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Sanity, a platform to build and manage content flows on sites, raises $9.3M from Ev Williams, Threshold and more

There are more than 2 billion websites in existence in the world today, millions of apps, and a growing range of digital screens where people and businesses present constantly changing arrays of information to each other. But all that opportunity also has a flip side: how can you say what you want, just how you want to say it, without technical hurdle after hurdle getting in your way?

A startup called Sanity has built a platform to help businesses (and their people) do that more easily with a SaaS platform that lets developers create code and systems to manage content. Now, after picking up some 25,000 customers, from “traditional” publishers like Conde Nast and National Geographic through to hundreds of others like Sonos, Brex, Figma, Cloudflare, Mux, Remarkable, Kleiner Perkins, Tablet Magazine, MIT, Universal Health Services, Eurostar, and Nike, it is announcing funding of $9.3 million to fuel its growth.

The funding, a Series A, is being by Threshold Ventures (the VC formerly known as Draper Fisher Jurvetson, rebranded in 2019 after none of the namesakes remained at the firm), with a really interesting cast others also participating. They include Ev Williams (who knows a thing or two about ‘content’ as the co-founder of Blogger, Twitter and most recently Medium); Adam Gross, ex-CEO of Heroku; Guillermo Rauch, inventor of NextJS and CEO and co-founder of Vercel; Stephanie Friedman (ex-Xamarin and Microsoft); and Monochrome Capital, the new firm launched by Ben Metcalfe (the co-founder of WP Engine, among many other roles).

Heavybit and Alliance Venture, which led its seed round of $2.4 million last year, also participated. Other existing investors include Matthias Biilman and Chris Bach, co-founders of Netlify; Jon Dal CEO and co-founder of Mux; and Edvard Engsæth, co-founder of NURX.

Sanity bills itself as a “content platform”, and the open-ended idea of what that could possibly mean is essentially the essence of what the company is about.

Led by co-founder and CEO Magnus Hillestad, it has crafted a set of tools that can help developers structure how and where content gets created, input and eventually presented to people, with its target audience being any organization or person that might be putting together a digital experience whose content is regularly updated and is not static.

Hillestad said that thinking of content as a separate and dynamic element in digital experiences represents a “paradigm shift” in terms of how the web and other content experiences are developing. The idea, he said, is for an organization “not to be held back by features but to have the code to make the components they want.” He described it as a progression along the same trajectories of “what Twilio did by coming in with APIs for communications, and Figma did with its concept of collaboration.”

While e-commerce has typically been a major customer of such “headless” platforms — they will use services like these to help design and manage the front end, with another service like Shopify to manage the commerce at the back end — it’s actually a basic framework that has been applied to a pretty wide range of use cases at Sanity.

They do include e-commerce experiences, but also companies building interactive tools for customers to look at, mix, and match various light fixtures from a lighting consultancy; more standard publishing services; and for helping tailor materials for emergency medical training services.

These days, the medium, as they say, is the message, and in that regard “publishing” has taken on a new meaning in the digital age. Whereas in the past it only referred to materials prepared for print, such as books, magazines and newspapers, these days it can be any kind of content prepared for the web or any other endpoint where it will not only be “read” but potentially manipulated in some way, and likely also changed by the producers as well. The very un-static nature of that content makes it fun and interesting, but also a pain to manage.

Sanity has a notable origin that speaks to how it has always given a wide berth and prime positioning to the sanctity of content. It was built originally by an agency in Oslo, Norway, as part of a remit to rethink and recast how to present works for a new website for OMA, the architecture firm co-founded by the iconic Dutch designer Rem Koolhaas. 

The information matrix and content management system concept that they put together was strong enough to use the agency to build more sites using the CMS, and eventually the firm spun Sanity out as its own independent firm, founded by Even Westvang, Hillestad, Oyvind Rostad and Simen Svale Skogsrud.

Part of the team, including Hillestad, relocated to the Bay Area to build the startup and integrate it deeper with the bigger tech ecosystem in the region and build out the concept under a SaaS model, while others remained in Oslo.

In its move to the US, Sanity has over the past few years been tapping into a growing market for services to enable those who rely on the web to do business do it in a more creative and dynamic way.

“A decade ago, I co-founded WP Engine with the goal of bringing the power of WordPress to the enterprise and small business buyer,” said Metcalfe in a statement. “Not only are we moving away from monolithic codebases to API-driven services, but the way we think about content is changing; as we create once and expect it to appear across web, apps and even IoT devices. Sanity has reimagined the headless CMS, bringing content closer to the developer where it can exist as the defacto content system of record across an entire organization. With CMS so close to my roots, I couldn’t be more delighted that Sanity is the inaugural investment for Monochrome Capital.”

It is not the only company in this wider area getting a lot of attention. Last week, Shogun — which focuses only on e-commerce and front-end design, raised $35 million. Others include Commercetools, Commerce Layer, Strapi, Contentful, and ContentStack. Sanity stands out partly by keeping its focus wider than e-commerce and by not using the words “content” or “commerce” in its name.

“We’re seeing a tidal wave of companies transform and digitize every aspect of their business, but the tools they use limit their progress,” said Josh Stein, partner, Threshold Ventures, in a statement. “Sanity’s content platform liberates content and content owners by enabling a truly collaborative and customizable experience, while treating content as data to maximize content velocity across all customer touchpoints and surfaces. We’re excited to back the Sanity team and their impressive developer-focused content management platform.”

Stein and Jesse Robbins, a partner at Heavybit, are both joining Sanity’s board of directors with this round.

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