Mar 16 2010

opening up

A View into Closely Inc.

You may know I’ve been working on a new start-up for the past 6 months, pretty much heads down – stealth by default, not design.  Actually we’ve been very active in our market, just totally focused on product, not business cards or websites!

In a couple of days, we’ll be taking the wraps off.  We’ve been chosen to launch at the DEMO Conference, which is a great venue to jump off the ledge with new products.  I’ve done this once before; it’s a pretty intense and fun launch pad!

the evolution of an old idea

I was fortunate to be around for the formation of Jabber, with a group of visionary friends whose ideas still inspire me – guys like Doc Searls and Tim O’Reilly.  A decade ago they started my mind spinning about the future of the real-time web, where real-time data and geo-presence empower applications, people and crowds.

Over the past few years, I’ve been deeply entrenched in the local search space, as local advertising evolved through the lens of search services.  In the back of my brain, I’ve always been curious about the “other side” of local – direct marketing.  While the whole industry was busy adapting to the Google search ecosystem, promotion marketing seems to have been pretty much ignored, chugging along capturing tens of billions in local marketing spending.

With the emergence of the Twitter ecosystem, Facebook’s rise to ubiquity, and the mobile local world finally showing real formation, I knew it was time to put my energies in a new direction.  With my prior business operating nicely in good hands, I was so ready for a new adventure.

marking our territory

I’ve become a big fan of GroupOn, along with a few million other consumers! GroupOn has done a tremendous job of creating an audience for daily local offers, to which it sells placement slots.  It’s really a traditional direct marketing business, smartly pimped up with time-limited offers, social sharing, and the illusion of group buying. [Earlier on, you had to gather up your friends to win buying power].  To me, the real magic is in deep discount deals to cool places – it delivers a way for consumers to feel great as they save money getting out to interesting places.

I’m also a big fan of Twitter – not for its’ current consumer proposition, but for the budding beauty beneath.  This awkward teenager will continue to blossom into a central role in content distribution and following.  And, of course, Facebook, as commander-in-chief of the social graph, is equally critical in driving live consumer + friends connections.

I’d be remiss to not mention email marketing pioneers, Constant Contact. I’ve watched them since the early Roving Software days, admiring their tenacity in engaging small businesses, winning over 300K users on the value in maintaining constant contact with your customers.

Finally I’d bracket our space with the LBS darling, Foursquare.  I salute their bright discovery of game-based ingredients that triggers consumers to share their location and favorite places.

deep roots, firmly planted

I’ve pulled together a 7-person team, that I’m very lucky to be working alongside.  My two co-founders, Tom Bender and Karyn German both have worked with me before in the Jabber era.  Tom, engineering lead, is a serious math brain who has led engineering teams and architecture in Jabber/Webb, Digital Globe and Tendril Networks.  Karyn fearlessly led Product Management at Jabber followed by a four-year stint leading Product Development and Client Services at Newsgator.  The rest of the team, Jeff Davenport, Scott Davis, Brian Doyle, and Noel Graham all bring deep engineering and design chops rooted in small business marketing, real-time messaging, feed networks, email platforms, mapping and social media. It’s a wicked smart team, with a matching sense of humor, as you might expect!

I am also very excited to have the support of a group of top tier Angel investors and advisors who bring wisdom and insight to the space, led by Kendall Fargo, who remains very active with the company.  Kendall most recently ran Small Business Marketing Tools at Intuit, after their acquisition of his previous start-up, Step Up Commerce.

we’re close.ly

So, to pull this all together, Closely, Inc. is engaged around this problem/opportunity…

How will businesses create, disseminate and engage with local consumers around live offers?  How does a business reward their best customers, their customer’s friends and their neighbors for coming in or buying product when their demand is most valued.  How will consumers follow and and swarm around these specials?

Ultimately, live socially-connected marketing will extend deeply into the tens of billions in direct marketing media spending. It promises to turn direct mail, promotion advertising, and email marketing on their collective heads.

We chose the brand Closely because it captures the shared desires of local consumers and businesses – the desire for a business to be closely followed, and the desire for a consumer to stay close to offers that fit their interests.

Next week we launch our first step into this emerging world of live marketing.

If you’re interested, do follow closely ;)

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