10 Questions for John Carini, CEO and Cofounder of Social Smart Software in Chatham
When John Carini and Joe Luzi saw the tide of social media revolutionize the way people communicated with each other, they recognized that social media would also change the way businesses talked to their customers and employees. And while many businesses, such as consumer goods manufacturers, could easily adopt social media for their marketing, many others, such as those in the financial and healthcare industries, couldn’t do so because these industries were subject to strict regulation.
The two founders decided to create a company that would produce a social media platform to address these compliance issues. Social Smart (Chatham) is a social media and archiving platform that allows companies in finance and healthcare to engage with and leverage social media in a regulation-compliant fashion specifically designed to conform to each company’s policies.
Social Smart enables these firms to expand their reach and engage in real-time, two-way client interactions while staying compliant and adhering to each firm’s brand guidelines. Beyond compliance, Social Smart helps firms turn social media into business intelligence.
The company is now part of FinTech Studios, a New York City-based company that partners with software startups and has a curated an online marketplace focused on the $4 trillion financial services market.
Company name: Social Smart Software, LLC.
When did you launch the company? Founded with Joe Luzi summer of 2013.
Product name: Social Smart.
CEO: John Carini.
New Jersey location: Chatham.
Team: Joe Luzi, cofounder and COO.
Any employees yet? 2 or 3 in the U.S. and a development team in India.
Funding: Social Smart is bootstrapped. “Both Joe and I were fortunate enough to be successful in prior companies and have exits. Joe was with Advanced Health Media and I was with a customer relationship management (CRM) product that iEnterprises (an umbrella entity Carini owns) sold to SugarCRM. We decided together that we would start Social Smart to solve a problem, and we funded it ourselves from our prior successes. So far, it is completely self-funded, apart from the fact that we now have several paying customers. We are part of an organization in New York City called ‘FinTech Studios.’ We have taken small amount of funding from them. We are open to funding if we think there is a partner that can help us, not only monetarily, but in other ways.”
Market you are serving: Social Smart serves the fintech and healthcare marketplaces.
1. What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here? I born in New York and I came to New Jersey for a business opportunity. It’s been a great place for family and business opportunities so far. I plan to stay for a long time to come.
2. What problem are you solving? As you know, social media is a very important marketing medium. It’s really becoming the primary way, especially on a local level, to reach people. A lot of traditional media and traditional marketing doesn’t really work anymore. Something like 65 percent of the time spent on the Internet is actually spent on social media. So it’s an important marketing medium. The problem is that many companies, especially highly regulated companies, can’t engage with social media for various reasons. One of them is regulatory compliance. So the problem we solve is that we allow regulated companies to engage with social media in a meaningful way, regardless of their compliance issues. We also allow them to do more and better things with social media once they are on.
3. Why can you address this problem better than anyone else? Joe and I have extensive experience in enterprise software, as well as experience with regulated companies. We saw the problem and we think we have the deep expertise that enables us to allow our customers to leverage social media. We have already done that, and several of our customers have seen tremendous success from our products. We have companies like Our Best Bank and USA Financial using the service.
4. How did you come up with your startup name? Really, that’s what our customers are. They are smart about social. So that’s why they came to us, and that’s why we chose the name “Social Smart.”
5. What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it? There have been a lot of mistakes. I would argue that mistakes are really a good thing, assuming you learn from them. I guess the biggest mistake I made in a past company was not being open to an exit earlier. When I first started the company I didn’t think I wanted an exit. It was my baby. But later on, I realized that exiting was important and that you actually enjoy starting another company.
6. When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay? There definitely were places along the way where, if I had the chance to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t have done it. Maybe we had a really bad day, and I ask ‘why do I do this? Why don’t I just have a job, and get paid every week, and be able to put work behind me when I get home?’ That said, it’s rare that I felt that way, and right now I definitely don’t feel that way. The one thing I’m really thankful for is the flexibility that being an entrepreneur has afforded me. Except for the customer, I basically get to call the shots in my personal life as well as in my business life.
7. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently? I would have been open to an exit sooner. When I first started my first business, I was very green. I just had an idea that I could do something better. It was really my wife that challenged me to do it. We were out at a restaurant, and I said I could do this CRM thing better because it needs to be executed better and integrated with how you work every single day. She asked, ‘Why don’t you go and do it, instead of coming up with these ideas and not executing them?’ I took that to heart and I actually built and executed my first software product in my basement. (In New Jersey, we build them in the basement. In Silicon Valley it’s the garage.) And I did exit successfully, but my biggest mistake was not being open to that exit before. I am now more open to an exit earlier on in a company’s life. I had an opportunity for an exit earlier in the CRM company. I think these opportunities typically come from partnerships. You just have to take them a certain way to get to that point. Some of those exits are more like partnerships that go beyond the existence of the company entity, if you will. I had an opportunity like that with SugarCRM that I did take, and it worked out very well for both companies. They bought some intellectual property, and because of it, together we were able to take the product to places it hadn’t been before.
8. What’s the best place to find founders to network with? I do think the Meetup scene is something rather new that is providing fantastic places to network. I am one of the founders of the Morris Tech Meetup, and I discovered that there are interesting people to network with right in my own backyard. You used to have to go to Silicon Valley to find like-minded people, but they are really right here, and the Morris Meetup is a big piece of that.
9. What does your family think about you being an entrepreneur? My kids definitely think it’s cool. Sometimes they are a little perplexed at what I really do. But I think they are appreciative of the flexibility I do have, the ability to attend family events and really be there, whether coaching their games or going to soccer games in the middle of nowhere. As for my wife, ever since she called me out she has been incredibly supportive. I think she enjoys being part of an entrepreneurial family. She’s given me great advice and actually has been involved in many of my companies in a direct manner. She has a financial background, and that has been very helpful in many ways throughout the journey.
10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success? I think it is optimism and being able to find a way to solve any problem. There is always a way to solve a problem. But you can’t do this alone. You need expertise and background in order to do so, and the right people in the organization.