In November, GetGlue, the entertainment check-in service that now has more than 2 million users, won a 2011 Media Vanguard Award for Best Second-Screen Platform. Today, GetGlue is announcing that it's closed a $12 million round of financing led by Rho Ventures, and that Habib Kairouz, managing partner at Rho, will join GetGlue's board of directors. GetGlue's existing investors from its $6 million round of financing in November 2010 -- Time Warner , RRE Ventures and Union Square Ventures -- also participated in this latest investment.
Today, Ad Age -- which has had an editorial partnership with GetGlue since last fall for our weekly Top 10 TV check-in charts (here's the latest) -- kicks off a series of follow-up interviews with selected MVA winners. GetGlue Founder/CEO Alex Iskold is first up, sitting down with Media Guy Simon Dumenco.
Mr. Dumenco: Congratulations, Alex. How are you going to spend the $12 million?
Mr. Iskold: Me, personally, or the company? No, I'm kidding. [laughter] Well, we have a pretty rich pipeline for 2012 and a whole bunch of product innovations focusing on primarily tablets, and also our new iPhone app and website. Most of it is focusing on products and user growth, and some of it will be focusing on expanding our business.
Mr. Dumenco: Why the focus on "primarily tablets"?
Mr. Iskold: We've focused until now mostly on phones and also desktops, and we definitely see different usage patterns in both. Desktop is more like, "I'm bored and I'm looking to explore and discover new things when I have a lot of time," and mobile is "I'm in a hurry" mode. What's interesting is , I think tablets are probably going to be the next-gen platform, instead of desktops, for what people can use when they're bored. They're perfect for the "second-screen" experience, because if you're sitting in your living room watching TV, having a tablet in your lap makes a lot of sense. So we're planning to roll out a bunch of upgrades to our current iPad app and also looking to the Android tablets.
Mr. Dumenco: How, specifically, can you improve the second-screen experience?
Mr. Iskold: The first big thing for us would be personalization around a [program] guide. We want to roll out a new kind of guide that 's smart about what you already like and also has social bits to it, as well as understands trends. So that 's our first area of focus. A second big thing for us is additional content on the second screen. We think that as people are watching TV there's an opportunity to serve them bite-size related videos and images and other kinds of rich media. We think we're pretty well-positioned to execute that .
Mr. Dumenco: Beyond just serving as a promotional platform and fan-outreach system for their series, what do networks get out of working with you?
Mr. Iskold: As you know, we executed a bunch of partnerships in 2011 and will continue to do so in 2012, where we worked with a network around a specific show. So, for example, we partnered with Fox around "The X Factor," where PepsiCo was the sponsor. I think the networks view these kind of deals as a really interesting way to extend their digital inventory.
Mr. Dumenco: How many TV networks are you working with right now?
Mr. Iskold: We currently have 75 different networks that are predominantly in the U.S., and a few in the U.K.
Mr. Dumenco: How big is your company now in terms of staff?
Mr. Iskold: We're 40 people, most based in New York, a couple of people in L.A. We're not in a hurry to become superbig. We always prided ourselves on being sort of agile and stingy, and I think we're going to continue to do that .
Mr. Dumenco: You started out the company as something different, right? GetGlue was a pivot, and the parent company is AdaptiveBlue, which was founded in ... when?
Mr. Iskold: AdaptiveBlue was founded in 2007.
Mr. Dumenco: What was that supposed to be?
Mr. Iskold: The genesis was we were a social network for entertainment that was browser-based, and our first product was a browser plug-in and that was pretty successful -- but it didn't really resonate with people. It was pretty successful numbers-wise, but it didn't really have an emotional connection the way that GetGlue does.
Mr. Dumenco: Remind me what it was it called?
Mr. Iskold: It was called Blue Organizer. That was launched in 2007.
Mr. Dumenco: And you pivoted to GetGlue in ...
Mr. Iskold: November of 2009.
Mr. Dumenco: Where does the GetGlue name come from, anyway?
Mr. Iskold: We wanted but couldn't get the Glue.com URL, and so at the time we figured we could have a placeholder. We said, "Why don't we just call it GetGlue?" -- because we wanted to get the Glue name -- and we kind laughed it off at first and thought it was a silly thing. But then the name definitely stuck.
Mr. Dumenco: And where did you come from?
Mr. Iskold: I'm from Ukraine, a long time ago.
Mr. Dumenco: When did you come to the U.S.?
Mr. Iskold: In '91.
Mr. Dumenco:: And now two decades later you're CEO of a company that just got a fresh $12 million round of financing. Nice. What did you do when you first got to the States and then leading up to GetGlue?
Mr. Iskold: I started my career as a programmer on Wall Street , and then I decided that Wall Street wasn't for me. I went to a local startup in New York that did information visualization. And then after that I started my first company that I later sold to IBM. And so GetGlue is my second big startup.
Mr. Dumenco: What and when did you sell to IBM?
Mr. Iskold: That company, Information Laboratory, was to help people find bugs in their code, so it was more of an engineering tool; it had nothing to do with the consumer space. I sold it in 2003.
Mr. Dumenco: For a guy with a programming background you seem to have a pretty intuitive grasp of the consumer space. Why do you think people care so much about sharing their entertainment consumption in real-time by checking in? I mean, your numbers are really impressive -- more than 100 million check-ins in 2011 on a user base that 's grown to more than 2 million. You're hitting a nerve.
Mr. Iskold: I think entertainment is an incredibly emotional experience for a lot of fans. Everything that 's emotional and social I think presents a big opportunity. Whether you're a teenager or a senior citizen, regardless of your background, there may be 10 shows you love or maybe just one show you love, but you are emotional about TV and want to talk about it. So GetGlue reflects that passion. Saying "I'm watching this" is a gesture of self-expression.
Mr. Dumenco: OK, on that note, one last question, Alex -- a personal one. What TV show or shows are you passionate about lately?
Mr. Iskold: I was really excited about "Homeland." I thought it was absolutely fantastic. And I'm definitely looking forward to the last season of "Breaking Bad."
Edited and condensed from a longer interview.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.