Pinterest Scoops Up Team Behind Mobile Ad Tech Startup

May 3, 2016, 5:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Pinterest

Pinterest’s efforts to become a serious ad-based business continue as it scoops up some of the talent behind mobile advertising startup URX.

On Tuesday, Pinterest announced that roughly half of URX’s team, including co-founder and CEO John Milinovich, will be joining the company, which is best known as an online pin board for searching for, collecting, and organizing images. Though Pinterest declined to share terms of the deal, URX was valued at $40 million when it raised its last round of funding in 2014. A Pinterest spokeswoman confirmed that the company has not acquired any of URX’s assets or technology.

Founded in 2013, San Francisco-based URX was born when so-called “deep-linking” technology, which connects mobile apps to each other at specified points, was getting increasing attention from small and big companies alike as consumer habits shifted from desktop to mobile. That also means a shift from websites to apps, and deep linking offers a mobile equivalent to the web’s hyperlinks. URX uses deep linking to inject rich ads or content into its partner publishers’ apps, including links to purchase event tickets through SeatGeek, links to a particular song on a music streaming service like Spotify, or a suggested item through shopping app Wish, for example.

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Along with startups like URX and competitor Quixey, others are harnessing deep links for various uses like Button, Yozio, and Branch Metrics. Large companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have also been building their own tools to let developers more easily link mobile apps.

With that said, it’s still the early days, or at least when it comes to making a business out of it. Earlier this year, for example, Quixey reportedly missed its quarterly revenue target, according to tech news site Re/code, which also first reported rumors of URX’s acquisition last month. With that in mind, it’s no surprise much of URX’s team is jumping over to Pinterest, where it can put its skills to good use.

As for Pinterest, though it’s not acquiring URX’s assets, its acquisition of its talent might reveal some clues about what it has in mind for the future. While Pinterest is heavily linked to online commerce because of the strong traffic it drives to merchants’ websites and its “buy button,” the company has said it plans to make its money entirely from ads, which it first began to sell two year ago.

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As such, it wouldn’t be surprising if it wants to explore ways to export links to its content into other apps or publishers, and build a bonafide third-party advertising platform, much like Facebook’s Audience Network.

On Monday, Pinterest went back on its earlier decision to narrow the categories of its advertisers, and said it’s now open to all categories. Along with its recent focus on international user growth, Pinterest is also gearing up to start selling ads outside the U.S. later this year.

Milinovich founded URX with Andrew Look, James Turner, and Nathanael Smith. In total, the startup raised $15 million in funding from investors such as Accel, First Round Capital, CrunchFund, and GV.

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