31. May 2012–
UK-based startup Cascaad recently launched Italian-born CircleMe, allowing people to connect through interest groups and discover new passions. This latest in social networking delves deeper than your Twitter or Foursquare; philosphising on neurobiologist Gerry Edelman's theory that we build our personal identity from interests rather than people we know. It's much like a polarized version of Facebook. Users connect through “likes” rather than “friendships requests” and essentially befriend like-minded strangers within “circles” of things you love or are interested in.
Co-founder Giuseppe D’Antonio gives us the one-on-one lowdown on CircleMe..
Behind every success is a vision. How did you come across your idea?
The idea of CircleMe came to Erik Lumer (my business partner) and myself during a brainstorming session at the beginning of 2011. We were wondering how we could allow people to focus more on what matters most in their lives, like passions. In a way, we wanted to empower people to take advantage of the incredible amount of information and content that is available on the web. To do this, we realized we could take advantage of some technologies we had already developed during a previous project and pair this with a rich and engaging user experience. Putting these ingredients together, we would be able to create a new experience on the web that, with time, could become a next-generation discovery engine powered by logics of smart-serendipity.
Who are the founders, what have you done before and how did you find each other?
The founder of the company Cascaad is Erik, while I came in a year later and together, we came up with our flagship product CircleMe. Erik, before Cascaad, had already co-founded a company called Babelgum and collaborated with other startups. Before getting the “entrepreneurial bug”, he spent many years in research at Xerox PARC after his PhD from Stanford. I met Erik through an introduction made by our venture capital. My previous experiences were always in the field of technology - as I started with an engineering degree, and online businesses. I had previous management roles at Google, Manhattan Associates and Dada.
What makes you different from other social networks like Facebook and Twitter?
On CircleMe, people focus more on themselves and what they like instead of creating connections with other people. The platform allows people to connect with what they really care about as opposed to their friends or other type of personal or professional connections. On CircleMe, people can express their likes through pure conceptual topics, such as philosophy, or concrete things and people like Elton John or Venice. Then, the service allows them to either keep updated with the things you care about in life or let them discover potential passions that are somehow related to existing ones.
With existing social networks, the experience and benefit you obtain is very different: on Facebook for example, a person can view lots of content from their “friends” through a unified stream, but this indeed will include lots of things that you don't have a real interest in. With Twitter, on a different note, the challenge is that the stream is very much in "real time" and many interesting things get lost due to "time sensitivity" of the information being shared.
What is your business model? And how big is the market potential?
On CircleMe people visibly express their "likes" because they want to get a concrete benefit from doing so. If, for example, a "Circler" states that she is passionate about Tori Amos, she would probably love to hear when she's coming to town for her next concert and even enjoy purchasing a ticket for it, perhaps at a discounted price. Well, in this type of affiliate marketing activities, we see great potential for a strong business model. We are already seeing lots of interest from our users with integrations we have done with iTunes and several others we are considering. As you can imagine, the market is quite broad, as many of the items within CircleMe have some type of commercial potential.
Who is financing you?
We have been backed by VC Innogest Sgr, among the biggest VC’s in our sector in Italy. We are now looking to increase operations, and for this reason we started few weeks ago new fund-raising activity which we plan to close this summer.
Is there something that you are missing? An employee, an investor, an office?
Having an international investor or set of, is very important for us to scale quickly. Ideally, we would like to bring on board one or two VC’s who strategically invest in business with high potential for international growth. Adding to this, we are always looking for talent to join our team, and these days - we are looking for a new front-end developers. We always love meeting motivated people who want to join this crazy startup world! We also have an English language environment in our Milan and London offices.
Who would you like to have lunch with and what would you talk about?
If I could choose anyone, certainly one person who fascinates me for how he thinks and what is doing is Elon Musk. Elon is doing incredible things with his projects SpaceX and Tesla Motors and I think he has the true mind of a visionary and the skills to make things happen concretely. He has traits that have really changed our society in these past decades. Certainly a lunch would feel like a short time, but I would do my best to pick his brain on how he thinks about what comes “next”.
Any advice you'd give for fellow startups?
While true innovators usually don't listen to most advise given to them and often this is the reason for their success as innovators, I can suggest three things that have helped me go on and grow through what I do:
1) Focus and avoid too much multi-tasking. While it might feel you're being super-productive, quality could be impacted, but to excel - quality must be high
2) Be humble. It's the best way to learn more than others
3) Have fun in what you do. There is no caffeine at night nor most effective alarm in the morning, than the passion for what you're doing.
Where will you be in a year?
Personally, I hope to travel more and more between countries - I love it, either for business or for pleasure. I hope CircleMe will be a community much larger than today, with Circlers in all corners of the world. Regardless of numbers, I hope CircleMe will have added value to the lives of users. Through the small features, we will continue to develop cool, interesting content that naturally distributes within the site and the mobile app.
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