Refinery29 Raises $20 Million From Stripes To Build Out Mobile, Branded Content

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Refinery29 had a good year in 2012, becoming one of the fastest growing media companies in America and doing $16.6 in revenue in its mission to capture the attention of the millennial woman. The women’s lifestyle website has now raised $20 million in Series C funding led by Stripes Group.

This brings Refinery29′s total funding to $30.4 million, having last received $5.6 million in Series B financing in January from Floodgate, Lead Edge Capital, First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures and Hearst. Stripes Group, which has made investments in companies like Seamless, Elance, and Art.com, brings experience in building digital consumer and media companies, making it a good partner for Refinery29, co-founder Philippe von Borries explained.

“We found a partner who shared our vision for building a next generation media company and giving us the ability to hit the turbo boost on building our company for the next couple of years,” he said.

The investment will go toward three key areas. The first is content: although the site got its start as a local shopping guide in 2004, editorial has grown to encompass nearly every facet of the millennial woman’s life, including fashion, work, entertaining, health, and tech. Moving forward, the team will be going deeper into the existing beauty, home, and news sections, ramping up video content across the board at the same time.

On the tech front, Refinery29 is focusing on mobile with a mobile web app redesign slated for December, with 31% of overall use currently coming from mobile.

“In our mobile experience we’re focusing on combining the best of the content experience with a lot of what makes social media apps and experiences so addictive,” co-founder Justin Stefano said. “So we’re really focusing on the concept of the feed and bringing people back into an endless scroll of content where one piece seamlessly connects to the next.”

The mobile environment is a great place for content marketing, Stefano said, much more so than for banner media. That branded content is the third area in which Refinery29 is investing.

It’s an approach to advertising that sites like the Atlantic and BuzzFeed have also taken up, and as with BuzzFeed’s sponsored content, Refinery29′s branded posts are often not much different from their daily content. A slideshow like “The Ten Most Creative, Innovative Entrepreneurs Redefining Office Style” seamlessly fits in with the rest of a day’s posts — it just happens to be underwritten by Levi’s, with the featured entrepreneurs styled accordingly.

One particularly successful campaign was H&M-sponsored music festival content, the team noted. Advertorial content is made fairly clear, typically with a banner spelling out the partnership.

The number of content partnerships they may be running at one time varies, Stefano said. In one month, there might be 15, whereas in September, the site’s busiest month, there were over 50.

Although sponsored content may take the form of a one-off post, ongoing franchises like the one with H&M tend to show better engagement and higher click-through rates. The campaigns start with creating content that users genuinely want to consume and figuring out how to integrate brands into it, Stefano said.

Refinery29 is now seeing about 8.5 million unique visitors per month. Facing competition from sites like DailyCandy and Fashionista, Refinery29 has worked to bring in the strength of the masses through frequent guest blogger posts (here, a Timberland-sponsored shoot with blogger Bonnie Barton), effectively magnifying the story’s web presence, drawing in new readers, and building the site’s local community vibe.

[Image: Flickr/ceonyc]