NJTechWeekly.com recently interviewed Dr. Jared Scherz, founder of ufeud.com, a new social networking website that promotes constructive debate using some innovative technology. What separates ufeud.com from other social networking sites is its ability to obtain measured feedback. The company says it takes social networking to the next level by offering formulated analysis and interpretation of social -interaction behaviors.
UFeud LLC came to our attention last month, at the Posters, Pitches and Prizes event sponsored by the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network (NJEN) at Princeton University, where the Mount Laurel-based company exhibited for the first time. Until recently, the 4-year-old company was funded by founder Scherz, a clinical psychologist who operates a South Jersey wellness clinic, with additional funds provided by colleagues and friends. Now, however, the company is in negotiations with an angel investor for $100,000 to take UFeud to the next level.
That next level includes a patent for which the company has applied, on commenting, scoring and extrapolating technology for use with videos. UFeud’s ultimate business goal: social media television. The company would like to make the television- and video-viewing experience simultaneous with social networking.
Scherz admits that as a clinical psychologist with no previous technology background, he is an unlikely tech company CEO. His interest in resolving conflict resolution is what drove him to seek out technology that would help people deal with differences, and once the idea took root, the company evolved. Scherz is the author of several books, including one on school violence.
How did the idea for your startup come about?
I was growing increasingly concerned about the way we deal with conflict, both interpersonally and globally. As part of my experience as a psychologist, I continually envisioned ways of facilitating deeper and more sustainable world peace. I stayed up at night envisioning how to have an impact on the way people deal with differences—how to make it more constructive and unifying. My urgency in wanting younger generations to learn conflict resolution and constructive differencing led me to the idea of creating a website based on the theme of exploring differences. I believed I could bring people together by creating a fun, interesting medium familiar to the younger generation while simultaneously offering something substantial for the established older generation.
Who else was involved in the beginning?
I partnered with several people along the way, including my closest friend, Ron Budhi, who helped bring the idea into focus, and John Roskoph, who helped bring it to fruition. Ryan Speakman was one of the most exciting additions to the team. He had been building websites for others for years and turned down many offers to work for sweat equity. His exuberance and willingness to join our project brought a renewed energy that has carried us to where we are today.
Once the idea was set, what came next?
While we were working on completing our first version to launch for beta testing, we came up with an idea. Instead of trying to bring the masses to our site, we thought of a way to bring our site to them. The invention of the uframe allowed our site to be the first social media debate platform that can be integrated into other sites with the push of a button.
Uframes are portals that can be placed on any blog or website in a matter of minutes. They transform blogs and websites into mini social media platforms. With video embedding, email notification, Facebook and Twitter integration and many other features, site owners can select or create any debate topic they want for their site. It’s free, and the same uframe can be placed on an unlimited number of sites, allowing for data syndication and grassroots polling. Being able to self-publish uframes to your own blog or website is very new to the Internet.
With creative energy flowing, our next discovery came quickly: a way for social media to center on video. While YouTube is a rather static site for viewing videos, our uscore tool now makes streaming media the focus of networking. We are currently undergoing patent protection, so I’m limited in what I can share at this point. In short, it will be a first in the technology world, valued by everybody from the entertainment industry to politicians. It’s this technology that has brought investors to us instead of the other way around.
What technology challenges did you face in the past and now?
One of our challenges was integrating different programming languages into all our tools, allowing them to be standalones but also to function in unison. With programming occurring in different states in the U.S. and even in China, we had to overcome some problems including the firewall protection that keeps Chinese citizens insulated.
The greatest challenge was thinking through the application flow and how all the pieces connect with one another. It was also difficult to try to anticipate what the user experience should be and how users would want to interact with the application. You really just have to build an application you hope the majority of users can benefit from. There were also issues related to scaling the application. I think we are there and have solved these issues, all while providing users a unique, interactive experience they would have a difficult time finding anywhere else.
Bootstrapping isn’t easy. How did you initially finance the startup?
Early on the funding came from my personal investment. Feeding money into the project during that first year was a strain, but it was too early to consider revenue streams or investing. Once the project took shape, we approached people in our professional circle to see who was in a position to help out, and we found our first investor. A cardiologist and his physician wife were looking for a project to get involved with, and we quickly got funded. From that point we continued to infuse the company with personal investment until we located our next investor, who was also part of our circle. We’ve taken on a good bit of investment and we are potentially going to cap it soon, because we have more than enough money to last us a while. However, we are in negotiations with an angel investor who is talking about giving us another $100,000.
Did you pitch for money?
We have yet to make any formal pitches to professional investors. In fact, we haven’t finalized any of our marketing material because our technology seems to be advancing so quickly. We have talked with people at some of the major conferences, such as Streaming Media and BlogWorld, about presenting, but we haven’t yet put anything in final form. We have looked at a high-tech small-business incubator and recently met people through the Princeton poster event, but we have grown rather organically up to this point.