Interview with Mark Sylvester and Kymberlee Weil, introNetworks

Santa Barbara's introNetworks ( first debuted its social networking software application at the TED conference in 2003, but just announced its first institutional investment, from Adobe Systems last week. introNetwork's Flash-based, social networking application uses user profiles and questions to match up attendees at conferences, or employees at corporations with other users with similar interests. The tool is very popular with conference attendees for helping them to find other attendees with common interests, as well as sessions and vendors at those conferences in a very visual way. The company also has versions of the software geared towards online communities and for use internally at companies. We spoke with Mark Sylvester and Kymberlee Weil, founders of the company, about why the company finally decided to raise a round of funding, and how people are using the company's tools. Ben Kuo spoke with Mark and Kymberlee.

Tell us a little bit about what led to this funding round?

Mark Sylvester: We went to AlwaysOn last summer to present, and got a tremendous amount of interest, mostly from institutional money, in investing in the company. We were not really looking for the multiples of millions of dollars they offered, since we were not building a manufacturing plant or huge sales force. So, we came back and talked with our advisors, and came up with a strategy of what we were looking for in a Series A investment. We though through what kinds of people we'd like, and through that rejiggering figured out where we wanted to go, which led to the closing this month.

It's been awhile since we talked, what's new with introNetworks?

Mark Sylvester: We have evolved. We started out as an event networking company, and part of the strategy at the beginning was very high end, high profile events. That allowed our software to be exposed to people in decision making power, to lead us to other paths--and that's exactly what has happened. We now support employee-to-employee networks, talent nets--and we announced on Monday that Starcom MediaVest, the largest ad media buyer in the world, had selected us as an exclusive social network to connect all of their six thousand employees. We've had a phenomenal adoption rate, where people are using our tools to find mentors, build team, and have peer to peer discussions--from everything from carpooling, to finding people who has a certain skill set, to finding others who have been around the block and which you have lots of things in common.

Kymberlee Weil: People are also using the software if someone leaves the company, to find the best candidate for positions, using our filtering tools.

Mark Sylvester: Starcom is a high profile customer in that area, where we are building a practice. We've had lots of experience building large partner networks. If you think of your brand as the center of the universe, your first network is your employees, who are your brand ambassadors. The next network is your partners, who your employees interact with, such as developers and resellers. There are lots of partner networks for companies, where you need to be able to work together to solve the same problems. The third network we're starting to have lots of experience with is large customer networks and membership networks. For example, we built a system for the International Institute of Internal Auditors, and they now have one of our most vibrant sites. They absolutely love it because they have events happening across the world, but also now have a real vibrant online community. They found that the software for good for their event, but also good for members to use, year-round 24/7 to find people. We're still doing lots of event business, but we see an absolute need to grow these into large, permanent membership networks.

What are you going to do with new funding?

Kymberlee Weil: We're focused on key hires for the company. We have been conservative up to this point in hiring. We're also going to get the word out about what we're all about--we haven't done any marketing for the last four years, and this is a big step.

Who is the ideal customer for your software?

Kymberlee: We do a lot of work with interactive agencies, and it's a great product for them internally--but also, for them to recommend to clients. Often times, they're in a position where they are recommending the technology to their clients, and it's a great fit.

Mark Sylvester: Another area where we have had great success is with the Fortune 1000, where there are training and development programs, and who are technology based. These are the people who are early adopters, and who understand the power of distributed education. Because of how we do tagging and keywords, a organization can understand where the strengths are in their workforce, and apply that information to course curriculum and development, and measure it on an ongoing basis. There's both a benefit for employees, which we talked about earlier, and for the corporation as a real time thermometer to measure skills, capability, and assessment of the organization.

Kymberlee Weil: One of the key factors to our success, is offering both a full package but also taking a million pieces of data and creating a picture of it, where you can visualize the data and instantly make a decision with that data. There are lots of communities, but not many that have the visualization angle we have. Our customers really understand it. It's one thing to be part of a community, and another to make most of that community, and the best matches for particular searches. That's incredibly valuable. That's technology we've had since the beginning, and we can now not only match people to people, but people to articles, people to classes, people to books, people to anything. People understand it and feel that it adds value to their organizations, conferences, and corporations.



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