ThingLink raises $2m to grow interactive image platform in the US



Finnish-American tech company ThingLink has raised $2m in follow-on funding from Helsinki VC firm Inventure and assorted angel investors to grow its unusual offer: an open platform and tagging tool for interactive images.

The idea started back in 2005, when ThingLink CEO Ulla Engeström – at the time a PhD student in Helsinki – became interested in adding digital stories to objects. A friend, Eric Wahlforss, now co-founder of SoundCloud, suggested she call the tags “thinglinks”.

After a few iterations, including using NFC technology and URL stickers to tag real-life objects, ThingLink reformed as a platform for a rich media tagging tool: specifically, a Javascript layer that shows links as rich media tags on top of images, which can be easily embedded and shared around. By 2013, the company had integrated with SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Spotify, Vimeo and Wikipedia and attracted users including Vogue, Forbes, the Washington Post and Xerox (pictured below).


It still feels experimental – the tags can easily overwhelm the images themselves and some of the formatting is a bit “off” – but publishers and brands are clearly willing to give it a go. The company, which currently employs 10 people, expects to grow to 300,000 users by the end of the year and Engeström is relocating to New York to join new hire Hillary Billingsley (ex-Newsweek/Daily Beast) and build up a sales team in the US.

One obvious application is advertising. If a web browser likes a snap of a fashion outfit, for example, he or she can hover to get more info about the products on display.

Companies offering similar tagging tools for brands include Berlin-based Roombeats, which just raised a €500,000 seed round, major US players Luminate and Stipple, and Kiosked, based in London and Espoo, Finland. There are key differences: Stipple offers automatic tagging, for example, while ThingLink requires each image to be tagged separately.

That’s deliberate, Engeström said. The company is pitched as a story-telling platform with a focus on engagement rather than just driving sales. “I believe in creativity and curation,” she said. “Those are the elements needed to drive engagement.”

ThingLink’s new funding follows a $1m seed round from Inventure in 2010 and brings the total raised to date to $3.9m. Wahlforss, Terrapin Bale (led by former Tumblr president John Maloney), Thom Beers, Dean Kehler and Finnish agency TEKES also participated in this latest round.

The company’s business model is based on enterprise and group accounts, which offer greater image customisation, premium support and advanced statistics at an average price tag of between $500 and $1500 per month for an annual subscription.

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