Today we are thrilled to have William Mougayar, Founder and CEO of Engagio, as our latest guest blogger here at StartupFlavor. William previously founded Eqentia. He has 30 years of experience in the high-tech industry with both large and small companies. William’s many credits include unique items such as making over 3,400 comments on one of the Internets most popular venture capital blogs, Fred Wilson’s own AVC.com. WOW. As you’ll see, he’s gained significant influence as a daily commenter there. More importantly, William is building a really cool business and has a great story to tell.
My start-up Engagio is pretty focused on one objective: letting users manage their online conversations across the fragmented Social Web.
We have been in the fast lane of startup land. We produced a minimum viable product in 8 weeks and opened access to alpha users right away. 30 days later, we were funded with a $540K seed investment from VC’s and Angels in the US and Canada. A month after that, we took down the alpha and beta status and opened the service totally. Four months after the first line of code was written, we’re starting to look like a mature startup with thousands of active users.
There’s a story behind our evolution, and it’s tightly related to the future of the Social Web.
For the readers of StartupFlavor I’d like to share this story, my beliefs on the Social Web, and a few lessons learned along the way.
The Value of Social Capital
It started in the fall of 2008 when I became inspired by Howard Lindzon, founder of StockTwits, as I heard him speak at a startup conference. He recounted how he met venture capitalist Fred Wilson a few years earlier just by commenting on his blog. Howard explained the value of Social Capital as a critical by-product of the Social Web.
The next day, I started commenting on Fred Wilson’s blog, and gradually increased my participation because I was seeing increasing value from interacting with the other commenters. I firmly believed that every comment was an implicit linkage to a person and a potential relationship waiting to blossom.
Since that day, I have written about 3,400 comments on AVC.com – an average of 3 per day, receiving 1,800+ Likes, and dozens of real world relationships with other frequent commenters I’ve met on that blog. This proved that if you invest in building relationships online, there are long-term benefits you can gain. That’s Social Capital at work.
In September of 2011, Fred nominated two members of his blog community as moderators, and I was one of them. The value of Social Capital became even clearer to me, as I was seeing the value of commenting and social engagement on the web work in my favor. But my social engagement was pretty scattered on the Social Web across other blogs and social networks, and I started to realize that this wasn’t manageable anymore.
I thought there must be a better way to manage the multiplicity of interactions across the social web. So I came up with the idea for Engagio. It was a deceptively simple idea, one based on the fact that we are entering a phase of fragmentation of the Social Web. And we needed better tools to manage this fragmentation of conversations. I ran the idea of developing an Inbox for social conversations by Fred Wilson who liked it and encouraged me to make it happen. The next day, I turned to my team and we developed the first version of Engagio approximately eight weeks later.
The Future of the Social Web
To see the future of the Social Web, you have to look at the layers of its composition like the layers of a cake. At the beginning, there was the Social Stream, and it was full of disorganized information. So, we developed Listening and Monitoring tools to better see what’s in that stream. Then, we discovered it was noisy. So, we started implementing social gestures such as Liking and Sharing to help us bubble-up more signal from that noise. It worked, but today we wanted more value from the Social Web.
This new value is coming from Social Engagement, which is the act of replying to someone and discussing something with them. Engagement is a high-value social gesture in the Social Web and it enables you to potentially develop meaningful relationships with the people behind these online interactions.
We need more signal and less noise from the Social Web. And value will follow these signals. Ultimately, social engagement will empower us,- the average consumer, because we are the ones leading the next generation. We are the ones leading the debates, discourse and discussions about the future of the world we are living in.
This future is being shaped in front of us, and by us, on the Social Web. So, we need the tools to help us do that efficiently, regularly and decisively.
Startup Lessons from the Trenches
Engagio was my second recent startup. I had spent 3 years previously building out Eqentia, a content curation and publishing platform, with mild successes. But the learnings were tremendous. Everything I learned and did/didn’t do in the first startup is embedded in the second one. You can’t fake experience, and you can’t manufacture lessons. They are in the scars, the notches on your belt, the stars on your shoulder and they are who you are.
Here are a few lessons I’d like to share.
1. Don’t Polish a Bad Idea
The simpler the starting point idea and the simpler you can articulate it, the better it is. If you’re spending too much time wordsmithing the positioning statement or messaging, then maybe you need to change course. Polishing a bad idea won’t make it shine.
2. Relationships Don’t Matter
They don’t. You may have hundreds of relationships that aren’t giving you any benefits. Few relationships bear fruit in terms of value offered. The relationship itself doesn’t matter, but the trust in it does, therefore trusted relationships do matter. I knew a lot of people, but few were really trusted enough that they would do something for me. With trust comes exceptions and a lot of doors open in front of you.
3. Beware of Selling to the Enterprise
Unless the enterprise user is behaving like a consumer, you’ll have a tough time selling to the enterprise unless you’re a large company already, or have raised a lot of money as a startup. As enticing as enterprise users are, selling them a solution that requires group approvals, and long budget cycles will kill any startup, no matter how good their product is. The only way to penetrate the enterprise is by having a simple SaaS-based product that individual users can try and purchase on their own without asking anyone.
4. Don’t Believe Your Own Story
Let others believe in it. That’s more powerful. You need to step outside of what you are developing and believe in the reality check that outsiders will give you. They will see things you don’t, especially if they are users.
5. Growth is What Matters
Startup growth is measured in dog years, and you must have a sense of urgency about it. It’s the #1 priority of a startup. If you don’t grow daily, your chances of success diminish. A startup exists to make something out of nothing. You’re a creator, and you must start to occupy a space that didn’t exist before. Growth is a daily habit, not a quarterly goal.
6. Go Help Someone
If you’re having a good day, and believe you’re making progress, go help someone that needs your help. You owe it to the ecosystem that made you where you are.
Next time you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or a blog, don’t just share, re-tweet or like that piece of content or comment. Rather, engage with the other person, debate them, disagree with them, and start a conversation. You never know where it will lead you. Speaking of which, I’d love to connect with you. Find me here on Engagio.