Friday, April 10, 2009

Zemanta, for Snazzier Blogs

Zemanta, for Snazzier Blogs

Slovenia is a long way from Silicon Valley. But a two-year-old tech startup called Zemanta is bringing a little California magic to Ljubljana, the country's capital, with a cutting-edge software tool that helps authors worldwide easily add related content and multimedia to their blog posts and e-mails.

"People ask: 'Why Slovenia?' I say: 'Why not?'" says Alex Spetic, Zemanta's 36-year-old chief executive, who got his MBA at California State University at Hayward. "We're in the blogging business. It doesn't matter where you're based, it matters what you produce."

What Zemanta has created is a one-stop shop for bloggers looking to dress up their postings with related content links, images, audio, and video. Once a blog entry has been written, Zemanta's Web-based program—which is compatible with tools including Blogger from Google (GOOG), Movable Type from Six Apart, and the open source WordPress—scans the content using search technology. Then it suggests free and public-domain material that bloggers can add, ranging from YouTube videos and Amazon (AMZN) merchandise to Wikipedia entries and news articles from 10,000 Web sites. Inserting the suggested material is as easy as point and click.

Enhanced Content Is a Win-Win

"The biggest usage will be professional authors who are looking for other forms of content to add to their blogs," says Saul Klein, a partner at London venture capital firm Accelerator Group, which provided first-round funding to Zemanta. "If the content is enhanced, both the author and reader win."

Zemanta's premise may be simple, but bringing the product to life was far from it. For one thing, the initial prototype was written in Slovenian—not exactly a mainstream choice for reaching a wide Web audience. But after the company won a €50,000 ($67,200) prize in 2007 from Seedcamp, a European competition to foster entrepreneurship, Spetic and a team of five developers set about converting the software to English and raising more money.

"We only had 10 weeks to get it up and running," Spetic says. "All we could pay [the developers] was food and accommodation."

Despite the short development window, venture capitalists saw the potential. In January 2008, Accelerator, Britain's Eden Ventures, and New York's Union Square Ventures (which also backed Twitter), stumped up a combined 750,000 ($1.1 million) for an undisclosed stake in the startup. That was followed by a further $650,000 investment in September 2008, and now Zemanta is raising further capital (amount undisclosed) in a funding round expected to be complete by May.

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