founder

Cortex Co-Founders Want to Revolutionize Visual Marketing

Introduction

Visual marketing (using videos, pictures, gifs, and the like) is known for being highly inefficient from an operational standpoint. While visual marketing campaigns are often the most effective, a brand’s marketing department usually has no idea how successful a campaign will be before they launch it. This can lead to massive amount of wasted time and money.

Cortex wants to solve this common problem. Through a data-driven SaaS platform, the company can tell brands whether a piece of visual marketing will be positively received by its target audience — before the ad is ever run. We sat down with co-founders Brennan White and Matt Peters to talk about the marketing pain points they are trying to address and how their own marketing experiences have prepared them to run Cortex.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Interview

Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?

Brennan: Cortex is an enterprise SaaS platform that predicts how consumers will react to something that they see before that thing is even made. Large brands like L’Oreal, Toyota, Marriott, and Oreo use Cortex to de-risk the $600 billion they spend every year on visual advertising and communications. Cortex users love the peace of mind they get knowing they’re not risking their careers on the next big campaign. But most importantly, consumers see ads, videos, photos, gifs that they actually like instead of the standard corporate-first, corporate-focused crap that we’re all used to.


What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?

Matt: As a Creative Director for a digital agency that worked with some of the world’s most prestigious brands, I saw every client suffering from the same problems — they spent hundreds of millions each year on terrible videos and photos, and they had no reliable way to get better at making this content.

And yet, brands were creating more visual content each year, sometimes up to 50% more year over year. In order for brands to be able to make quality content at the scale required to meet their business needs, they need help. So we were inspired to take the leap and build the solution. 


What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?

Brennan: We founded our previous company in 2007, bootstrapped it, got on the INC5000 two years in a row, and worked with over 50 of the world’s best brands as our customers. It was there that we learned to be super capital efficient, to sell to these types of customers, to hire first-class people, and to lead through crises. We have a strong combination of domain expertise and entrepreneurial expertise, and we’ve brought all of that experience and knowledge to Cortex.


What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?

Brennan: We think this technology can change the entire world in some clear ways. By providing a clear path to ROI for the $600 billion that brands spend every year via giving the consumer exactly what they want, everyone wins.

  • Advertising could be as delightful as getting a link from a good friend. It could know what you like and feel like it was created just for you. You’d welcome these kinds of advertisements in the world just like we do when the very best Superbowl Ads get shared around the next day. Your likes and dislikes would drive the brands’ strategies, and they’d compete to create your favorite videos and photos. 
  • Advertising could be a reliable investment for companies — yet today the adage is “50% of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” They could spend $600 billion or more every year with the confidence that their investment would be returned many times over instead of relying on hope as a strategy.
  • Working in marketing and advertising could be reliable and fun. You can confidently create something that you know will delight your audience and have no fear putting your name behind that $30 million dollar campaign.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Matt: Brennan and I have worked together for over a decade building and running successful businesses and have been best friends for 25 years. To build out the best team to succeed at Cortex’s mission, we brought on a few key additional players to supplement that relationship. Our VP of Engineering, Dimitry Kudryavtsev, joined from his background in applied AI for a number of companies. We brought on Dung Phan as our lead data scientist based on his PhD work in the exact aspects of machine learning and data science that Cortex requires. From there, we’ve expanded the team with best-in-class people to lead Growth and Strategic Partnerships.


Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?

Brennan: No one has demonstrated the capability to predict how people will react to something they see as broadly or as accurately as we have. The one competitor that exists is focused only on one type of ad on one channel and only provides their data after the creative has been created, your name has been put behind the campaign, and the money has been spent. It doesn’t even begin to solve the problem.


What does your business model look like?

Matt: Our core business model is annual enterprise subscriptions to our SaaS platform. Oftentimes new customers will take advantage of our paid pilot to allow them to test the technology before committing to a full annual contract. Once we have established a beachhead with a new customer, we land and expand by securing annual licenses with other brands within the customer’s organization. Some of our current customers will generate over $2 million in recurring revenue once we fully expand.


What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Matt: We have always been very capital efficient and only raise as much money as we need to reach the next milestones and profitability. We are also keenly aware of the need to not lose focus on running the business, just because we’re fundraising. This drew us to equity crowdfunding as a way to not only open the Cortex opportunity to a broader base, but also as a way to be extra efficient about taking Cortex to the next level.


What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Brennan: Three things stand out to me when looking at Cortex dispassionately: 

  • The opportunity is huge — $600 billion is spent just on visual advertising each year according to the JP Morgan Factbook. However, our tech isn’t limited to advertising and can impact any use case where consumers make a purchase decision by looking at something. Things like product design, packaging, entertainment, and fashion can all be eventually turned upside down with Cortex. 
  • The broader team is best in class — for example, Cortex’s SVP of Partnerships led partnerships at Starbucks for 16 years. 
  • The customers are brands that other early-stage companies would die for — Toyota, Marriott, L’Oreal, Mondelez (Oreo), and other best-in-class brands are among our first customers. Our 15 years of experience selling to exactly these people at these brands allows us to run the company much more efficiently than another startup in our position could.

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Brennan: The technology we’ve built unlocks massive value wherever seeing something impacts the likelihood of purchase — in packaging, product design, advertising, and more. If we play our cards correctly, this gives Cortex multiple avenues for an exit: from IPO to an acquisition from the big tech companies that make revenue via ads, to major media companies who make money via visual content, to major tech companies who provide technology for creative workers. 


We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Brennan, Matt, and their team take the company. Cortex is currently raising on Wefunder.

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About: Olivia Strobl

Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.

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