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Q&A: Anda Gansca, CEO of Knotch

Meet Anda Gansca, an ambitious Romanian immigrant to the United States who is out to change the world of social feedback through a color-coded application in the Apple App Store.

Called Knotch, the app allows users to express opinions on topics with ratings in color to reflect nuanced emotions. Does it help that Ms. Gansca, who is Knotch?s cofounder/CEO, also has a Stanford education and a need to make her company the leading opinion network over Facebook and Twitter?

?Other review systems available are the [Facebook] Like button, less than a binary variable, or the five-star/tomatoes scale which, averaged out, means very little,? Ms. Gansca said. ?As studies show, most things ever reviewed online always average out to 3.2 out of 5. What does that even mean in the first place?

?Our spectrum is different from all the other review systems out there because it evokes an emotional response as the user is rating something and furthermore it is engaging in itself,? she said.

?And because we place these knotches at the core of our network, we already drive the creation of tens of thousands of knotches, also known as data points of accurate and structured sentiment on topics.?

In this wide-ranging interview, Ms. Gansca discusses her background, the move from Transylvania, her motivations behind starting Knotch and how she intends to change the world of social opinions. Please read on.

What?s your personal story?
I was born and raised in Transylvania [in Romania] and went to math/comp sci high school. Throughout my adolescence, I was always the rebel kid starting initiatives to respond to the faulty educational system.

My first project was starting a class in my high school called the Interdisciplinary Class where I was trying to help my peers understand the practical value of the theoretical material we were learning in our general curriculum.

I then started an NGO [non-governmental organization] around this class and continued to start initiatives that would promote a more practical approach to education.

When I was 17, I decided to take a wild shot at getting into one of the best universities in the world. I studied English intensely for a few months, took the SATs and told the story of my rebellious responses to the system. The Stanford admission officer called me out of the blue one day and said, ?Anda, we would love for you to come to Stanford. We think you are going to be a great entrepreneur one day, you have the genes for it.?

I didn?t know what entrepreneurship meant, but I was so impressed that she called me that I eventually decided to go to Stanford.

At Stanford I did two majors: economics and international relations. But what I really loved studying was econometrics, aka data analysis. I knew I wanted to start a company that dealt with big data and regression analysis one day.

While in college, I continued to start nonprofit initiatives: one in the U.S. and one in Russia and continued to grow the projects I had started in Romania.

By the time I graduated from Stanford, I knew that I wanted to start my own company, but because I did not have the right idea yet, I went to work in venture capital for a year.

How did you come up with the idea of Knotch?
I am a very opinionated social media user and I was constantly frustrated with the fact that I did not have a specific outlet for my opinions.

Whenever I had a strong political view on an issue or simply loved a movie I had just seen, I felt that 1) Facebook and Twitter were not the right destination for my opinions and 2) that even if I launched my opinions in social media, they would very quickly float down into the downstream of the Internet and die. In short, my opinions did not matter in social media.

As I continued to think about this issue, I realized that not only did I not have a meaningful, quantitative way to express my opinions, but I also did not have a quick way to gauge the opinions of my network on things I cared about. I then realized that I could bring my passion for data into the picture and create a product that would answer my need.

I imagined an international scale on which anyone of any language or culture could quickly add their two cents ? their ?knotch? ? on anything they had an opinion about. I wanted this scale to be simple to use, fun and much more meaningful than the broken review systems out there such as the Like button, the five-star review, et cetera. That was the beginning of Knotch.

But it was only when I met my cofounder Stephanie Volftsun that the idea really started shaping into a product and a longer-term vision and only when we met our first hire, Rebecca Chaika, chief creative officer, that we started really visualizing how a product could look like.

Why the name Knotch?
Because when you ?knotch,? you make an indent into how the world feels about a topic. Everyone?s knotch is an indent of equal importance and, collectively, all these knotches connect to create meaningful insights about sentiment on brands, artists, politicians, movies, et cetera.

Moreover, we wanted to come up with a new word for the action of expressing your opinion in color. Knotching to us is not synonymous with rating or reviewing. Knotching is saying it in color.

Who are you targeting?
We are targeting young social media users ages 16-30. In our large beta group, our most active content creators have so far been men and women between 16 and 30.

When did the beta start?
It started three months ago.

How will customers use it?
The first and most important use case is simply the urge to express opinions. We constantly have opinions about everything we see around us. Knotch makes it extremely easy, social and fun to express them.

But we see Knotch as a way for our users to not only express but also gauge the sentiment on a movie they want to see, a restaurant they want to go to or a new artist.

We allow our users to actively ask their friends to knotch about a topic, so basically crowdsource the opinions of the people who matter most to them. We think this feature is going to drive both a lot of engagement and virality.

Finally, we see Knotch becoming an opinion network over time.

Whenever a user knotches, he or she also adds to the identity they are creating in Knotch, eventually resulting in what we call an opinion profile. What defines users in Knotch is therefore their opinions and we plan on allowing users to connect with each other based on their similarities and differences.

How does Knotch work?
The Knotch app is centered around the act of knotching: expressing your opinion on a topic in color.

We give users a color spectrum to express how they feel about everything. The spectrum expands from the middle up into hot colors, from light yellow to intense red, and from the middle down into cold colors, from light blue to dark blue/purple.

Other review systems available are the Like button, less than a binary variable, or the five-star/tomatoes scale which, averaged out, means very little. As studies show, most things ever reviewed online always average out to 3.2 out of 5. What does that even mean in the first place?

Our spectrum is different from all the other review systems out there because it evokes an emotional response as the user is rating something and furthermore it is engaging in itself. And because we place these knotches at the core of our network, we already drive the creation of tens of thousands of knotches, also known as data points of accurate and structured sentiment on topics.

In terms of browsing content, users log on to Knotch and first see their following feed which is also their social feed of people and topics they follow. They can toggle between this feed and the trending feed which is an aggregation of all the threads in the entire Knotch network in order of popularity. On the trending feed the user can find new topics and new people he or she wants to follow.

Users often come to Knotch with a topic in mind that they want to knotch about and so they automatically press the compose button. There they say what they want to knotch about, then choose the color affiliated with their sentiment and then optionally add their comment about why they felt that way. They can choose to post or not to Facebook. About 95 percent of our users post to Facebook.

After they knotch, they get taken to the profile of the topic that they just knotched about to see the aggregate sentiment of the network on that topic.

Sometimes users log in to browse through the feed just to see what people are knotching about, in which case they scroll through the feed to see topics and they flick horizontally to see knotches on that topic. They can click on a knotch to get an expanded view. From there they can love a knotch or comment on it.

The coolest part about Knotch are the profiles ? both the topic and the user profiles ? because they show an interactive color bar that represents the aggregate sentiment on that topic.

If you look at a topic like Argo, the movie, you can quickly gauge how the network felt about it and you can filter through colors to figure out why they felt in a particular way.

Same with users ? you can figure out if a person is, in general, positive or negative as well as filter through different colors and see what they have been positive or negative about.

Our knotchers define their identities based on their opinions or their ?true colors,? as we like to call them.

In the future, we will emphasize the aspect of a network where users can connect with old friends and new based on their opinion profiles.

How does it work for marketers?
The current sentiment data on the market is 60 percent accurate, at best ? only for negative/positive, doesn?t allow for granularity ? and, furthermore, it is based on mining Twitter and Facebook information, which means it is implied as opposed to conscious sentiment.

In comparison, the Knotch sentiment data is 100 percent accurate, conscious and structured sentiment data from the get-go. The only thing we need to do is to analyze it to find trends and meaningful correlations between topics and cohorts of users.

I am a data scientist and my passion lies in inferring meaning out of data.

The power of the sentiment data we are gathering through Knotch is incredible: imagine being able to analyze how the sentiment on a movie is trending in real-time, has evolved over time or how it correlates with the location of users, their age, gender or position in the open graph. All of this is very easy to infer from the Knotch data.

We plan on doing all the data analysis in house and working with interested parties by offering them a Knotch dashboard on which they can add and pay per variables they want to monitor.

What need did you identify that other competitors did not satisfy?
Knotch is a consumer-facing data company. On the data side, I discussed the need for more accurate and structured sentiment data.

On the consumer side, which is in some ways more important especially at the beginning, we are satisfying a few different needs for different target audiences.

We have also mapped these out on a timeline so that we understand how the architecture of the app needs to cater to early adopter, followers and finally late adopters.

In the first few months after launch, we are catering to early adopters and content creators. These are the people who care less about a use case and more about having a new tool for self-expression that allows them to shout out their opinions in a much more fun, meaningful way.

From talking to them, we know that they are frustrated with the lack of a meaningful way to express opinions.

In other words, they cannot add their two cents to a topic they care about and know that those two cents add to an aggregate or that collectively, with other opinions, it is making a statement. Moreover, these early adopters are very opinionated people who have a constant urge to express their opinions.

As we drive more and more engagement and therefore content, we will focus much more on categorizing it and making it easier to digest for the later adopters who are usually the passive consumers of content.

For this group, we think a big need that is not fulfilled by Facebook, Twitter or Amen is the ability to crowdsource sentiment on a movie, a place, an artist, a TV show or a politician. There is no place on the Internet today where you can log in to find the answer to questions like ?How does social media feel about Obama? Lady Gaga? San Francisco? James Bond? The new Gmail app?? 

And, finally, I will bring up again the idea of an opinion network which is all-together non-existent in social media today. This deals with the way we connect in networks today. What do we connect based on? Photos? Interests? Affiliations from the real world?

At Knotch, we believe that in real life we connect with each other based on our shared opinions and interests and that is why we have placed this at the core of our network. In the long run, we want to be that one place where you come to express, share and connect based on your true colors.

How can we make sure that there is no profane content?
First of all, you can only log in through Facebook, so your knotching is connected to your real-life identity. That prevents most people from posting profane content.

Second, profane content will never be voted to the top or reach the top of our trending feed. If someone posts it, it will only show up in the following feed of their friends and if no one else engages with it, it dies down. So organic curation.

Third, we will be notified whenever profane content is posted and will also allow knotchers to alert us when they think something is inappropriate.

What are you trying to achieve here with Knotch?
We are going to start the Color Revolution, using color as a means to allow anyone to control the experience of the Internet.

We want Knotch to function as a remote control that you can use to define your identity in social media and, from there on, have the data behind your profile indicate how ads, recommendations and content caters to you as well as how you connect with old friends and new.