Just a few blocks away from Huntsman Hall, we spot Apu Gupta (WG’05) hacking away at Curalate’s spanking new 2401 Walnut St. office on a mission to help brands better understand and leverage the visual web.
This seems like a big change for Apu, who spent his first few post-Wharton years building what is now India’s second largest drugstore chain. Apu and his team of 24 are now banking on the belief that images are becoming the new currency for social media engagement. His startup, Curalate, is a visual analytics and engagement platform that helps brands and agencies measure, monitor and grow brand engagement on visual social networks, starting with Pinterest and Instagram.
While still in its early days, Curalate is now used by big-name brands and agencies like Kraft, Michael Kors, Beauty.com and GroupM, and has raised over $4M in funding from star VCs First Round Capital, NEA, MentorTech Ventures and SV Angel.
Fresh off of a highly engaging talk organized by Founder’s Club at Penn, Apu sat down with the Wharton Journal to share the story behind Curalate’s success.
Wharton Journal: We hear from Phin – from First Round Capital (FRC) – that when you started this company, you had a completely different idea in mind. How exactly did Curalate come about?
Apu Gupta: We pitched Phin and the FRC team on a company called Storably. Storably was AirBnB for parking and storage. We never managed to get the traction needed to build a successful business, so we shelved it. Josh Kopelman suggested that our team spend 30 days to brainstorm and figure out where we wanted to go. We came up with 70 ideas, got interested in 7, built 3 and went all-in on one.
WJ: So you’ve done quite a few amazing things after your Wharton MBA, including founding what’s now the second largest drugstore chain in India. How does someone in brick-and-mortar end up in the social media business?
AG: Throughout my career I’ve had a deep interest in marketing as a functional area. At MedPlus, the pharmacy chain in India that I built with a Wharton classmate, part of my role was as the CMO of the company. We put up 650 physical stores and served 1,000,000 transactions monthly, in about 3 years. I came to really appreciate the challenges marketers face driving consumer behavior. Ultimately, this interest in forming more meaningful relationships between consumers and brands is what drove me to launch Curalate.
WJ: How does Curalate differentiate itself from other visual analytics startups like Pinfluencer or Simply Measured?
AG: Curalate is the first company to apply image recognition algorithms to social media conversations, across social networks. As a result of our technological advances, thought leadership, and incredible service, we’re the clear leaders in enabling brands to grow affinity, engagement, and revenue through images.
WJ: Do you see visual social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram getting serious about image analytics, and if so, do you see this as a threat to Curalate?
AG: As Facebook and Twitter have already demonstrated, ecosystems drive adoption. This isn’t lost on Pinterest or Instagram. We’ll be just fine.
WJ: How has being part of the First Round family helped Curalate? What’s it like having Josh on your board?
AG: We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the backing and support of NEA, First Round Capital, SV Angel, and MentorTech Ventures. Investors are not all created equal, and having First Round Capital in our corner has been our secret weapon. They invest in great companies that attract great talent, and then FRC makes sure that all these companies talk to each other and learn from each other. We just move so much faster thanks to First Round.
Josh from FRC and Patrick Chung from NEA are great to work with. Both have deep operating experience, which I really respect in investors. They understand our challenges, have very practical advice, and are scary smart. They know exactly when to be helpful and when to stay out of the way.
WJ: Talk to us about your fundraising experience. Any advice for Wharton founders looking to raise funding today?
AG: It’s a great time to be raising money. There are so many capital sources today that you can go to. That said, I think founders need to spend more time getting to know their potential investors. They’re doing diligence on you, you should be doing the same with them. They’re going to be with you for a long time and the quality of that relationship is going to have a big impact on your daily life running the business.
WJ: A lot of Wharton/Penn founders who start up in Philly end up moving to NYC or the Valley after closing their series A rounds. What are your thoughts on Philadelphia as a base for tech startups?
AG: I recently wrote an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal outlining why Curalate stayed in Philly. Philly has been a great home for the business we’re in, providing us access to clients and talent while keeping our costs down.
WJ: What’s next for Curalate?
AG: We just launched our newest product, Fanreel, with Urban Outfitters, Under Armour, Rebecca Minkoff and Beauty.com. And our core product is expanding to new networks. These are still early days for us, but with hundreds of the worlds largest brands, an amazing team, and great tech, we’re just getting warmed up.