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Interview – ViralHeat.com: Smart Entrepreneurs behind the Smart Startup

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A study conducted by Nielsen revealed that two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites and visiting these sites is now one of the most popular online activity and ranks ahead of checking email.

Undoubtedly, social media and social networking have become a fundamental part of the global online experience. According to another study by Cone Inc., close to 93% of users believe a company should have a presence in social media — not because these users want to get bombarded with more marketing junk (read spam) from the businesses but more so because they believe in the power of social media which enabled real-time communication between the masses. It has become so powerful that companies have to rely on startups like ViralHeat to help them monitor the social media networks round the clock and in real-time.

In this interview, Startups.in gets an innerview from Vishal Sankhla of ViralHeat.com. Read as Vishal candidly shares his experiences with their startup and his thoughts on their intelligent product that monitors customer-generated content on social networks.

The main thing is to have laser thin focus on the customer issues and have an effective solution, don’t bother what the investors say to you, talk to as many target customers as you can, they will guide your way and the investors will follow.

1. What is ViralHeat.com? Is it some heat producing virus?

Fortunately it’s not a heat producing virus , we want to make your content and your products be viral. Viralheat is a powerful, simple, yet affordable way for brands, agencies,

marketers and content producers to monitor consumer-generated content on social networks. Users can identify key trends, understand community engagement and perform competitive analysis across the entire social web in real-time. Viralheat was founded in January 2009 by Rajeev Kadam and Vishal Sankhla. The entire system has been built from ground up using the best techniques in large scale network monitoring and proprietary peer-to-peer cloud computing.

2. We believe that there is a story behind the origin of every startup. Could you please share with us the motivation and the story behind your startup?

Both of us have a network monitoring background. We met while working at our last company that built large-scale wireless security systems for the fortune 500 corporations. The wireless intrusion detection and prevention system were deployed at the CIA and a lot of other government agencies. Aruba Networks acquired the company.

The founders have a huge passion for social media and the idea of Viralheat was born while driving on our way to buy coffee. The main frustration was lack of good, simple and easy to use tools to comprehend social media landscape. There are hundreds of video sharing sites, several social networks, blogs, forums, twitter and just so many avenues where people share and create information and there was no easy, cost-effective way to monitor it in one place.

There is a clear need for a real-time social media tracking solution that can monitor a wide array social media sites in one offering. Today marketers have to use multiple offerings to track twitter, video, websites, social networks, wiki’s, forums and blogs. These solutions provide no insights into social media sites and hampers marketing campaigns. To make matters worse, the service offerings on the market are utterly expensive and only affordable by big brands and agencies.

Viralheat’s unique business model means users can simply pick and choose the capabilities they need instead of paying thousands of dollars per month for functionality they do not need.

3. What is it that makes your start-up unique amongst others offering similar services? Any significant features we should know?

Viralheat is the only enterprise-class social media business intelligence solution available in a SaaS model. Viralheat is a one-stop shop for social media monitoring and analytics offered at a price point that will open the entire sector to new monetization opportunities for any size company or agency. Viralheat monitors viral video, twitter, blogs and websites in real-time. Our goal is to get the customer up and running in less than 5 minutes. This is revolutionary compared to competitors where it takes days to set up and start using the service.

Viralheat has made significant investment in R&D to dramatically reduce the cost of the solution and provide in-depth analysis at par with the expensive competitive solutions in the market. The system can aggregate, filter, store, compute, and deliver insights into millions of social media interactions within seconds. In order to offer such a real-time solution, Viralheat has also made significant advances in large-scale data processing by using a massive proprietary cloud computer that can analyze, aggregate and store data intelligently. The system leverages the latest caching and database techniques of column-store, compression, and intelligent indexing to overcome fundamental problem areas when processing complex queries over large data volumes.

With a revolutionary real-time data processing engine at its back, Viralheat plans to disrupt and dominate this category of Social Media. The aim is to get a massive installed user base and up-sell advanced features to clients. The system will also provide open API’s for 3rd party developers to use Viralheat’s data to build applications. Viralheat’s unique business model means users can simply pick and choose the capabilities they need instead of paying thousands of dollars per month for functionality they do not need.

The customer was stumped, really impressed and vows to stay with us as a client.

4. Who are your major competitors?

Viralheat’s competitors include WebTrends, Visible Measures, Radian6, and Omniture. Radian6 depends on 3rd party data providers and charges $1000/month per term and exponentially increases the cost based on the number of mentions $500/month for unlimited keywords (editors’ note: corrected based on the comment from Radian6 below). Omniture recently added the capability to track viral video and twitter to its flagship product, SiteCatalyst. There is no standalone service that allows users to quickly signup and start monitoring. Sitecatalyst is an expensive solution and is not affordable for most companies. WebTrends is another player in the space, but they do not even have their own technology, they use Radian6 as their social media monitoring solution.

5. How is your startup doing do so far? What kind of traffic does it see?

Viralheat was launched on 6th July 2009 and received a thunderous response. A wide-range of customers including music labels, television networks, brands, government agencies, financial institutions, digital and public relations agencies, individual consultants and analysts from all over the world have signed up to use the service clearly demonstrating the demand and need for an easy to use cost effective solution. The service received over 2500 signups just within a few days of launch.

6. Tell us about your pricing model?

Viralheat has a simple pay-as-you-go that requires no up-front investment. It can be deployed in under 5 minutes instead of months. It has the security, scalability, and speed that an enterprise expects and is made available at a fraction of the cost of traditional social media monitoring services. The basic monitoring service is offered at $9.99/month to track 10 terms and $39.99/month to track 50 terms.

7. How large is the team behind ViralHeat.com? Are you all based in India?

The team currently consists of 8 people; most of the team is based in US, with one business development personnel in India. We are getting a lot of queries from agencies in Mumbai and Delhi and we are looking to expand our team in India.

8. How is your startup being funded so far? Did you receive any other external funding? If not, do you plan on seeking external funding?

Viralheat is completely funded by it founders, Rajeev Kadam and Vishal Sankhla. We are looking to raise a small round of seed capital to accelerate our growth and product development.

We are looking to raise a small round of seed capital to accelerate our growth and product development.

9. Did you encounter any initial hiccups while pitching the idea? Could you please explain the process you followed that might help other future entrepreneurs planning to startup?

Social media is broad sector with a lot of different players trying to solve the issue of consumer scale monetization. It was hard for us to carve out a niche and clearly articulate our value proposition. We tried to raise some capital to help our efforts but from an investor prospective, they always told us that it’s too small a deal for them right now and the space is too crowded. We knew there was a problem; we had spoken with hundreds of customers over phone, clients ranging from big brands like Coca Cola to small PR firms in a remote town somewhere. They all have a problem that needs to be addressed. The main thing is to have laser thin focus on the customer issues and have an effective solution, don’t bother what the investors say to you, talk to as many target customers as you can, they will guide your way and the investors will follow.

10. What are key technologies your service is built upon and why did you opt for them?

Our entire front end is done in Ruby on Rails because its framework is designed to rapidly build Web 2.0 applications. One the back we use a variety of technologies, we use a custom built peer-to-peer cloud computing network to aggregate and process the data, we use a large scale full text search engine for matching, HyperTable for datawarehousing and memcached for our caching needs.

11. In your experience, what has been the most effective way to market a business?

Educating the users, getting the word out and helping users navigate the fragmented landscape of Social media. We also did a lot of influential outreach by talking to bloggers and media publications in the sector.

12. What is the best advice you’ve ever received.

My father once told me; If you think you are so smart, go prove it. Don’t go to your rocking chair at 60 not knowing.

13. On a personal front, who is your role model?

Steve jobs, just because of his sharp market acumen and incredible attention to details in Apple products.

14. How did being an entrepreneur affect your lifestyle? Do you get enough time for yourself/family?

Its tough, but one needs to strike a right balance between job and personal life. There are times when work demands more attentions (ex. during launch) but I also take regular breaks every once in a while to go out on some pleasure travel. It’s always great to have good friends by your side, which are always helping and motivating you along the way. Sometime I don’t see my friends for months, but they understand that I am down in some dungeon working on something and not ignoring them.

15. Tell us One thing that is dearest to you?

Customer support, we are ferocious about it. We try to help our customers as much as we can. There was an agency from Netherlands that signed up at 1 am on a Saturday night and got stuck because of some billing issues. We got notified right away and fixed the issue, the moment we received the email from the customer, we replied right way with the fix. The customer was stumped, really impressed and vows to stay with us as a client. He is also doing a lot of Word of mouth promotion for us in Netherlands and has managed to get us more clients.

Go Viral!

(If you are an Indian startup and would like to be interviewed or featured on Startups.in then we’d be happy to talk to you. Contact us right away.)

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