Big Data Darpa

With consumer attention increasingly focused on social media, it’s more important than ever for brands to be able to engage in meaningful online conversation with their customer in these channels. This means more than just brands tweeting clever content during major events like the Super Bowl and Grammys, but also identifying and participating in granular conversations among influential consumers wherever and whenever they’re occurring.

Wayin, a social intelligence company aimed at facilitating these conversations in a data-driven way, has raised $13.1 million in Series C funding further build out its solution. The round was led by existing investor US Venture Partners, who remains the company’s only institutional investor, as well as ongoing participation from early angels such as TV producer Burt Sugarman, lawyer Larry Sonsini, former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison, and Discovery Land CEO Mike Meldman. The round brings Wayin’s total funding to $33.1 million.

The four-year-old Denver-based company was founded by Sun Microsystems co-founder and former CEO Scott McNealy, who is now its Chairman. The day to day operation is led by former Sun Director and current Wayin CEO Elaine Feeney Wood, and former Sun Chief Product Architect and engineering team lead Jamey Wood (no relation).

USVP’s Rick Lewis tells Pando in an interview:

Of course this company initially caught our eye because it came to us through Scott McNealy. But we also had a thesis in this area. We believed – and continue to believe – that consumers are consolidating their attention on a few social platforms. This means that brands are increasingly concerned that they can’t control the dialogue with consumers anymore.

Wayin works with some of the world’s largest brands, including Viacom, Adidas, The Weather Channel, LG, Best Buy, Pandora, MTV Latin America, and the Denver Broncos, to deliver intelligence and visualization tools around Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, with more platforms apparently coming soon. Most recently, the company powered the US Soccer social hub during this year’s World Cup.

The company relies on sentiment analysis and machine learning algorithms to identify influencers and key conversations, as well as engagement. The company allows brands to view social activity in easily digestible charts and graphs, as well as geotagged heat maps that sort tweets based on their location.

This is a level beyond the other solutions in the category, according to Lewis, who tells Pando:

The first wave of companies – the BuddyMedias and Vitrues – focused on helping brands market to consumers. But consumer still had to figure out how to get into the conversation when they didn’t own the property. Wayin caught our attention because it allows brands to capture, curate, and redistribute social content related to your brand regardless of when and where it’s generated.

It sounds like the kind of nebulous offering that countless other companies in the sector promise. But Wayin is unique in that it is one of just two companies with access to the Twitter data firehose and a handful with similar access to the Facebook platform, meaning it can serve data and insights in real time in ways that its competitors simply cannot.

“There are a lot of small companies in the ecosystem that can serve up a few tweets here and there. But the type of data that we’re processing – we analyze 1 billion tweets every two days – that would bury most companies,” Wood says. “If there was ever big data, social is big data. The scale of this space is hard to even conceptualize. That’s why there’s a need to build enterprise-grade solutions.” She adds later, “We’ve created a team – 40 percent of which is was at Sun Microsystems previously – we’ve done this before, just with at different source of data. If anything, I’d say that’s our secret sauce.”

Wood joined the company in March 2013 and has since overseen a year of 300 percent revenue growth. Today, the company continues to increase monthly recurring revenue at a rate of 30 percent per month, she says.

In its early days, Wayin was primarily a second screen solution that allowed consumers to participate in social polls around TV content. But it required that they engage in a third-party platform to do so. In late 2012, the company decided to focus all its attention on the public conversations already occurring on Facebook and Twitter and on delivering solutions to business customers around these real-time conversations. It was much less of a pivot than a refocusing on the most interesting aspect of its business.

“We realized that we should put all our wood behind this arrow,” Lewis says. “I’m a huge fan of focus and this was one of many things we were already doing.”

Soon after, the company established its now “chummy” relationship with Twitter, to use Lewis’ word, paving the way for its current enterprise offering.

“At one point, I asked Twitter why they gave us firehose access, and they pointed to what we did for The Weather Channel and said ‘we can’t do that,’” Wood says. “There’s no department that TWC can call at Twitter to ask, ‘How can I incorporate social and make it better and drive eyeballs to the screen?’ I think they recognize this value and treat us as an extension of their team.”

McNealy previously told VentureBeat, “We had enough money so we were able to experiment, and we found out that the Wayin hub model was the one that showed the most market potential and the best chance to make money.” The change in direction led to the decision to bring in Wood as the new CEO, banking on her experience selling enterprise services and building data-oriented businesses.

Wayin currently has a team of 48 employees, up from the 30 it employed when Wood joined and its 20 person headcount after she executed a “painful but necessary rightsizing” over the second half of last year. She expects the company to grow significantly in the months to come and has already begun hiring in recent months in anticipation of closing this latest funding round, I’m told. Wayin acquired Comenta TV in January as a way of broadening its reach into the broadcast TV space, contributing to its recent growth. In addition to its Denver headquarters, the company has domestic offices in NYC, Palo Alto, and Atlanta, as well as an overseas presence in Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Argentina.

It’s somewhat atypical for a round of this size and stage to be completed entirely among existing investors, but both Wood and Lewis argue that it’s a reflection of the confidence that insiders have in staying the course. Look no further than Whatsapp and Sequoia’s decision to fund the company through its eventual sale to Facebook as an example of what can happen when early investors double down on winners and end up betting correctly.

“The company is doing well and we feel like we’re onto something special,” Lewis says. “All of the early investors – not just USVP – were not very inclined to sell a big chunk of this thing. And there was a rare scenario that there was plenty of demand on the inside. Wayin didn’t have the typical need that most early stage enterprises do to add experienced board members. We have a pretty accomplished and diverse group already.”

At this stage, Wayin’s remaining challenges are entirely executional, Lewis says. The company has already proven that there’s a need for its service and it has established itself as a category leader both by virtue of its access to Twitter and Facebook firehose data and the strength of its data analytics offerings.

“Their next challenge is to build a professional sales org and a repeatable sales model, as well as nail customer success,” he says. “They’re currently in the process of evolving into that kind of organization.”

Wayin is somewhat unique in that it’s based in Denver, which is not exactly a hot bed of multi-billion dollar tech companies. But not to be overlooked is the Sun legacy in the region which means 4,000 highly qualified current and past alumni with varying degrees of loyalty to both McNealy and Wood.

“I would say they’ve proven at this point that they have access to great technical talent,” Lewis says. “They are known as one of the best places to work in Denver and as a result get their pick of the best the region has to offer. They’re have an easier time rising above the noise floor, at least on a relative basis, compared to a Silicon Valley company. Every board meeting I go to here in the Valley there’s a discussion about finding enough quality talent. I think it’s been a real advantage.”

Wayin’s goal is very much to grow into a stand alone public company, according to both Wood and Lewis. And judging by the rising importance of social marketing and the sheer volume of data to be analyzed within the sector, there’s a huge opportunity to build a massive data intelligence company within the sector.

“I think this financing puts us in a position to control our own destiny,” Lewis says. “It’s all about executing over the next 18 to 24 months. This is a very cash efficient company which means that we may not not need another funding round.”