Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
When most early 20-somethings are getting ready to graduate college, they can usually be found furiously sending out job applications, cramming for final exams and enjoying their last few months until “real life” starts.
Encore Alert founder James Li, however, was preparing to take his seed of an idea for a business and supercharge it after he was accepted into Acceleprise, a technology startup accelerator in downtown D.C. that gives companies $30,000 and access to its mentors in exchange for a 5 percent stake.
He and his cofounders, Tammy Cho and Felipe Lopez, were originally accepted for their idea for an email newsletter platform for nonprofits right after Li graduated from Georgetown last year. (Cho, although full-time with the company, is a sophomore.) In August, they hit the “reset” button and launched Encore Alert as it is today: a tool that tells social media marketers when to tweet, how often, and about what, all in real time, all in email alert form.
“We talked to a lot of chief marketing officers,” Li said about his company’s reset, “and they told us a lot of the social media dashboards out today have become overkill, and they don’t enable the typical social media marketer to take action every day.”
Encore Alert’s system takes all tweets related to a company, including Twitter mentions, relevant articles or trending topics, and distills them into “action items.” It recommends when the social media marketer should reply to a tweet, link to an article, or try to jump on a hashtag, for instance. Encore Alert’s current clients include Georgetown University, Consumer Electronics Association and Wedding Wire.
Encore Alert boasts that it has parsed through more than 12 million tweets for its customers, and narrows it down into five to seven recommended actions the Twitter account should take. Li describes it as a “social media assistant,” whose job it is to be looking at Twitter 24/7 and giving reports to the marketing manager.
“The goal is to have all the work done before the marketer touches it,” Li said. “They can sit back and let the information come to them.”
Encore Alert moved into Rosslyn’s ÜberOffices last month after completing a $460,000 seed funding round. One of Li’s investors was the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, which is why Encore Alert moved from Acceleprise to Arlington. The company now has six full-time employees, but, Li says they’re currently in “hiring and sales mode.”
That’s a shift for Li, who spent most of the early months of his company in meeting after meeting with mentors, advisers and, most of all, potential investors. His goal is still to get to a Series A funding round, but recently he’s been able to do what he envisioned doing when he launched his company: “sit down and execute.”
“It’s definitely a mixed bag,” Li says of the life of the CEO. “You’d rather be sitting and executing, and meetings tend to be a big distraction. But if we didn’t fundraise, we wouldn’t have these great advisors throwing their weight and advice behind us.”
Li’s parents emigrated from China before he was born, and he said they imbued him with the entrepreneurial spirit. They founded a computer software company, he said, and he can remember doing homework day after day in the back room of their shop.
That upbringing guides him today into a volatile marketplace. Twitter, Li says, is his focus because it’s “the most real-time, overwhelming and unstructured platform. It’s the major pain point of most of the companies we work for.”
Twitter is consistently growing its user base, but recent studies have indicated that user engagement is dropping and the company’s outlook for investors is down even from last year. Li says reports of the concern are mostly “overblown,” and, despite the fact that Encore Alert is exploring the potential for Facebook and other social media expansion, Twitter will remain its bread and butter.
“Most consumers are still going to Twitter to voice their happiness and complaints with certain brands,” Li said. Being a social media-dependent company “is a double-edged sword. You can be a stale space that’s very predictable, or be in an unstable space where there’s potential for rapid growth and some big winners.”