Meet Narrativ, the startup revolutionizing how digital media drives commerce

Narrativ founder and CEO, Shirley Chen, has an audacious goal. She’s rebuilding the online media and commerce space to serve consumers instead of big corporations.

She calls it “a better Internet for shoppers”an eCommerce environment where retailers vigorously compete for clicks, access to information about products is perfect, and users never experience a dreaded out-of-stock link or demoralizing “404 Not Found” page.Narrativ-Representative-Photo

To Chen, the current state of play is awash in subpar experiences for everyone. On the consumer side, 40% of links go to out-of-stock or dead landing pages, and users struggle to find the best prices. For merchants, 65% of web traffic is monopolized by Amazon, which blocks other players from access to the fastest growing acquisition channel in retail.

Publishers aren’t faring much better. Current attribution models badly undervalue their role, treating them like last click coupon sites, rather than an extension of Google search. Publishers also lack access to data from retailers to optimize commerce content.

Enter Narrativ. “We are building a suite of technology products to fix these externalities, beginning with our patent pending SmartLink,” explains Chen. SmartLink rewires previously static links in content into what Chen describes as a “multi-lane highway that only connects consumers with in-stock products, at the best price, on the most relevant retailers.”

Chen believes that retail is undergoing its most transformative time since the dawn of eCommerce and media is experiencing its most drastic evolution since Guttenberg unveiled the printing press. A lot of this is due to the massive upheaval of the advertising-industrial complex that has created poor experiences for users in both eCommerce and digital media.

“When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he went broke, he responded: ‘gradually, then suddenly.’ We believe a similar reckoning is coming for disruptive digital advertisements based on hyper-targeting. We all know how creepy it is when we look at something online, and then all of a sudden we get an ad for it. Overall, we think the next five years will see the creation of more sustainable internet advertising, driven by contextual rather than behavioral targeting.”

Asked about a defining moment in the growth of her company, Chen points to the day she was asked by one of her investors how Narrativ could play in a field dominated by Facebook and Google. “I found that question thrilling. We had been thinking about competitors as companies and startups in our immediate space, but hadn’t put our company in league with the ‘Big Four’ [Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google].

It forced me to ask myself why we were building Narrativ at all. It has never been about creating a marginally better product. It was about rethinking and transforming an entire industry.”

Chen attributes Narrativ’s impressive acceleration to this elevation of ambitions. In 2018, the company added marquis publishers such as Buzzfeed, Wirecutter and Hearst, while being honored as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. “We’ve achieved strong product-market fit with SmartLink, technology that democratizes a silent $25 billion monopoly to Amazon assembled at the expense of publishers.”

In 2019 Narrativ expects to build on its success with the introduction of its second product, Slingshot. The ultimate vision is to fully integrate commerce and content into a single network, creating a competitive market for products with perfect access to information, distributed everywhere.

Chen’s advice to new entrepreneurs: “I’d encourage them to set their sights on their ‘big game.’”