Bullseye

If Series A rounds are meant to prove out a business model and Series B rounds are meant to scale it, then enterprise data and tag management startup Ensighten is poised to get much, much bigger. Today the agile marketing platform (AMP) company announced a stout $40 million Series B round led by Insight Venture Partners.

In the four years since it launched in 2009, Ensighten has added as clients 12 of the Fortune 50 and six of the Top 20 Web retailers as ranked by IRCE. Collectively the company oversees $30 billion in ecommerce transactions across 30,000 websites in 150 countries, including those on behalf of Capital One, E-Trade, MetLife, Microsoft, Monster.com, Safeway, Sony Electronics, Staples, Symantec, T-Mobile, United Airlines, and Wal-Mart, among other clients.

Traditional tag management is an old and unsexy category that adds arguable value to Website operators. Worse, tags are notorious for slowing down site operation under the bulk of hundreds of lines of additional javascript code. But Ensighten has developed tag management 2.0, according to Insight co-founder and managing director Jeff Horing.

“To remain competitive and to drive online conversion rates, companies need solutions to engage Web visitors in a more targeted way,” Horing says. “Ensighten provides marketers with the flexibility and transparency they need to effectively manage digital marketing effectively.”

The company promises to allow marketers to deploy and manage third-party tags across Web and mobile from a single, unified Web interface. The product, dubbed Ensighten Manage, has been compared to a CDN for tags. The result is a 20 to 40 percent improvement in site-wide performance, the company claims, as well as similarly dramatic time savings. The company takes this a step further with its Ensighten Activate product, which collects and integrates on-site, offsite, and offline customer data to allow marketers to test and optimize campaigns, and customize consumer experiences without the burden of excessive performance degrading code. Critically, it does all this in real-time.

The idea for Ensighten came from Manion’s time running a digital analytics agency years ago in Chicago. He recalls feeling perpetually frustrated by the fact that enterprise customers had access to tons of customer and marketing data, but limited ability to extract value from that data and turn it into marketing ROI. “They completely lacked marketing agility,” Manion says. Ensighten AMP corrects that to the tune of an 525 percent average marketing ROI, according to a study commissioned through Forrester research.

“Broadly, we’re interested in delivering any technology that improve effectiveness of website management, and customer communication,” says Ensighten founder and CEO, Josh Manion. “With more data being generated than ever before, it has become increasingly complex for marketers to get a streamlined view of their customers or the ability to leverage their data for personalized communications.”

“The thing that initially caught our attention was the quality of the technology,” Horing says. “Josh and his team have really built a unique and differentiated product with measurable ROI. We were shocked by the level of enthusiasm we encountered from the company’s current customers.”

Ensighten is competing against traditional marketing clouds from companies like Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, and IBM, as well as Data Management platforms like Aggregate Knowledge (Neustar), BlueKai, Tealium, and TagMan. Despite the fact that many of these legacy companies are significantly larger than Ensighten, Manion professes not to be overly concerned with competition at this stage. Whether that’s wise or not remains to be seen.

“It would require a major leap on the part of these incumbents to develop a solution like ours,” he says. “We could be a strategic to them, but integrating us would be very disruptive to any legacy platform and would require a ton of vision.”

Ensighten has now raised $55.5 million with earlier investors including Volition Capital, Lead Edge Capital, FLOODGATE, The Halo Fund, and Eastern Advisors Private Fund. With the new round, the company has plenty of runway and enough hiring and marketing muscle to make a major dent in the marketing technology sector.

Ensighten’s bigger challenge is educating the market on what it does differently. Insight’s Horning calls this the missionary problem, an ode to the fact that Ensighten is effectively creating a new product category and then spreading the good news.

“Today the cost of sale to a new logo is reasonably expensive,” Horning says. “Our belief is that as the install base gets larger, this cost should decline over time. Even today, lots of their leads come from references from within in install base, both through word of mouth and employee migration.”

Shifting from a product-focused company to one that must dedicate at least equal attention to building an enterprise-class sales and marketing machine is a significant, although common challenge. Adding to this challenge, Ensighten also plans to focus significant attention near-term to expanding internationally. Manion points to the addition of Insight and the firm’s extensive experience in scaling companies from similar points in their lifecycle as a major advantage during this next phase.

“They obviously have deep expertise within their staff in the software space, and extensive on-site services aimed at helping companies scale,” Manion says. “But the more important thing to me was that they understood the vision and disruptive potential of what we’re building from the very first meeting. That was key, because the last thing I want to do is spend every board meeting explaining what we’re doing.”

Ensighten seems to have validated its technology and proven it can deliver ROI to its customers. Just as important to its new investors, the company demonstrate that its business has scalable economics. The next phase will be all pour gasoline in the form of capital on that fire and prove that it can set the entire category ablaze.

[Image via Wikicommons]