Software as a service

Ceros raises $6.2 million to take on Adobe's creative cloud

April 3, 2014: 1:00 PM ET

The company's simple SaaS tools allow brands to create digital experiences without needing a developer.

ceros

FORTUNE -- Simon Berg has issues with the current landscape of digital marketing tools, and he's built a product to address them called Ceros. Now, with 60 clients, including Elizabeth Arden, Virgin Atlantic, and Peugeot, Ceros has raised $6.4 million in new funding from Sigma Prime, Starvest Partners, and Greycroft Partners to execute on Berg's mission.

Based in London and New York, Ceros offers an SaaS platform for brands and marketers to develop "beautiful interactive content experiences." The company is the result of a 2012 deal in which Crowd Fusion, a startup, had raised $3 million from Greycroft Partners, Fuse Capital, and Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, bought Ceros and adopted its name and product.

The term "content experiences" is purposely vague, but includes micro-sites, rich media on websites, interactive infographics, and other forms of content marketing. The selling point is that brands can build interactive marketing materials for the web, tablet, and mobile, without requiring a developer to write code. This saves the brands time and money, since their in-house designers can handle the heavy lifting. "It's essentially a modern take on the design and creation process," Berg says. Before adopting Ceros, the company's customers were building these types of experiences on traditional software like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, he says, and requiring expensive development work to get them onto the Web.

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Berg believes his product can compete with offerings from larger, more entrenched industry stalwarts like Adobe, in part, because Adobe's core business -- creative suite software -- is not cloud-based, even if its new Creative Cloud business is. Of Adobe's $4 billion in revenue, only 26% of it came from the Marketing Cloud in 2013.

"We were born in the cloud," Berg says. "[Adobe's] business model is not aligned with the way that the market is moving."

Still, Adobe (ADBE) is moving quickly to transition its business into cloud-based software. In the fourth quarter of 2013, revenue from the marketing cloud grew 38% over the prior year. Berg also recognizes he has a very long way to go in taking on Goliath. "As it stands, we're not a threat to Adobe today," he says. "But when Salesforce launched, they were a joke in comparison to Siebel Systems, but now they're a giant among giants." Right now, he adds, "It's like a fly attacking a hippo."

Ceros is riding a content marketing wave, as brands and marketers increasingly shift their dollars from paid advertisements to "owned media," or self-published content, and "earned media," or PR and social sharing.

Venture dollars have followed the shift in brand dollars: This year alone, four startups chasing the content marketing game have raised large rounds of funding: Contently raised $9 million in January. Then Sharethrough raised $17 million, and NewsCred announced a $25 million round in the same week. And last month Percolate raised $24 million.

By 2017, chief marketing officers are expected to spend more on technology software and services than a company's Chief Information Officer -- a.k.a., the one actually in charge of the tech. Ceros's tools compete more with Adobe than with the offerings from Percolate and its peers, but they're all angling for a slice of the same, growing budget.

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