that publishers were missing an opportunity to treat data as a core asset. “The idea of helping sellers get more out of their data was part of the impetus of Umbel,” he said.

The company is "closing in" on profitability and is planning some extensive hires in sales and marketing to spur the offline effort. It had about 20 staffers last year and soon expects to have 30 employees by the end of Q1. It charges clients on a SaaS-based model, where customers have the option to renew access to its self-serve analytics platform after a year. Revenues grew 425% in 2013 – a year after it opened its doors. Maycotte also pointed to 70% gains in sales from Q3 to Q4.

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