A Q&A with SocialWire founder and CEO Selcuk Atli. The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2011 and closed a $2 million Seed funding round in mid-November. Investors include First Round Capital, Wamda Capital, and Angel investors.
SUB: Please describe SocialWire and your value proposition.
Atli: SocialWire is a user acquisition platform for Facebook. We make advertising easy to run and manage for marketers and a better experience for users. With SocialWire CONNECT, marketers can enable their customers to share activity such as favorites, reviews and purchases with friends on Facebook. With SocialWire AMP, marketers can promote shared activity with paid media to reach more of their customers’ friends.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Atli: Any online marketer that is looking to drive user acquisition cost effectively. However, we are particularly focused on the online retail sector where we believe SocialWire can have the biggest immediate impact.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Atli: We typically find our customers making a buy versus build decision. Those that choose to buy from us are typically looking to benefit from the best practices that we constantly add to our implementation, and to avoid the ongoing cost of maintaining a connection to Facebook’s constantly changing Open Graph API.
SUB: What differentiates SocialWire from the competition?
Atli: SocialWire is the first marketing platform that combines organic sharing and paid ads to drive Facebook referrals. SocialWire makes it easy for users to share their activity with friends and enables marketers to target and promote these posts to the friends of their customers on Facebook. These ads see an engagement rate of one percent—about 20x standard Facebook ads—and they are simple to run and manage.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Atli: I founded SocialWire in mid-late 2011 in San Francisco. I grew up in Istanbul and I had studied in the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar, working on Semantic Web in 2009. After that, I moved back to Istanbul and co-founded iletken, a SaaS recommendation engine for online retailers. But I soon realized that advertising was generations behind recommendation technology and that marketing products in personalized and automated ways like recommendations was a much bigger problem to solve for online retailers.
I knew that I had to be in Silicon Valley to do this. So, I moved to San Francisco in 2011 and started building my network and forming our early team and attracting investors. The rest is history.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for SocialWire? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Atli: I had been intrigued by the problem of personalization before I came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar and met the potential of Semantic Web. At Rensselaer, I got to work with Dr. James Hendler who invented Semantic Web with Dr. Tim Berners Lee. Working with Jim, I realized the biggest problem in personalization was not algorithms or user data. The missing piece in personalization is the data that sites do not have about their users. Semantic Web—linked data—ties all of this together. For example, Amazon could do so much more with recommendations leveraging what shoppers and their friends do and share outside of their site. Back then I thought, the web needed wide adoption of semantic to serve as the foundation of a better discovery experience.
While not commonly known, Facebook Open Graph is the most widely adopted implementation of Semantic Web. Having worked on this problem early on—it was pretty clear to me that Facebook platform would evolve in this direction right after they launched the Open Graph and the like button back in 2010.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Atli: I wanted to build a discovery engine and a marketing platform that leveraged the wiring of relationships between people and the things they cared about. Thereby, I named the company SocialWire.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Atli: It was leaving my friends, family and business network behind in Istanbul, and re-establishing myself as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.
SUB: You recently raised $2 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Atli: We’ve built a strong, core team in San Francisco around the areas of engineering, product, sales and marketing. We will continue to use the funds to continue growing our team and fueling our sales and marketing efforts.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Atli: It’s never easy to raise money, but I think good Seed-stage investors like First Round Capital tend to invest in founders that they think will be successful no matter what they do. Aside from certain windows where they all go on vacation, I don’t think timing is that relevant.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Atli: SocialWire charges a monthly subscription fee and a commission on ad spend that depends on service level and total ad volume.
SUB: What are your goals for SocialWire over the next year or so?
Atli: Our goal is to help marketers of all sizes from sellers on Etsy to the largest online retailers. In the next year, we will be working hard to create wide adoption of SocialWire among top 500 retailers in the U.S. but also increase usage among startups and smaller merchants through platform partnerships.
SocialWire – www.socialwire.com