ThinkNear Turns Mobile Banner Ads Into Local Offers (Raises $1.6 Million From IA And Google Ventures)

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Last April, one of the strongest startups from TechStars’s Demo Day in New York City was ThinkNear, which turns mobile ads into hyper-targeted daily deal offers for local merchants. The startup is officially launching later today to restaurants, spas, and hair salons in New York City.

It also raised $1.63 million in a series A, which was previously reported by Ben Popper at Betabeat. The round was led by Roger Ehrenberg’s IA Ventures, but also includes many previously undisclosed investors such as Google Ventures (now I know why Rich Miner was lurking in the TechStars NY offices), Qualcomm Ventures, Metamorphic Ventures, and ff Venture Capital. David Tisch and David Cohen from TechStars invested personally, as did Matt Turck from Bloomberg Ventures.

ThinkNear tries to solve the all-or-nothing problem that most daily deals present to local merchants. They produce a stampede of foot traffic, but not necessarily when the merchants need it. Instead, ThinkNear lets merchants tell the system when they normally experience slow times (and it also looks at other data like weather) to spit out offers to people nearby. Consumers don’t have to sign up for anything either, they just see the offers as normal mobile banner ads on their phones.

It also tries to do everything automatically for local business owners, most of whom don’t have time to constantly monitor mobile ad campaigns. “We algorithmically determine how busy or slow merchants are based on self reported data and macro data like weather,” says CEO Eli Portnoy. “And we use that to answer three questions for merchants automatically: When they should discount, how much they should discount, and where they should place that discount.”

ThinkNear’s targeting gets smarter over time as it tracks which discounts get clicked on and which ones actually get claimed. ThinkNear tackles the redemption loop challenge with specific voucher codes that consumers show store employees (which is more clunky than integrating directly into the payment system, but should work well enough with minimal training).

Ultimately, local business owners already have enough on their plate running their business and do not want to offer discounts during times when they are already busy. ThinkNear takes over the pain of managing mobile marketing and discount campaigns by handling the entire process and creating the right discounts based on the real-time capacity of businesses at any given time during the day.

As I wrote in my original post:

The company was founded by two ex-Amazon employees with some serious technical chops. They are building a fairly straightforward way for local merchants to deliver mobile ads to consumers based on their proximity to their stores.

Using existing ad networks and the ability to geo-target the ads, ThinkNear will give local merchants a dashboard that lets them set up offers based on when they need the most foot traffic. “We start by capturing busy and slow times for merchants,” says CEO and founder Eli Portnoy, “and also track redemption data to see what discounts work.” ThinkNear uses all of that data “to figure out what discounts to put in front of consumers.” And does not require the local merchants to continuously monitor the campaign after it is set up.