PebblePost raises $15M to combine online data and old-school mail

PebblePost is betting that there’s a big marketing opportunity in printed postcards and catalogs.

The startup is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series B funding. The round was led by RRE Ventures, with participation from Greycroft Partners and Tribeca Ventures. RRE’s Jim Robinson is joining the PebblePost board of directors.

PebblePost describes its offering as “programmatic direct mail.” The idea is to send customized follow-ups to potential customers based on their online activity — so if you’re browsing a retailer’s website, you could get a postcard a few days later highlighting some of their products and maybe offering some discounts.

CEO Lewis Gersh was previously a founder at seed investment firm Metamorphic Ventures (now known as Compound), where he said he built “probably the largest portfolio of retargeters of any fund in the country” — namely, companies that use your online behavior to target you for ads. (The ad companies he backed include iSocket, Mass Relevance and Movable Ink.) However, he said digital advertising has become “the new junk mail,” where marketers have to get more and more aggressive in the hopes of getting eyeballs and clicks.

One of the problems, Gersh said, is that ads are often shown when someone is “100 percent not disposed to action — and worse.” In contrast, he said that when someone gets physical mail, they usually stick all the relevant stuff into a pile to deal with when they have more time. That means that when they actually go through their mail, they’re more likely to be receptive to a brand’s message — and maybe even ready to do some shopping.

To be clear, you’re not necessarily going to get a postcard talking about the exact product you were looking at — Gersh acknowledged that would be “annoying” and “spooky.” Instead, you might see other products that are in the same category, serving as a “gentle, relevant reminder.”

“When you look at a product or engage with a brand’s product, you’re starting a dialogue,” Gersh said. With PebblePost, the brand can “continue that dialogue back with the consumer.”

He added that printed mail also solves many of online advertising’s issues with viewability (“everyone has to check their mail”) and fraud (“bots don’t have mailboxes”).

The approach seems to be working, with an average of 7 to 10 percent of PebblePost mail resulting in a purchase. The company, which previously raised $8 million in funding, works with customers like Boxed, Saatchi Art and ModCloth.