When web surfers cross between the mainstream internet’s centralized giants such as Google and Facebook and crypto’s wild world of decentralized finance and non-fungible tokens, a new startup called Spindl wants to know.
The Miami-based company is trying to rebuild for Web3 a fundamental piece of Web2’s e-commerce back end. That piece is called “web attribution,” and it’s how internet businesses track where their customers came from – and create user acquisition strategies to get more.
Antonio García Martínez, the CEO of Spindl and a veteran of Silicon Valley advertising technology (AdTech), said attribution is integral to internet commerce. “If attribution fails – imagine if running water failed in New York City. It goes to chaos.”
Knowing this trail to sale is crucial to companies ginning up successful ad campaigns; the software industry supporting them – led by big names like Adjust – is worth $1 billion annually, according to Future Markets Insights. But the mainstream attribution platforms aren’t “chain-aware,” said García Martínez: “There's a wall between Web2 and Web3.”
Although the crypto industry already has a healthy sub-sector of on-chain sleuths labeling wallets and following assets, it has yet to develop much in the way of attribution in the Web2 sense, García Martínez said. The result: OpenSea knows who bought this or that CryptoPunk, but not how this buyer landed at OpenSea.
Spindl “measures the funnel” of Discord posts, Reddit forums, ad impressions and other blue links that help people navigate the internet; it then pairs this data with on-chain behaviors such as buying, selling and trading to create profiles that help protocols understand where the traffic comes from.
If companies want users to engage in their platforms, then they’ll need attribution software, crypto-native or not, García Martínez said.
García Martínez said he has raised $7 million from crypto venture capitalist firms including co-leads Dragonfly and Chapter 1, plus Polygon Ventures, Tribe Capital, Multicoin and a smattering of angel investors. He said the money will go toward hiring.
“Whether it's Spindl or not, I think there has to be a decentralized protocol for attribution in Web3,” García Martínez said.
The reason: Centralized incumbents such as Google and Facebook have too many conflicts of interest to also serve as the arbiters of attribution truth, he said. Crypto’s focus on creating trustless systems is in his telling the perfect use case for attribution.
If a fully decentralized, completely on-chain, crypto-native entity governed by a decentralize autonomous organization is the solution, then Spindl ain’t it – at least not yet. While García Martínez said he’s “absolutely for decentralization and composability and trustlessness,” convincing crypto companies that Spindl’s data is worth it comes first.
“We’re starting centralized just to solve the near-term pain points,” he said.
García Martínez wants Spindl to take baby steps toward decentralization, distributing power where it makes sense to do so without losing the business down a philosophical trap. The data could be hosted on-chain and in smart contracts, for example. Down the road he thinks a decentralized protocol should form Spindl’s base.
If online ads are to be rewarded for their conversions, though, someone has to fill that role of arbiter: “Everyone has to agree at the end of the day that x caused y to happen.”
Spindl is grappling with this question of causality, García Martínez said. Any number of things could have led to a user’s continued engagement on a crypto platform: the Discord server, the social media posts, the NFTs.
“We kind of have to figure out how reality works in Web3 before we can start wrapping product around it,” García Martínez said.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.