Social Startup Seesmic Follows the Money, Pivots Away From Consumer Play

Twitter moves cause shift

Even though social startups are hogging the spotlight in Silicon Valley these days, one of them, Seesmic, is already leaving the consumer social networking world behind.

Seesmic still offers free desktop, browser, and mobile applications for managing your presence on Twitter, Facebook, and other services, but founder and CEO Loic Le Meur said the company's future now lies in adding features aimed at salespeople and executives, as well as in new products like the newly announced Seesmic CRM apps. Seesmic doesn't plan to chase away its consumer audience, but, Le Meur said, "If we have to choose between adding the cool avatars or cool smileys, or adding analytics, we will always go for the business feature."

Le Meur said this shift has been in the works for more than a year. He dates it back to "the minute [Twitter] acquired Tweetie" in April 2010, which he saw as the beginning of a larger shift in Twitter's strategy.

"We went from a huge number of very active developers, all competing to become the Zynga of Twitter, into a much more focused ecosystem," Le Meur said.

Twitter itself outlined its new strategy earlier this year, discouraging developers from creating a "consumer client experience" and instead telling them to focus on areas like data and analytics. And while Le Meur said he's sympathetic to the motivations behind the shift, he was also surprised by the move, contrasting it to the "superenthusiastic" response that Seesmic received from the Twitter team in earlier days.

As for finding a new direction, Le Meur said it made sense to take advantage of the business audience that Seesmic had already started attracting. It was also a way to get out of a crowded field of "five or six or 10 Twitter clients" into an area with much less competition. Plus, the new plan meant Seesmic didn't have to try to build the "scale and mass number of users" needed to make money from advertisers and could instead just charge for its apps (which the company plans to do later this year).

Of course, Seesmic's story could be seen as an illustration of the dangers facing any startup dependent for its existence on a single platform player like Twitter. Seesmic may be facing that danger again since its new products are basically mobile apps for Le Meur said he's "fully aware of the risk" but is encouraged by his close relationship with Salesforce and by its embrace of developers. (The sales software company participated in Seesmic's $4 million round of funding earlier this year.)

"Twitter . . . had too many people in their ecosystem, and they had to take control," Le Meur said. "Salesforce is the opposite."

Ultimately, he said he doesn't regret the change.

"We could probably have done something great about Twitter as well, but that opportunity closed," Le Meur said.

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