In “Marketization” of Consumer Apps, Springpad Aims for Mainstream

3/13/14Follow @gthuang

The line between content and advertising grows blurrier by the day. That might be good for some tech startups—but to gain mainstream adoption, and users’ trust, they have to ride the trend in just the right way.

The newest data point comes from Springpad, a Charlestown, MA-based company known for its personal-organizer app and notebook platform. Today the startup is introducing a digital “notebook store” that blends its basic format—think a place to work with your daily notes and to-do lists—with content from publishers, brands, and experts.

Springpad’s notebook store is rolling out with five pre-loaded categories: home and living, tasks and productivity, family and parenting, food and cooking, and travel. The idea is you can click on a category, open a notebook template, and start adding notes and information while Springpad feeds you context and updates in the form of links, reviews, recommendations, and videos.

The startup is working with life-organizer and “de-clutter” experts like Peter Walsh, Donna Kuper, and Julie Morgenstern to provide content and recommendations. And Springpad’s corporate partners include well-known sites and media brands such as TripAdvisor, Wayfair, Glamour, and Men’s Health. Today’s launch signifies a shift in the startup’s business model toward a mix of content marketing, brand advertising, and, eventually, paid notebooks.

This is Springpad’s first big move since it hired Jacqueline Hampton (pictured) as its new CEO back in August. She was previously a vice president of corporate development for media giant Time, and before that, worked in investment banking. At Time, Hampton led the acquisition of several companies, including Boston-based Stylefeeder. (File that one away in case Springpad gets bought.)

Hampton brought with her to Springpad a deep knowledge of mainstream consumers, she says. That includes an understanding of where the masses will need help with “curation and reminders” within the app—the better to handle all the competing tasks in their daily lives. “There’s an emotional need to be more organized” and “make sense of it all,” she says.

“I drive the tech team batty,” she adds, “because I’ll be the person to use this.”

Springpad got started in 2008, co-founded by Third Screen Media alums Jeff Janer and Jeff Chow; both have served as CEO. The company has evolved its product over the years from a digital filing cabinet to a personal organizer to, now, more of an expert-guided personal assistant.

The big aim is “providing useful and relevant content in the context of helping people get things done,” says Janer (pictured), who now runs business development for the company.

Springpad is most often compared to Evernote and, to a lesser extent, Pinterest. But it operates in a crowded sector that also includes About.com (owned by IAC), Apple’s Siri, Google Keep and Google Now, and smaller personal-organizer apps like Tempo and Cozi.

The company has raised a little less than $10 million from investors including Fairhaven Capital. It has 17 employees and about 5 million registered users. (By comparison, Evernote has raised $250 million and has about 300 employees and 80 million users.)

Meanwhile, today’s news touches on at least three bigger themes:

1. Content marketing is merging with consumer apps. You might call it the “marketization” of consumer apps, as a counterpoint to the “consumerization” of IT and enterprise apps. … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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