Conversocial’s Josh March counts Mark Zuckerberg as a friend and ITV and Groupon as clients
Another day and another Soho-based sexy start-up. Amid the ad agencies and coffee shops, you’d be forgiven for assuming the Beak Street outfit Conversocial was another trendy production company run by some part-time club promoter. But you’d be wrong.
Founded by Joshua March and Dan Lester in November 2009, Conversocial provides software as a service to big B2C businesses including Aviva, ITV, Groupon, River Island and Net-a-Porter. It helps them analyse and measure their social media presence. Conversocial’s software “helps businesses understand what specific content drives engagement”.
Let’s backtrack to how March got to where he is today.
- Want more tech? Read Elliot Wilson’s piece on what London needs to build its own Facebook or Google
- Want to know who to know in London? Look at Movers+shakers
In 2007, at just 21-years-old, March spotted the Facebook revolution coming.
While most young people were trying to “poke” each other and crop their profile pictures, March and Lester were looking at building bespoke applications through which companies could deliver marketing strategy and converse directly with their clients.
“I was looking at how companies were helping bars and pubs set up MySpace profiles and then, when the first Facebook application launched, I thought this is great – this will be a big thing – so I started picking up the phone to companies”
Joshua March, CEO, Conversocial
Speaking to me (chirpily) at 6.30am from San Francisco, March explained how, as a law student, he became inspired by the commercial potential of social media: “At the end of 2007 I became very interested in online marketing.
“I was looking at how companies were helping bars and pubs set up MySpace profiles. Then when the first Facebook application launched, I thought, this is great, this will be a big thing.
“So I started picking up the phone to companies.”
The cold calling paid off: businesses listened. And so, still a student, March developed the seeds of his first tech success: iPlatform, co-founded by Lester.
iPlatform develops social apps for Facebook and Facebook Connect, and creates campaign management technology. The company is still alive and kicking: it recently built the Big Brother Facebook app for Channel 5, the first Facebook app that allows real voting for live TV.
That first venture wasn’t all plain sailing though. When March and Lester launched iPlatform in August 2008, neither of them paid themselves for the first year.
March criticises British culture for not supporting technology sufficiently, both financially and in education. Comparing the UK with the US, March argues that finding investors is too difficult for UK tech start-ups. “We were fortunate when it then came to starting Conversocial. Thanks to the success after the success of iPlatform, we had the funds to invest.
“I don’t think we would have found investment otherwise.”
March believes that this lack of commitment to technology starts early, that British schools are failing children by not teaching computer skills adequately. Across the Atlantic, he argues, attitudes towards forward-thinking technology and programming are far more positive.
iPlatform is the preferred developer consultant for Facebook. March counts Mark Zuckerberg is a friend
In a passionate piece written for The Daily Telegraph earlier this year, he proclaimed maths education in the UK “a joke” and the national curriculum “outdated”. He posed the question: “If David Cameron really wants the UK to have a high-tech future, surely the first step is to ensure that our children have the skills and knowledge to thrive in that future?”
March was himself a victim of that poorly focused education. He was forced to learn how to programme on the job. “It’s a bit of a funny story,” he says modestly. “I’d always been interested in programming and, in the early days of iPlatform, loads of work was coming in but we didn’t have the freelance resources to deliver the applications, so I thought, I’ll do it.
“That accelerated my learning quite quickly.”
It accelerated that first business too: iPlatform soon became the preferred developer consultant for Facebook. March counts Mark Zuckerberg a friend.
Two years on from founding iPlatform, March and Lester co-founded Conversocial to help companies find that elusive elixir: social media monitoring and management.
The Conversocial team has since grown to 14, and there are plans to open a US office sometime this year. It is a respected name among London’s tech crowd as well as maintaining a strong big-brand client base.
Was March’s social media success just a case of being in the right place at the right time though? He says it was more structured than that. “We had the benefit of being there at the start of Facebook, but we were too early at first, so we prepared ourselves. When the time was right we were ready. We already had the relationship with Facebook.
“We were in the right place until the right time. You have to be prepared for the opportunity.”
Such an ethos March applies to social media generally: believing all businesses should embrace the new sphere in some way. Whether through a Facebook fan page or a Twitter account, companies can’t afford to be left behind, he says. “Facebook has been a catalyst to provide a two-way conversation, which is at the heart of good communication. This method of communication will be around for a long time.”
And it looks as though March and Lester will have a hand in shaping its future too. When asked about the future of iPlatform and Conversocial, March became almost secretive. “So many companies are rushing to catch up.
“If we see everyone doing something, we don’t jump to do it ourselves.”