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“… treasure troves of potential right under your nose”

Interview by Kevin Ohashi of Ohashi Media

Gregory Artzt is the CEO of General Sentiment where he works closely with two of our previous interviewees, Mark Fasciano and John Murcott. Greg is also the co-founder of Indavest, a technology incubator in India focused on startups and small businesses. Greg’s background is an undergraduate Computer Science degree from Cornell. He also has been involved with financial industry before General Sentiment where he worked at Citigroup and was VP and PM (portfolio manager) at Element Capital Fund.

General Sentiment is a Media Measurement company with technology that absorbs and analyzes Internet content and opinion, providing marketing executives with actionable information regarding their brands, people, or products. The technology is based on six years of research and development from Stony Brook University and delves heavily into the natural language processing field.

MO:

The first question I have to ask since you’re connected with our previous interviewees (Mark Fasciano and John Murcott) is how did you team up with those two? When did your paths cross and how did you decide to all join forces?

Gregory Artzt:

It was the 2nd half of 2008, and I was exploring a new business concept for Indavest (my prior company) in the New York area. The concept called for technology that could really listen and evaluate Internet content. After evaluating several other University-built technologies, I came to know that Stony Brook’s “textmap” project was the most powerful and innovative system of its kind. Immediately upon trying to secure an exclusive commercial license to the technology, I found that Mark had already incorporated a company and near finalized negotiations for the license. Mark and I met (and soon after, John as well), and ultimately devised a new and improved plan for how we can use this technology to “change the rules of the game for Market research.” The bigger, better plan called for a new dedicated CEO, and I was honored and excited to take the position. I’ve been off on a mission ever since.

MO:

You spent quite a few years in the financial world as a trader and now have transitioned into a technology executive. Was there a real switch in your mind between the two? If so, what caused the change?

Gregory Artzt:

Absolutely. These are very different jobs in very different professions. Clearly, both require a very strong competitive spirit. But trading required the mindset of “how can I make a lot of money in a short period of time by seizing an opportunity made available in the market.” Building a technology company starts with a different mindset – “how can I build a product and business that makes the world better, easier, or cheaper for a wide-ranging client-base.” Building something of this value should of course lead to money, but that is not where the innovation starts. I found the financial world to be highly stimulating, interesting, and challenging for some time. But when learning curves flatten, it is time to move on. I realized early in my career that my greatest dream has always been to start a technology company – and build a business that creates jobs and wealth and contributes to the society around me. And this life fuels my competitive spirit, I love the struggle, I love to win.

MO:

General Sentiment is based off Stony Brook University’s research. Universities definitely play a very important role in the innovation ecosystem. How did you find this research and partner with the university/researchers to commercialize it? Was there other research you looked at and considered?
Screen shot of home page for General Sentiment

Gregory Artzt:

Yes, I evaluated other University platforms as well. There is a terrific amount of really valuable technology built at universities that is just begging to be commercialized. Academic institutions are not made to build companies, so I encourage other entrepreneurs to spend time looking at the Universities around them to explore the treasure troves of potential right under your nose.

MO:

General Sentiment is definitely in a very competitive field in terms of monitoring the internet and trying to make sense out of the information for companies. I must admit I have a very keen interest in the field and have been writing my master’s thesis on this exact topic. What makes your technology different and better than the others out there?

Gregory Artzt:

Very good question. Our differentiation is both from a technical and strategic standpoint. Technically, our system is the most researched technology of its kind. The system is made to scale, performing deep natural language processing, sentiment, and media analysis across millions (and one day billions) of sources of content daily. We use the latest in technologies, including Hadoop running on a fully cloud based infrastructure. By focusing on the accuracy of media measurement, and the identification of signals in the data, we are really the only technology company in the space that can truly replace or augment traditional research approaches such as surveys and focus groups. From a strategic standpoint, we don’t position ourselves as another ‘social media monitoring’ company. Monitoring is a commodity with an ease-of market entry bringing many, many relatively cheap tools to the table. Measurement is the key, so we focus on providing the high-level information executives really need: “Was my marketing effort successful? Am I getting any real tangible value from my efforts in Social Media? Should I drop my celebrity sponsor? Is my TV show creating a real impact, and if so, where? In addition to our dashboard product, we have a reporting service that essentially answers these questions for our clients on a regular basis. We try and make life very easy and simple for our clients.

Screenshot of General Sentiment Products Page

MO:

I’ve read the numbers many time on this field, people are predicting it’s a multi-billion dollar industry being able to monitor in real-time what people are saying. Translating that into useful and actionable data seems to be the challenge and key to winning the market. What are the biggest challenges you see in this industry in the coming years? How will it change and evolve?

Gregory Artzt:

That’s absolutely right. There are a few key, big challenges. The first is to gain overall credibility for the space, in general. Many traditional research executives still reject that statistically relevant information can be gathered and measured by listening to social media. It’s like the Internet itself in the late 1980’s. Very few people recognized that it could be a business and communication hub, rather than simply an academically interesting, small-scale project. Technology requires adoption and credibility in order to succeed. The main challenge after that is accuracy of media measurement and sentiment analysis in an ever-evolving world. Language and social mediums are constantly changing, so in order to be the best, General Sentiment will need to adapt and innovate even faster.

MO:

My final question is about IndaVest. Could you tell us a little bit more about it? Why India? How does the startup and small business culture differ compared to the US?

Gregory Artzt:

It was 2006 and India was exploding. I believed and still do believe in the potential of the emerging BRIC world. But even more so, I believe in certain kinds of people. Abishek Laxminarayan was my computer science partner and tennis teammate at Cornell University. He was a uniquely brilliant and special individual – the kind of person I knew would be an ideal partner when starting down an entrepreneurial path. He lived in India, and the opportunities there were and remain to be staggering. With a fraction of what it takes in the US, you can start a business in India that immediately adds value to the market around you: hence the technology incubator that became Indavest. The culture is quite different. People work extremely hard, and tend to over-promise. It is usually unstructured, and technology infrastructure challenges remain. But people are intelligent, and hungry for success. A big-time entrepreneurial culture is brewing over there, but they don’t have the support system we have in the States. Entrepreneurs in India need guidance, and they need some time to fail before they can succeed. And they will succeed.

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