New York Startup Social Amp Turns Facebook Friends into E-commerce Commentators
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his company turned to Social Amp to leverage the social sphere in a quantifiable manner rather than for marketing purposes alone.
“Social Amp is part of differentiating our strategy—using Facebook and Twitter but bringing the social graph back to our e-commerce site,” Shah says.
Sunbulli, 30, graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago with bachelor’s degrees in economics and Russian literature. “In college I was involved in startups as well,” he said. Those startups included PaxZone, which steered the delivery of parcel packages to local grocers if the addressee was not at home. In 2004 Sunbulli became a banking analyst with Salomon Smith Barney and moved to New York. He soon shifted into the digital media arena, though, joining MTV Networks in 2005 as a production assistant and working his way up to digital product manager.
The rise of Facebook in 2007, Sunbulli says, shook up the advertising and media markets. “A lot of the advertisers we worked with at MTV we’re coming to our marketing department and asking how they could advertize on Facebook,” Sunbulli says, because of MTV’s audience demographics, which overlapped with those of the social media phenom.
When Facebook opened its gates to work with third-party developers, Sunbulli, along with his cofounder Alex Chang, explored the opportunity to launch a marketing company. Chang previously worked as an engineer with Barnesandnoble.com and Daylife.com.
Looking for ways to leverage the social data on Facebook for their commercial clients, Sunbulli says he and Chang contacted Sinan Aral, an adjunct professor at New York University, who serves as scientific advisor to Social Amp. Aral has a doctorate in information systems from MIT and specializes in social contagion, Sunbulli says, and his expertise helped guide Social Amp. “If you can model how information moves from one person to another on a graph, you can create contagions,” Sunbulli says.
Sunbulli says in 2009 he and Chang produced a plug-in for Facebook that let shoppers add products from retail sites to a wish list. The app associated the product’s sku number with the shopper’s Facebook user ID. “When you enter an e-commerce site you can see what your friends want,” Sunbulli says, “and potentially buy it for them.”
That early work helped introduce Social Amp’s to its first big customer, Levi’s, which led to the launch of Levi’s Friend Store in April 2010. “Levi’s had a vision for social commerce and they saw what we had already done,” Sunbulli says. Visitors to the site can see which jeans their friends like, much like they would if they went shopping in a brick and mortar store together. “When you go shopping in a mall you go with your friends,” he says. “We’re now able to mimic that experience with Facebook data at play.”