By GREGORY ZELLER // Opinions are like … well, let’s just say everyone has one.
And while the omnipresence of online opinions might lessen their individual value, they’re collective gold to anyone trying to keep a finger on society’s pulse.
Which brings us to Sweigh, a real-time social sentiment platform that combines two favorite Internet features – the like/don’t like poll and the comments section – to determine what We the People are thinking.
By letting users create their own polls, and combining Sweigh-generated data from multiple sources, the interactive platform aims to give bloggers, business owners and other website producers a glimpse into the mind of the masses, while boosting their site traffic and social sharing at the same time.
Launched in September 2013, Centerport-based Sweigh has already undergone a permutation or two. Cofounders Chris Monteleone and Jamie Proctor originally conceived a mobile app, but are focused now on Sweigh as an online service – a “mechanical solution,” according to CEO Monteleone, that combines polling with “a pretty deep back-end analytics tool.”
“We looked at the real estate that comments sections take up across the Internet and the fact that they don’t generate any revenue,” Monteleone said. With Sweigh, “every comment has an A or B response, but instead of just liking it or not liking it or voting it up or down, we’re gathering opinions.
“When we aggregate those opinions, we understand sentiment in real time,” he added. “Ultimately, we know what direction the audience is moving.”
Retailers, marketing strategists, journalists and many others would understandably value such information, and Monteleone and Proctor, the startup’s COO, have had little trouble selling the concept.
The entrepreneurs ponied up $70,000 of their own money to launch Sweigh and have subsequently raised about $1.1 million, primarily from family offices, the private companies that manage investments and trusts for high-net-worth families. The Dolan family, heirs of the Cablevision empire, are Sweigh’s No. 1 investor, according to Monteleone.
That may change in the next month or so, as the partners launch a funding round of $3 million to $5 million, to be used to bring software development in-house and start expanding the sales and marketing operations. “Hiring a team,” Monteleone noted.
The partners bring decidedly different skill sets to the endeavor. Monteleone spent more than 16 years in sports media and entertainment, primarily as managing director for national partnerships for iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel Entertainment. Proctor was an investment banker, including 11 years as a managing director for JPMorgan Chase & Co.
One common thing they learned in their varied professional pursuits, Monteleone noted, is that “ultimately, people are lazy.”
“They don’t always want to write, they don’t always want their name associated with what they’re saying,” he said. “But they still have opinions. You can get 100 or 500 or maybe 1,000 opinions on a topic, and other people are reading them but nobody is really doing anything with them.
“We can dive deep into what they think,” Monteleone added. “Eventually, we can predict where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do.”
So far, Sweigh widgets can be found on eight web platforms, including sites owned by large publishers with several URLs in their portfolios. Centerport-based Sweigh generated revenue for the first time this month, according to Monteleone, and is in talks with targeted-user content producers including Rant. Inc., Totl Media and Consumed Media, a division of New York City-based digital holding company CPXi, founded by Hofstra University graduate Mike Seiman.
“The goal is to be fully distributed across all their sites by August,” Monteleone said. “When you combine them, those sites equal about 500 million unique visitors a month.”
The more unique visitors, the better the chance Sweigh has to sway subscribers. The poll widgets appear before about 20 million unique monthly visitors now, with a click-through rate of up to 15 percent. Apply that rate to 500 million or more, Monteleone noted, and “we’re in really good shape.”
“You’re talking about collecting in a given month anywhere from 250,000 to 5 million unique opinions,” he added. “The lifeblood of our business is getting those votes.”
Monteleone described three stages for Sweigh, which is currently in Phase 1: scaling up and “getting in front of as many users as we can,” helping attract and secure website publishers.
Phase 2 will include the launch of a “targeted ad platform” that serves as a sentiment search engine for subscribers. A writer researching a Hillary Clinton article, say.
“Type ‘Hillary’ and see every Hillary comment written on Sweigh platforms across the Internet,” he said. “Then you can use that relevant data to inform your article.”
Phase 3, planned for 2016, includes a full data-management platform, going into “deep detail” on the data being collected, Monteleone said.
“We’ll probably work with another third-party data-collection platform and cross-reference the data,” he said. “That’s when we get to the point that we’re really an enterprise solution.”
The company was initially envisioned as a B2C – that app they hope to get back to one day – but with a patent pending and revenue on the books, the cofounders are confident in their reworked strategy.
“Acquiring mobile users is a very expensive and difficult business,” Monteleone noted. “We were able to scale much faster through web publishers.
“Understanding the model and how we’re going to monetize the business is such a relief,” he added. “When you start something from scratch in a room with your buddy, you don’t always know how you’ll monetize it.
“We’ve nailed down the first phase of how we’re going to monetize this, and we’re pointing the business in the right direction for growth.”
What’s It? Interactive online polls, with a side of “sentiment analysis”
Brought To You By: Cofounders Chris Monteleone and Jamie Proctor
All In: $70,000 in personal investments, followed swiftly by about $1.1 million from private investors, all going to software development and marketing
Status: They already know what you’re thinking and they’ll know a lot more soon