Enjoy free beer at tech events? You can thank Sponsorfied later

If you live and play in San Francisco, chances are you regularly enjoy free brews and nibbles courtesy of cash-flush tech startups.

Sponsorfied, the company that has been operating under the radar to bring sponsorship to hundreds of tech events, has launched its public beta. The stand-out Y Combinator startup (from the incubator’s most recent spring batch) has developed partnerships with over 20 brands, including Popchips, Dot Cloud, Red Bull, and Task Rabbit.

These brands have an existing marketing budget to sponsor events, and are looking to gain exposure and reach tech geeks in the Bay Area. That’s where Sponsorfied steps in.

“We function like matchmakers, connecting brands with the right audience,” said Cullen Wilson, the company’s CEO and co-founder, in a phone interview.

Wilson tells me that his startup functions a bit like a dating site. Sponsorship-seekers fill out a custom form with basic information about their event or opportunity, and the team curates submissions for the database. Partner brands can then go into that database to pick and choose their favorite events to sponsor, based on pre-existing criteria like location and event type.

By focusing on one vertical — tech — Sponsorfied usually makes a successful match. Over 90 percent of events get sponsored, usually between $500 to $1000 in the form of food, booze or cash. Typical events include launch parties, hackathons and startup-hosted fundraisers.

Sponsorfied made a splash at SXSW this year, when it raised over $150,000 in sponsorship for unofficial events. Wilson told me the company gained the respect of the tech community that week for its unrivaled ability to produce free booze at the last minute. Days before the festival, it was approached by Launchrock, a San Francisco-based startup, for sponsorship of that company’s week-long SXSW festivities. Launchrock’s founders filled out the form — and voila. (There was a bonus too: Wilson told me there were cases of beer left over.)

Above: Sponsorfied’s founders (L-R): David Matthews, Baldwin Cunningham, Stuart Ross, and Cullen Wilson.

Before you get carried away, Sponsorfied will not fund your Mexican-themed birthday party bus. Unless you happen to be Mark Zuckerberg, birthday parties are not typically sponsorship-worthy occasions. However, events can be impromptu and fun, as brands are often looking to connect with 20-somethings audiences.

Wilson said it has been a tough balancing act to pick and choose events, which may prove problematic as the company scales. Another hurdle to expansion is that one of the founders attends every event to take photos, video, and catalog the experience for brands. In the future, Sponsorfied plans to build a platform to track and consolidate communication, incoming requests, and post-sponsorship feedback so their physical presence may no longer be required.

Next on the roadmap is to tackle new market opportunities outside of events, the company’s “bread and butter.” The team is eking out opportunities for high-profile bloggers and journalists in the form of sponsored posts. Wilson’s sister is a musician, so the team is also working to match indie bands with potential sponsors.

As an aside, Wilson disclosed a tidbit to VentureBeat that the company is stepping up its relationship with Popchips, the maker of fluffy air-popped “potato” “chips,” to push the limits of sponsorship.

“The idea is to do a case study that shows a brand like Popchips can use Sponsorfied to launch a brand new product line strategically, make a large impact on their target market (tech startups), and do it without any work on their part,” Wilson explained.

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