Easily Make Citations For Your Research With NY Startup: Citelighter

We’ve been having a lot of fun using Washington DC highlighting startup, Markerly. Markerly is a simple, easy to use browser plugin that allows anyone to highlight virtually anything on the web. From there you can share it six ways to Sunday and beyond.  IT’s a great platform for grabbing pieces of text and sharing them with your friends, colleagues and social networks.

New York based Citelighter works similarly to Markerly in that it allows you to highlight text on the web. Now though, instead of sharing that Citelighted content with your friends, and social networks, Citelighter compiles a bibliographical style note sheet for the end user to reference back. Citelighter is a great companion for anyone who is going to highlight something and then reference it later on.

Citelighter joins the browser plugin and highlighting space at a great time, as everyone is seeing what web browser plugins actually meet their needs.

We got a chance to interview Citelighter cofounder Lee Joki. Check out our interview below:

What is Citelighter?

Citelighter is an intuitive online research platform that enables students and professionals to quickly find and record facts, automatically cite sources, and write better papers/documents.  Citelighter is also incredibly useful for individuals doing more basic research like preparing to purchase a car, planning a trip, preparing for an interview, etc.

In layman’s terms, how does it work?

The current Citelighter product is a combination of a browser extension and a web-based platform.  The experience is best described from a user-flow perspective:

1.    User downloads the Citelighter browser plug-in.

2.    User creates the title for a project/document/paper using either the extension or the website.

3.    User highlights and captures the important information from any website found during research, which is then automatically saved and indexed in Citelighter database.

4.    The organizational framework allows users to choose from a variety of citation formats (currently MLA, APA, and Chicago), reorder the facts they’ve found within the paper, add notes and comments, and essentially create their entire outline directly from Citelighter.

5.    When the user has completed their research, Citelighter compiles all of the notes, facts, and corresponding reference information so that it may be exported to Word, email, or directly to their printer, with the entire bibliography and in-text citations completed for them.

6.    An organized account of all papers/documents created with Citelighter is stored within the user’s account so that they may continue their research at a later date, search through and refer back to past papers, and/or share their sources with friends.

Given that all of the facts saved by Citelighter users are stored and indexed in our internal database, we’re able to utilize this content in what we call our Knowledge Base.  The Knowledge Base is a collection of human curated facts, organized by topic and displayed in a way that encourages discovery of new information from across the web.  Each topic is represented as a “Knowledge Card”, which not only includes the curated facts, but the links to the original source as well as the some information on the person who curated the citations (whom we call Knowledge Experts, and are hand-picked by our team for the time being).  Users are able to easily incorporate either the citation itself into their projects straight from the Knowledge Card, or capture other facts from the original source.

It might also be helpful to check out the 2 min How it Works video on our site: http://www.citelighter.com/how-we-work

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

Saad Alam (CEO) and Lee Jokl (COO) have been close friends since they met in business school at the University of Rochester 6 years ago.  We founded Citelighter in July, 2011 and launched our public beta in September, 2011.

Prior to co-founding Citelighter, Saad Alam was the Director of Sales and Marketing for Health Central (3rd Largest online healthcare publisher and Sequoia back startup).  Prior to Health Central, Saad was part of a corporate MBA program at Eli Lilly and ran Market Research and Business Development for a $4B brand.

Prior to co-founding Citelighter, Lee Jokl was a Business Analyst with CGI Group, Inc., a leading Fortune 500 IT Services and Consulting company, where he was responsible for the financial management of CGI US’s hosting and datacenter operations.

Where are you based?
New York, NY

What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?

The NYC startup scene is growing rapidly, with a lot of great opportunities for young entrepreneurs.  We live in a large apartment with the guys that we work with (think Facebook loft) and work out of a space called Internet Media labs that is essentially an incubator, which our Board Member, Peter Bordes, (former CEO/founder of MediaTrust) operates.

How did you come up with the idea for Citelighter?

Saad had a family member (for the purposes of this publication, we’d prefer not to specify who the family member was, so as not to embarrass him) that, as a freshman in college, came to Saad and told him he was planning on dropping out because he was having a difficult time keeping his grades up and managing his time.  This is a kid that got a 1400+ on his SAT’s, and from a family that places incredible emphasis on education.  After working with this person for a couple weeks to help him through the end of the semester, Saad realized that the way he was performing research was incredibly inefficient and made it very difficult to focus on the important aspects of the research process (i.e. the learning and analysis of the topic) because of all the tedium around trying to organize and properly cite the information he’d found.

After thinking about this issue and sensing an opportunity, Saad and Lee (working together at this point) spent time looking for better ways to make the research/learning process more efficient.  Not finding anything that really met the needs of the students they were surveying, they started outlining what a better solution would look like, and ultimately they launched Citelighter.

How did you come up with the name?

We came up with the name Citelighter (one word, spelled with a capital C, and no capital L) as a way to imply a “citation highlighter”.

What problem does Citelighter solve?
When writing a paper or creating an academic or professional document, any student will tell you that the most time consuming part is doing the actual research on the topic, and the gathering of facts in order to construct an argument or analysis.  We’ve also found that the most despised task in this process is the tedious act of storing information from separate sources and then citing them properly.  Rather than organizing their thoughts in a coherent and efficient manner, students often find themselves wasting their energy cutting and pasting facts into Word documents, making it difficult to maintain their flow and concentration on the paper itself.  Existing software lack simplicity and require extensive training, often making them inefficient for the average student to use.

What’s your secret sauce?
I’d say it’s our ability to work closely with lots and lots of students to get tons of feedback, which helps us create a product that really meets their needs.  (to be honest, not sure what you’re looking for here…)

What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?

Staying focused on our core product and core market and not getting off track on all the other possible ideas out there.  Given that Citelighter has a lot of other applications outside of education, we hear a lot of really interesting ideas, some of which are very tempting, but not within our core competency right now.  While we obviously always keep our eyes open for new ideas, knowing when to follow them is certainly a startup dilemma.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?

Building a solid team in an expensive area like NYC, on a startup budget.  We had to get creative so we converted Saad’s large apartment in the Financial District into a 5 bedroom place.  Given how nice the place is, relative to its significantly reduced cost, we had over 100 people apply to live there with us.  Of those, we invited 4 to move in that had specific skill set and who would be interested in working with us in some capacity at Citelighter.  3 of the 4 people that live in the loft have since quit their jobs to work with Citelighter full time.  This helped us build a great team environment where everyone is really close, but also provides more affordable housing for everyone.

Who are some of your mentors and business role models?

We are very fortunate to have some really great mentors and advisors that have helped us a ton from the very beginning.  You can find a list, as well as bios, on our about us page.  To name a few, we have the former CEO of the WashingtonPost/Newsweek Interactive, one of the founders of MySpace, the former CEO of ING Aeltus, the former CEO/Founder of MediaTrust, and a handful of very successful edu lead-gen guys, as well as other people in the education field.

What’s next for Citelighter?

With the school year about to start around the US, we’re excited to launch a new product in partnership with Cengage Learning.  We’ll be adding a premium, paid version of Citelighter, called Citelighter Pro, that seamlessly accesses Cengage’s database of millions of unique article, books, and journals not currently available on the web.  Here’s a press release about it from when we announced the partnership in April.  We plan to launch Citelighter Pro in September.
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