Photo aggregation platform Chute gets $7M from Foundry Group, launches real-time ad product

By Michael Carney , written on May 7, 2013

From The News Desk

Brands and publishers continue to seek out new ways to maximize their online engagement with consumers. One of more effective strategies has been around user generated photographs, with brands encouraging consumers to check in share photos while attending events, or to submit and share tagged photos as part of promotional contests.

Y-Combinator alumni Chute is capitalizing on this wave by offering publishers and developers a platform for ingesting, analyzing, and managing this real-time visual content at scale. Today the company announced a $7 million in Series A financing round led by Foundry Group, with participation from existing investors Freestyle Capital and US Venture Partners.

Foundry Group is very public with its thematic investment strategy and Chute falls squarely within its Glue theme, according to both Managing Director Ryan McIntyre, who led the Chute round, and Chute co-founder Ranvir Gujral. The Glue theme is a reference to “the Web infrastructure layer that facilitates the connections between Web services and content companies.”

“We are deeply interested in companies that provide ‘magic infrastructure’ for developers that makes it simple for them to deploy complex yet elegant functionality at scale that integrates easily with their new and existing mobile and Web apps,” McIntyre says.

Chute is helping developers deal with a massive and rapidly growing number of mobile photos being taken and shared. Over 500 billion mobile were taken in 2012, and while this is a massive opportunity, making sense of the noise can be challenging at the best of times. Chute offers image uploading, processing, moderation, commenting, and sharing tools, as well as a variety of third-party API integrations to make this process manageable.

Following its participation in the YC Winter 2012 accelerator class, Chute immediately began the 12 week Turner Media Camp, a “graduate accelerator” for companies at the intersection of technology and media. By demo day, the company had more than taken advantage of its time rubbing elbows with old media titans, having signed contracts with NBC News, CNN, Huffington Post, NBA, House of Blues, Today, Condé Nast, and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Alongside its financing announcement, Chute is debuting its newest product today. Chute Ads allows brands to inject real-time visual content into digital ad units. Condé Nast Traveler will be the first publisher to use the product beginning in early June. With this new integration, brands will be able to combine paid, owned, and earned media to make ads more interactive and more personal.

“The ads encourage user interaction and provide a more engaging and immersive experience, which makes the ads more effective and more attractive to consumers,” says Condé Nast Traveler Network Global Head of Digital Sales Craig Kostelic. “Real-time content means audiences will never see the same ad twice, and in-ad calls-to-action ensure engagement and long-term relationships."

While acknowledging that Chute’s financing is on the larger-than-average end of the A-round spectrum – as was its $2.7 million Seed round – McIntyre called the volume of images the company has handled for prominent clients and the associated revenue growth over recent quarters “nothing short of impressive.”

Chute operates in a competitive space with an innumerable number of technology companies competing for the business of brands and publishers seeking to increase online engagement with consumers. When asked what keeps him up at night, Gujral was quick to answer, “hiring and continuing to build out this platform to operate at scale.”

The company is relying on its ability to listen to customers and provide a comprehensive yet simple solution to their needs to provide some measure of defensibility in the space. As a result, the bulk of Chute’s product roadmap has been dictated by inbound requests from its customers, Gujral says. The company has been heavily focused on building out ancillary services such as CMS integration and moderation and rights management tools to help its clients operate more efficiently.

There’s little doubt that the volume of digital content published by consumers will continue to grow as time goes on. With this growth, comes opportunity for brands looking to drive authentic engagement, but only for those companies that are capable of keeping up with the accelerating rate of content creation. With today’s financing and the credibility fostered by its premium clients, Chute is well positioned to be one of the infrastructure elements facilitating this brand to consumer interaction.