Unmetric eyes a major share of $500M-a-year social media benchmarking market

17 Oct, 2012

When IIT-Madras passout Lakshmanan Narayan decided to start a social media benchmarking firm around two-and-a-half years ago, the name he had hit upon first didn't seem to highlight the industry he was in. After all, EyesAndFeet could have indicated any ingenious venture. So he decided to rename it TechOrigami Software Pvt Ltd, which was later christened Unmetric Inc.

"EyesAndFeet was a software solutions firm that helped small enterprises see what their peers were doing on social media and that enabled them to do interesting things of their own," says Narayan, who co-founded the company with his IIT buddies Joe Varghese and Kumar Krishnasamy in 2010 after a string of entrepreneurial ventures since his IIM days when he first started an event marketing company called Ropetrick.

"We started EyesAndFeet with an SMB focus, mainly restaurants, bars and spas. But the enterprise focus came later when we were speaking to various banks as their credit card divisions could have been the go-to-market catalysts for the EyesAndFeet application," saysthe 40-year-old entrepreneur, who had done quite a few projects for the erstwhile ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd) in those days and later worked with advertising companies Lintas, Lowe and Initiative Media.

"During that period, my team used to prepare competitive intelligence reports on ad spends and TV activities in our clients' sectors. And around the turn of the century, we were doing similar reports for their sites – comparing website traffic and related metrics. So Unmetric is a logical progression of recording such competitive intelligence, across social media," clarifies Narayan.

Although a new vertical, social media benchmarking as a business has high growth potential, and according to Gartner, by 2015, 10 organisations in India alone could be spending $1 billion each on social media. From industry estimates and the interest it has seen in the market, Unmetric believes there is business potential worth $500 million per annum in the social media competitive intelligence and the social media benchmarking space.

The Unmetric DNA

Unmetric (a Techcircle Fastrack company, more on that here ) uses a combination of advanced algorithms and human computing power to deliver relevant data and benchmarking insights into social media metrics, and caters to several industries. Its deliverables essentially span various key metrics such as content strategy, social media engagement, timing and frequency of tweets and posts on Twitter and Facebook, and the like.

The startup recently launched a competitive intelligence platform for Pinterest, enabling brand managers to gain access to successful Pinterest strategies of their competition. In brief, the company takes the guesswork out of social media activities as businesses get to understand the workings of social tools and how their performances are stacking up, compared to their competition.

"During our interaction with several big brands in the US, who we thought, could help with EyesAndFeet's go-to-market plans, we realised that they also faced similar problems. In fact, they didn't know how to make the most of social media. At that time, we figured that it might be better to focus on big brands and hence we launched Unmetric to pursue that strategy," says Narayan.

With headquarters in New York, Unmetric has a 28-strong team on board with operations across California, Illinois and New York, apart from offices in Chennai and Coimbatore. "Although we are headquartered in New York, I divide my time between India and the US. In fact, five years as a co-founder at Vembu Technologies opened my eyes to a new product era that we have entered – one that is powered by technology, connectivity and the ability to connect seamlessly and communicate across borders. Physical location is increasingly becoming a non-issue," he points out.

What also helped the company is a funding round in April this year, when it raised $3.2 million from a consortium led by Nexus Venture Partners.

According to Narayan, a major chunk of the funding raised is being used to build a sales team across geographies and also to carry out marketing activities, geared towards creating and owning the 'benchmarking sub-space' within the social media applications space for enterprises. He expects the funds to last comfortably for about a year and the company will soon raise a Series B round. A part of the funding also came from Vembu Technologies that he had co-founded.

What boosts the business?

"Unlike companies like Radian6 and Buddy Media, we enable big brands to benchmark their social media performances by offering sector-based metrics and giving context to numbers. And we call it social media benchmarking for brands. It is competitive intelligence for social media (similar to what or comScore does for the web) and the social media omniscience for brands is really what we ensure," explains Narayan. However, Unmetric does not access customers' social media pages to pull out data for benchmarking, he adds.

The company is now planning to come up with an agency edition where the core product remains the same but the licensing and distribution model is geared towards social and digital agencies, PR firms and other service providers who can provide competitive intelligence as a service to their client base.

Within a short span of time, Unmetric has managed to land quite a few big brands including US-based Campbell's Soups and Subway, India's Citibank and Club Mahindra, and Australia's Suncorp. It is also working with some of the leading digital agencies, such as Chicago-headquartered Zocalo and New York-based Mr.Youth.

Asked about the revenue model, Narayan says, "We are a SaaS company with multiple-tier subscription plans. These tiers are differentiated in terms of number of entities (Facebook Pages, Twitter Handles, YouTube Channels, etc.,) that one can monitor. As for agencies, we are soon launching a pay-as-you-go licensing model."

The company is also expanding its footprint to other English-speaking geographies, such as the UK and Australia. According to Narayan, it will set up a sales team in these geographies very soon. "Our core product is the same in all markets. However, our go-to-market strategy and relative focus is obviously different in different markets," he said.

In his view, there are immense opportunities for social media benchmarking companies in India and abroad. He sees most traction coming from brands with an evolved focus on social media – typically indicated by the presence of senior people (directors/VPs) in charge of it, and the enterprises which have a demonstrated belief in the value of technology as an enabler – typically indicated by prior adoption of social media listening platforms like Radian6 and engagement platforms like Buddy Media.

"Once you have these two qualifying criteria in place, it is natural for more opportunities to present themselves in more evolved markets like the US. However, we are seeing interest from sector leaders in markets like India. As the adoption of tools and investments in social media are becoming more widespread, we expect more uptake," notes Narayan.

Interestingly, Narayan does not see any direct competition either in India or in the US. As of now, the enterprise social media analytics space can be divided into three large segments – listening (Radian6, Crimson Hexagon and Simply360), publishing (Hootsuite, CoTweet, BuddyMedia, Vitrue, etc.) and seeing (i.e., social media competitive intelligence). Unmetric belongs to the third category and seems to be much in demand as all big brands are using listening and publishing tools but are looking for something that will give them that competitive intelligence edge.

But along with opportunities, come challenges. "There's a lot of noise in social media and there are over 300 applications out there. At this point, the huge challenge lies in communicating our proposition and articulating how and why we are not a listening platform or an engagement platform. This is typical of any market creation phase and we are ready for it for the opportunity it affords," details Narayan. He is also quick to add that his company is doing some interesting things to overcome these challenges.

Queried what the key difference is between the Indian market and the mature markets in terms of social media benchmarking business, he says, "The difference is rooted in the sophistication of marketing as well as in labour cost. On an average, we are seeing more of a scientific approach to social media in the US. But in India, it is treated more as an art form. Of course, the right mix is somewhere in the middle, but we are just seeing more interest in quantification in developed markets."

Additionally, one of the benefits of a platform like Unmetric is efficiency. "Five minutes on Unmetric can point you to inferences that would have otherwise taken five people and five days to do. Of course, that value proposition is more amplified in more developed (and expensive) labour markets," notes Narayan.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)