TECHCITYINSIDER100: Smesh is an east London-based startup that captures the collective conscience of social media for clients ranging from Orange to the Guardian. Its founder and CEO, Tom Quick, explained all to Nico Franks.
Despite what his surname would suggest, the rise of Smesh, the company Quick founded in 2009, has been a gradual process. “We’ve grown slightly slower than a traditional startup, which has its pros and cons,” he says
Specialising in doing “creative things” with real-time social data, Smesh, the third startup that Quick has worked at, has “evolved much more organically” than the others, specifically because of the way it is funded.
Previously, Quick has gone down the traditional startup route of conceiving an idea, building a team around it and then finding people to invest in it, before selling it to people. But Smesh has been built without any investment from outside parties.
“It’s always been funded by itself and the work that it does. So we’re not necessarily as utterly focused on a single thing than a traditional startup, but at the same time we’re reasonably confident the sort of thing we’re doing has value because people are paying us for it.”
Quick’s advice for startups dealing with investors is to resist getting too enamoured with the wallets of those willing to back your company in the short-term, and instead think about the long-term benefits of a potential suitor.
“Whereas investors typically put quite a lot of due diligence into their selection of what to invest in, particularly inexperienced tech startups run by tech people tend not to apply any due diligence whatsoever to the people investing in them.
The result of jumping into bed too quickly with an investor flashing the cash can be “a difficult situation”, Quick says, in which a company becomes “closely tied to investors who often have very strong opinions about how you ought to be growing the business.”
The long and short of it? “You find yourself being fitted with a jetpack, pointed down an alleyway, hoping that you’re going in the right direction and that there isn’t a brick wall at the other end.”
Born “within the walls” of the digital agency Poke, where Quick worked as technical director, Smesh has been at an advantage because the company found ways to monetise its product early on in the process, which meant it wasn’t “held to a monolithic vision of what you’re doing determined by outside investors,” Quick says.
Smesh’s big data systems capture social media data from sources such as Facebook and Twitter, filters and analyses it, then presents the results in various forms, ranging from on screen, on a mobile phone, a campaign site, an ad or an app, for clients such as Zeebox.
For the latter, Smesh fuels the Twitter stats of the social TV app, bringing in unique insight from the individual viewer’s fingertips to the wider audience.
A few choice bon mots from viewers enjoying an episode of Come Dine With Me on Channel 4 right now, for example, range from “Can’t wait to be 18 so I can apply for Come Dine With Me” to “Oh that looks disgusting #comedinewithme.”
Watching the tweets come in by the second is a strange and addictive experience, transporting you into hundreds of living rooms or bedrooms, simultaneous sat besides complete strangers who are all shouting at once.
“The relationship between social media and TV is still very much in its early days,” Quick says, adding that, presently, TV producers are not only waking up to the power of social engagement with their content, but, in some cases, beginning to understand how to influence it.
“Second-screen TV content is an organic trend that has happened naturally – there are certain shows the nature of which encouraged people using Twitter and other social platforms to talk about.”
“If programme makers want to really make the most of social engagement, there needs to be a more conscious process about the relationship between the creative ideas that underpin the programme and the phenomena of social engagement in programmes,” Quick adds.
Quick asserts that the technical infrastructure behind the scenes of Smesh is “quite agnostic”, and that the company isn’t wedded to Twitter, as it also uses Facebook and Instagram. This avoids any “sense of nervousness” around basing a company on the popularity of one single network, Quick says.
However, Twitter continues to be the “hot social network” of the moment, Quick says, and it’s impossible to predict what kind of social media platform will take its crown: “We won’t know until we see it.”
Tom Quick – CV
MD and founder, Smesh
Technical director, Poke
Chief technical officer, Netemic
Chief technical officer, Digit London