Encouraging news for the nascent Belgium startup scene. Although not on the scale of Showpad’s recent $8.5 million fund raise, Brussels-based Sortlist has closed a €550,000 seed round from a number of private individuals and the Belgium early-stage investor Lean Fund.
The startup describes itself as a ‘Match.com of the marketing & communication industry’, providing an online platform to help companies find local and reputable marketing and communication agencies, with a specific emphasis on surfacing young, perhaps lesser well-known but “hot” agencies, in what is a crowded space.
Sortlist was founded in 2014 out of the dorm room of (then) students Thibaut Vanderhofstadt, Charles De Groote, Nicolas Finet and Michael Valette after they recognised a need for a better way of matching agencies to companies with comms and marketing needs. The four were already running their own digital agency — that’s how some students roll these days — and would be routinely asked to recommend other agencies when they had to turn down work.
Explains co-founder Nicolas Finet: “Quickly, big companies were asking us to recommend the digital agencies that were best suited for them, using us as a kind of matchmaker or procurement agency. Since we were always looking for a scalable business model, we thought there would probably be a market for the specific problem that marketeers were describing.”
Specifically, says Finet, those marketeers wanted to be the first to get to know the hottest agencies, “as in the ones that will make it big tomorrow, but still hungry today”. But, at the same time, they needed to be sure those agencies would deliver “top work”.
“Thinking of it, we saw that they were using two tools, and they were not happy with them. There was LinkedIn, which doesn’t work well for ‘discovery’. On the other hand there is Google, which doesn’t give any context or reputation score,” he says.
Thus Sortlist was born, combining discovery with a reputation system. The site currently lists 53,000+ communication agencies — who can either register for free or subscribe to a premium account that gives them greater visibility and access to extra features — and lets companies search by location, type of work, and budget.
In addition, Sortlist features recommendations and reviews for the agencies listed. This includes a feature that ties into LinkedIn so that businesses can see how close an agency is to their existing professional network, for further validation.
“In the last [few] years, the number of agencies have exploded, as well as the number of disciplines (SEO, SEA, activation, conversation, content marketing, social media marketing, sponsored posts and native ads etc.). It’s a very confusing landscape for brands, and the differences in pricing can be huge. Sortlist is helping brands to navigate the space and to match with the agency fitting their needs, budgets and ambitions,” adds Finet.
Meanwhile, competitors consist of paper and online directories (think: Yellow Pages), procurement and pitch consultants, and trade media agency listings. Or, more directly, there’s Agencyspotter, Creativebrief, and Sortfolio.
Oh, and check out the slightly cringe-worthy promo video below.