in Big Ideas

Engagio: A Canadian Startup Story and the future of the Social Web

Editor’s Note: William Mougayar is the CEO & founder of Engagio and previously founded Eqentia. He has 30 years of experience in the high-tech industry with large and small companies. He can be reached on Twitter at @wmougayar or by visiting his engagement profile at http://engag.io/wmougayar.

Since we were funded in early January 2012, and especially after we announced it in mid-February, I feel like I moved out of the basement and into the ground level of a building. Indeed, being part of the “Funded Club” suddenly gives you a kind of peer respect and credibility that changes the game.

We have been in the fast lane of Startup land. We produced a minimum viable product in 8 weeks and opened access to alpha users right away. 30 days later, we were funded with a $540K seed investment from 6 VC’s and Angels in the US and Canada. A month after that, we took down the alpha and beta status and opened the service totally. Four months after the first line of code was written, we’re starting to look like a mature startup with thousands of active users.

But this story wasn’t really an overnight success. It was 3 years in the making, and it sucked being in that basement during these 3 years. But they were the best preparation for the next 3 months that changed everything about me as a Canadian entrepreneur trying to be one of many others that can claim to have been funded by reputable investors.

I’ve been labeled as a tenacious individual. I’ve been called scrappy, and hard working. All true.

David Crow (@davidcrow) asked me to pen a few lessons. Take what you want, and discuss the rest in the Comment section. After all, we are entering a phase of greater social engagement, and comments are often more important that the blog post itself.

My start-up Engagio is pretty focused on one objective: letting users manage their online conversations across the fragmented Social Web and realizing relationships from these conversations.

There’s a story behind our evolution, and it’s tightly related to the future of the Social Web.

Start with Social Capital

It started in the fall of 2008 when I became inspired by Howard Lindzon (@howardlindzon), founder of StockTwits as I heard him speak at Startup Empire where he recounted how he met venture capitalist Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) a few years earlier just by commenting on his blog. Howard explained the value of Social Capital as a critical by-product of the Social Web.

The next day, I started commenting on Fred Wilson’s AVC.com blog, and gradually increased my participation because I was seeing increasing value from interacting with the other commenters. I firmly believed that every comment was an implicit linkage to a person and a potential relationship waiting to blossom.

Since that day, I have written about 3,400 comments on AVC.com, – that’s an average of 3 per day, received 1,800 Likes, and made dozens of real world relationships with other frequent commenters I met on that blog. This proved that if you invest in building relationships online, there are long-term benefits you can gain. That’s Social Capital at work.

Then in September of 2011, Fred nominated 2 members of his blog community as moderators, and I was one of them. The value of Social Capital became even clearer to me, as I was seeing the value of commenting and social engagement on the web working in my favor. But my social engagement was pretty scattered on the Social Web across other blogs and social networks, and I started to realize that this wasn’t manageable anymore.

I thought there must be a better way to manage the multiplicity of interactions across the social web. So I came up with the idea for Engagio. It was a deceptively simple idea, one based on the fact that we are entering a phase of fragmentation of the Social Web. And we needed better tools to manage this fragmentation of conversations. I ran the idea of developing an Inbox for social conversations by Fred Wilson who liked it and encouraged me to make it happen. The next day, I turned to my team and we developed the first version of Engagio 8 weeks later.

Lessons for Canadian Startups

Engagio is my second startup, so everything I learned, did or didn’t do in the first one is embedded in this second one. You can’t fake experience, and you can’t manufacture lessons. They are in the scars, the notches on your belt, the stars on your shoulder and they are who you are.

Here are a few lessons I’d like to share with the Startup North readers.

1. Don’t polish a bad idea

The simpler the starting point and the simpler you can articulate it, the better it is. If you’re spending too much time wordsmithing the positioning statement or messaging, maybe you need to change course. Polishing a bad idea won’t make it shine.

2. Relationships don’t matter

They don’t. You may have hundreds of relationships that aren’t giving you benefits. Few relationships bear fruit in terms of value offered. The relationship itself doesn’t matter, but the trust in it does, therefore trusted relationships do matter. I knew a lot of people, but few were really trusted enough that they would do something for me. With trust comes exceptions and a lot of doors open in front of you.

3. Beware of selling to the enterprise

Unless the enterprise user is behaving like a consumer, you’ll have a tough time selling to the enterprise unless you’re a large company already, or have raised a lot of money as a startup. As enticing as enterprise users are, selling them a solution that requires group approvals and long budget cycles will kill any startup, no matter how good their product is. The only way to penetrate the enterprise is by having a simple SaaS-based product that individual users can try and purchase on their own without asking anyone.

4. Keep all relationships open

Keep all your relationships on a cordial level, even with the jerk VC or fellow entrepreneur who didn’t respond to your email, or didn’t give you what you asked for, or was indifferent to your request, or ignored you intentionally. I’ve encountered each one of these situations, and it’s better to keep your head high and think they are the jerk, not you.

5. Don’t believe your own story

Let others believe in it. That’s more powerful. You need to step outside of what you are developing and believe in the reality checks that outsiders will give you. They will see things you don’t, especially if they are users.

6. Growth is what matters

Startup growth is measured in dog years, and you must have a sense of urgency about it. It’s the #1 priority of a startup. If you don’t grow daily, your chances of success diminish. A startup exists to make something out of nothing. You’re a creator, and you must start to occupy a space that didn’t exist before. Growth is a daily habit, not a quarterly goal.

7. Get out of Canada

The Lean Startup methodology advocates that the CEO must get out of the office. But in Canada, out of the office is not enough. You need to get out of Canada and go conquer the US market. The borders are so porous from a business perspective, it’s as if it wasn’t there. Use Canada as a base, but use the US as a springboard. Get a US address and act like a US company when you pursue clients, users, media attention, partnerships and capital. The barriers will suddenly appear lower.

8. Go help someone

If you’re having a good day and believe you’re making progress, go help someone that needs your help. You owe it to the ecosystem that made you where you are.

Next time you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or a blog, don’t just share, re-tweet or like that piece of content or comment. Rather, engage with the other person, debate them, disagree with them, and start a conversation. You never know where it will lead you.

Connect with me on Engagio.

Editor’s Note: William Mougayar is the CEO & founder of Engagio and previously founded Eqentia. He has 30 years of experience in the high-tech industry with large and small companies. He can be reached on Twitter at @wmougayar or by visiting his engagement profile at http://engag.io/wmougayar.

  • http://www.getsnappay.com/ Jim Rudnick

    So glad to have read this, William! The fact that I now see that the consensus is that yes, the value of commenting and social engagement on the web works in the favour of the commentor themselves is so so true!
    #Kudos on the launch – I’m a user – and I like to be “engaged” on Engagio! Now…I wonder what is “cooking” in your dev road map….i.e. what new functions you’ll be rolling out…. :-)

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Thanks Jim. Lots of new features are in the oven :). As a user, you’ll be the first to know!

  • http://twitter.com/parthshukla parthshukla

    your blog post just got at least one new sign-up. Great idea, and a succinct golden nugget – don’t polish a bad idea.

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Welcome to the Conversation, and thanks for the signup. That statement was a remake on “if you polish shit, it won’t make it shine.”

  • campbellmacdonald

    Great post. I have been following Engagio through its birth with your involvement on avc.com. I was always surprised by the commitment you made to comments (since founding a startup leaves so much time), it’s nice to see some of the fruits of that labour.

    Curious how you are balancing your time between Engagio and Eqentia (I have no real idea how Equentia is doing). From the outside, Engagio seems to have more momentum. Is there any pressure from investors to pick one?

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Thanks Campbell. What’s suffering from my heavy commenting across the web (not just on Fred’s blog) is that I haven’t been as regular with my own blog. I should be blogging more often.

  • http://ca.linkedin.com/in/sanjarora Sanjeev Arora

    Thank you William, totally agree on reaching out to the U.S. being so close to the border, we got our app – Tabillo.com selected to present at http://www.demo.com next week – a step towards U.S.
    Also, great tip on making the app so easy to use that Enterprise users start coming to you and then you approach their CFO, CTO…by the way your so many 100 employees are using our app….like box.net did…!Question though, how do you operate from U.S. address without being a registered U.S. company or you suggesting setup a company there too?Sanjeev, Founderwww.tabillo.com

  • http://twitter.com/JayAClarke Jay Clarke

    Great post William. It’s easy to dismiss, especially from the outside looking in, the value of Social Capital, but I think you hit the nail on the head here. Much like the need to get out of the office, take 2 minutes, get out of outlook, and onto a blog, and start commenting. 

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    Thanks for sharing this William. Honoured to be one of your investors. You sure have been on a fast trajectory since you left the basement! 

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Likewise for having you as a great partner which is how I view our investors. I’m not sure what floor we’re on now. I can’t count while the elevator is still moving.

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    Word.

  • http://engag.io/ William Mougayar

    It’s easy. You can rent space at one of the incubator offices in New York or San Francisco for $300-$500 per month, and it goes from there. Part of the value is being connecting with the local ecosystems, so it’s not just the address, but your presence there.

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  • http://ca.linkedin.com/in/sanjarora Sanjeev Arora

    Thank you for the input William, local ecosystem is definitely very important as I was there last week for the Demo.com, check us out – http://blog.tabillo.com/ – it feels lonely in Toronto when you compare the community there…will need to make more visits for sure.

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  • http://twitter.com/DavidAnthonyBiz David Anthony

    Loved the advice and specially that you really want to help :) Wish every entrepreneur was like you. I’m a spanish entrepreneur spending a few days in the Palo Alto and have found great helping attitude among younger startups that are still very excited about starting up and a less. Also among slightly more experienced entrepreneurs that are growing and “doing well” in whatever way makes them feel good. On the other hand I’ve found that people feeling less good about their situation are less likely to share. I’d really love the advice from specifically those people that have hit a few walls, so I can learn from others mistakes… It must be painful to talk about not doing well, just to help others, but I do try to do it myself even though it hurts. Does this read sound about right to you?