Could This Meme-Minded Startup Be the ‘Weather Channel for the Mobile Generation’?

Poncho claims it is and hopes to lure brands

Austin, Texas—With all the brands at South by Southwest Interactive, the conference seems like the place to be for startups in need of ad dollars. 

With that in mind, digital weather service Poncho has joined forces with established dance music publication Mixmag to show off the branded opportunities the former can offer. With the partnership, Poncho's app users can set their alarms during SXSW with sounds from emerging musicians. (Poncho and Mixmag are also holding a party on Saturday at which Dallas-based artist Norvis Junior will DJ).

"There are many [such features] that could have brand partnerships," said James Cooper, Poncho's chief creative officer. "For South by Southwest, we decided to switch out the normal [alarm] music with some great undiscovered artists that Mixmag provided. That's what [the festival] is all about."


Ryan McKone, head of brand partnerships at the 34-year-old Mixmag, said the two very different companies pulled the project together in less than a month. 

"I've always believed in collaborations that allow partners to play to their strengths," McKone said, "especially when those strengths are disciplines that you and/or your company don't necessarily have or specialize in."

Two-year-old Poncho, which has picked up 500,000 users for its daily weather text messages and launched a smartphone app in February, seems ready for its monetization phase.

The New York company last month forged its first major brand partnership, inking a deal with General Electric. Poncho has since been occasionally including information from GE's Ecomagination initiative to its weather forecasts, and the infused topics have ranged from energy conservation to local weather patterns. Poncho users, who regularly see memes in their weather reports, are also getting GE branded experiences that include emojis and other multimedia. 

"The long-term goal for Poncho is to be the Weather Channel for the mobile generation," Cooper said. 

His company—which competes with other weather startups like Dark Sky, SkyMotion and WeatherSphere—likes to add a strong dose of breezy humor to its daily reports. Here's an example from a Brooklyn, N.Y., forecast a few days ago:

To Do: buy eggs, return breezy mid 70s temps, apologize to Melissa, pick up dry cleaning, replace Melissa's *precious* snow globe.

Meanwhile, it could be argued that SXSW Interactive has evolved into a branding conference after being founded as a tech festival. Read our in-depth report on how the show in Central Texas has changed significantly over the years and why it still matters.