This month I will be launching a new start up. I guess as a serial entrepreneur its hard to not always be thinking about companies or a new way to do things. This new company was born out of a long term relationship I've had with my high school best friend, Tatsuo (Mike) Uesugi. Over 20 years ago, Mike and I attended Western Christian High School in Covina, CA and even though he spoke little English at the time, we became fast friends as I sat behind him in English class during our Sophomore year. We eventually became roommates after high school and Mike went on to fame working at both Apple and IBM, helping Apple design the first Japanese language KanjiTalk OS for the Mac.
I went in another direction, becoming a private investigator and starting my own detective agency but enjoying the tech sector, the start up process and then running my own tech companies. Eventually the start up bug hit Mike and he founded Global Micro Solutions, doing integration work for just about every Japanese company doing business here in the US and growing to over 50 employees in 5 countries. Last year, Mike approached me with an idea regarding merging affiliate marketing with social media and I was hooked joining him as an advisor on building out a back end for a yet unnamed company. I was exiting my last business - Storybids, had stopped SEO consulting and had just taken on a stint as VP of Search and Social Marketing for Fly.com - a new Travel meta search engine which was funded entirely by Travelzoo (NASDAQ: TZOO) but the entrepreneurial bug wouldn't stop biting me.
I left Fly.com last month and joined Mike full time as CEO and Co-Founder at the now named Social Rewards, Inc. which we have built into social media based loyalty marketing programs that reward consumers with a brand's own loyalty program points for engaging in social media activity such as brand mentions via Twitter, Foursquare check-ins and Facebook likes and fan activity.
This grew out of our own simple desires to be rewarded with loyalty points for tweeting about brands that we already loved, we are both extreme travelers, he a Diamond Level at Japan Airlines and myself as an Executive Platinum with American Airlines, a Silver Premier with US Airways, a Starwood Platinum and Fairmont Silver President's Club member. I've also become enamored with both jetBlue and Virgin America since US Airways pulled out of John Wayne airport for flights to Las Vegas and AA stopped going to the San Francisco Bay area.
I had become familiar with the social media benefits of rewarding influential online consumers with products via the 'Blogger's Night Out' promotion that I did during the PubCon Internet Marketing Conference in 2007 where we gave away 500 tickets to major Las Vegas shows such as Spamalot, Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil. It was a huge success and evolved into Tweet4Tix that I continued to run during BlogWorld and Pubcon conferences over the last three years. The hard part was coming up with a business model on how to reward consumers for blogging and then ultimately tweeting activity and for three years I met with brands and partners and pondered the logistics of first theatre tickets and then movie tickets online for rewarding online brand mentions.
Early last year I stumbled upon a little start up called Klout that was barely 4 months old and just getting ramped up. I emailed their CEO, Joe Fernandez and after a few meetings, he and his Co-Founder Binh Tranh figured that I could do what I said I could do and started the process of opening a lot of doors for them both from clients to investors as an official member of the Klout Advisory Board. Eventually I began to see how both Mike's software for affiliate marketing via social media and how Klout's online influencer analytical tools could be merged into the business model that I had been pondering for three years with the Tweet4Tix concept. Now we could identify influential online consumers using Klout and reward them for brand mentions using Mike's nearly completed back end CMS with the most obvious choice of online currency - loyalty program points. Social Rewards was born.
Now with our software finalized and ready to go, we launch this month, please wish us luck. ;)