Being a member of multiple social networks can be a pain, as Thorben Linneberg found out. Managing same friends on different networks, missing events he was invited to simply because he forgot to log into a particular network, coupled with the overwhelming flood of mails, pokes, requests and other notifications in his inbox, annoyed him. In frustration, the Singapore-based Dane started OrSiSo, a social network tool to help users manage and organize their online lives.
The idea of a tool where all the flood of information on social networks would be centralized and prioritized grew in his head, and finally in October 2007 Thorben decided to put his ideas into a business plan. OrSiSo (Organize, Simplify, Socialize) was finally incorporated in December 2007.
Aureliant, the company behind OrSiSo, currently has a team of six – along with Thorben, there is CTO Jerome Poudevigne, two full-time developers, a UI designer and a mobile platform specialist. Thorben, originally from Denmark, worked for different multinational corporations (MNCs) in Europe, US and Asia in the areas of mobile Internet and wireless technologies for a number of years. Jerome, a 44-year old Frenchman, is himself a serial entrepreneur with vast experience in building scalable systems.
Social Networking’s Virtual Opportunity
Social networking sites have seen explosive growth in terms of adoption and usage over the past few years – and this has offered an opportunity. Thorben believes that there is a market for a service that gives users the ability to aggregate and consolidate contacts, images, news feeds – regardless of whichever social networks they belong to. And that’s where OrSiSo comes in.
OrSiSo is built around various components, including an aggregation engine, and integrated instant messaging platform, and possibly the most important, a trademarked SocialCraft engine that automatically determines the usefulness of a particular piece of information to the user and which adapts accordingly to user behavior. Hence it only displays information that the user deems relevant or meaningful.
“The key benefit of OrSiSo is that it takes the pain out of managing different networks and lets the user have fun again,” says Thorben. “With its intelligent filters, OrSiSo acts a lot lie the junk mail filter of your email software. With its one-click search function, it’s a lot like Google for your social life. Powerful functions like FriendMerge allow the reduce of clutter, while notifications, animated avatars, photo slide shows add to the entertainment factor.”
OrSiSo currently supports eight networks – including Facebook, Friendster, Twitter and Flickr – and plan to add more every two weeks, such as MySpace, Hi5, Bebo, LinkedIn and Orkut. For instant messaging, it supports Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, ICQ and Google Talk. It has plans to extend the system to include shopping sites such as Amazon and eBay, entertainment ones such as Last.fm, YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion, and eventually even dating networks.
In the recent past, Open Social APIs didn’t exist and almost all networks worked in a “walled-garden” approach. “Today the industry has moved towards openness, and this has helped our progress greatly,” says Thorben.
Making Money from Social Networks?
Certainly, OrSiSo is not only the social network aggregation tool in the online primordial soup – TweetDeck and Twhirl amongst others. But it seems that Aureliant believes it has a competitive advantage – it has its business model worked out.
The aggregation and SocialCraft engines are the key to OrSiSo‘s monetization. “Since we are able to gather a log of demographic information about users and their connections, we will be able to deliver highly-targeted advertisements,” shares Thorben. Advertisements can be delivered through various channels – traditional banner displays, advanced creative alerts using personalized avatars with custom messaging capability, product placements, and even the skinning of the entire application itself.
Already, local telecommunications provider Starhub has a S$100,000 deal with Aureliant to offer SMS and VOIP services (comparable to Skype) through the former’s Pfingo platform. With an existing user base of around 200,000 subscribers, that is a considerable stream of potential income.
The biggest challenge, Thorben admits, has been to get the product off the ground. Since its launch, it has attracted some 500 users just one week, and growth continues to be encouraging with a doubling of its user base every week. The challenge now is to continue to grow its user base as much as possible with a limited budget.
OrSiSo targets users who typically are members of three social networks or more. They are also likely to multiple chat and email accounts, as well as accounts with online shopping sites such as Amazon or eBay.
The current recession may have affected everyone, but the use of social networks is growing even faster right now. Thorben believes people see “refuge” on social networks from the recession. “In fact, we have seen a usage of OrSiSo that we didn’t think of when we created it.” For example, it’s being used by users to check out holiday destinations that their friends have been to.
OrSiSo may currently be a desktop application, but Aureliant have plans to roll out a mobile version. “We have basic prototypes of the OrSiSo application for Symbian and iPhone which we expect to have ready during the second quarter of 2009.”
“We are very focused on only adding features that bring real value to users.”
Aureliant raised US$200,000 at incorporation with a valuation of US$1million. It just completed its second seed round of around US$250,000, more than tripling its valuation to US$3.25million in 12 months.
Thorben says the best thing about working on OrSiSo is the joy of working with a top motivated team that shares his enthusiasm. “Only by attracting the best talent can we succeed,” he says.
If it hasn’t exactly tasted commercial success as yet, it’s already garnered industry accolades. OrSiSo recently won a Mobile Monday Singapore award for Best Startup, which was judged by a panel consisting of representatives from various mobile industry heavyweights such as Nokia, RIM, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
Thorben is not going to let the award get to his head just yet. “I believe that you can only call yourself an entrepreneur after you have failed a few times. No business degree can prepare you for starting your own company. When I think back on important lessons I’ve learnt, I must say I always learnt much more from the difficult times,” says Thorben.
“Never say never… never give up. Always listen but stay true to your own vision. Many people are extremely uncomfortable living with uncertainty – that is an area I am comfortable with today.”