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Everyone has that terrible moment of dread. You walk into a party full of people and feel you don’t know a single soul. But what if you did and just didn’t know it? Imagine being able to walk into a room and your phone will, “Tell you about how you are connected to those people around you and how they [are] relevant to you,” says Michael Chasen, founder of SocialRadar, based in Washington D.C.
In our latest episode for A TOTAL DISRUPTION, we sit down with Chasen to talk about the next generation of ambient location apps, and why he’s so confident SocialRadar will catch on (hint: it’s those darn kids). But most of all you’ll see Chasen’s passion for entrepreneurialism shine through and gain key insights into successfully starting and growing your business. Why should you listen? Chasen sold his last company Blackboard for 1.64 billion and now look at the success of the location-based app FourSquare (which only scratches the surface of the data SocialRadar promises to empower you with). There are 5 million check-ins on Foursquare every day. Add up the number of location events for check-ins, photos and posts just on Facebook and the number hits 6 billion. That’s billion with a B.
Kris Alexander, Chief Strategist for Akamai, which facilitates 30% of all web traffic, sees the difference between SocialRadar and other “ambient location” apps yet to take hold in the market: “SocialRadar seems like a great concept in terms of bringing together different types of information.” With the impressive growth of a company like LinkedIn, it’s easy to see SocialRadar as just a networking app, but Alexander goes further: “If you can filter out and bring together the relevant data points for what it is somebody is trying to do, whether it’s a social revolution or that next big business idea, it makes it so you can accelerate that whole process.” Imagine the Arab Spring fueled by the power of SocialRadar.
A brilliant, comic portrayal of wondering who exactly is at the party (usually followed by what am I doing here) occurs constantly on the HBO show Veep. As the Vice President, Selina Meyers can’t possibly be expected to remember the name and connection to everyone with whom she comes into contact. That job is left to Gary (played by the brilliant Tony Hale), her hopelessly devoted personal aide. With SocialRadar you’ll have your very own Gary.
SocialRadar monitors every major social app (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Google +) and provides location-based connections for mobile users. People may wonder why they need to know who’s around, but for Chasen it’s about having the right information in the right context. It’s up to each user to choose how they use the information. Chasen explains, “The idea behind SocialRadar is simple. It’s about that context. We believe that we’re fundamentally disrupting the way people interact and make connections today.”
For his entire professional career, Chasen’s been obsessed with how people connect in all kinds of spaces. His first company Blackboard, a pioneer in learning management systems, was born out of Michael’s perception of the inconveniences and inefficiencies in traditional spaces like the classroom. After getting his MBA from Georgetown, he went to consult for KPMG in their Higher-Ed Technology Consulting Group. While performing enterprise software installations with his old college roommate, Matthew Pittinsky, they noticed a need: “We saw that schools were spending millions of dollars wiring the dorm rooms and the classrooms to the Internet, and yet, they weren’t spending any money on software to make that useful for teaching and learning,” says Chasen.
Having spent thousands of hours on college campuses, Chasen noticed new trends starting to take place. Students, more than any generation before them, were sharing not only their profile information, but their location as well. Students wanted to know where their friends were at any given moment. SocialRadar shows you who is near you and tells you from where exactly it’s getting that information. It’s information your friend already shared publicly. This distinction is crucial for Chasen, because he is acutely aware of the user’s need and desire for privacy.
With the revelations from Edward Snowden, and the court battles of Ladar Levison, we’ve never been more concerned with the idea of big data and how it’s being collected and used. So Chasen has built in a variety of options to give users maximum control. Users can choose to share their location with everyone, with friends only, or remain anonymous. If none of that suits a specific user, she can choose to go completely invisible. All of these options separate it from other apps in the field. This approach, of not being the first but seeing where other technology falls short, is exactly how Blackboard became a leader in the EdTech space.
Chasen, an admittedly public person, is keenly aware of what’s happening in our current technical revolution: “I believe we are in an age of disruption like none we’ve seen previously.” Odds are if you’ve read or heard anyone talk about technology in the last couple of years, you’ve heard someone say this. But when Michael Chasen is the person saying it, it would behoove everyone to take notice.
Having run Blackboard so successfully, taking it public, and then selling privately to Providence Equity Partners for 1.64 billion, Chasen embodies the leadership qualities he often tries to impart to young entrepreneurs. However, his similarities – both physically and in regards to his ballsy ambition – to Pseudo Networks founder, Josh Harris, (who was also the subject of my film WE LIVE IN PUBLIC) is really remarkable. If you’ve seen the film, then you know that might mean trouble down the line. For now, his leadership is responsible for attracting $12.75 million in Series-A funding from savvy tech investors like Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, and Kevin Colleran, one of Facebook’s first ten employees.
If you watch our videos on A TOTAL DISRUPTION, you’ll hear a recurring theme over and over: It’s never been easier and cheaper to start your own company. Chasen feels the same. “When we started Blackboard back in 1997, we had to spend over one million dollars for our server room,” remembers Chasen, “the barriers of entry, of creating a startup are much lower than they’ve ever been before.”
As he unpacks his new furniture for his burgeoning team of hand-picked coders and socialites, Chasen’s enthusiasm is quickly infectious: “If you have a passion about what you’re doing, if you can see the vision to make it a reality, then you can succeed.” SocialRadar might just be the app to share your passion.