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Tech startup: BlogFrog Inc.

INITIAL LIGHT BULB  Rustin Banks was working at Ball Aerospace when his wife, Tara, was blogging about parenting in Boulder County. "All of her readers tried to talk to each other in the comments section," he says. "She would post something new, and that conversation would get lost." Banks used his experience with bulletin-board systems to design a social platform for blogs.

After 15,000 women-centric bloggers were using his system, Banks quit his day job in June 2009 and started focusing on BlogFrog full-time as CEO with co-founder and VP of Marketing Holly Hamann.

Instead of pursuing traditional display ads, Banks and Hamann launched a program for companies to harness the conversation of BlogFrog’s 100,000-strong network of bloggers.

IN A NUTSHELL "Tens or hundreds of bloggers can start a conversation that is sponsored by a brand," says Banks of BlogFrog’s influencer marketing program.

"We were the only company to do it at a price point that made sense," says Banks, noting that programs start at about $20,000. "Compare that to banner ads that 99 percent of people ignore or find annoying."

The BlogFrog platform identifies bloggers, activates them, and distributes their content across numerous platforms, all the while providing back-end analytics for the client. The company has completed about 100 projects in the past 18 months for such clients as Pillsbury, White Wave Foods, and Allstate Insurance. All of the sponsored content is tagged as such, per Federal Trade Commission standards.

The Pillsbury conversation involved 30 bloggers posting recipes involving Pillsbury crescent rolls and a content hub at www.creativecrescents.com. Banks says Pillsbury enjoyed "huge ROI" on a $30,000 investment: 2 million readers and 10,000 printed coupons.

THE MARKET "Right now, our influencer network is all in the women’s space," says Banks, covering everything from health to home to travel. Women control about 75 percent of household spending in the U.S., commanding a commensurate chunk of ad spending, he adds. The company will move into the male-dominated areas of sports, gaming and politics next year.

"It’s exciting how big this market is," he adds, citing a $12 billion figure for online display advertising and $3 billion in social advertising (compared to $60 billion for television). "There’s a huge shift of dollars from TV to online, and there’s also a huge shift from banner ads to social."

FINANCING After a seed round led by Brian Makare of Boulder’s @Last Technologies, BlogFrog closed on a $3.2 million Series A round in March that was led by Grotech Ventures of Washington, D.C. Noting the company broke even last year, Banks says the money "is truly growth capital for a viable business model."

where Boulder | FOUNDED 2009 | web www.theblogfrog.com

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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