The marketing and public relations analytics startup Encore Alert, founded by Georgetown alumni in 2013, was acquired by the San Francisco-based brand-consulting firm Meltwater on March 29 for an undisclosed price. Encore Alert notifies communications executives about the top commentary on their brands based on social media data from sites including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Encore Alert was founded by James Li (MSB ’13), the startup’s chief executive officer, Tammy Cho (MSB ’17); Encore Alert’s product manager who joined the company full-time after completing her sophomore year at the McDonough School of Business, and Chief Technology Officer Felipe Lopes, who got his Masters of Business Administration at a higher-education institution in Brazil. The trio first developed the idea while working with the D.C.-based startup accelerator, Acceleprise, which initially provided Encore Alert with the space and funding to develop into a company. The social media analytics group now boasts 36 big-brand clients including the Denver Broncos, Carnegie Mellon University and leading design firm IDEO.
According to Li, Meltwater will integrate Encore Alert into its Smart Alerts product and has promoted Li to be product manager. Smart Alerts is Meltwater’s new product that essentially performs the same function for Meltwater’s media intelligence platform as Encore Alert provided for its clients. The new product currently represents 25,000 brands globally. Meltwater provides services for clients in 20 countries and 41 cities worldwide, tracking public sentiment and common words associated with brands, as well as their rankings in comparison with those of their competitors.
“The really cool thing is that we continue to run the Smart Alerts product inside of Meltwater, so essentially we’re working on the same thing but inside of a larger product suite,” Li said. “Meltwater has its own products that they’ve been selling for years that have been very successful, but essentially we are a brand new product and brand new offering for their customers.”
Li explained that before Encore Alert agreed to the acquisition — at a value he is contractually prohibited from disclosing — he weighed factors including the return on investors and its impact on clients. In particular, Li said Meltwater’s mantra of “outside insight” – making decisions based on external data rather than internal data like sales numbers – resonated with him.
“We wanted to make sure the culture was a good fit as well. So we spent quite a bit of time with Meltwater executives, and other product and sales team members to get a sense of how they worked,” Li said. “There is a similarly young and vibrant community here. … Being able to work on the same product in an environment that fosters creativity and innovation and encourages risk-taking was really important to us because all of us are innovators at heart.”
Meltwater’s appreciation for Encore Alert’s use of artificial intelligence to analyze social media platforms for major brands and for the efficiency of their work prompted the company to acquire Encore Alert.
“We are all drowning in social media, and the challenge we have is to identify information that is important and actionable,” said Jorn Lyseggen, Meltwater CEO and founder, in a Meltwater press release. “The team at Encore Alert is passionate about this problem. For the last 3 1/2 years, they have worked tirelessly to condense this clutter down to a handful of daily alerts using sophisticated artificial intelligence. Their algorithms are successfully helping top brands … to stay on top of emerging crises, important events and critical trends.”
Cho, who will now spearhead all product design at Meltwater’s Smart Alerts division, attributed Encore Alert’s success partly to the emerging startup culture, which was taking hold during her two years at Georgetown. Even after leaving the university, she and Li remained engaged with Georgetown advisors and professors and mentored student entrepreneurs involved in pitch competitions and fellowship programs.
Cho, who was in StartupHoyas with Li during their time at Georgetown, said Georgetown students interested in pursuing a career in a startup should use their time in a university setting wisely, seeking out opportunities and advisors to spur them toward achieving their career goals. Li was also in Compass Fellows and won Georgetown’s 2013 Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
“It’s important for students who are interested in exploring startups, whether it’s as an entrepreneur or even as another career path, to take the time of being a student, because there is no better time to take advantage of opportunities,” Cho said. “You have access to these great mentors with StartupHoyas and other alumni, and I would encourage students to explore those options as a new career path.”
Kay-Anne Reed (MSB ’16), who acquired skills like search engine optimization and marketing to clients while an intern for Encore Alert in 2014, said the culture she witnessed at the startup was unlike any other.
“I learned more from James and Tammy than I did in all my time at Georgetown,” Reed said. “They’re very positive people, very hard-working people. It’s hard not to buy into it, because you see how hard they work. And the fact that they came back to Georgetown to help other people, even when they didn’t have to, even after they left, is just amazing. They’re seriously like two of my favorite people.”
Zeke Gutierrez (SFS ’19), who is considering the possibility of founding a startup, said Encore Alert’s acquisition by a major company like Meltwater is an inspiration for Georgetown students interested in entrepreneurship.
“As an entrepreneur, I think anyone hearing this story would be very optimistic, that alumni who have startups and are successful are getting a lot of attention from these major companies and corporations … if a Hoya can create such a genius plan, if they can have such an amazing product, it gives all of us the enthusiasm to start our own venture. I think any Hoya would be excited about what the future holds.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.