Y Combinator-Backed Traction Is A Marketplace Connecting Brands With Freelance Marketers

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A new startup called Traction says it’s giving brands an alternative to the traditional marketing model — instead of working with agencies, Traction has created a marketplace for finding the best marketing specialist for a given campaign.

Traction is part of the current batch of startups incubated at Y Combinator, i.e., the one that’s taking the stage at today’s Demo Day. The company has already raised funding from Digital Garage, 500 Startups, Ullas Naik, and others.

Brands that have used Traction include Sony, Kraft, Danone, Unilever, Yahoo, CBS, and the Republican Party. Those are bigger names than I was expecting, but co-founder Ken Zi Wang argued that brands are looking for “innovative solutions” and products that are more “performance-based.” In other words, they want more data about what’s actually working, and they want to pay for actual results.

Those brands set up a campaigns on Traction by entering information like the primary objective, the target audience, the maximum budget, and the area of expertise where they’re looking for help. The marketplace will then algorithmically match them with marketers specializing in fields like search optimization, media buying, lead generation, content marketing, and social media.

In some ways, the model reminded me of the freelance marketplaces that companies like Contently and NewsCred have built for content marketing. Wang said that’s a fair comparison, but while those companies are focused on content creation, Traction is more about distribution and promotion.

More broadly, he said his goal is to create “this new job category,” similar to Uber, except in this case with “partner marketers” rather than drivers. (As Uber and other marketplaces for freelance work have expanded, there’s been some skepticism about the desirability and sustainability of those jobs.)

The marketers currently on the Traction site include some who are completely freelance, and others who are looking to make extra money on top of their existing jobs. Wang said they sometimes team up to form “flexible work groups.” He added that Traction partners are often “very skilled digital marketers” who would otherwise “never have a chance” to work with large brands.