First, it starts up with the philosophy of what should happen, then I find ways to make it happen. I think being good at breaking rules helps bring ideas to life.
Frank Speiser is the co-founder of SocialFlow a social media marketing platform and the leading social media optimization solution and data suite formulated on a science-based approach to marketing and publishing on social networks. Frank from the onset understood that in order to win the fight for audience attention, businesses and brands needed to be able to reliably determine the real-time value of their content on the social graph.
His approach to using applied mathematics, language analysis and technology helped develop the algorithms that powers SocialFlow’s ability to understand data and led to a new perception of the value of attention on social networks. Frank has been exploring the practical applications of science and data since his early childhood when at age 8 he made his first program to translate sheet music into sound via BASIC. Since then, Frank went on to hold the CTO positions for New York based Takkle, Inc. (acquired by Alloy Media+Marketing), and video and social site HEAVY.
A self-declared baseball fanatic, Frank has been collecting player cards and memorizing statistics since he was young. For him, the game was always about the data and he uses his passion for the sport to create an analogy for what social media managers face when they publish to the web: “Staring down a pitcher at the plate, you have a split second to decide whether to swing or to wait.
The growth of Twitter and Facebook means that companies and brands need to make the same split-second decisions everyday based on millions of interactions. At SocialFlow, such fine-grain real-time decisions are what we do every day for our clients.” Frank’s specialties include Open source architecture, scalability, technical team management, technical talent recruiting, technical contract negotiation, viability analysis, hardware planning, scaling, application development (mobile, web, standalone), online and mobile gaming.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on identifying success cases from some of our clients for our account management to share with clients. We also recently improved our technology and we are working on sharing this with clients, basically showing how well our technology is working for them. So right now it is about sharing the good news to our clients.
Where did the idea for SocialFlow come from?
My co-founder and I had a podcast- we sent out the podcast links to almost 300 people via email and after waiting a couple of hours, no one clicked on it. We decided we were going to get an audience no matter what. Since we put a lot of work into it, we decided that we were not going to give up. We then noticed that some of the tags we used for the podcast were used by others in their conversations. So we decided to target these set of people, sharing our links to them. We got some clicks and that was when we realized that language was a good predictor for engagement. We also realized that to grow your audience you had to develop a pricing mechanism for the interaction, with attention being the currency. And the idea for SocialFlow just kind of grew from that. Now, SocialFlow is a social marketing platform that uses algorithms to decided when social media content should be posted.
How do you make money?
We have five products: Cadence, Forte, Crescendo, Tally and the Command Center, all licensed products that helps clients get the most out of what they do on social media. These are what we market to our clients and prospective clients.
What does your typical day look like?
I don’t have a typical business day. Sometimes I am traveling, other times speaking to some group of people and at other times just writing codes. Some days it is strategy and other days product planning and design. This is good and I like the flexibility.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First, it starts up with the philosophy of what should happen, then I find ways to make it happen. I think being good at breaking rules helps bring ideas to life. The way you bring things to life is by destroying something already in existence. All good technology destroys or replaces one previous way of doing things. And the best kind of rules to replace are the ones that restrict people.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The trend that excites me now in the social media marketing space is the one we are in. At SocialFlow, we price attention. There are millions of people and thousands of ideas, the challenge is how do you gain and retain audience attention? So having the ability to figure out the right way and right time to trade these ideas to your audience using algorithms is quite exciting.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I ever had was one time between my senior year in high school and freshman year in college. I was working for this unlicensed construction company mixing cement and stacking blocks and the owner treated his employees badly. You start your day with a pair of gloves and by 10am in the morning, there are already holes in the gloves and your hands are bleeding. I remember one day I mixed cements, working in the sun, with no shirts on and I had my back burnt from the corrosive lime. When I got home that day, my dad said I should quit but I refused. I learnt from that experience that a lot of times you succeed by not quitting when everyone quits and that is so true in a start-up. You just have to be stubborn to make it.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I will do everything differently, every single thing. When I started, I did not really know how to raise money. I also did not know anything about venture capital or how to structure equity and things like that. In addition, I would have also done marketing differently, effectively educating prospective clients about our technology and how it works.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Just do it. Stop saying what you’re gonna do and just do it. It’s great to try a bunch of different things but you have to just do it. Not in the Nike sense, not a cliche slogan sense. This is not glamorous, it’s hard. Everybody’s been conditioned to think things are easier than they are and you hear stories about how some companies shot to fame. Google came into existence way before they started making money. It wasn’t like it was particularly easy. For Facebook, the guy went through so much to get it to where it went. The only reason either of those companies got to where they are is because people just did it. They buckled down when there were things to do and they did it. It’s really simple. A lot of the ideas people have are really good ideas, and the world would be better if people just did them.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of the failures I had was being able to manage personalities, that is finding the right balance between the personalities I worked with. The way I handled this was instead of trying to control the people involved and dictate what should be done and what should not be done, which would have been a mistake, I allowed the personality thing to play itself out, trying to help those I thought should be helped, opening up new opportunities for them and allowing them take charge of what they felt comfortable doing. This I think is a major part of running a startup.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I actually put together a set of slides for this and dared people to steal this idea. People think this is too much doom and gloom, but the idea is questioning what money really is. Say I work my entire life and give everything to my son. Then somebody comes along and decides to print twice as many currency units. All of a sudden, he owns nothing. Someone needs to invent commodity based currency exchanges to bootstrap poor areas. I think the most marketable currency in the world is water. And I know people are going to be kind of freaked out about hearing this, but giving away water is not sustainable. That should be clear on it’s face value. Charity water is great because it gets water in the hands of those who’d die without it, but if you want to be a sustainable economy there needs to be economic incentive to produce clean water. If you do it at a small enough level that works economically, then you have this base unit of exchange that keeps everybody alive. Some kind of water based credit exchange should be made so that people can exchange for specialized labor. There needs to be a mechanism to take what’s locally around you, translate people applying their labor to it into a currency unit and and then let people bootstrap it that way. That would make for a great business and change the world. If nobody does it, I’m going to do it soon.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would want people to live without coercion. I would make the primary objective for societal organization to be non-coercion. I can opt out of my insurance, but I can’t decide to not pay taxes. If I don’t want to work, pretty soon I’ll be homeless and if you’re homeless, you’re gonna get rallied up because theres a law against being homeless. Rules reorganize people based on priorities that don’t really help and this creates conflict. Forcing other people to do things are a problem. Even as a programmer, too many rules is sign that you’re not solving the problem the right way. You’re never going to get rid of arrangements, but there needs to be a way to exist without people telling you what to do. The only way to do that is to get people to accept that being peaceful works. Thats pretty self evident.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I met the co-founder of SocialFlow because he stabbed me. We were at a party in Boston and there was a third party group that was about to fight and they decided to just walk away which was odd. I was with a mutual friend and my co-founder. After the others left, he made a motion pretending to stab and actually had a knife and then accidentally stabbed me. We ended up going at it in the street while these other guys walked away like we were crazy. It must have looked like the scene from fight club where the guy is fighting himself in front of the bar. I also have a photographic memory. Its good and its bad. I see license plates and I can’t get them out of my head. A lot of license plates have a thing in the middle like a dash and I try to apply an equation that will equal out both sides. It’s this weird game I’ve played ever since I was a little kid.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I like this thing called CPAN . Its a Comprehensive Perl Archive Network. Its a repository of all these modules people use. Its interesting to see how people organize around tools that solve a problem. I look through that to get ideas, even if I’m coding in another language. Theres nobody really running it, it’s just this thing that exists and it gets stuff done. I like Wikipedia. I like the fact that things people used to go to college for, you can get for free from Wikipedia, and if you really pay attention you can learn it in a week. I’ve dropped out of 5 colleges and I’ve learned way more from Wikipedia and following up and doing my own learning, than I did at any of the 5 colleges. I’m really interested in Bitcoin all of a sudden. It’s a method of economic exchange, but theres no central authority. I can trust that the things you pay me with are legit because I can validate the network and you can’t fake that. I’ve been looking at all the Bitcoin sites a lot lately.
What is the one book that you recommend the IdeaMensch Community should read and why?
I would read the book Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein. Theres plenty of technical books I could recommend, but this book is the greatest love story ever written. If you’re not doing this for love, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. That book encapsulates what love is. Its my favorite book.
Apart from yourself, please list three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@GSElevator: Well you gotta follow Goldman Sachs Elevator. And I don’t endorse all the content, I’m just gonna say that right now.
@aweissman: I like Andy Weissman from Union Square Ventures. He’s got a really good account. Andy’s just a great guy and if there’s one VC you gotta get to know, its him. He genuinely wants to help people and when he says stuff, he means it.
@jaltucher: James Altucher writes for TechCrunch, Zero Hedge, Lew Rockwell and a wide range of things. But that guy is a really good dude. I think he’s good because he thinks about things from an individualist perspective.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I think the last time I laughed out loud was Saturday. I was hanging out with my friends from college. I was with my wife and my co-founder and best friend, and we were hanging out. We were laughing because we were watching our kids just do kid stuff in the backyard, which is kind of awesome because I can’t believe we all have kids. We’re responsible for someone else. Theres actually a lesson here that applies to being an entrepreneur. You have kids and think “I never thought I would be responsible for someone else,” but guess what? You are. If you don’t teach your kids the right thing, nobody else will. As an entrepreneur, if you’re not willing to do that idea, and you don’t do it, its not getting done. Or definitely not the way you thought it should get done, and much later, by someone who probably took way longer to get there and who’s not doing it the right way.
Who is your hero, and why?
I don’t think people should have heroes. You should just be the person you want to be. You should try to be incrementally improving. You should just be better than you were, the next time you look back and compare. If I had to compare myself to anybody, my guidepost is my wife. She’s the kindest, and obviously because she puts up with me, the most patient person in the world. I don’t know where I’d be without her. But you shouldn’t have heros. Trying to be what someone else was, is cheating yourself. If you really get to where you want to be, it will be better than what you thought your hero was anyway.
If you were not in the social marketing and technology space, what else would you see yourself doing?
I’d probably build stuff. Civil engineering or architecture. But I wouldn’t do it for the government or with other people’s money. Right now, I work for other people who pooled their money and did things, so maybe I wouldn’t do it like that. But I want to build something. Its good to look back at stuff and be like “Oh I did that, and it made this better.” Or I’d be a dishwasher. I’ve done that before, and it’s honest work.
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
This may sound boring, but I just like being with my family. I like the fact that I can talk with my family and they actually like me. Its harder to do than it sounds. There are plenty of people who work this much and are traveling this much and whose families have given up on them. So I like that I have mine.
SocialFlow blog: http://blog.socialflow.com/
SocialFlow on Twitter: @SocialFlow
SocialFlow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/socialflow
Frank Speiser on Twitter: @fspeiser
Frank Speiser on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/fspeiser