With $8M Zaius Deal, Underscore.VC Makes Another Marketing Tech Bet

Underscore.VC, one of the new Boston investment firms trying to put a fresh spin on the typical venture capital model, is starting to make more noise with its debut $75 million fund.

Underscore recently led an $8 million investment in Boston marketing technology startup Zaius, which marks the second investment publicly disclosed by Underscore. (The first was Mautic, a North Carolina marketing automation software firm that’s relocating to Boston.)

Zaius’s $8 million round was previously disclosed in an April SEC filing, but the details weren’t announced publicly until today. Along with Underscore, other contributors to the round included Leaders Fund and Matrix Partners. Zaius previously raised $6.3 million in 2014 from Matrix and others.

An interesting tidbit: This marks another joint investment between Underscore’s Michael Skok and his brother, David, a Matrix general partner. Other deals they’ve made together include investing in Salsify in 2013 while Michael was at North Bridge Venture Partners, and in Zaius’s previous funding round. That was just after Michael had left North Bridge, he says; he cut a personal check to Zaius.

With Underscore (team pictured above), Skok and his co-founders C.A. Webb and John Pearce say they are backing “cloud intelligence” companies. The interesting part of Underscore’s approach is it’s gathering “curated cores” of experts in various sectors and skills, who help build the portfolio companies and take stakes in them.

Underscore has said it plans to invest in areas like sensor-related technologies and software for factories, home automation, and healthcare; infrastructure plays in data storage and databases; and cloud-based software for marketing and commerce. So far, its announced investments have fallen into that last category.

Zaius, founded in 2012, has developed customer relationship management software for businesses that market products and services directly to consumers. The idea behind Zaius is to unify data about interactions with customers—a tough task when those conversations and purchases are happening rapidly across the Web, mobile apps, and social media—in order to better understand what drives sales and to improve the efficiency of marketing processes.

Zaius’s customers include Nine West, Easy Spirit, Moda Operandi, and some major brands that Skok says Zaius isn’t allowed to disclose. The company intends to plow the new money primarily into sales and marketing.

“We started to see that traction,” Skok says. “We could see the company really just needed more gas in the tank to go after these major accounts.”

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