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These Norwegian Entrepreneurs are Out to Kill ‘Monolithic’ Content Management Systems

  • Sanity want to build a content-management system for the connected age.

  • The Oslo startup think existing CMS’s impose a way of working that is counterproductive and slow.

  • Sanity was founded out of one of Norway's most prominent digital agencies, Bengler. The startup offers a content engine that treats all content as ‘structured data’, which makes it easier to tailor for various channels.

  • Both humans and machines can collaborate on the same content in real-time.

  • Used among architects, startups and media firms, Sanity recently added funding to scale globally.

“Most people working today don’t even want to think about their CMS systems. I think it’s obvious that existing solutions been stuck in the late 90’s for many years,” says Even Westvang, Sanity CPO.

Sanity was founded from the “personal discomfort” of Westvang and his team of digital experts, who had noticed how draining content management could be for creators and developers, and how much time and money ultimately was wasted inside companies. 

“Traditional CMS's are a pain point for organizations, and a painful thing that content creators and managers just have to live with.”

Sanity has built a CMS from first principles

Digital content increasingly flows through not only websites, but also smartphones, video and social-media platforms. This means that “monolithic” content management systems such as Episerver or WordPress are falling behind development, according to Simen Svale Skogsrud, CTO. 

“For many companies, the website becomes the primary source of truth on what they’re doing,” says Skogsrud. “What you should do is structure your content around what your company actually tries to achieve – the projects, the people and the clients – and get rid of the page as the organizing principle.”

Sanity enables teams to collaborate on content in real-time.

Using structured data as raw material, Sanity serves as a content engine that lets enterprises centralize all content creation and take into account new technologies and platforms.

A backend database connects via APIs to smartphones, webpages or even for the designs of coffee table books.

“We are centralizing content storage and handling so that it can be used across organizations,” says Svale Skogsrud. ”The structured content enables you to start content creation without knowing the exact visual design. It’s all about what the content means.”

A digital agency turned startup

Sanity’s roots lie in one of Norway’s most prominent digital agencies of recent, Bengler. After more than 20 years existence, Bengler's team last year decided to focus full-time on building the Sanity software, and pour all their IP into the new company.

The ‘aha’ moment was a project between Bengler and Dutch architects OMA, founded by Rem Koolhaas.

Using a comprehensive database containing metadata  images of architecture, presentations, books, crediting and timelines  OMA was able to build their website, business development tools and print-ready portfolios for clients  from the same data source.

Sanity's 'Content Studio' is a web application that enables teams to collaborate on content in real-time.

One undertaking was creating a real-time narrative of how OMA-designed buildings changed over time.

“Working with structured data let us unlock achievements like looking up their buildings on Instagram over APIs and adding a content curation interface to the CMS to allow adding them into the data repository, and onto the website. Along with external news sources and their own activity we created a real-time narrative of how their works are being used,” says Øyvind Rostad, COO.

Another early client is Konsus, an Y-Combinator alumnus which used Sanity to build a modular landing page generator for their marketing team. Sanity also works with MIT’s program in Art, Culture and Techology (ACT) for an image archive and website for the Centre for Advanced Visuals Studies (CAVS).

Reusable content is king

Sanity is also out to address another key problem the team had encountered: once your content has been distributed, it’s often difficult to make meaningful changes.

“Sanity lets you repurpose content that’s landlocked inside marketing and PR across APIs to serve different needs throughout the organization,” says Rostad.

Various ‘headless CMS’ solutions on the market are doing just that, but Sanity says it goes further in allowing companies to make content an integral part of digital product rollouts and communication strategies.

“Often product innovation is hampered by how content is handled. If content writers or product owners want something changed, it’s now possible to do so quickly,” says Magnus Hillestad, CEO.  

Magnus Hillestad, Sanity CEO.

Sanity is now scaling up its offering following a recent $1.1 million seed round from prominent Nordic tech investors and founders.

"Sanity's features play into several key emerging trends, particularly in regards to being real-time with strong automated content capability which allows users and machines to write simultaneously with all updates happening in real-time," says Neil Murray, an angel investor in Sanity through his fund The Nordic Web Ventures.

Magnus Hillestad says demand has been particularly strong among enterprises in the Nordics. But the company is aiming to become a rare Norwegian tech success story globally, as it prepares for a larger funding round and relocating core parts of the founding team to San Francisco next year.

As it does so, Sanity wants not only to reduce reliance on existing enterprise CMS systems, but also to unlock a new market around creative uses of structured content.

“We want to be a category-defining company, a content infrastructure that opens up whole new markets,” says Hillestad.

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