Startup Spotlight: SquareOffs makes it easy to pick a side

People have been taking polls since the dawn of society. From predicting elections to creating rivalries before the big game, asking people to choose a side is a surefire way to know what they want, and more importantly, create engagement. It’s this reality that SquareOffs capitalizes on, with a product that makes it easy for online publishers to poll their audiences. Jeff Rohr, SquareOffs’ CEO & Founder, sat down with Prab Kumar, Techweek’s Head of Media, to share more about his platform.

    • Prab: What are three stats that shows how important SquareOffs’ impact has been or signifies the growth your business/market has seen?

      Jeff: 1. SquareOffs placed in an article receive 41% more comments than standard commenting systems. 2. Readers spend an average of 13 seconds longer on article pages when interacting with a SquareOff. 3. SquareOffs Opinion Pages, which feature the top SquareOffs on a customer’s site, have an 86% interaction rate.

    • Prab: Tell us a little about your company today.

      Jeff: SquareOffs is a social opinion platform that drives engagement and revenue for publishers and brands while giving readers a voice online. The cloud-based platform promotes conversation around content on any topic on any website.

    • Prab: Nice – what is the hair on fire problem you address?

      Jeff: Publishers and brands continue to talk at their audiences, not with them. This is causing readers to increasingly move their conversations and attention to social media, limiting high traffic media sites’ ability to make money.

    • Prab: How did you discover this problem and why did you tackle it?

      Jeff: SquareOffs started when I was having a debate with a friend and we couldn’t prove who was right. I saw the need for a platform where you could post two points-of-view along with any text, pictures, or video to defend your side and then throw it out to the world to decide.

    • Prab: What’s the size of the problem? How big is this industry?

      Jeff: Last I checked, US interactive marketing spend is expected to reach $77B by the end of 2017.

    • Prab: What are the important trends that will shake up this industry? What will the industry look like in 5 or 10 years?

      Jeff: The publishing industry is at a crossroads. On one hand you have users who want great interactive content, without intrusive ads. Then you have the publishers who have to meet their bottom line. We’ve seen this dynamic play out in a number of ways, starting with native advertising and moving into sponsored content. In the coming years, we’re going to see a shift to more interactive advertising that creates a better experience for the user as well as paid publishing solutions without ads.

    • Prab: How crowded is the space? What’s your competitive advantage behind your product or service that you believe makes it a winner?

      Jeff: We have competition. However, SquareOffs marriage of voting and commenting allows for back-and-forth conversational debate. This format adds another dimension to polling, allowing users to explain why they made their choice. At the same time, it adds context to comments.

    • Prab: Who are your customers and how do you make money?

      Jeff: SquareOffs works with 40+ publishers (Pinsight Media, Andrews McMeel, PBS, Sports Publishers Group). In most cases, we license our technology for a monthly fee. Customers can also enable our advertising if they’d like to earn additional revenue.

    • Prab: How do you attract customers, and how well has it gone? How did you acquire your first customer?

      Jeff: We attract customers via a combination of reference selling, CMS Plugins, distribution partners, content marketing, conferences, social media, media relationships, and end user awareness primarily through our solution that is embedded on high traffic sites. We also have both outside and inside sales teams. We acquired our first customers through personal relationships in the college sports sites category.

    • Prab: Tell us about raising capital – have you raised? What was the experience like? What did you learn?

      Jeff: We’re in the process of closing a significant size seed round with veteran media players like Howard Tullman and local groups such as the KCRise Fund being involved. The SquareOffs team is really starting to grow and we’ll be excited to make a formal announcement soon.

    • Prab: Tell us about you – why are you the perfect CEO for this company?

      Jeff: I am a fierce independent and make decisions on things based on their merit. In terms of the business, being very versatile has helped me a lot as a CEO. It’s helped me direct vision and communicate well in each department while not getting too far into the weeds in any single aspect.

    • Prab: How many people are employed by you today? Are you hiring – if so who should apply?

      Jeff: We’ve hired five more team members in the last couple months. We now have ten full time team members and work with a handful of contractors on specific projects. With our latest hiring spree completed, we’re not hiring at the moment.

    • Prab: Three words to describe the company culture?

      Jeff: “Fun, Passionate, Constantly-Learning”

    • Prab: Hey you cheated on that last word there! We’ll allow it though. What would be your company’s mascot?

      Jeff: A Bi-Polar Bear