A group of seasoned Austin technology entrepreneurs and executives are announcing the formation of their new company, Mass Relevance, to help consumer brand use real-time social content to drive engagement on television, the web, and in the mobile world. The team has already secured nearly $2 Million in Series A financing from Mike Maples new firm FLOODGATE, and Austin Ventures. So far the news has been covered on TechCrunch, and in the Statesman.
That team includes former Dell executive and founding CMO of Bazaarvoice Sam Decker, who is CEO of the new company. He’s joined by Brian Dainton and Eric Falcao, two seasoned Ruby developers who will hold the titles of Director of Products, and Director of Platform. The advisory team is made up of industry experts and visionaries such as Ze Frank, former editor of Ad Age Jonah Bloom, and Brad Berens, Ph.D., Chief Content Officer for ad:tech.
“The number one thing that I learned at Bazaarvoice is that people pay attention to content from others, and they will tune in to brands that facilitate this content as part of the experiences they create,” said Decker. “However, given the overwhelming number of conversations coming in from all directions all at once, it’s often impossible to focus a lens on the ones that are most relevant for a given time, place, audience and outcome. There is a tremendous opportunity to bring the most relevant content from the masses, to the masses – in real-time, wherever they spend their time.”
We asked Mike Maples about his investments in Austin. “I have been very surprised at Austin’s strength in “IT consumerization” – ideas that combine business software value with consumer internet distribution ideas,” he said. “Companies like Mass Relevance as well as SolarWinds, Spiceworks, Bazaarvoice, SocialWare, and many others have shown that Austin can lead the way and be world-class in these types of opportunities.” What does one of the most successful venture investors in the country look for in an investment? “In the case of Mass Relevance, we were impressed both by Sam Decker and his track record and what the team had accomplished, as well as the explosive market potential of being the first important business software company to leverage the Twitter ecosystem.”
Legendary venture investor and General Partner at Austin Ventures John Thornton told us, “Social content has tremendous potential to drive a new level of consumer engagement on media, entertainment and retail properties – but the market needs a startup with expertise in both social and enterprise tech in order turn the promise into reality. Mass Relevance is this company.”
We had the opportunity to ask Sam a few questions about the new company.
Q: There are many Austin entrepreneurs who are out raising money, and within weeks of leaving Bazaarvoice you’re announcing an A round. To what do you attribute that rapid success?
It didn’t happen all in one month, though the funding came together very quickly. I’ve been exploring ideas to work with these guys for a while because they are incredible developers. Investors look at three factors for funding: the market size/velocity, the idea/solution that solves a problem, and if it’s a winning team. Once I left Bazaarvoice, and I was able to spend more time with these guys, the stars aligned on all three factors very quickly. We’re in the first inning of social. The space we’re going after is big, which is bringing realtime relevant conversations, social content and participation wherever there’s a digital experience. Starting with the three of us, we’re building the best team in the industry to go after this. And it didn’t hurt that I had prior relationships with our investors.
Q: Your co-founders have been working on some technology in their spare time. Does this prove the “garage startup” is a valid way to get off the ground?
I’ve gotten to know a lot of startups, through Capital Factory, being on boards, and advising companies. Some started with funding and some were bootstrap. There’s no right answer because it depends on the entrepreneurs situation and the capital requirements to build to traction. The source, size and valuation when funding determines how big of a company you’re claiming to build. In a garage situation, it’s all about solution and market validation that helps determine how big something can be. It’s fine if developers start on a small idea to learn, but they should be thinking big from the beginning and the small idea is a first step. If it’s a tremendously cash-flow positive idea from the start (ex: coupon site), then they may not need funding. Otherwise, you determine if your space is growing and you have the right idea and team to win, then get funding to help ensure you get to the top faster than everyone else.
You can’t discount serendipity and relationships. The three developers who built TweetRiver, the flagship product of Mass Relevance, included my two co-founders, Brian Dainton and Eric Falcao, and Barry Cox (who will be an advisor to the company). For 18 months they worked Tuesday nights, building this product slowly, and were able to eventually get a few clients to prove the technology worked and was preferred over other solutions. This was enough to prove traction and market interest. Barry and I have been talking for over a year about TweetRiver, as I’ve had a lot of thoughts about where social and user generated content is going. The ideas, market and relationships were in place, coming together at the right time. The market caught up to them, I became available, and we decided to form a new company to go after a big vision with more than a minimally viable product. It’s a great situation that gave us a a head start, and funding can now be spent on “go to market” (i.e. revenue) and innovation that large entertainment, media and retail clients will buy.
Q: Only a small fraction of social status messages (like tweets) get viewed. Is there real value in that data?
That’s exactly the point. More user generated and social content is being created than we can consume. The future is in finding relevance, curating for context, and syndicating this to the right audience at the right place. A good analogy of the value of all this data is like web analytics. If there’s only two web analytics report you view about your web site, is there value in the rest of the log data? Of course there is, you’re just not getting at it. We know that there’s tremendous untapped value in data, as there is in social content. The value is in how to aggregate, curate, display relevant content, create participation around the conversation, and analyze how it drives real business metrics. And it’s more than just technology. We have the expertise, service and support to make this work for large companies.
Q: If you can successfully curate social data at scale, what might you then do with it?
This is where things get exciting, because what we’re building can be and will be seen anywhere there’s a conversation around a topic. Some examples… We recently served up the Tweets that were seen on Nickelodeon Halo Awards show. You could see them live on TV as well as on their web site. You can watch NFL football live on the web, and see and real-time conversation about the game, ask questions to football gurus, and see which team is getting the most commentary. Imagine being in the stadium and seeing tweets from the people at the game on the jumbotron, with highlighted tweets from gurus, press or family of players. Or going to an event like SXSW and accessing relevant conversations about any panel going on through your smartphone. Or going to the store and seeing an LCD display of recommendations from shoppers on what to buy. Just think about any topic that has a conversation from the masses, or you could create from the masses. Then curate for relevance and bring it back out to the masses through any display. That’s Mass Relevance.