Our tech start-up of the week is MySmark, a start-up conceived in Italy and incubated in Ireland. It has developed an online tool that lets consumers express how they feel; it also aggregates this real-time information and feeds it back to marketers.
Pitched as a technology and marketing play, the founders Nicola Farronato and Paolo Panizza started the company in their home country in 2010, but relocated to Dublin because Farronato says the support structures for technology start-ups are superior in Ireland.
Based at the National Digital Research Centre site in Dublin, MySmark has grown to employ five people.
Originally known as B-Smark, the company has pivoted slightly from 2011 when it won the NDRC’s ‘Lift Off’ competition for promising early-stage companies.
Then, its focus was on developing a widget to let people attach an emotional ‘tag’ to content and share it on social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.
The Smart mark, or ‘smark’, was originally designed to provide a deeper way for people to show their responses to a video, photo or other media than by just hitting ‘like’. The product uses semantic technology designed to reflect people’s feelings in a multi-coloured ‘wheel’.
"In real life, we use very complex language … our mission is to provide each online user with their own sentiment palette. Every one of them can personalise it," says Farronato, who is the company CEO.
Now, MySmark is looking to bridge the worlds of marketing and consumers more closely, by focusing on providing marketers with ‘next-generation consumer insights’, he adds.
Everyone in the marketing services sector wants ways to make their brands more compelling to consumers, explains Farronato. "That’s very difficult to do with free text, but what if there was one single, strong interaction to express what you want to say quickly and in a personalised way?"
He says the model will involve brands paying for the service, while the Smark will be free for users, who will receive discounts and offers as an extra incentive to leave ‘smarks’ online.
The value for marketers is that this feedback can be captured in real time: no more waiting weeks or months for surveys, reports and focus groups. For example, if a brand is launching a new product or ad campaign, it can quickly take the temperature of popular opinion by encouraging people to leave smarks on a site.
For the past year, MySmark has been working with business mentor Jacques Henry-Bezy of the marketing consultancy Bespoke & Beyond. The Dublin-based Frenchman has many years of experience working with big-name drinks brands that rely heavily on marketing – it’s no coincidence this is the kind of customer MySmark is looking to attract.
"The interesting case about MySmark is that it’s a B2C and B2B play – that’s easy to say but tricky to deliver on both fronts. I believe the MySmark is relevant to today’s marketing needs. The service is truly relevant to consumers and marketers at the same time," says Henry-Bezy.
Last September, the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship chose MySmark as one of its Global Hot 100 and the company was invited to take part at an event in Boston.
That US roadshow was "full of good insights," says Farronato. He adds the company is now beginning to generate revenue. Coop, one of Italy’s leading retailers, is a paying customer and MySmark is in discussion with several others in Ireland, Italy and the US.
The company is targeting the end of this year to reach break-even point. It hopes to close a funding round this quarter and has held discussions with potential Series A investors in the US, Italy and Ireland.