We’ve structured our company as a sort of blended consultancy and tech company, which gives us a lot of flexibility to experiment with new technologies and build out new products without having to worry about staying profitable.
Allie Siarto co-founded Loudpixel, a social analytics company focused on social media monitoring, insights, measurement and infographics. The company started in Chicago in 2009, but moved to Michigan in 2011 in an effort to bring jobs back to the state.
Allie is the creator of a project called Entretrip, a co-traveling initiative that invites entrepreneurs to live and work together in a house for a week. The first Entretrip was in Costa Rica in 2011 and future trips are in the works.
Never content to sit still, Allie teaches social analytics at Michigan State University and photographs weddings in her spare time as a creative outlet.
What are you working on right now?
For the past 4 years, I’ve been focused on tracking trends in social conversations. First, I was monitoring online conversations for brands. Then we started diving deeper into trends to drive creative planning. From there, we got into a little research and development. Today, we’re starting to track larger social issues; everything from Occupy Wall Street and SOPA to which airport has the best wifi and electrical outlets.
Where did the idea for Loudpixel come from?
I worked at a PR agency in Chicago during the early days of social media analysis. Professional “listening” tools were just starting to emerge and I realized early on that the data we were getting had major pitfalls; the conversation stream was filled with tons of junk and very little context. This made it just about impossible to track meaningful trends in social conversations based on the data we were getting. I got together with my fiance (now husband) and another friend and they developed a tool to import the raw conversation data, create a representative sample set to be tagged by an analyst and use that data to create meaningful reports for companies. The first iteration was written in about 2 months during nights and weekends while we waited to secure our first big contract. It’s been rewritten twice since then.
What does your typical day look like?
When we moved to Michigan, we moved into an office that’s about a mile from our home. It was the best decision we ever made. Since we spent our first year working from a home office in Chicago, now I have a reason to get up and get ready for work. We make our best effort to walk to the office when the weather’s right since we aren’t ready to give up the walking lifestyle that we enjoyed in Chicago.
We have employees in Chicago and Senegal (random, I know; one of our employees just moved there for 8 months and is working for us part time while he’s there) and our clients are in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, so I spend a ton of time on the phone and on Skype.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The amazing thing about working with a talented core team of developers and designers is that when we have an idea, we make it happen. We’ve structured our company as a sort of blended consultancy and tech company, which gives us a lot of flexibility to experiment with new technologies and build out new products without having to worry about staying profitable.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I think it’s fascinating that trends in social conversations are being turned into published content. Social media trends are proving to be a powerful way of understanding how the community feels about a particular topic or issue.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
My first job was bagging groceries at a local grocery store and carting them out to customers’ cars. I started on my birthday in the middle of the winter and my first paycheck was $20. It was awful. I learned two things:
1. How to be pleasant to customers
2. I never want someone else to be in control of my career
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have stayed more focused from the beginning. Remember when I told you that working with a team of talented developers helps us execute projects quickly? Well, we started a few projects that weren’t really our core focus and they became total distractions. In fact, my “goal word” for this year is focus.
Last Saturday, my husband and I were drinking our morning coffees and chatting about a few different business ideas that we’d love to execute on. We found ourselves getting excited about the ideas, but we had to remind ourselves that we can only take on so many projects at once. Focus wins. The other projects will have to stay on the back-burner for a while.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Hire and delegate.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When it comes to marketing data, the more relevant data you overlay, the better you can track cause and effect. It’s exciting to see that sales data is starting to get overlaid with social conversation data here and there, but there’s no killer tool to do it all right now–data is still way too fragmented.
Tell us a secret.
I still transfer $60 to my parents every month for my cell phone. Just as I was about to move off of their family plan, Verizon got rid of their unlimited data, so I had to stay on their plan so I could be grandfathered in (I’ve talked to others about this, and it turns out I’m not the only one in this position).
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Skype is the major reason why we’re able to run a business from Michigan when our clients stretch from the East Coast to the West Coast and our staff stretches from Africa to Silicon Valley.
- My day begins and ends with Google. I use Gmail and Google Calendar to keep my life on track and we’ve started recording weekly Google Hangouts with the team on hot issues for the Loudpixel blog.
- I use CloudApp all the time to quickly transfer files and images back and forth with the team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. When you’re starting your own business from scratch, frugality is an important asset. This book is a great reminder to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Live below your means and save up, especially early on when cash flow is less predictable. Drive a used car or no car at all and only buy what you can pay cash for. You’ll absolutely thank yourself later.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Jeff and I laugh out loud at work and at home every single day. When you work with your spouse, you’d better have a sense of humor.
Who is your hero?
Is it cheesy to say that I completely admire my husband, Jeff? By the time he was 26, he had already published two books, was teaching a class at Michigan State and had run his own company for 6 years. He’s also one crazy talented designer. It’s fun to learn from him every day.
Why do you choose to run your business from Michigan?
I grew up in rural Michigan and when I moved in Chicago in 2007, I knew that I’d return to Michigan sooner or later. Michigan had some rough years while I was gone, but I’m proud to be a part of the “reverse brain drain” by coming back and creating jobs in the area.
When Jeff and I got married, we vowed to always put experiences over material things, but we were spending a good deal of our money on material things and rent in Chicago. When we moved to Michigan, we cut our cost of living in half and I was able to travel to San Francisco (twice), Las Vegas, New Orleans, Miami (twice), Chicago (more times that I can count), Boston, New York and Costa Rica throughout the year.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would stop comparing myself to others. I know it’s human nature to look to others to determine how we’re doing, but the Internet makes it far too easy to always look upward when it comes to measuring success. When I meet one financial goal, I can always find someone who has met a higher goal. When I travel to an interesting place, I can always find someone who has been to more interesting places. It’s okay to be inspired and driven by the success of others, but it’s not healthy to compare yourself too often.
Someone will always have a bigger boat.
Blog where we post infographics related to social trends: http://loudpixel.com/blog
Where I’ll be posting details about the next trip for entrepreneurs: http://entretrip.com
Allie Siarto on Twitter: @allieo
Allie Siarto on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alliesiarto
Allie Siarto on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/allieosmar