An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Afif Khoury, the co-founder and CEO of SOCi, Inc.
Tell us the origin story of SOCi – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
It was 2012. Social media was booming. All the brands were in a race for 10M fans on their national Facebook pages. Everyone wanted to take advantage of the largest word-of-mouth platform in the world. Yet, out of the corner of our eyes, we were paying attention to another trend. Brand websites were starting to create local versions of their sites to optimize their local SEO. The search engines were beginning to prioritize “local” businesses in search. My co-founder and I found ourselves obsessing over how a brand would actually manage their presence not only on one Facebook page, but across hundreds or thousands of local Facebook pages, engaging daily across all of them with their local fan base. Our initial reaction was: “impossible”, but from there, we got to planning and architecting what today is the most powerful local marketing platform on the planet! That’s how SOCi was born.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Nothing was built for mass-management. Facebook APIs were not well developed. The brands were not prepared to manage local pages. No one was really talking about local marketing. To add to that, the investor community didn’t like the idea of building such a massive platform. It was an era of “point solutions”, where technologies that did one thing very well were being funded, and here we were talking about being able to manage entire brands presence across thousands of pages, involving possibly hundreds of local managers sharing assets, going through approval processes, and co-marketing as an entire organization on our platform. We couldn’t convince anyone that this was coming, so I had to put my money where my mouth was and self-fund the project for the first 18 months. 7 years and 3 Inc. 5000 placements later, we’ve had many challenges, but the biggest was not quitting on the idea in the first 6 months when no one believed in it.
What does the future hold for SOCi?
SOCi is setting out to be one of the most important marketing platforms on the planet. We strive to become the backbone infrastructure on which every multi-location brand in the world will run their marketing programs. This includes every marketing channel from search to social to reviews/reputation to ads and surveys, etc, and and all the way down to every local community. Equally as important, SOCi will become the hub that integrated all other important customer data points. We will match our data across search, social, reviews and more to data from the brand’s CRM, point of sale system, rewards programs, etc. to create the ultimate customer data, information, and experience platform. Along the way, we will continue to grow the company’s presence across the country and the globe, both organically and inorganically via acquisitions.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in San Diego?
The San Diego scene is growing and has become very formidable in tech. Amazing companies like Service Now, Tealium, Seismic and others are paving the way. As those companies grow and exit, more innovation will spawn. I don’t see a shortage of innovation, and any shortage of experience and leadership will soon be rectified. One area that I still see us struggling with in San Diego is local funding. While it’s true that good companies will find funding, our tech ecosystem will never truly flourish if we have to continue to rely on Silicon Valley and other more developed venture markets to fund us. I believe that part of the ecosystem is still lacking, and is stifling at least some of the local innovation.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be honest with yourself. If you are trying to make a quick buck – go do something else. If you are looking for a lavish lifestyle – go do something else. If you enjoy sleep – go do something else. If you are afraid of the dark – go do something else. If on the other hand you love difficult problems, have no problem being alone in deep dark places, and wake up everyday passionate that you can change something valuable in the world, then by all means, have at it!