ThingLink, a platform that enables tagging things inside an image with links to music, video, notes and more, has closed on $2 million in additional funding, the company is announcing today. The new round was led by Helsinki-based VC firm Inventure Oy and saw participation from New York and San Francisco area angels, including Terrapin Bale, former Tumblr president John Maloney, Fremantle Media N.A. CEO Thom Beers, Trimaran Capital managing partner Dean Kehler, SoundCloud CTO Eric Wahlforss, as well as TEKES, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.
ThingLink’s total funding to date is $3.9 million.
The startup, now based in New York and Helsinki, was first founded in 2008 by Ulla Engeström who was originally inspired to associate online information and other stories with physical objects in the real world. She experimented with sewing on stickers to clothes and other objects, which could be activated with NFC-enabled mobile phones. She called those identifiers “thinglinks,” at the suggestion of a friend, now investor, Eric Wahlforss, co-founder of SoundCloud.
Later, this concept was extended to photographs, and in 2010, a public version of the image-tagging tool launched at thinglink.com, allowing anyone to add content to online images, which could then be distributed across the web.
In the years since, it’s been this tool that found its footing, attracting the interest of digital marketers, business and brands. Atlantic Records, for instance, was among the early adopters of the platform, using it to promote Simple Plan’s “Get Your Heart On” CD with interactive images. To date, ThingLink has worked with brands like Vogue, Xerox, Home Depot, Britney Spears (yes, she’s a brand), Washington Post, New York Magazine, Mercedes-Benz, and more. Meanwhile, others, including Microsoft, CNET, Forbes, Groupon, and Giorgio Armani, have used ThingLink in social media efforts, like on their Facebook page, Twitter account or blog.
In total, the company has more than 220,000 publishers on board, including four of the top 10 newspapers, and 10 of the top 50 global brands. Customers use ThingLink to turn what would have previously been static images into interactive, and sometimes even “shoppable,” content containing in-image hotspots that launch video players, social media links or other third-party applications.
For enterprise customers, ThingLink charges between $500 and $1,500 per month for annual subscriptions. Meanwhile, campaigns are charged a fixed fee based on total views, typically ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousands. Engeström tells us that the click-through rates on lifestyle brands’ campaigns range are, on average, around 10 percent. But music performs the best. “We have not seen a popular campaign from a popular [music] brand which would not see an over 50 percent click-through rate,” she says. “Fans love discovery, and if there’s a chance there’s exclusive content hidden in an image from a band, they’ll hover; they’ll overturn every stone.”
In addition to the Britney Spears brand, whose team recently launched a sneak peek of a video via Twitter, which used animated GIFs that were ThinkLinked, the company has also offered clickable images for bands like Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, and Gorillaz.
Though predominantly used by brands and businesses, ThingLink has also been going after consumers with the launch of a ThingLink mobile application in May that lets users build their own ThingLinks. “We want to be the destination where interactive images are viewed on mobile,” explains Engeström. The company offers a Twitter Card integration today, as well the native app. She declined to say how many downloads or actives the app has, but noted that half of ThingLink views are now coming from mobile, and the number of users registering through mobile is increasing.
With the additional funding, CEO Engeström will relocate from Helsinki, Finland, to New York City, where former Newsweek/Daily Beast executive Hillary Billingsley, now Chief Revenue Officer, is building up a sales team. The company is preparing to expand sales and customer support in NY, while adding engineers back in Helsinki.
Investor John Maloney, formerly President of Tumblr, says he invested in the company because of Engeström herself. “It’s a tiny team, and they’ve worked incredibly hard. She has a vision and she’s tenacious, and she’s not afraid to adjust strategy and iterate,” he says. “She’s willing this thing into a company.”
As a result of the new funding, the company also expanded its board of directors, with the addition of Entertainment Media Ventures CEO Sandy Climan and former Facebook media sales director Craig Coblenz.
ThingLink competes with startups like Luminate and Stipple, which have also focused on integrating commerce and other links into images.
Though ThingLink is no longer the same product it was in the company’s early days, Engeström sees the connection between the physical tags and today’s platform. “I’m still connecting people with things,” she says. “During the beta, we connected brands with people who loved their products. We’re still doing the same thing.”