Tag: Austin startup

Mass Relevance plans to triple in growth in 2012

In the old days, people yelled at their TVs.
In the digital age, people can tweet their opinion to a television show.
And the show just might tweet back with a special offer or advertisement.
That’s the sweet spot of an Austin-based startup called Mass Relevance.
“It’s a growing trend to integrate social conversations into content streams and advertising,” said Sam Decker, the company’s founder and CEO.
Recently, Mass Relevance worked with Paramount Pictures for the release of Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol movie with a “Flock to unlock” social media campaign. People who shared content about the movie on Twitter or Facebook earned a reward. They got to watch a special clip of the movie in advance of its release. That kind of campaign can increase brand awareness while engaging an audience, Decker said.
Mass Relevance, which has 20 employees, now has 100 clients that use its real-time social media curation platform. It also signed a deal with Twitter in November that officially made Mass Relevance Twitter’s first curation partner licensed to re-syndicate Twitter content.
“We’ve been working with them over the years, working with them in parallel,” Decker said. “For us, it just formalized the relationship.”
In addition to publishing Twitter content, content publishers working with Mass Relevance can earn money from the content through sponsorships and advertising.
“Media companies are tied to creating and curating an audience,” Decker said. “Twitter can be part of their audience to drive advertising dollars.”
Mass Relevance’s platform allows content publishers to create new revenue streams around curated and integrated experiences on TV, web, mobile and large screen displays. Mass Relevance’s platform allows publishers to aggregate; filter and moderate content in real time and then broadcast it to an audience.
Mass Relevance’s clients include NBC Sports, NFL Football, Cisco, Samsung, and Pepsi and media companies like CNN, Boston Global, New York Times and Washington Post. Sports teams using the platform include the New York Giants, San Francisco Giants and the Boston Celtics.
President Obama even used Mass Relevance’s platform when he did his Twitter Town Hall last July. And television shows like NBC’s The Voice and Fox’s The X-Factor used Mass Relevance’s platform to get real-time feedback on air from the at home audience.
“The whole idea here is there are more and more people participating and creating real-time content,” Decker said.
But the advertising networks have not kept pace with new ways of delivering content, Decker said.
“This is just the first inning for media companies to create much more integrated social experiences for their audiences,” Decker said. “They haven’t maximized the potential of the platform yet.”
Working after hours in Austin coffee shops, developers Barry Cox, Brian Dainton and Eric Falcao started TweetRiver, a social media curation platform, in 2009, according to Mass Relevance’s “Our Story.” Then Decker, who had left his job as chief marketing officer at Bazaarvoice, joined them. All of them became founders of what evolved to become Mass Relevance except Cox who remains a strategic advisor.
A year ago, Mass Relevance raised $2.2 million in a large seed stage round of funding from Austin Ventures, Floodgate and angel investors.
In 2012, Mass Relevance plans to seek another round of funding, but Decker declined to state the amount. The funds will go to expand Mass Relevance’s business.
“We’re looking to roughly triple in growth,” Decker said.
Mass Relevance plans to hire 20 to 30 people in 2012 including developers, sales people and client account managers.
“We’re nearing profitability and forecast to be so next year,” Decker said. “We’ve proven out the model and now it’s about scaling it and growing it much bigger.”

Innovation in Austin: Sam Decker from Springbox on Vimeo.

Q. For 400 points, which Austin startup is poised to take off? A. Ricochet Labs

Rodney Gibbs, CEO of Ricochet Labs

Special contributor to Silicon Hills News

CEO Rodney Gibbs calls it “a scrappy little startup.” But Ricochet Labs got on the radar fast with its social-mobile-knowledge based game, Qrank.
The company was barely in its alpha stage when the BBC called on Ricochet to create Qrank trivia games surrounding the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton to engage its audience. Esquire magazine listed Qrank among its “80 people, places and ideas that matter right now.” And the University of Texas used it to test knowledge retention. So imagine what will happen when the company really goes live in first quarter 2012.

“That’s when we’ll begin offering it for third party use for people who have some form of content who are struggling with how to engage people using a mobile device,” said Gibbs.

Considering that knowledge and trivia games have been around forever—Gibbs says it goes back to Socrates–it’s kind of amazing that Qrank has taken the world so by storm. On the other hand, maybe it’s not. Qrank–which Ricochet Labs calls a social-mobile, location-aware platform–is a knowledge based game you can play anywhere, any time against friends, acquaintances, or strangers, on Facebook, your mobile phone or the web. The game can be built around any kind of content. It can center on a place: on a topic like politics, the arts or pop culture, or it can mix it all up. You might get a question about where you can play Chicken Shit Bingo in Austin, with a question about a recently deceased dictator, another about who wrote Canterbury Tales and another about the founders of H&R Block tax company.

And it’s new every time you play it, which is a secret to its success. Ricochet prides itself on having 30-40 percent new content every time, much of it current events.
“You see it in your morning paper, and there it is on the game,” Gibbs said.

The company curates a Qrank game all its own but it has also worked with several alpha clients to create games around those clients’ content. Instead of just words or videos as a content medium, Qrank snags customers and potential customers, getting them competing against each other, rewarding them with a squirt of dopamine and a ranking among their peers. Ricochet plans, by early 2012, to roll out a scaleable version for companies that want a new way to engage customers, on down to individuals creating a game for Mom and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary.

One of Qrank’s alpha clients was the Texas Tribune, whose Qrank game lets readers compete over Tribune knowledge. At the end of the month, the paper gives a prize to the ranking Qranker. In December, it’s an electric guitar. Analytics says 300-to-500 people finish the game every day. The numbers rise if you add in the players who don’t finish.

“Part of the mission of the Texas Tribune is to create a more informed, aware Texas population…and one way to do that is incentivize participation with fun and humor. That’s how the Daily Show (with Jon Stewart) works,” said Reeve Hamilton, the Tribune reporter who has taken on the job of creating the Tribune’s Qrank content.

As the official Qrank curator for the paper, Hamilton creates a dozen questions based on the news from the day before and posts them to the Tribune’s Qrank game. But he started as a Qrank player.

“Everyone in the capitol community was playing this game,” he said. “We were in internal competition with each other. My goal was to beat my boss. I always used to tweet my score…that’s a bit gauche.”
“I think it’s more and more the rise of nerd culture,” Hamilton said. “I don’t really follow sports. I follow random bits of knowledge.”

Bits of knowledge are going back the other way, too. Higinio Maycotte, founder of Umbel and many other Austin startups, said his company mines information about players to provide a clear picture of who the Tribune’s audience is.
“It takes a reporter five minutes to write a question about an article he’s working on and immediately create a ton of engagement with very little effort,” he said. “We can provide really rich data back to the publication… we can tell them everything about their readers…we can tell them what (the readers) eat.”

Gibbs has a background in studying people and engaging content. He has a degree in sociology from Rice University and a master’s in fine arts from UT. A Houston native, he worked for a Public Broadcasting System channel in Chicago and as a screenwriter for various television productions before joining Human Code (now Sapient) writing stories for games.

“I love the story telling,” he said. “You have all these characters and they can make different choices based on who they meet along the way…writing for games is a lot like writing for television with all these people sitting around coming up with ideas and creating the script.”

From Human Code he launched his own company, Fizz Factor, which made handheld games for the DS. His game titles included the Incredible Hulk, Spongebob Squarepants and the Tale of Despereaux. In 2004, Amaze Entertainment, looking to expand, set it sights on buying Fizz Factor and Gibbs worked as studio director. Then another technology caught his eye: the iPhone. He could see that the end was in sight for expensive, relatively static boxed games.

With his technical director at Fizz Factor, Michael Baird, he formed Ricochet Labs in 2009. They didn’t know, for awhile, what they meant to create. They liked the Foursquare idea, and knew they wanted a mobile game that was location based. And they knew they wanted something social and experiential. But what?

“We spent a lot of time talking to smart people,” Gibbs said. The company has four advisers with many credits to their names among them: Ross Fubini of Kapor Capital and Success Factors; Jason Goldman of Twitter and Google; Maycotte; Kip McClanahan of Silverton Partners and Tipping Point and Jason Reneau of Mindbites and Freemarkets. Baird and Gibbs traveled to the west coast to meet with those partners and talked to Maycotte and Reneau in Austin.

“We wanted to focus on a single solution,” Gibbs said. “These guys could talk to us about ‘Here’s what’s coming up, here’s what’s going on, this has been tried, people want that, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not, here’s an opportunity….’”

One of his inspirations was the Alamo Drafthouse Theater which had created trivia games for its customers. The trouble was, the games were labor intensive to create and only changed about once a month. That frustrated die hard Alamo fans who visited the theater more frequently. The cofounders knew that constantly changing content was key.

When Gibbs and Baird settled on an idea, they bootstrapped it for a bit. They raised $400,000 in the seed round in spring of 2010 and are preparing to go for a series A round in early 2012. Austin, Gibbs said, is perfect soil for starting something new. Tech businesses support each other rather than scavenging talent.

“One of the things I love about Austin,” Gibbs said, “is with so much entrepreneurialism going on here there’s an acceptance of failure. There really is a culture of ‘fail faster.’ So if you try something and it doesn’t work you can just try something else. You can use half of this idea and half of that and that might work. Which is great because it’s hard to put things out whole.”

Maycotte, one of the company’s advisers, even recommended that they get some early successes going with Qrank before making the game widely available for other company’s content.

This spring, Gibbs said, one of the top three game publishers is releasing a major mobile quiz title and the BBC has a game coming out, both based on Qrank’s technology. They’ll be branded in some way connected with Ricochet Labs or Qrank.

So, for 400 points: “Which scrappy Austin startup based in a funky office under the gables of an old building looks like it’s about to take off?”

9W Search creates a financial search site for mobile users

Susan Strausberg, CEO and co-founder of 9W Search in Austin

Susan Strausberg knows how to dig into financial information and make it accessible to the masses.
She founded Edgar Online in 1995, grew the company to 200 employees, took it public in 1999 and then left in 2007 to pursue other passions.
Two years ago, Strausberg and her husband, Marc, moved from New York to Austin and created a startup called 9W Search, a sophisticated financial search engine primarily for mobile users.
“We’re enabling a huge underserved market to access financial information in the easiest possible way,” Strausberg said during a recent interview and meeting at Lola Savannah coffeehouse in Austin. 9W provides key company information, five years of financial data, people information for each company, a live stock quote as well as footnotes to financial statements.
To illustrate the ease of use, Strausberg showed off 9W Search’s capabilities on her iPad. She compared the financial results of three companies: Rackspace, Dell and IBM. 9W Search’s database contains information on approximately 12,000 US public companies. The tool gave real-time financial results in an easy to understand format. It culled and compiled data like revenue per employee, market capitalization, share price, earnings and more.
What differentiates 9W Search from other financial search engines is its ability to pull select metrics that Strausberg has deemed extremely valuable from vast and incomprehensible amounts of online data. She has selected the metrics based on her years of experience in working with financial data.
9W Search has the ability to sort through all the data because of a new data standard, extensible Business Reporting Language, known as XBRL. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has mandated that companies provide financial statement information in this format which vastly improves the transparency of reported data. Strausberg’s former company, EDGAR Online, played a key role in making the data interactive by creating “sets of definitions, or taxonomies, to enable the automatic extraction and exchange of data. Interactive data taxonomies can be applied — much like bar codes are applied to merchandise — to allow computers to recognize that data and feed it into analytical tools,” according to the SEC.
“Most financial information companies have hand-keyed their data.,” Strausberg said. “This new technology changes the way we can take data and turn it into actionable information.”
That’s the sweet spot for 9W Search.
“9W Search identifies a manageable set of key financial items from the thousands of different data points that are important in accessing a company’s financial picture,” Strausberg said. “We democratize access to financial information and make it usable for the average person.”
Who wants access to this information?
“People who need to see a picture of the market at given moment in time, ” Strausberg said.
Sales people, potential employees researching a company, students, companies, analysts, private
wealth managers, individuals, nonprofit organizations, real estate agents, anyone who needs to
do financial research, she said.
“Data equals information, equals knowledge, equals power,” Strausberg said. “If anything, there is too much data, she said. “It’s difficult to do competitive analysis and complete research easily with most financial search sites. 9W Search culls the gems from the ocean of data and arms our users with actionable information.”
And what exactly does 9W Search mean? It’s an old Vaudeville joke, Strausberg said.
Here’s a version:
“9W is the answer to a question.What is the question?”
Q: “Herr Wagner, does your name begin with a V?”
A: “Nein, W!”
9W Search has four employees currently and is seeking $600,000 in funding to further develop and market its product, Strausberg said. The company has a pilot test of the search engine available on its website. 9W Search plans to first provide a free version and subsequently charge for later releases.

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