Adam Wexler (BBA ’07) has a knack for creating something valuable before the marketplace knows it’s needed. That’s what he’s done with Insightpool, a social media firm that’s attracted Fortune 500 clients.
Apple founder Steve Jobs had the credo:
“I’ll know it when I see it.”
Whether it was an idea, a design, a product, a strategy, or a person, Jobs was seeking that intangible, hard-to-explain spark within.
Insightpool founder Adam Wexler (BBA ’07) has that spark.
Insightpool began as an idea without a market, but it has quickly ascended from a startup bolstered by a handful of students to an Atlanta-based social media firm with more than 50 employees and more than 100 of the world’s most successful brands as its customers.
Wexler’s creation has changed the way brands use social media to build relationships by utilizing products that create actionable insights. With C-suites around the world waking up to the value of big data and big funding, Insightpool has transitioned from startup to grown-up and is now on the precipice of becoming the next big thing in mainstream digital marketing.
The company recently paired with The Home Depot and Twitter to create buzz for a contest sponsored by the home improvement giant and ESPN’s College GameDay. The Home Depot used Insightpool’s advanced targeting technology to identify 43 of the most influential college football fans. This precision helped Insightpool and The Home Depot reap 13.8 million potential impressions from contestants, accounting for 10.5 percent of the total potential Twitter impressions about The Home Depot and College GameDay. Factoring in the audience’s extended networks, the potential impressions climb to 45.5 percent.
Wexler’s ability to envision the future — and then create it — is no ordinary talent. Insightpool president and COO Chris Hackney best describes Wexler’s gift with a tale about another whiz kid, David Cummings, who has accomplished extraordinary things at a young age.
Cummings sold Pardot, an Atlanta-based technology startup, to ExactTarget for $95 million, pocketing a lot of that for himself. Hackney, who had a role in running the Duke Startup Challenge, remembers Cummings as a resourceful competitor, even as a freshman at Duke.
“When you see guys like that, you don’t know how they’ll be successful, but you know they’re going to be successful. Well, that’s what I also see in Adam Wexler.”
Insightpool was born from the failure of Go Rank’em, a web platform to rank songs that Wexler spent four years developing as a marketing student at Terry, where he was also involved in the Music Business Certificate Program.
“Our tagline for Go Rank’em was ‘the Wikipedia for music discovery,’ which might as well have been a nonprofit. I came to grasp that a little too late,” says Wexler, a Sandy Springs native who realized early on that he was a serial entrepreneur. And as most serial entrepreneurs learn, the only true failure is to quit trying and learning. “While marketing Go Rank’em, I saw how we could productize insights for other businesses and create a market. One-by-one, I pulled over the guys from Go Rank’em and created the prototype for Insightpool in the late summer of 2011.”
Adam Lewites (BSEd ’12, BBA ’12) was one of Insightpool’s six original employees when the company was still headquartered in Athens and trying to land its first customer. A management major who worked for the UGA basketball team, Lewites pursued a coaching career after graduation at Jacksonville University, where he realized he enjoyed running the basketball team’s social media more than coaching. When he sought a career transition, Wexler convinced him to come aboard.
“Adam had a great vision for Insightpool. Most businesses were, and still are, focused on the right people to target and he was so far ahead of the market with seeing how to use insights and data to better target those people,” says Lewites, who realized as a recent graduate that there was no better time to join a startup because the hands-on experience he’d gain was more advantageous to his future than the opportunities he’d have in entry-level Corporate America. “I saw how the technology that Insightpool was developing would lay the groundwork to change how marketers think and act at a corporate level.”
Lewites was most impressed with Wexler’s hustle. The way Wexler meeted, greeted, and knew who to talk to, combined with his strategic understanding of any landscape reminded Lewites of the best aspects of college basketball recruiting. The two cash-strapped Adams often attended marketing industry conferences and leadership events with laptops in hand and earned initial meetings with key people through sheer chutzpah.
“We emailed people there that we wanted to meet with, and they would say, ‘I’ll meet you at your booth.’ They thought we were sponsoring at the event, but we didn’t even have a booth,” says Lewites. But it never deterred Wexler. “He’d tell them we had a mobile booth — and we’d meet them at an empty table at the conference with laptops in hand. He didn’t miss a beat.”
With Wexler functioning as the ultimate opener and Lewites the seasoned closer, they made a great team, and the clients followed.
“Before we knew it, we had Holiday Inn as our first big client. We did well enough that it became all of IHG,” says Wexler, who moved the company to Atlanta because the city has the third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country. “Next thing you know, we had UPS, The Home Depot, and Cox Communications with a product applicable to all these companies. We knocked them down one-by-one in our own backyard, doing great work for them.”
Insightpool gained investors as it increased its clientele. Among them is current CEO Devon Wijesinghe, who met Wexler in 2012 after he sold his workforce platform, e-Verifile.com. Wijesinghe was seeking investment opportunities and, like Lewites, saw the future in the data’s insights.
“Thirty billion social interactions are happening every day — but zero of them are having decisions made from them,” says Wijesinghe, who joined Insightpool in 2012 as an investor and co-founder. As the startup grew, his expertise running e-Verifile.com for 13 years made him a great fit as the company CEO, freeing Wexler do what he does best as a thought leader and evangelist from the board of directors.
“You’d want to be marooned on an island or dropped into a desert with Adam Wexler,” says Wijesinghe. “You might not think there was civilization. But before you knew it, Adam would have met all the warlords, figured out how they interact, and what they need or want from each other.”
From 2012-14, Insightpool acquired more than 100 of the most successful brands in the world as clients and raised significant money from investors who understand the emerging values of new technology.
“One of our major investors is Peter Knight, founder and former chairman/CEO of CheckFree, who basically invented the ability for you to pay your bills online — and 88 percent of all electronic check transactions now go through their servers,” says Wijesinghe. “We’re still in a difficult environment where we’re trying to invent a market and a product, but the fact that we’re getting a strong customer base and culture surrounding the company is helpful — and a bragging right.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Inisghtpool is poised for bigger things.
“Adam was a visionary because he was very far ahead of the market, and we’re seeing that shift to his thinking,” says Lewites. The company has always seen itself as a much larger part of the digital marketing landscape, and corporations are beginning to see how Insightpool’s results can influence C-suite decisions. “We’re seeing CEOs of large enterprises getting more involved with understanding the data. It used to be a constant educational phase, but we’re seeing a shift in the mentality of marketers all the way up to CMOs that’s in line with how we’ve developed our product.”
Wijesinghe says the company is at an amazing inflection point where they hit on a massive hole in the world of marketing, and their technology helps identify those insights and connects them to actions that need to be taken.
“I was at a conference where they asked how many people would be watching a TV show that week that was broadcast at a specific time. Two hands went up in a room of 500,” says Wijesinghe, who noted that the other 498 hands shot up when people were asked if they were going to watch that show on Hulu, Netflix, or some other broadcast platform. “When you think of that example, you realize that consumers are now in charge of their own destiny, and it has happened in business-to-business as well as business-to-consumer. They are now completely in charge of what they do and where they go. A brand can no longer think that it can capture consumer attention without something that is extremely relevant and timely.”
Although TV advertising is still 7-10 times larger than digital advertising budgets, Wijesinghe says $70 billion of marketing dollars are going to waste.
If I watch a TV show for a specific amount of time, the products that are often showcased to me — hemorrhoid cream, Viagra, and women’s gym wear — don’t fit my needs. Our software has pioneered the chance to truly understand insights and characteristics around individuals and then connect them to help brands know what they should do and say. We’re still in the first inning when it comes to adopters, but we’re past the stage of the first adopters and the cool kids table.”
It appears that Wexler’s spark is about to catch fire.