Category Archives: SpinBack

Value of Engineering to the Entrepreneur

This post originally appeared on Badger Engineers.

My company Spinback was recently acquired by Buddy Media, the largest Facebook Management Company in the world. It’s clear that my four years studying in the Wisconsin College of Engineering has played a role in that acquisition.

At the core, I’d argue that an engineering, math, or science related degree is the single best degree or use of four years in an undergraduate program, especially a program at UW – Madison. In my years in the COE, I obtained a certain skill set that has helped me succeed during and after school, and in the various businesses I was involved with including Spinback. I’m not talking about skills like designing a circuit or solving for a system of equations. I’m talking about the cliché skills we always hear about but disregard as obvious and too abstract for our own benefit.

The skills I’m talking about are teamwork, problem solving, hard work and creativity. In every single class and project that I worked on while at school, each one of these skills was required.  I remember spending many hours with my friends like Steve Weisman (ECE ’08) and David Nosbusch (ECE ’08) poring over class notes and textbooks (and also starting two businesses together while at school). No matter what the content and material, the routine was the same. We studied together, relentlessly discussed the problems together, and used creativity to help solve a solution when we couldn’t find one. In the COE, this is what we were all taught to do. In the real world, these are the skills that have helped me succeed and they are also the same skills that have given me confidence to venture out as an entrepreneur.

Before we were acquired, we were the typical startup. We had raised very little money and had a billion and one things to do. We had to build a product, sell the product to clients, create marketing materials, manage finances, create processes and business workflows, deal with attorneys, and on and on. The reality is I never learned about any one particular topic in school that was applicable to our business. Its not like I took a class called “how to prioritize features” or “how to get a terms sheet from a VC.” I did however learn how to think in a certain way. An analytical thought process that allowed me to break down each component of our business and understand how each component affected the other.  And this is what engineering is all about. It’s about understanding how things work, in order to identify a problem and ultimately solve for that problem.

At Spinback, the problem we were solving was how to help online retailers leverage social media to drive and track new sales. In a short period of time, our solutions called EasyShare and EasyTrack helped us secure over 15 clients in less than two months. We were able to sign up some of the largest online retailers in the world, convince investors to give us money to scale our business, and secure our position as a thought leader in the social commerce space. As a result, we were lucky and fortunate enough to be acquired by one of the fastest growing technology companies of all time.

Looking back, I can recall one very late night in our Union Square office. As we were trying to solidify a sales and marketing strategy one of my partners said, “this is one giant equation that we are solving.”  In that moment I thought about the four years at UW-Engineering and said, “Yes, yes it is.”

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Dogpatch Labs NYC – The Spinback Home

Image representing Dogpatch Labs as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

Now that the dust has settled a bit and the acquisition is done, I wanted to talk a little bit about Dogpatch Labs NYC and the role they played in Spinback.

1. Collaboration

For the past few months the Spinback team has been working out of a union square loft in NYC hosted by Polaris Ventures. We have been working alongside 15 – 20 other impressive and humbling startups all of which are building truly unique businesses. Every day, we had the opportunity to walk around to other startups and engage in conversation on a variety of topics that affected our business. We were able to get real time feedback on specific topics from unique perspectives. For example, a custom commerce startup gave us feedback on our EasyShare design and sharing process. A real-time group messaging platform gave us insights to different marketing tactics.

2. Networking

In addition, many companies were often meeting with angel investors, advisors, clients, and other high level folks. Often times, these meetings would spill out on to the Dogpatch floor and we would also end up speaking with these guests. These folks would dive right in and start asking us questions like “what are you working on” or “who are your working with?” Questions that ultimately led to more introductions and more business relationships. Furthermore, many of the folks in Dogpatch Labs have previously worked at other startups and large corporations so it would be a fairly regular occurrence for a fellow dogpatcher to say, “hey, do you want to meet so and so at company x?”

3. Education

Lastly, Dogpatch Labs would host many lectures, seminars, keynotes and workshops for people in the startup and technology community. It was commonplace to have 40 people listening to a speaker at the front of the office while we were writing code and making client phone calls in the back of the room. This aspect of Dogpatch Labs transformed the space from an office to a next generation classroom.

At the end of the day, Dogpatch Labs is perhaps one of the most important entities in the NYC startup community. Their ability to provide opportunities around collaboration, networking and education makes them the ideal home for early stage companies.

Big thanks to Peter FlintMatt Meeker, and the rest of the Dogpatch family for letting Spinback call Dogpatch Labs our home for the past few months. Also, big thanks to the rest of the dogpatchers for keeping us humble and hungry in the pursuit of building a great business.

(partial) Spinback Team @ Dogpatch:

(left to right: Andy, Corey, Dan)

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My Company Is Being Acquired

As the news says, today my partners and I over at Spinback are pleased to announce that we’ve been acquired by Buddy Media, the Facebook management system of choice for eight out of the ten top global advertisers.

When we started Spinback the goal was to build the most cutting edge technology that would facilitate conversations and sharing of products. More importantly, we wanted this technology to also track how word of mouth marketing affects new sales and new customer acquisition.

Now as a part of Buddy Media, we will have  all the tools and infrastructure necessary to accelerate our collective mission which is ultimately about leveraging this new social web in new and interesting ways for leading companies around the world.

We are really excited to begin the next chapter and I’ll leave the rest of the details to Buddy Media.

On to the next one…

UPDATE – Here are a few press releases:

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A Focus Group of 1

A classic red cruiser: the Schwinn Phantom. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

As we continue to build our business at spinback we continue to engage in a number of very interesting conversations on the topic of product recommendations and sharing. Jared Spiegel, a friend of mine and someone who is currently participating in the Brooklyn Law Incubation Program (BLIP), made the following point that I thought really highlights the core of why product sharing is so valuable. His point is this:

Suppose you are interested in purchasing a new bike. The single most important thing that you are looking for is durability and reliability. That is, you don’t care about looks, design, or wheel style – what you do care about is the frequency of repair. As a reasonable and sensible person, you consult Consumer Reports and learn that the bike with the best repair record is clearly a Schwinn. No other bike even comes close. Naturally, you decide that the next day you are going to buy a Schwinn bicycle.

Suppose that the night before you are going to make your purchase, you are at dinner with a few friends where you announce your intention to buy a new bike. One of your friends at the table says “I just bought a Trek bicycle last week and I love it! It’s much better than my rusted, beat-up Schwinn. In fact, I’ve never been so happy with a bike in my life!”

Let’s suppose that the ranking you read on Consumer Reports was based on a sample of 1,000 bike owners. Your friend’s preference for his Trek bike (and distaste for his old Schwinn) has increased the size of the sample to 1,001. It has added one negative case to your statistical bank. Logically, this should not affect your decision. But a large body of research indicates that such occurrences, because of their personal character and connection between the purchaser and the source of the information, assume far more importance than their logical, statistical status would imply. All other things being equal, most people are more deeply influenced by one clear, personal example than by an abundance of statistical data.

So even if there is a large data set that crunches consumer reviews looking for the very best product, it really only takes a focus group of one and a personal connection to influence someone’s buying decision.

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Moving on from Lotame to SpinBack

Two Paths Through the Tangled Japanese Forest
Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

As of today, I’ll be leaving the Lotame family to pursue a new endeavor called Spinback.com.

Like all hard decisions, this one was not easy but here’s the story:

When I first started Lotame I was in the midst of building a business called TheCampusAtlas.com with three of my engineering buddies from school. But through a coincidental encounter at Mount Snow I met Andy Monfried who was also in the midst of starting a new business called Lotame. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what to do. We had already launched on 5 schools and had about 10 more on deck. So the question was, do I pick up the dice on Campus Atlas and join Andy’s new business? Or do I ride out the true startup wave with my friends and see where the Campus Atlas could go? Well, after living with and interning for Andy for those 2 months in the summer of my junior year the answer was pretty clear.

When I finished the Lotame internship, I ended up working remotely from Madison while finishing up school and as soon as school was done, and as soon as I was able to actually work, I was in the Lotame office cranking out phone calls, emails and all other sorts of tasks. During my time there, we went from a little office in Maryland with just a few folks and $0 in revenue, to almost 70 employees with offices in Maryland, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, London and quite a few dollars in revenue. I helped create new partnerships, new strategies, and new products, but most importantly, I created new relationships with great people. People that I consider family and people who I would do anything for.

And in all my time at Lotame this was the most important thing I learned from Andy. That no matter what happens in life or on any journey you take, the most important part is the people you are with.

But like any journey, there are crossroads and I am presently at one of those crossroads. I now have the opportunity to start a new business with two friends from school in a space that is just beginning to really innovate: the e-commerce sector. So as of today, I’ll be officially teaming up with two of my Badger friends on a new journey that involves technology, retailers, word of mouth marketing, and crazy amounts of hard work.

One of the things that has been evident my entire life is that purchases are never made in a vacuum. Whenever we look to buy something, whether it is a TV, a plane ticket, a new movie, or even a meal at dinner, we almost always ask trusted friends or family for advice. We ask for their opinion. Better yet, we sometimes get contacted out of the blue by our friends with new recommendations and suggestions. In my opinion, this method of product discovery or information acquisition is the single most important way we learn about new things or new products. And now with new communication mediums like Facebook and Twitter, the velocity by which this information can be shared is exponentially greater. At spinback, our mission will be to help retailers leverage the power of this medium in a trustworthy, efficient and innovative way.

So that’s what I’ll be doing in this next chapter of my life. At the same time, I’ll be rooting for everyone at Lotame. Thanks Andy.

On to the next one…

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