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Socialcast CEO Tim Young - Exclusive Interview

Over the next few months I hope to interview carefully chosen executives who I believe will have an impact on how companies optimize revenue. I was lucky enough to come across Socialcast, a young company based in San Francisco, California. I thought Tim Young to be patient, thoughtful and very tuned in to the topics of the day. He certainly has the disposition to be a visionary in this space.

Here are the questions I posed to Tim and his answers.

If I were an analyst at a major research firm, what category would I place Socialcast?
Enterprise Social Messaging

What’s the so what of Socialcast? Your top line benefit?
Socialcast aims to improve the flow of information amongst employees in order to efficiently share knowledge and foster collaboration.

It’s one of the first applications in the ESM category that is person centric, not file or document centric. It helps you pass information through the company person to person rather than a document share or based on searching the enterprise database. People are a company’s most prized asset and you should really leverage the collective intelligence of an organization. Socialcast has a transparent communication model that helps information flow through an organization. Employees are incorporating social media to supplement their IT-sponsored applications. Gen Y is 25% of the workforce and that will be 47% 2014, these younger employees are used to a broadcast form of communication patterns.

So the big problem you solve is…
The no. 1 thing that we solve is accelerating collaboration and coordination of resources. Organizations are challenged with doing more with less people, increased mobility and having a global presence. Socialcast helps them solve the problem of time and space.

As a country, we are moving from an industry economy to an information economy. More companies are beginning to realize their most important asset is their people. How do we pool their collective intelligence is a question Socialcast has seen with our clients and are enabling them go do that.

What is it about Socialcast that makes that true? How do you deliver on your promise?
Unique to the tool is the platform is completely real-time when the user makes an update to the system. Within a second of the user entering it, everyone on the platform is made aware of what the employee has done. The application connects to existing enterprise systems. We connect as a platform to existing ERP and CRM systems. Socialcast creates a periphery visual system for every employee. Like driving in a car, you get a complete 360 view on what you and your co-workers are doing in real-time. Socialcast keeps you aware of what is important to you and what’s going on around you to improve your effectiveness.

We’ve connected up to twenty-two disparate systems to Socialcast at one organization, although the average is about seven. We have an API (Application Programming Interface) that allows almost any platform to write to XML letting Socialcast work with the legacy solution. As an example, SalesForce or Microsoft Dynamics can integrate with Socialcast. You can get real-time information from CRM solutions that send the action to Socialcast so the employee’s colleagues can see what they are doing.

As a more specific example, maybe I’m trying to sell into Cisco; I enter them into my Sales Force Automation solution. Somewhere else in the organization, a user has told Socialcast that if anyone mentions Cisco, they want to know. The second I entered the Cisco information into my SFA solution, the other employee would have set up an alert that would have let them know that something is happening at Cisco. It’s at this point that the employee could reach out to me through Socialcast and provide immediate assistance.

You can also draw upon information from the employees’ current company and past organizations. In addition, you can also query all information for anything on a company or anyone in the company who is associated with that company. This is really leveraging employee knowledge and experience as an asset.

There are several players that say they are similar to Socialcast, what makes you different and why do buyers care?
Yammer is our top competitor in the space. The significant difference is our ability to integrate with other enterprise solutions. As one of our clients who reviewed both software solutions state, “Yammer is more of a tool, Socialcast is a platform”. As I mentioned earlier, we do have an API with our SDK (Software Development Kit) you can build on and connect to legacy solutions.

How did Socialcast get started?
We started near Los Angeles in the Orange county area but we are now based in San Francisco.

It was started in 2005. Initially it was focused on a software platform so that the entertainment companies could build their own social network for their properties. We worked with Capitol Records and Universal Music Group and continued to build out our tool set over time. As we grew and added a few people, we thought it was a good idea to shift focus and build these networks for other markets.

In January 2007, we launched a private social message applications solution so employees could share questions, answers, documents and projects.

Is Socialcast a hosted solution or can you bring the solution in house?
75% of the time, we host their solution. The rest of our clients are using it their own premises. We provide the solution as a virtual appliance. You can just put in your data center behind a firewall as part of your trusted network.

How is the product built?
The product is built on Ruby on Rails; it uses MySQL and CouchDB which is written in the Erlang programming language. We use XMPP for the real-time messaging protocol.

With your free offering, could anyone set up a Socialcast community?
The objective is to get as many people as we can to start using Socialcast to see the benefits. The idea came out of our own customer research. It is a new tool and although we have early adopters, it’s somewhat of a disruptive technology that shifts transparency and changes your culture. Because it allows employees to communicate with each other, we decided they shouldn’t have to pay for the basic communication. Also, we don’t hold any data or information hostage.

For integration and business intelligence, we provide our premium services where there is a charge. Building insight engines on top of the data so management can understand what is going on in their organization. Where is information flowing and where is it getting bottle-necked? For instance, the Socialcast solution recently helped an agency identify high performance employees. Employees were having ideas that Socialcast could truly track which helps management reward individuals in an authentic manner.

How do you see your approach to community conversations different than someone like Ning?
It may look like on a surface level, Ning could do we do. But you run into a challenge when you have to service enterprise clients. One thing that is a high priority of CIO is protecting and securing data. On Socialcast, we are using https for secure communication, Ning does not. Also, we encrypt all of your data so rather you run it behind your firewall or on our servers so that it is always encrypted and secure.

Based on recent research, people come to Twitter and then stop using it except for those of us heavy in the social media discussion. What keeps people using Socialcast?

Although the feature sets seem similar, the usage patterns are different. It’s a marketing tool, whether I’m marketing a brand or Tim Young as an individual who is marketing myself. Links are being passed as the currency of the web. It’s less about the origin of the service and it’s become about building your personal brand. This is the fundamental reason young people don’t use the service. Twitter is a weak-tie relationship tool. Facebook is about my friends with strong tie relationships. Once they have Facebook, they have little reason for Twitter or personal brand. They are more concerned about privacy. Twitter is not an application that lets you do that.

The difference in Socialcast is that we want people to connect in a closed network to have conversations around important organizations issues and tasks. Socialcast allows you to see a stream of tasks that you have performed and completed. It’s more of a discussion tool for group participation. It’s really being used in a different way in a closed environment.

There are some corollaries between what we do and what Twitter does, Twitter is public, we’re private. Twitter is focused on simple updates on your life and we are focused on enterprise use. They don’t fit in our category of Enterprise Social Messaging.

I see you are interested in flock theory, connectionism and collective intelligence. I see how those are emerging in the near future, what era do you think we are leaving and what was wrong with it?
It’s an evolution. The way I look at this as the main driver is bandwidth as we have gone from 2400 baud modems to broadband. Every time we have had a step up in bandwidth, we have seen new applications and new devices come on line. By 2012, we could be at ultraband which would push Mbps to some very high levels. We’re shifting away from a communications model which included phone, e-mails and faxes.

We’re moving toward an interaction model where we mimic real life existence on the network. Pretty much all knowledge workers are beginning to rely on information systems all of the time. The e-mail era is being left behind as the main form of internal collaboration. More exciting applications built on the SAAS model with rich applications on mobile devices are happening now and one of the main drivers is real time conversations between people.

How many clients do you have and any F1000 companies?
We have a number of F1000 companies including Turner Broadcasting, big retailers like Hot Topic, Guitar Center and over 5,000 companies use the solution. Usually the larger the organization, the greater chance it’s behind the firewall. .

How many people are at your firm?
We are currently at 18 people. We are a very development-driven organization and we are looking for more developers.

What investors are behind your company?
True Ventures and Om Malik from GigaOm

My take on Socialcast
The trick for Socialcast will be to get as many early adopter clients as they can as soon as possible in order to be seen as the category leader for the enterprise. This gives them some protection even if bigger companies try to include their functionality as part of their platforms. I believe Tim understands this and believes his best strategy is to focus on his client’s needs and not his competitor’s intentions. I agree.

It used to really irritate me that we couldn’t get to the people asset in the companies I have worked with in the past. In other words, the ability to leverage someone’s background and connections for a buying opportunity. You want to gain the use of that knowledge immediately as if everyone was working together. You know the value is there, but you will need something like Socialcast to get to it below the surface of a colleague’s role. Value is where value lives and it's not always in the corner office.

Imagine if you could get to that value and your competitors weren't using Socialcast? That's an edge. Socialcast seems to go a long way in addressing this frustration. I think a big plus for them is their enterprise background in regard to addressing concerns unique to the enterprise such as security as well as integrating with existing platforms. That certainly makes the CIO sleep better at night in choosing Socialcast. If you are the least bit interested in improving internal information that could help your company win more buyers through relationships, I would encourage you to reach out to Socialcast and hear their story.

More Stories By John Ryan

John is an experienced leader with a strong background of defining and executing company strategies. He is especially skilled in channel management, market analysis, brand marketing and selling technology products and services. He has successfully served in a number of executive positions and has been in management for 20 years. John is currently writing a book on increasing revenue generation. He has been a co-author of a comprehensive marketing methodology for high tech companies and has helped venture capitalists and private equity firms gauge their technology investments. In 2004, John served as Vice President of Marketing for the NA arm of the $6B IT Services division of Siemens, AG. John served on the board of directors at WebTrends, purchased by NetIQ (NTIQ) for $1 billion in 2001. WebTrends was highly successful dominating the web site analysis and reporting space. Prior to WebTrends, John was the Vice President of Marketing for Tivoli Systems. John has worked as a contracted consultant for established companies, start ups and top analyst firms. John can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @buyersteps

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