A Q&A with Spot.IM co-founder and CEO Nadav Shoval. The Tel Aviv-based startup, which enables website publishers to add an on-site social networking component, had its public launch last month. It was founded in 2012 by Shoval and CTO Ishay Green.
SUB: Please describe Spot.IM and your primary innovation.
Shoval: Spot.IM empowers website owners and publishers to turn their websites into a dedicated social network driven by their own content, essentially freeing them from depending on external social network giants like Facebook and Twitter. We’ve spent two years developing social network creation code so we could give it to publishers for free, and empower them to take back ownership of the community of visitors they have invested time and effort to build.
Our goal is to unlock the hidden community that already exists inside each website, to provide a place where visitors are free to chat with other people who share the same interests as them, and who enjoy the same content. Ultimately, by giving them a customizable, interactive spot within which to host a social interaction on site, Spot.IM helps publishers improve page views, increase user-generated content, drive direct engagement, and improve on a user’s on-site experience.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Shoval: Our target market is any website owner or publisher, big or small. Our users are everyone who uses the Internet to find, enjoy and interact around great content.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Spot.IM from the competition?
Shoval: There isn’t really anybody else offering website owners a way to turn their sites into a social network. Equally, this isn’t about competing with Facebook or Twitter. They are both excellent tools to generate more traffic and get more users. Our focus is on helping publishers to provide the best experience for those users once they arrive at the website, and to help site owners keep those visitors on site for longer.
SUB: You just announced your launch. Was this a launch out of beta?
Shoval: Up until now, Spot.IM has been in beta, and the technology has already been implemented by over 1,000 websites—like ITProPortal, Kerrang.com, and Red Bull. The press release saw us officially launch the company in partnership with Time Out.
SUB: Why was this the right time to launch?
Shoval: We’re confident of our technology since we’ve seen it work well for so many publishers already. At the same time, this is only the first step, and we are committed to continuing to hone the technology and improve the product. We believe we have created something unique and to let it out of the box feels great.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point?
Shoval: We hope to have some exciting news on that front soon.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Spot.IM? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Shoval: The idea behind Spot.IM was to try and unlock the hidden communities that already existed on the web. When I was a kid I was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, making it incredibly difficult for me to move my muscles and write. As a result, I got my first computer when I was six years old, and immediately an entire world opened up to me. I was able to easily interact with people and join online communities and forums to feel connected to thousands of people. Today, however, those communities are concentrated in two-or-three social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to create thousands of ‘spots,’ or communities, on the web that would be accessible to any group of people coming together over great content. I wanted to give people the ability to truly meet and engage all over the Internet, and that is how Spot.IM was born.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Shoval: Ironically I met Ishay pitching him the idea for a completely different startup. When he told me the idea wouldn’t work—he was absolutely right by the way—I decided he was the kind of guy I wanted to work with, and I hounded him on the phone brainstorming ideas until we both realized what we wanted to do was create a totally different kind of social network.
The next step was establishing a well-rounded team of developers who would be able to succeed at the daunting task of building a technology that would allow anyone to become their own social network. We began building a team where everyone was unique and was able to bring something different and beneficial to the table, and that helped us get to where we are today.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Shoval: ‘Spot’ is short for ‘spotlight,’ which we use as a metaphor for creating a strong, focused light upon specific content. ‘IM’ is short for ‘instant messaging.’ So Spot.IM comes together to facilitate communities, and conversation, where people can connect and communicate over specific content, using an ‘instant message’ in real-time.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Shoval: During the last two years we’ve had to overcome a number of challenges, from enabling website owners to create and embed a Spot in less than five minutes, to making the Spot.IM design slick and exciting, through to adding the most effective features that would benefit site owners, publishers, and users alike. Our latest challenge was making sure we could scale our beta offering, and with the technology currently integrated into 2,000 websites, it’s clear that our time, energy, hard work, and sometimes spells of frustration, paid off.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Shoval: At the moment, we are focused entirely on creating the most enjoyable user experience possible, and to helping publishers maximize this tool. We have many potential strategies, but in the near term, we just want to make the product amazing.
SUB: What are your goals for Spot.IM over the next year or so?
Shoval: We are constantly playing around with new ideas, and working on enhancing our ‘spots.’ We’re currently focusing on a complex and multilayered community platform, but in the meantime, our goal is to see Spot.IM continue grow from 100 ‘spots’ a day to over one thousand spots a day in the next year.