Even though South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) ended yesterday, I have one more installment of my Spotlight on Austin series. Next up is Paul May, CEO and co-founder of BuzzStream, a company that makes tracking and managing and promoting links a lot easier for Internet marketers. BuzzStream, the youngest company I've interviewed, recently launched its new product. May tells us a bit about the company's launch history and its unique approach for helping online marketers get the most out of social media.
Q. [Jennifer] How long ago did the company launch? And on what premise was it launched?
A. [Paul] The company was founded in February 2008 and we launched our first product last week. The idea for the company came out of the experience that my co-founder, Jeremy Bencken, had while building his previous company. Jeremy and his wife, Katie, founded Apartmentratings.com in 2001, built it to over 150 million page views a year and sold the company to Internet Brands last year. Because they bootstrapped the whole way and because of the economics of the business, they never spent money on advertising or traditional PR. Instead, they relied on PR and SEO link building to build awareness and to improve organic search performance. They got to be pretty good at this (major coverage in the New York Times, WSJ, Washington Post, posts by almost all of the major real estate blogs, top Google listings for key search terms in every major metro market, etc.), but it was always a struggle because they lacked the tools to do this quickly and effectively. Instead they relied on a hodgepodge system to research relevant influencers, keep track of their conversations, coordinate activities among their team, etc. BuzzStream was founded to eliminate this hodgepodge approach, bringing together the key elements of managing successful word-of-mouth efforts and automating manual activities associated with them.
Q. What is the main business objective? What are you selling?
A. Our primary business objective is to help companies attract media attention and get links to their website so that customers can find them via search engines and word-of-mouth channels. Our products do this by providing customers with a set of tools to manage and build relationships with press, bloggers, link prospects and other online influencers. Our first product, BuzzStream for Link Building helps search marketing professionals manage link relationships more effectively. Our second product, BuzzStream for Social Media and PR, is launching next month, and will help marketers manage their PR and social media marketing efforts.
Q. What are the top three problems that you are solving for your clients / customers?
A. The overall goal of BuzzStream's products is to enable people to build relationships with influencers, without having to change their workflow or commit their life to it. We provide three sets of tools to help do this:
1. Bookmarking tool - When a customer finds an article, tweet, etc. from someone that they'd like to build a relationship with, they use BuzzStream's bookmarking tool to add that person as a contact. BuzzStream automatically looks for contact information and key metrics and adds it to the contact record.
2. Interaction tracking tools - As a customer interacts with their contacts, BuzzStream automatically discovers the interactions and keeps track of them. For example, if a customer e-mails or direct messages a contact in twitter, it's automatically added to the influencer's contact record
3. Team-based coordination of communications - BuzzStream provides a centralized database for coordinating and keeping track of outreach efforts across a team.
Q. What types of customers do you have (industries, size, etc., whichever best describes it)?
A. Some of this is TBD, as we just launched our product, but during the beta we've seen the most interest from three groups: 1) marketing professionals in mid-size companies, and 2) search marketing agencies, 3) PR agencies
Q. Tell me your perspective on the innovation coming out of Austin.
A. I think it's undergoing a significant change right now. Historically much of the innovation came from early stage companies that were financed by the top-tier venture funds in town. As the economics of early stage venture financing have changed, the big VCs in the region have moved away from these companies and invested more heavily in bigger deals (that look more like private equity). This coincides with the fact that the cost of starting a company has decreased dramatically. So now more of the innovation around town is happening among companies that are either self-funded, angel funded or seed funded. And, because they're not VC-backed, they tend to focus on very specific problems (instead of the "change-the-world" types of visions that historically were commonplace). This fits well with Austin's technology culture, because it's always been a very application-oriented town. I suspect that we'll see some very successful companies come out of this crop over the next few years.
Q. Name one other Austin-based company that you feel has it dialed in and tell me why.
A. BreakingPoint Systems. On the product side, they've built a product that solves a specific problem better than any company in the world. On the marketing side, very few companies understand as well as they do how to leverage social media for customer service, product feedback and lead generation.