Back in June we brought you this story about Canadian startup Hashcaster. Hashcaster provides a curation, and measurement (analytics) platform for event coordinators to manage their social media graph. It really comes in handy when gauging the effect of marketing, press and media efforts on behalf of an event just about any size.
At Social Media Camp in June not only was Hashcaster used by the event organizers but they also received a “Coastie” for “Most Innovative Social Media Product or Technology”.
Event organizers everywhere are counting on social marketing efforts more and more everyday as traditional marketing has fallen to the wayside. Organizers need to be able to capture tweets, likes, and mentions and then aggregate them, and analyze them to make sure the cohesive message is getting across. They also want to know who their top influencers are and what kind of impact any paid social marketing may have had.
All of these things are why Geoff Clendenning and Paul Vet created Hashcaster.
Now social media dashboards are nothing new but this particular use case is. Hashcaster also takes into consideration that the social graph of a particular event is going to swell as the event draws closer. When you’re at a popular event, especially one with a social media focus, tweets, likes and mentions can come in a matter of seconds.
We got a chance to interview Clendenning about Hashcaster, check out the interview below:
What is Hashcaster?
Hashcaster is a real-time Twitter curation and measurement platform for event marketers and organizers. Central to the platform is the “hash tag”, a user adopted convention for tagging tweets with keywords that other Twitter users can follow and engage in a topical community. A hash tag is said to be trending when many hundreds, thousands or even millions of Twitter users contribute content to that hash tag community. For event organizers a trending hash tag is great, however it comes with two fundamental challenges. One, event organizers have a hard time making themselves and their sponsors heard on a noisy trending hash tag. Two, Twitter users engaging the event can feel as if they’re drinking from a fire hose when following a busy hash tag.
Hashcaster solves both these problems by curating the Twitter stream, capturing crowd sourced content from the hash tag and organizing it into three easily accessible event branded channels: on the web, in show on a Twitter wall and on mobile devices. In addition to curating content from the hash tag stream, Hashcaster also applies advanced real-time algorithmic analysis to help determine who and what content is most important to a hash tag community. Finally, Hashcaster provides a new way of measuring events, providing not only Twitter analytics but also metrics on how Twitter users around the world engaged the event branded Hashcaster media properties.
Who are the founders and what are your backgrounds?
Hashcaster was founded by Geoff Clendenning & Paul Vet.
Geoff is an entrepreneur with 20 years of business building experience. Specializing in developing innovative business models that take advantage of new technologies, demographic or market trends.
A product of the original dotcom boom and bust, Geoff co-founded ePod, a rich media technology company in 1997. Ultimately raising more than $18 million U.S. from firms such as XDL Capital, Brand Equity Partners, U.S. Trust & Macromedia, ePod was eventually acquired by StarMedia a subsidiary of Lycos in 2001.
After returning to Toronto, Canada from New York, Mr. Clendenning opened his own new media consultancy, which led to the founding of a number of media properties prior to focusing his efforts on developing the Hashcaster platform in 2010.
Paul is a recent graduate of the famed Applied Mathematics & Computer Science Departments at University of Waterloo. In addition, Paul holds a Masters Degree in Media Production from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
Where are you based?
Hashcaster is based in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, Ontario.
What’s the startup culture/scene like where you are based?
Toronto is one of Canada’s three high technology hubs along with Ottawa and Vancouver, BC. Although historically viewed as a financial hub Toronto has in the past 4 years established a strong startup culture, partially due to the emergence of numerous government sponsored incubator such as MARS (http://www.marsinnovation.com
) and partially because the financial establishment is turning more and more to venture funding to augment their returns with high growth opportunities. In the Social Media space the two most recognizable startups out of Canada are probably Radian6, acquired by Salesforce.com and Hootsuite, which recently closed a $20 million funding round lead by Omers Ventures (http://www.omersventures.com) in Toronto.
Funding for startups has always been a challenge but this is changing. Small incubator funds such as Extreme Startups (http://www.marsinnovation.com
) are providing micro-financing to promising entrepreneurs and more importantly expertise and guidance. Other larger funds such as Omers Ventures have emerged as industry leaders opening up funding on a global scale to some of Canada’s most promising high growth technology companies.
In conclusion the Canadian startup scene is still relatively small compared to the U.S. but it is very vibrant and with the help of companies like Omers Ventures, incubators like MARS and evangelists such as Mark Evans (http://www.markevanstech.com) it is gaining a voice that is being heard around the world.
Do you have access to all of the resources you need to grow as a startup?
Getting access to all the resources you need as a startup can be challenging in any market. We are fortunate to have great schools like Waterloo in Canada and the Canadian government and financial community are beginning to recognize how important high tech startups are to the future of the Canadian economy.
That said, I think Canadian startups always have to do more with less. The hurdle of securing financing in Canada is much higher than in the U.S. A company with a good idea and a couple of smart guys might be funded in Silicon Valley, the same is not true in Canada. I think entrepreneurs in Canada must creatively boot strap their companies much more than in the U.S. and thus are forced to really prove out markets and technology to a much higher standard. For example Hashcaster has within one year launched more than 25 events with 20 clients across North America and we still remain founder funded. Although we’re confortable being self-funded at this point, I know many companies in the Valley that have been funded with much less accomplished.
The idea for Hashcaster originated in 2009 when it became clear that the intersection of live events and Twitter was something unique. While most Twitter developers scrambled to build Twitter clients we thought that was a crowded space. Following Twitter users and being followed on Twitter was fundamental but it was the “hash tag” that made Twitter truly unique in the social media space. The spontaneous formation of complex communities around a hash tag represented a new mechanism for crowd sourcing content and data that had previously never existed. More interestingly the adoption and trending of a hash tag was organic and almost never initiated by a central authority. For the first time in history people around the world could instantly and spontaneously form a community around any live event. Once we recognized this behavior was inherent to Twitter and after piloting various concepts at events we knew we had a winner in Hashcaster!
Hashcaster was officially launched at Photoshop World in September 2011 as a beta product. (http://www.hashcaster.com/
photoshop-world/) Since then Hashcaster has been enthusiastically received by the event industry and social media community in general.
Hashcaster has implement 25 plus Hashcasts events since last September 2011 ranging from HR, Technology, and eLearning to Industry Associations and Charities. Some of the most recent Hashcasts include:
- Blackboard BbWorld 2012 http://bbworld.hashcaster.com
- Social Media Camp: http://smc.hashcaster.com
- meshcon: http://meshcon.hashcaster.com
- mLearningCon (The eLearning Guild): http://mlearncon.hashcaster.
- Photoshop World: http://psw.hashcaster.com
- Random Hacks of Kindness: http://rhok.hashcaster.com
- Human Resource Professionals Association: http://hrpa.hashcaster.com
Who’s your target user?
Out of the gate our target customer has been any event organizer across a variety of industries and event types. Hashcaster has been deployed at technology events, company user conferences, sporting events, education conferences and many others.
Our secondary but equally important customer is the end user of Hashcaster. Here we’re focused on providing attendees and those engaging the event around the world with a streamlined experience that makes it easy for them to engage the community, tame the fire hose and join the conversation at the event.
What’s the problem Hashcaster solves?
Hashcaster was developed to address two fundamental problems facing both event organizers and users on Twitter:
- A trending hash tag is very noisy and chaotic environment. Many thousands of tweets can be shared on a hash tag as it trends over a two or three day period. With only a single account or Twitter handle event organizers have a hard time making themselves and their sponsors heard among all this noise. Hashcaster solves this problem by curating the Twitter stream, capturing great crowd sourced content from the hash tag, organizing it into an easily accessible format and making it available through three event branded channels: on the web, in show on a Twitter wall and on mobile devices.
- From the end-user perspective, participating in a rapidly trending hash tag can be like drinking from a fire hose! Keeping up with thousands of tweets and hundreds of photos and links is impossible. Most users will miss 90% of this crowd sourced content as they go about their day. Hashcaster solves this problem by capturing all this content and organizing it into an easily digestible format that the user can visit at anytime to keep up with all the tweets, news, photos and videos created at the event.
The Hashcaster platform address these two problems by performing three primary functions:
- The system continually monitors a hash tag or multiple hash tag Twitter streams in real-time; capturing photos and videos and generating “stories” from links included by users in their tweets. Photos and videos are organized in easily accessible galleries and stories are placed in categories to facilitate discovery.
- The platform also uses sophisticated analytic algorithms to continually evaluate the Twitter stream; identifying “Top Influencers” and “Top Contributors” during the event. Both these analytics are used to display Top Influencers and Contributors on the event’s Hashcaster website, thus making it easier for users to connect with sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and thought leaders at an event.
- Finally, the platform provides the event organizer with sophisticated metrics that allow them to quantifiably measure the impact of their event; something the event industry has never been able to do reliably before.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
Like almost every startup we’ve faced many of the expected challenges: limited resources, access to talent, finding a place to work that wasn’t a coffee shop, etc. However I believe our biggest challenge was achieving the right mindset. Having started, succeeded and failed a number of times as an entrepreneur I was determined to approach this with a disciplined and highly objective mindset. It’s very tough as an entrepreneur to separate your passion from the market reality, especially when you’ve put so much of yourself into a project. For an entrepreneur giving up control of any kind can be difficult, giving up control to the market can be terrifying. This however, I believe is a prerequisite for success. I decided early on that I would torture this idea and our solution and really let the market determine our fate. It sounds so obvious, every startup should view the world this way, but all too often an entrepreneur’s vision can be cloudy when it comes to the market.
So even before we wrote one line of code we found ways to test our idea. First we needed to determine if the end user behavior we had observed around hash tags was real and could be productized. We did this by cobbling together a collection of tools that would allow us to carefully test each of our assumptions in real world environments. The outcome? We passed the first test, users did respond the way we expected.
Our next challenge began when we decided to begin coding. Which features should we include? Again we had to let the market decide and we needed quantifiable data. We trimmed down the feature set to the very core functionality, hacked something together, wired it up to Google Analytics and deployed against (in stealth) a number of events. The result? The data was good; our core feature set was on target. However, not everything went completely smoothly. In deploying the early platform at a real world event we had ruffled some feathers with the event organizer. Nothing like ticking off your potential customer before you even have any customers! This however presented a great opportunity. Instead of walking away from the controversy we engaged the event organizer. Even better after explaining what Hashcaster does they completely changed their viewpoint and become our first client, Photoshop World (http://psw.hashcaster.com)
All the way through this process of testing we had what we called the kill switch. This was a list of critical issue that we felt made the proposed solution and business model unworkable. Fortunately we never had to pull the switch and bit-by-bit we checked off each of these critical items and gained confidence that we really did have a unique opportunity in Hashcaster.
A year later after launching in September 2011 we are more convinced than ever that Hashcaster is a viable business and with 20 customers and over 25 events under our belt we have the data to back it up!
What’s next for Hashcaster?
Hashcaster is moving from the early seed or startup stage into its growth phase. We recognized this when we began to see more inbound customer enquiries than out bound opportunities. We have a full calendar of events booked into 2013 and we have many new features and capabilities ready to be rolled out over the next six months.
Finally, the Hashcaster platform goes way beyond our present event focused target market but that of course is an announcement for another day.
Check out Hashcaster here at their website
Check out this storify page about Hashcaster
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