Monotype Acquires Branded Digital Sticker Startup Swyft Media For Up To $27M

Monotype Imaging Holdings, a publicly traded company focused on fonts, just announced that it has acquired New York City-based ad startup Swyft Media.

The startup helps messaging apps like Kik, KakaoTalk, TextPlus, and Viber make money by selling branded, digital stickers and other ad products — as a recent story in Fortune put it, Swyft “is turning emoji into cash.”

The idea might sound a little niche at first, but after meeting with the Swyft’s founders Evan Wray and Sean O’Brien last month, they convinced me that stickers are a smart way for brands to get in front of messaging app users, without being obtrusive or annoying. (If you want to compare the approaches of some of the biggest names in the industry, Snapchat is reportedly asking advertisers for $750,000 a day, while Facebook has resisted introducing ads to WhatsApp, at least initially.)

The company says it has worked with 300 brands so far, including Sony, MGM, SEGA, Dreamworks, and Hearst.

Under the announced deal terms, Monotype will pay $12 million for Swyft up front, with $15 million in potential earn outs. Founded in 2012 as TextPride, the startup announced a $1 million seed round last fall.

“The acquisition provides us with a significant opportunity to move down market and serve the explosive numbers of consumers across the globe who are hungry for new and unique ways to express themselves in messaging apps – with millennials at the heart of that movement and our fonts an important part of that self-expression,” said Monotype President and CEO Doug Shaw in the acquisition release.

In its own blog post about the deal, Swyft says it will operate as a Monotype subsidiary:

Over the past few months, we’ve realized that although fonts and stickers may be different types of media, Swyft and Monotype’s businesses are actually very similar. So we’re thrilled that the extremely smart and impressive team at Monotype has acquired us, so we can continue on our mission with the support and resources of a well-established public company.

I’m planning to talk to Monotype and Swyft executes later this morning, and I’ll update this post after I do.

Update: I just got off the phone with Shaw, Wray, and O’Brien. Shaw reiterated the point that he made in the release, that the deal allows Monotype to move “down market,” by which he means going beyond the company’s current customer base of publishers and creative professionals to reach a broad audience of young, millennial consumers.

And yes, he plans to include fonts in Swyft’s brand offerings. The goal is to “educate” emoji-loving consumers and “introduce them to type,” but he also said this will be “a significant revenue opportunity” in and of itself.

I also asked Wray about some of the supposed commonalities between stickers and fonts, which he said will allow for “a ton of different synergies.”

“Emoticons and stickers are just an evolution, are just another way to communicate,” Wray replied, later adding, “At the end of the day it’s communication and communicating in a new environment — in mobile.”

He also said that Swyft expects things to be “business as usual,” with no big change in direction, aside from getting more resources. In fact, some of those resources are becoming apparent already, since the three of them spoke to me from Swyft’s brand-new offices in New York City.