A Q&A with empeopled co-founder and CEO Aris Michalopoulos. The Chicago-based startup, which is a site that enables social conversations and influencer ratings around topics of common interest, launched out of private beta last week. It was founded in the spring of 2012 and has been bootstrapped to this point.
SUB: Please describe empeopled and your primary innovation.
Michalopoulos: empeopled is an online conversation platform that enables communities of like-minded people to have quality, intelligent conversation governed by rules they choose and leaders they elect.
empeopled uses peer-review to identify the best content from across the Internet and spur conversations around it. The platform hosts a wide range of topical communities users can join, such as ‘Top Laughs,’ ‘Geek Feed,’ ‘Tech World’ and ‘Bitcoin Believers.’ After joining a community, or what we call ‘society,’ users can begin conversing with fellow like-minded people through posts and comments.
In these societies, users are able to up-vote another user’s post or comment if they feel it deserves recognition. Users earn points through up-votes, and points determine credibility and influence. The platform reflects that credibility and influence by featuring the user’s content more prominently and giving their votes more weight. After earning enough points, users are also able to access special privileges such as creating an event or running for a leadership position within that society.
Using this system of peer-review, empeopled empowers societies to better control the quality of conversation and establishes a foundation of self-governance that, hopefully, in the future will move beyond online conversation into real-world action like meet-ups, petitions, or charitable efforts.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Michalopoulos: empeopled has a variety of target users. The platform lends itself to be used by almost anyone. We’ve seen success targeting those looking for quality online conversation centric to a specific topic of interest. Current users include college and grad school students and professors, journalists, bloggers, and people who are genuinely interested in conversing with others who have similar interests and enjoy sharing knowledge.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates empeopled from the competition?
Michalopoulos: Though there is no social platform doing exactly what we do, we see people often compare empeopled to Reddit and Klout—Reddit for the sense that it is a similar conversation platform, and Klout for the sense that empeopled quantifies your level of influence in each society with points and levels.
We differentiate ourselves in a few very impactful ways. First, unlike Reddit, empeopled stratifies people within each society and topic, and rewards deserving contributors with quantifiable influence. The more a user has contributed to their society, the more say that user has in what content is good, what the rules should be, and who should be elected to enforce them.
Then, unlike Klout’s black box algorithm, empeopled provides a very transparent formula, which empowers people to achieve influencer status.
The fact that Reddit and Klout have been so successful shows that users value content filtration and stratification. empeopled takes these ideas further and stratifies people by topic and uses that information to create a better, weighted filter for content and people. The end result is a custom-content filter and more meaningful conversations with the right people.
SUB: You just launched out of private beta. Why was this the right time to launch?
Michalopoulos: Our private beta, which attracted more than 1,000 users, enabled us to work out a lot of kinks and make improvements based on user feedback. The fact that our users are now spending an average of 26 minutes each on the site proves that the platform is working and we’re in good shape to officially launch.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for empeopled? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Michalopoulos: The inspiration behind empeopled was not a sudden ‘aha’ moment, but instead a gradual realization. We were tired of using social media as a distraction, combing through photos of old friends and acquaintances or logging onto social news sites that were clogged with meaningless posts and spam. We dreamed up a social platform that distilled the best content from across the Internet through the curation of other members with similar interests and ideals, a site that would inspire curiosity and spark intelligent conversation and quality learning. This became our vision for empeopled.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Michalopoulos: Writing a business plan, throwing it away and rewriting it.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Michalopoulos: The name ‘empeopled’ came from the idea that it is a site powered by people and empowers people, hence ‘empeopled.’
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point?
Michalopoulos: No, our efforts have been focused on building a better conversation platform and extensive testing to make that possible.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Michalopoulos: Letting people know we exist!
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Michalopoulos: We want to connect influencers, which our platform identifies by topic, with advertisers.
SUB: What are your goals for empeopled over the next year or so?
Michalopoulos: We currently have more than 1,000 users, and now that we’re officially launching, we need and expect those numbers to increase significantly. But our ultimate goal is for empeopled to extend our principle of self-governance beyond online conversation and into real-world action. I’d like to see empeopled one day becoming the leading platform for enabling crowdsourced social progress.
empeopled – www.empeopled.com