Lawrence technology startup adds 15 employees, wins venture capital funding; a downtown parking question

A Lawrence start-up company that’s seeking to reduce the “creepiness” factor of Internet advertising has added 15 employees since January, and has landed another successful round of venture capital funding.

Bixy is a company we’ve told you about before. In January, we reported Lawrence resident Kyle Johnson had founded the company and had begun testing of a new platform that allows Internet advertisers to reach customers without the traditional targeting practices.

You are familiar with those targeting practices. Thanks to Google and others, advertisers have all types of insights into your web searching history, and then make inferences about what type of products you may be interested in purchasing.

Take, for example, the ads I was receiving during yesterday’s Royals game. Early in the game, when the Royals were ahead, I got ads for cheap champagne. Late in the game, when the Royals were behind, I got ads for cheap bourbon. In between, I got ads for cheap hot dogs. (That was mainly my fault. I was hungry and, of course, cheap.) By the end of the game, Google had become worn out by the back and forth, and reverted to its fallback for me: cheap Rogaine, which promises to grow hair but can’t guarantee the location.

Some people think such targeting is creepy (not to mention the places hair will grow), and Johnson’s company is trying to build a business around avoiding such ad targeting. The Bixy technology creates a system where people complete a form about their interests and can pick from a list of companies that they would be interested in receiving ads from. Advertisers then can buy access to that information and use it to deliver ads to those consumers. So, instead of having to infer what a person is interested in, consumers just tell advertisers what they’re interested in. Consumers can earn deals by voluntarily sharing their preferences.

Our latest consumer video is now up on Vimeo! Give it a look here:

Posted by Bixy on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When I chatted with Johnson in January, the company had about 10 employees and was seeking $750,000 in venture capital. Today, the company has 25 employees — a mix of full and part-time positions — has taken new office space in East Lawrence’s Cider Gallery, and has landed a significant portion of the $750,000 in funding, Johnson said.

“We have really been able to ramp up,” said Johnson, who said he couldn’t disclose the venture capital details, but described the amount raised as a “good six-figure amount.”

Johnson said the venture capital round included a number of local investors, but also some Silicon Valley money. Johnson, though, said the company is committed to remaining in Lawrence.

“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder about proving that people don’t have to move to Silicon Valley to make game-changing companies,” Johnson said. “Our cost structure here is a lot better than it would be if we moved to Silicon Valley.”

Johnson said the company has been using a variety of KU students to staff the company and has been converting some from part-time to full-time positions as they graduate. He said the company likely will get to 35 employees soon.

The company currently is doing its test marketing in Lawrence and Kansas City, but it has Dallas and Chicago on its near-term expansion list. The company also is developing a desktop system to go with its current technology, which focuses on advertising delivered to smartphones and other mobile devices.

The company also is in discussions with a national, publicly traded firm that Johnson said he couldn’t yet disclose.

“They’re a big company with millions of monthly customers, and that can help us reach a national audience faster,” Johnson said.

So, still early in the game for this company, but it is one of several in the Lawrence startup scene worth keeping an eye on.

In other news and notes from around town:

• During the euphoria of the Royals win, I decided to take a trip back in time by searching for George Brett’s famed 1980 postseason home run against the Yankees. Trust me, you don’t want to know what type of ads you get when you Google something called a Goose Gossage.

But that’s not the only time traveling I’ve been doing lately. I’ve had some readers pose a downtown parking question that has taken me back to 1997.

Some readers have noticed that the parking lot at the former Borders bookstore location at Seventh and New Hampshire streets has been posted as private parking. A few folks, though, remember that the city in 1997 helped pay for that parking lot when Borders was being constructed. The city for its $100,000 in funding got 67 public spaces in the lot as part of its contribution to the project. So, that led to the question of where are those public parking spaces?

The answer: They moved, but they’re still nearby. What some readers have forgotten is that in 2004 the owners of the Borders property came to the city and sought a modification of the parking arrangement. As the Hobbs-Taylor Lofts building was being constructed, the agreement was modified that all 67 public parking spaces would be located on the Hobbs-Taylor property instead of the Borders property. Indeed, there are public parking spaces behind the Hobbs-Taylor loft building and along the north edge of the building. I’m not sure I accurately counted every single space, but there are more than 60 of them, with a mix of metered spaces and long term spaces that require a city parking permit.

So, your days of parking in the Borders parking lot for free really may be numbered. There’s no loophole there that is going allow you to argue to the traffic court that this is really a public lot.

Now, I’ve got to get back to arguing with Google. That’s definitely not the Goose I was talking about.