Interview with Justin Cooper, Passenger

Last week, Los Angeles-based Passenger ( raised $8.3M in a funding round from Steamboat Ventures, Shelter Capital Partners and StarVest Partners. We spoke with Justin Cooper, the firm's chief innovation and marketing officer, about the firm and the funding. Ben Kuo conducted the interview.

Congrats on the funding. For people who aren't familiar with Passenger, what does your company do and what do you offer to brands?

Justin Cooper: Passenger's software-as-a-service enables simple deployment of private brand communities that provide companies with actionable insight to drive their business, while empowering consumers through ownership of ideas. Passenger's patent-pending technology platform is designed for those that view their customers not merely as a target, but as an integral part of their business process. Passenger is an easy to deploy, web-based software that combines the best collaboration and social networking tools into one single platform.

What are you going to use this round of funding for?

Justin Cooper: We will be using the capital to accelerate sales, marketing and product development efforts. Additionally, we will use the funds to build a New York presence in order to organically grow the footprint of the company.

That's very interesting--we've been seeing a number of Los Angeles companies opening up New York offices recently. Why New York?

Justin Cooper: Our business is growing rapidly. New York is the epicenter of the advertising/marketing industry and to expand our business with the right employee talent we believe securing a New York footprint is the right decision.

There seems to be a lot of companies showing up in this area recently, how is Passenger different and why do companies use you instead of others?

Justin Cooper: There are a handful of companies that build custom communities on a case by case basis, many companies who offer social networking, and handful of companies that offer collaboration tools like WebEx - but none of these companies brings the best of those worlds together. We offer both a synchronous and asynchronous environment that is delivered software-as-a-service, so our customers benefit from ongoing upgrades and key learnings from other brands. We're certainly not in a market of one, but nobody hits our space directly.

What's the story behind the company and how it was founded?

Justin Cooper: Passenger is a privately held start-up based in Los Angeles, California, and was founded in 2005 by Andrew Leary, Chief Executive Officer, and Justin Cooper, Chief Innovation + Marketing (myself). The roots of Passenger stem back to early 2002, when Andrew and I met while developing consumer advocacy programs for one of the world's largest mobile phone companies. Over the next few years, we continued to observe the changing marketplace; specifically the proactive role that consumers were taking in both marketing and product innovation. Identifying a real shift in the consumer dynamic, we brought our collective expertise in customer-driven marketing and pioneering spirit to form Passenger; determined to bridge the gap between brands and their most valued assets - their customers.

Finally, how far along is your product and when can we expect to see people using it?

Justin Cooper: We deployed our first community platform in November of 2006 and announced the company in February 2007. It is currently being deployed by customers such as ABC Studios, Coke and one of the world's leading social networks.


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