Crayon Gets Cash to Bring Web Designs to the Marketing Masses

The world runs on marketing. Increasingly, that means digital marketing.

Using software from companies like HubSpot, Marketo, and Eloqua, fortunes have been (and will be) made over the ability to attract potential customers via websites, social media, and e-mail—and get them to buy what sites are selling.

Yet your average Joe Digital Marketer doesn’t have a centralized place to get Web design ideas, see what successful sites do to attract customers, and share ideas with other marketers and collaborators. Until now, that is.

A young Boston startup called Crayon recently rolled out a site where marketers can browse through millions of Web designs and have conversations about them. The designs are sorted by industry, type of page, amount of traffic, and so forth. That certainly sounds more appealing than—let’s say a marketer is redesigning a landing page—the manual process of looking at a handful of competitors’ sites, taking screenshots, and using e-mail or PowerPoint to share thoughts with a team.

Crayon is led by CEO Jonah Lopin, an early and longtime HubSpot employee, and CTO John Osborne, a veteran of AdMob. Both are graduates of the MIT Sloan School of Management, and both understand the digital marketing and advertising realm.

The company “was built for marketers to have a conversation about design,” Lopin (pictured) says. He wants Crayon to become the go-to site for marketers looking “to get great ideas.”

Investors see a lot of growth potential here. Crayon recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding from CommonAngels Ventures, Boston Syndicates, and angel investors, including Dharmesh Shah, Brian Halligan, Mike Volpe, Jim O’Neill, Eric Ries, Ed Roberts, and Jennifer Lum. (Shah, Halligan, Volpe, and O’Neill are HubSpot execs.)

Marketing software companies can be hard to grasp, but the core idea behind Crayon is pretty big—and it’s broader than just marketing.

The company sits at the intersection of at least four recent trends: the awareness of design as an integral part of technology and software; the rise of digital marketing tools for small businesses and enterprises; the “consumerization” of IT and business software; and increased demand for Web-based collaborative work platforms.

Lopin sees Crayon as fundamentally “engineering and product driven.” The startup is trying to “build a product that every marketer wants to use.” To achieve that, he says, “we want to be more like Dropbox—easy to use, easy to try, easy to love. It’s got to be a consumer-ish experience.” (Lopin also mentions Pinterest and Facebook as inspirations.) “I wouldn’t say we’re there yet,” he adds.

The company’s software crawls the Web and pulls in website designs that it finds interesting. These include the highest-trafficked sites and biggest companies, but also unusual sites relatively unknown to marketers. The software looks at 25 code-level factors for each site and rates them by how attractive they are from a marketing perspective, Lopin says. If it has tags that tell the page how to act on mobile devices and different browser sizes, say, that’s good. If it’s a table-based site, not so much (outdated).

 

Crayon screenshot (image: Crayon)

 

One of the next steps is to build community and social features on top of Crayon’s site, Lopin says. The importance of a strong community—starting with marketers, but also including designers, small business owners, nonprofits, and so on—is less to make money in the near term, and more to create a barrier to entry for competitors. “We want to build a massive audience,” Lopin says.

If the company succeeds—still a big if—it would impact more than just how companies do their marketing. Think of cloud-based software development, crowdsourced Web designs, and more attractive, better-functioning websites in general.

Lopin is staying grounded for now. “We want to make the Web look better and help marketers do better marketing,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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