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Posted: September 01, 2008

TechStartup: Collective Intellect Inc.

Eric Peterson

Where: Boulder
Founded: April 2005
www.collectiveintellect.com

INITIAL LIGHT BULB
Co-founders Tim Wolters and Don Springer, now Collective Intellect’s chief technical officer and chief executive officer, respectively, have an entrepreneurial history together, previously starting Dante Software in Boulder in 2001 before selling it to webMethods in 2003.

"We had co-founded a company together before," Wolters said. "It’s better to go into business using the buddy system.

"Dante was a business intelligence application, real-time business intelligence," he said of the evolution from Dante to Collective Intellect. "We took some of those tenets and applied them to unstructured text."

The original concept for Collective Intellect was to search social media — blogs, social-networking websites and other user-generated content — for market trading cues for financial clients. A hedge fund approached them about perhaps making the company itself a fund, a concept Wolters and company rejected.

However, in April 2007, Collective Intellect "serendipitously landed a few clients in the marketing/advertising/PR space," Wolters said. Thanks to "bigger deals and shorter sales cycles," the focus turned from the financial services industry to marketing, and the company tripled in size to more than 50 employees in the year-plus since.

IN A NUTSHELL
Collective Intellect’s mission — "We help companies track, understand and use social media," Wolters said — is facilitated by technology that combines artificial intelligence and a good dose of analytics. The company offers three products: CI Listen, CI Learn and CI Engage.

Dubbing the unstructured text of millions of blogs and comment posts "the dark matter of the data universe," Wolters elaborated on Collective Intellect’s ability to illuminate it with CI Listen’s user-friendly, real-time dashboard, complete with graphs and alerts. "More than 90 percent of the data out there is in unstructured text," Wolters said.

CI Learn offers the dashboard as well as "influencer-weighted reports," i.e. weekly, monthly or quarterly reports focused on the top bloggers and individuals in a given space. CI Engage helps companies proactively shape their image in the social-media sphere.

"We offer a full set of services," he said. "We just don’t listen to the conversations; we help you analyze what’s going on and take some action. We’re going to continue to push that and automate that the same way CRM did with customer relationship management."

"We look at social-media marketing as complementary to traditional marketing," said Wolters, pegging it as narrower. "What social media does is take people from consideration into preference."

Collective Intellect’s services are priced at a premium, because of quality: "Our data is better than other people’s data," Wolters said. "It’s the result of a lot of learning about what clients find valuable and technology that was hardened by the financial services sector. The data had to be absolutely right for trading decisions. If people are going to make million-dollar decisions off of this data, it better be right."

THE MARKET
Collective Intellect’s core market is comprised of marketing and advertising firms, said Wolters, but the company still has several clients in the financial services industry. "The dominant industries in our market are the ones that are consumer-facing or B2B tech," he added. "That’s where most of the user-generated content is coming from. People are passionate about their cars, pharma and health, consumer tech, the iPhone and other gadgets, and there are a ton of engineers blogging about the tools in their business."

FINANCING
Collective Intellect has garnered $11 million in two rounds of financing — $4.4 million in fall 2006 and $6.6 million earlier this year — from such investors as Appian Ventures and Grotech.

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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