Sun Continues to Shine for Denver Social Media Startup Wayin

It wasn’t a surprise when Wayin, the Denver-based social media startup co-founded by former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, announced Wednesday it just closed a $13.1 million Series C round.

Wayin’s fundraising news has been out there since last month, when the company filed documents with the SEC after partially closing the round. But the news isn’t a surprise in another sense, either. Wayin has veteran leadership that includes former Sun executives and entrepreneurs who built successful startups. It also has a roster of big-name clients including TV networks, pro sports teams, and major retailers.

Those attributes, along with 300 percent revenue growth in 2013, suggest Wayin is about to make the leap from being an interesting startup with a prominent founder to a real company to watch.

Wayin’s investors certainly think so. All told, Wayin has now raised a total of $33.1 million since launching in 2011.

Menlo Park, CA-based venture capital firm U.S. Venture Partners led the Series C round, and USVP general partner Rick Lewis is a Wayin board member. The rest of the syndicate is a little unconventional and includes Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati; television producer Burt Sugarman; and Mike Meldman, the CEO of the Discovery Land Company, a real estate development company.

Wayin develops software that CEO Elaine Feeney Wood says gives clients “enterprise-grade” social engagement and analytics tools that help them connect with and better understand their customers or fans.

It does that by gathering social media activity from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites into a single “hub” where users can follow the conversations taking place on the separate social networks.

The hub can be a stadium scoreboard, like it was for the Denver Broncos during their run to the Super Bowl last season. Or the hub can be on a client’s website, like it was when U.S. Soccer recently used Wayin on its site during the team’s World Cup run. Or it can be on a “second screen” mobile app someone uses while watching a TV program. An example of that: the Weather Channel uses the app to solicit comments and pictures from viewers about the weather in their area. Networks also can use Wayin to display tweets onscreen during their broadcasts.

Wayin says its software is also able to make sure that the content it reposts on a hub isn’t obscene and conveys the message clients want to share.

Consolidating social activity from different networks is the key to the hubs, Wood said. Consumers, fans, or viewers will visit a hub because it “brings them to a place where they feel like they’re part of telling the story,” without requiring them to use multiple apps or sites, she said.

It also is a way for businesses to build connections with potential customers.

“Instead of pushing their customers to a third-party site, like Facebook or Twitter, we bring the relevant conversation on to their assets and help them retain and own their own customers,” she said. Then clients can “engage them in really interesting ways with polling and voting and trending and metrics, and give them a call to action to have people reach out to their social networks and bring people back to their site.”

“It really is keeping your customers engaged with what you’re providing and having them reach out to their social network and having them say, ‘Hey, this is fun and interesting and valuable,’” she said.

But the hubs are just the public-facing feature customers see. Wayin collects, indexes, and stores half a billion pieces of social media content per day, including every tweet. Wood said Wayin has a strategic relationship with Twitter that makes it one of the few companies with full access to Twitter’s firehose and redisplay rights. It also has access to Facebook’s new application programming interfaces, or APIs, for public content.

Wayin analyzes what it has collected using machine learning and sentiment analysis. Wood said the goal is to give Wayin’s customers foresight into what topics will become hot and to find correlations that are useful when planning marketing campaigns. She also said Wayin’s analytics give clearer information about a campaign’s return on investment and whether it’s leading to transactions or click-throughs and site engagement.

Wayin will use the new money to develop software that improves its analytics, Wood said. The round also will support a global expansion—as of late June, Wayin had 48 employees worldwide, with 28 working in Denver. The rest are spread between other offices in the U.S., Japan, Argentina, Brazil, and Hong Kong.

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