Engagio: A Startup Story and the Future of Engagement on the Web

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.

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About William Mougayar

  • great post william. i can see the lessons you learned the hard way paying dividends now

    • Thanks Fred. I always valued and appreciated your support along the way.

  • Porter Haney

    Thanks for sharing those lessons William. Fun to see the evolution from Fred’s blog!

    • Great. Thanks for your comment. I will see you now in my Engagio Contact list 🙂

  • Matthew A. Myers

    Great lessons to share. Especially love the last one. 🙂

    And I agree that there needs to be more conversation/engagement. People are afraid to converse, of offending others, of making mistakes – but we’re all learning, we’re all at different stages in our personal evolution/development. More conversation and dialogue will allow the world to unfold into a beautiful social place, where the highest level of tolerance will be not only required to interact and enjoy everyone’s company and learn from everyone – but it will be revered.

    P.S. I clicked ‘Find me here on Engagio’ – though it’s missing an option to [Login] on the page for those of us who are already members but not currently logged in. 🙂

    • Agreed Matthew. Look at the wonderful relationships we have made at AVC.com which is a model and a live laboratory for social engagement.

      Indeed,- if you aren’t signed-up on Engagio, clicking on that link will encourage you to do so. That was intentional.

      • Matthew A. Myers

        I am signed up, just not signed-in. No quick way for me to go to a login prompt, I still didn’t look at your profile infact, even though I quickly had wanted to to see if I’d want to explore it more, and gauge its benefit for if I wanted to return to it, etc. 🙂

        Perhaps I’m just super-lazy and want things to be frictionless for me… less clicks/steps so my flow stays fast / don’t have to think more than I need to / be distracted more than I need to (so it doesn’t feel like a distraction of putting extra effort).

        And agreed, very thankful and fortunate for being able to connect with the great people Fred’s attracted over the years to AVC.com, and allowed us to join in the welcoming community and great discussion.

        Edit: Just realized if I click [Sign up] it goes to a page that leads me to Signing-in too; Maybe trying [Sign up or Sign in] text instead (I couldn’t find the action I was looking to do otherwise)

    • alex_lawrence

      Well said, Matthew.  Thanks for coming here to comment.  I’d welcome your suggestions for any future posts and/or guests.  Thanks again.

      • Matthew A. Myers

        Thanks – sometimes my brain does wonders! I’ve not regularly read Startup Flavor (though I may now!), so I’m not sure who/what’s already been posted. I do have a bunch of draft blog posts I’m working on and perhaps at sometime in the future I could polish one of those for a guest post here. 🙂

  • Plenty of great lessons shared here William. Tip of the hat to Alex Lawrence for encouraging your contribution here.

    Who could disagree with the humble generosity of #6 :D?

    • alex_lawrence

      I love William’s story!  He is talented and such a good guy.  Nice combo.  #6 definitely a crowd favorite.  Thanks for visiting, Mark.  If you have any suggestions on future guest posts and/or topics I’d love to know.

  • #6 pay it forward.

    • alex_lawrence

      My life is now complete.  Thank you for commenting, Jimmy.

  • troygroberg

    #4. Possibly the hardest on the list.  Just goes back to customer validation.  It doesn’t really matter what you think about your own product, what do the customers think? And will they pay?

    • alex_lawrence

      Agreed, Troy.  Agreed.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience! Great suggestions. You point on #3 is right, but it should not discourage start-ups focused on enterprise deals. You have to be careful for the reasons you suggest, but there are some great opportunities in the enterprise market. Start-ups simply need to be very smart about how the market and sell to these customers. 

    • alex_lawrence

      Plenty of startups need to focus on the enterprise — it is just tougher. Since when did tough discourage an entrepreneur though, right?

  • Congrats on the new company!  Great insight on the social engagement as well as lessons learned.  Reconsidering my take and approach to blogs & social capital.  Thanks!

  • #4 is the most interesting.  You almost need to let others create and tell your story.  

    Nice post, William.

  • Matt Stachel

    William, I love the thought process behind the creation of Engagio. As a serial entrepreneur myself, I have always tried to apply the lessons I have learned from past ventures to my current ones. I totally agree with #4. Nothing is better than seeing the look on someones face the first time I tell them about my startup.

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