August 16, 2010
ClearSpring, a well-funded, D.C. area startup, has been in the headlines quite a bit lately as they recently announced turning the widget/ad platform into an audience metrics platform as well, called the Clearspring Audience Platform. On the heels of this rather large startup announcement (and his 30th birthday) we got a chance to catch-up with ClearSpring CEO, Hooman Radfar about his entrepreneurial voyage at the helm of one of the largest audience metrics companies in the world.
FG: ClearSpring started off as a widget platform. At what point did you realize that there was something bigger here than simply widgets?
HR: Clearspring has always been focused on connecting publishers and advertisers to audiences on the social web. We started by introducing the first widget sharing and tracking platform, LaunchPad. As adoption of our platform grew, we saw that widget sharing was part of a broader trend, real-time content sharing. Understanding our role in this change, we acquired AddThis. Our vision was to provide a universal content sharing platform that would empower users to share any content (widget, links, photos) to anyone, anywhere. At the time of the acquisition, we reached 200MM unique users monthly, using 50 social services in 5 languages. Today, we reach over 1B unique users, using 300 services, in over 57 languages. As the web continues to evolve, we believe that being at the center stage of the sharing game with the largest sharing network will be increasingly important.
FG: Many entrepreneurs may not see new opportunities within their businesses that may be right under their nose. In a fast paced business, how do you stay attuned to those types of opportunities so you can pivot or refocus accordingly?
HR: It is a bit more of an art than a science. That said, I think there are really two things that you should do really well. First, get deep into your analytics – and, I don’t mean just understanding the reach of your site. In a real-time world, it is essential that you develop a gut feel for the nuts and bolts of what drives your products. You should understand what drives customer acquisition, how users engage with your products, and how your product fits into their changing value equation. Second, connect with your customers. And I don’t mean focus groups. I mean connect with them throughout their experience with your offering. It seems obvious, but I am always amazed by how few sites really try to do this well. At Clearspring, we have a dedicated community manager to listen and respond across channels like Twitter, Facebook, forums and more. We have a long way to go, but our goal is to have a constant feed of information from our customers to help us chart our course. Whether they give you information with their clicks or their comments, you need to really understand and act upon their needs. In my opinion, if you do those two things incredibly well, you will develop a good gut. It is that gut that will differentiate you from the rest of the web when opportunities arise.
FG: With the new audience platform, are you concerned about privacy issues that could arise from shared data?
HR: We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of privacy. As such, our audiences are synthesized from non-PII (personally identifiable information) data aggregated from across our platform. We do not reach audiences of one and users are anonymous in our system. Moreover, we are actively involved with industry associations such as IAB and NAI in trying to define and implement best practices. By creating personalized advertising opportunities that respect user privacy, we believe that users will ultimately have a better experience online.
FG: What’s next for Clearspring? Do you foresee Clearspring selling ads?
HR: We have a lot of big things coming up. In the near-term, we will start to be more public around some strategic relationships and efforts associated with our recently announced, Clearspring Audience Platform. On the product side of the house, now that we have let the genie out of the bottle, we will start to work a lot of magic around some exciting new data-driven offerings.
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