This 24-Year-Old CEO Is Also Having an Oscar Moment
Mar 02, 2014
A couple of years ago, Lerer Ventures, a New York venture capital firm, was hosting a lightening pitch round for startups. At lunchtime, Kenneth Lerer, manager at the firm, was heading out the door to grab some food when he heard a voice behind him. "Someone yelled out 'Mr. Lerer, Mr. Lerer. I'm pitching your son [Ben] but I realize I really should come talk to you, because if I don't win, I still want to talk to you,'" recalls Lerer. "That said everything to me."
The voice belonged to Kelsey Falter the now-24-year-old CEO of Poptip. Two years later, the startup has snagged deals with CNN, the NFL, Spotify and Budweiser, among others. Poptip's latest deal is to provide back-end technology that lets E! Entertainment network offer Twitter-based voting during the 86th Academy Awards presentation on Sunday.
The polls will, for instance, show a picture of a star or starlet on the red carpet. You can then check "leave it" or "love it" depending on your opinion. Readers can then see real-time results of the polling, all without leaving Twitter.
Falter's nine-person firm has worked with those other brands to conduct polls on Twitter and Facebook as well. That achievement is notable since Poptip is one of many firms mining consumer conversations in real time — others include Radian6, Nielsen BuzzMetrics and Brandwatch.
Despite the competition, Falter says she sees the social media listening segment as wide open. She compares the Internet today to the web before Google's PageRank. "In the '90s, websites were the atomic unit of content. Today, the atomic unit is much smaller — it's a post," she says. " There's no end to when people are going to stop sharing their opinion. It's only going to continue to be more information There's no end to when people are going to stop sharing their opinion. It's only going to continue to be more information."
Falter's vision has been validated by investors like Lerer. In 2012, Poptip was included in TechStars' demo day. So far, the company has received $2.4 million in funding.
The company emerged after TechStars with a product that let brands create polls in real-time. Poptip also accounts for misspelled words and responses that aren't hashtagged when they are supposed to be. Perhaps the most high-profile use of the polls was for Time's Person of the Year last year.
Lerer says Poptip's success has everything to do with Falter. "In this business you ultimately shake someone's hand and look them in the eye and see what they're made of," he says. "You ask if times get tough and they have to pivot, do they have the wherewithal?" in Lerer's opinion, Falter does. Though she made a strong impression in that first meeting, Lerer says she keeps getting smarter. "She's a superstar," he says.
Though young, Falter has been working towards being an entrepreneur for some time. She bought her first domain name when she was 8 years old. As a teen, her first real job was making MySpace pages for the Tribune Co. She was attending Notre Dame when she made the trek to New York to present for Lerer Ventures.
When asked how she mustered the guts to approach Lerer that day — other would-be entrepreneurs might assume that he would be too busy to field such pitches — she said she surmised that she had nothing to lose.
"In that situation, I was flying back and forth between Notre Dame and New York City. I didn't know anybody in New York. I didn't have any money of my own. Even the flight there came out of my own pocket," she said. "I needed to take a chance."