A Q&A with Pete Sheinbaum, LinkSmart founder and CEO. The Boulder, Colorado–based company was founded in 2009 and secured $4.7 million in new funding in late June. Investors include Foundry Group, Sutter Hill Ventures and Costanoa Venture Capital.
SUB: Please describe LinkSmart and the value proposition you offer to web publishers.
Sheinbaum: LinkSmart provides a traffic optimization solution for web publishers called Total Link Management that analyzes, manages and dynamically optimizes text-linked keywords on their web sites. TLM is fast becoming a critical piece of publishers technology stack and provides end-to-end functionality that shows publishers how readers are navigating through their website, what linked keywords are getting the most engagement, and gives them the tools to direct those visitors to high-value areas of their site in real time.
Today’s web publishers struggle to serve the needs of their readers while also taking into consideration revenue and performance demands of their marketing and business partners. Very few publishers understand how readers are interacting with their content, and more specifically the text-linked keywords placed in them. LinkSmart and our TLM platform gives every publisher, large and small, the power to get the most out of each visit by shaping traffic flows in real time to offer the best user experience and generate value for the publisher.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Sheinbaum: LinkSmart can be used by a variety of people within a publishing organization, specifically audience development, ad sales, yield management and editorial teams.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Sheinbaum: No one is trying to help the publishers the way LinkSmart does, so I believe we are pretty unique. Publishers’ content, the very thing they are spending so much time and money creating every day, is much more valuable than often realized. LinkSmart unlocks the potential and offers an elegantly simple solution to getting more out of each visit through the dynamic management of text links.
Other players currently in the space have suggested that publishers shoehorn more squares and rectangles on to the page as widgets, below the content related content links, etc. Many of the approaches we’ve seen to date provide a product that is basically an ad network and only takes the advertiser’s perspective, not publishers. We believe we are breaking new ground by offering a solution for publishers, built by an ex-publisher.
SUB: What differentiates LinkSmart from the competition?
Sheinbaum: As I mentioned, currently companies in the text linking space cater to advertisers and no one is doing it with a focus on the web publisher. Unlike other text-linking solutions that serve pop-up ads or send visitors off site to affiliate networks in exchange for money, LinkSmart is an extension of a publisher’s content and traffic management system and a core piece of their technology stack. We have seen how readers navigate through content via text links. Increasing and shaping this engagement is what we do, and we give publishers a very finely honed tool to optimize the traffic on their site, or between different sites if they choose.
LinkSmart provides an organic user experience, creates new and valuable inventory, supports advertising relationships, and reduce costs for every web publisher.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Sheinbaum: LinkSmart was founded in 2009 in Boulder, Colorado. After we outlined its model and developed the initial basic product roadmap, we were tasked with finding a great developer to help build the prototype. In a few months I had found that person and off we went.
Everything else we bootstrapped. We squatted in our board member’s office, shopped for used computers, and did what every startup does, or should—stayed scrappy and nimble.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for LinkSmart? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Sheinbaum: After leaving my position as CEO of DailyCandy, I found myself thinking about the problems we had there that we didn’t have a solution for or the resources to solve. I soon realized that these problems were common among almost every web publisher. We all felt the pressure to support advertising programs, increase visitor engagement, manage traffic sharing relationships with third parties, and move traffic where we needed it, when we needed it. None of these challenges are unique. What I had noticed in my previous role though was the amazing engagement and performance numbers of readers clicking on the links we placed in our articles. With this in mind, I wanted to make publishers’ lives easier by looking at how we could better manage keywords and eliminate manual coding to increase productivity.
By focusing on a simple text link in an article, an often-overlooked part of a web page, LinkSmart provides web publishers with deep analytics and insights into how readers are engaging with articles and how to optimize traffic flows through the dynamic management of their text links. This product came directly from my experience as a publisher and I felt it could benefit all publishers.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Sheinbaum: The clients we speak with immediately get the value proposition—that’s the easy part. But, as is the case with any company, working with publishers requires a lot of coordination between departments. We are doing something new and as a result we need to introduce and educate the various groups to LinkSmart.
Another obstacle we’ve faced during our march to launch is deciding what features and products to release first. We have had such positive feedback and requests for enhancements from our beta partners that prioritizing the additions have been a fun challenge.
SUB: You recently raised $4.7 million in new funding. How do you plan to use the funds?
Sheinbaum: We want to continue scaling out the business and the technology while providing great service to our publishing customers. We also want to educate the publishing industry on how text link management is something that can really change their business.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on traffic optimization, SEO and SEM. Publishers can leverage that investment and make that investment go farther with LinkSmart by taking each visit and extending it in more meaningful.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more outside funding in the near future?
Sheinbaum: We are focusing on providing the best product and service for our customers while building a profitable business. If we see opportunities to grow faster and that requires more capital, we’ll certainly consider it.
SUB: What are your goals for LinkSmart over the next year or so?
Sheinbaum: We want to continue to build out the product, provide the best service for our publishing customers, and create a fun and vibrant work environment. LinkSmart wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if not for the unbelievably hard work by our terrific employees. With any startup there are bound to be twists and turns along the way, but our team has done an exceptional job managing these. I am so thankful to be working with such a talented group of people.
LinkSmart – www.linksmart.com