San Diego Startup Tracks Your Social IQ (Influence Quotient), Looks to Raise Capital

10/4/11Follow @bvbigelow

With the flip of a switch, a Web 2.0 startup that began life in mid-2009 has launched SocialIQ.com, a new beta website that also marks the San Diego company’s change to a new identity. Originally known as Soovox, the company now known as SocialIQ is making a strategic adjustment to align its corporate brand with its Web-based service, which measures users’ online influence.

“With Soovox, we made the mistake of trying to do too much with our limited resources,” says Akram Benmbarek, SocialIQ’s founding CEO. “Today we’re focusing on influence measurement, and helping brands engage their audience through their influential fans.”

With the mid-course correction, Benmbarek says he also wants to raise a round of Series A capital from venture investors—and therein lies the rub. Benmbarek and his team are keenly aware that they are competing with better-known startups like Klout, which measures online influence, and MyLikes, which uses online leaders in social media marketing.

But the evaporation of San Diego’s hometown venture capital has put SocialIQ at a disadvantage, according to Edward Isarevich, SocialIQ’s director of marketing and product development. “While innovating at a greater pace than our competitors in the Bay Area, they are the ones getting the funding,” Isarevich says. “Therefore we are seriously considering moving to the Bay Area, which would be a loss for the local economy.”

Benmbarek expects the choice will become apparent in coming months, as SocialIQ builds out the features and services of its new website, which was launched late Thursday. He has personal reasons for staying here—his wife wanted to live in San Diego when they married—and their family has become established here.


Akram Benmbarek


On the other hand, Benmbarek says he was previously living in Silicon Valley. He says he worked on late-stage financing of technology companies at Advanced Equities Financial Corp. Before that, he was working in wealth management at Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and UBS. He says he has raised less than $1 million in seed capital—mostly from angel investors in the valley.

Benmbarek originally called the company Soovox—your voice—with the idea of creating an online social media platform empowering consumers to make their voices heard. The startup officially launched a beta version of its Soovox website in November, 2010. Its proprietary “Social Influence Quotient” (Social IQ) was just one component of its overall service, although Benmbarek says it has been the most important component of the company’s strategy.

The company says its Social IQ is based on a proprietary program that measures a user’s influence—drawing from key social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace—and calculating the user’s Social IQ based on more than 50 variables that “bubble up” into their Social IQ.

In addition, the company intended its Soovox website to become a destination site for consumer brand reviews. The founders created games and competitions, based on the players’ Social IQ measurement, as a way to attract more users to the website. Users earned rewards, including discount coupons, promotions, and payments from their favorite brands, which also enabled them to rise through seven levels of influence, from “Newbie” to “Mogul.”

The keystone of the Soovox website was the Social IQ measurement, which relies on a patent-pending algorithm to calculate a user’s online influence by tracking three criteria—their reputation, connections, and knowledge authority. Like Klout, Traackr, and PeerIndex, SocialIQ provides a score that reflects the level of influence of millions of people.

Traackr serves as a particularly interesting comparison, in part because its business model is similar to Social IQ’s, and partly because Traackr, which was founded in Cambridge, MA, decided to move to the Bay Area. The reason, as Wade reported last year, was simply because it was easier for Traackr to raise venture capital in Silicon Valley than in Boston.

Are there too many competitors already in the market? Isarevich thinks there’s room for multiple companies measuring people’s social media influence. Yet Isarevich says measuring the social media IQ is really just a means to an end for the company, as it enables SocialIQ to help brand-name companies build social media marketing campaigns, and to disseminate their message among consumers who already like their brands.

“Our application not only allows brands to identify thought leaders and influential fans in their space, but also allows brands to engage and reward them,” Benmbarek says. “It gives them a lot of control of their online marketing efforts, and saves them a lot of time while they’re building their community of brand evangelists.”

He says SocialIQ already is working with consumer electronics, fashion, food and beverage, and other consumer brands that are looking to reach the key demographic segment of 18 to 39-year-olds. The company has five employees in San Diego and four software developers in Morocco, where Benmbarek was born. SocialIQ generates revenue by developing campaigns for consumer brands that help them identify their influential fans and engage them to amplify a product launch or whatever they want to do. The company also offers its Social IQ platform as a service to help brands on a continuous basis.

In the meantime, Benmbarek says, “We’re looking to raise our Series A to ramp up sales, and to expand and execute on our product roadmap.”

Of course, if the company finds venture firms balking at funding a company that’s 500 miles away from the capital of social media, SocialIQ’s roadmap might just lead straight to Silicon Valley.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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