Amino, a Philadelphia company headed by two veteran software-company founders, is recruiting dozens of engineers and managers to build a system they say will use blockchain-style electronic ledgers for advertisers and content publishers to take control of digital ad spending from middlemen, fraudsters, and Google and Facebook.
Amino plans to announce Tuesday that it has raised $1.85 million from Philadelphia-based First Round Capital, which has backed Uber and hundreds of smartphone- and cloud-era software companies, and from others including Philadelphia-based bank-marketing mogul Richard Vague.
Founders Will Luttrell, whose past companies include Integral Ad Science (AdSafe Media), and David Bookspan, founder of West Conshohocken-based Monetate — “have very deep product knowledge, an ambitious vision, and a great track record,” Vague told me.
“The internet media supply chain is still pretty murky,” he said, and Amino (founded last winter as Curren-C) offers “metrics, accountability, auditing of results, and ease of payment,” if players agree to use the system. Testing is supposed to start in the fall.
Blockchain is the kind of transparent, cryptographic-signature-protected, rapidly updating payment database developed for electronic currencies such as Bitcoin.
Bookspan said Vague convinced the partners to organize their company as a payment system, not just another security-software firm looking for fraud patterns or payment leakages. To educate them about payments, Vague introduced them to people at area companies including CardConnect and Bancorp Bank, Bookspan said. “Our thesis is that if you control the money, you can control the problems.”
They also met with Gil Bedya (of Comcast-backed Genacast Ventures), Mike Peralta (Philadelphia-based president of New York-based AudienceScience), and Mario Diez (former CEO of PointRoll, the digital-news ad service).
By offering Procter & Gamble or Comcast a payment system showing how every fractional dollar reaches the Washington Post or Breitbart News and who is extracting payments along the way, Amino is supposed to give advertisers more choice over which content to pay for, enabling them to reduce or eliminate both unwanted exposure and the middlemen, fraudsters and others who currently “eat up a lot of your budget,” said Brian O’Kelley, founder and boss at AppNexus.
AppNexus is the largest of the independent ad exchanges that compete with Google to match advertisers with Web publishers in instant auctions for the ad space that fills as you open Web and mobile pages. Google built its own ad services by acquiring firms including Philadelphia’s former Invite Media, which also was backed by First Round.
Bookspan said First Round partner Josh Kopelman found out about Amino from a Los Angeles investor who had been invited to back the start-up. (Kopelman is also chairman of the board of Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com.)
“In a world of crazy digital media fragmentation, where once you get outside Google and Facebook it’s the Wild, Wild West, these guys are unique,” said Sam Bloom, a general manager at Dallas-based Camelot, a digital-media advisory firm that helps Southwest Airlines, 7-Eleven, Charter Communications, and other big companies plan ad spending. He’s urging clients to try Amino when it debuts, maybe in the fall.
The name recalls “the amino acids in DNA, which are nature’s blockchain,” said Amino cofounder Luttrell, whose Integral Ad Science (AdSafe Media) is a New York electronic-ad service that employs 400.
“I built my last company on Amtrak” while commuting to New York, Luttrell said. But he and Bookspan “have a thesis that a company like this can be built here, as opposed to New York. I’m pitching the Philadelphia lifestyle to everyone who’s paying more than $3,000 a month for a studio apartment.”