William Mougayar on social networks, engagement, and entrepreneurship


Rohan: Today’s interview is that of a friend and person who’s gone from being a corporate person to then being a consultant and author, and then back to corporates before setting out to be an entrepreneur. His story as an entrepreneur is one of characteristic tenacity – he started up with an idea and, when that didn’t become the success he thought it would be, began working on a new idea which has been doing really well over the past year.

One year ago, William had reached out to test a product he was developing – Engagio. I had gotten to know William through Fred’s wonderful blog – AVC.com. His first minimum viable product launched on AVC a few weeks later and William hasn’t looked back. It’s a really cool story. Thanks William, for taking the time!

About William Mougayar

William launched his second start-up Engagio in 2012, having started Eqentia in 2008. He has more than 30 years of strategic, operational, and leadership experience in the technology industry, as an entrepreneur, business executive, professional speaker, management consultant and best-selling author. His career spanned 14 years at Hewlett-Packard in a mix of senior sales and marketing management roles, 10 years as an independent thought leader, and 2.5 years as global VP of Corporate Marketing at Cognizant Technology Solutions.

He was also the best-selling author of Opening Digital Market (McGraw-Hill, 1997), co-author of The Business Internet and Intranets (Harvard Business School Press, 1997) and was a columnist for Computerworld, LANTimes and Business 2.0. William is a graduate of the University of Washington (BSc), the University of Western Ontario (Marketing Management), and attended the University of British Columbia’s Graduate Commerce School.

Interview Transcript


Rohan: It would be great to start with your story, William..

William: Thanks for having me again on the program, Rohan.

I was born in Lebanon and my family moved to Canada when I was 17. We moved here in 1976 exactly because of the war and we landed in Montreal since we spoke French. I was not speaking English so well back in those days; it was more of a third language.

I went to the University of Washington, Seattle. Vancouver in British Columbia became our home in Canada. After university I started my first job in 1982 with Hewlett Packard (HP) when I was 23. My first job was in Sales in the medical division. HP was the leader in that sector those times. I stayed with HP for a good 14 years! As you can see I spent most of my formative years in HP. HP was the most admired company and held a great place in the Fortune rankings year after year. It was a 2.5 billion dollar company in the year I joined and when I left in 1994 it was 32-34 billion dollar company in terms of sales.

I think I have learnt a lot from HP. I have been in different roles there. I had also worked in the computer division. I was a salesman, a marketing manager, national sales manager and even in-charge of reengineering at one point. In 1995 when I realized the internet was going to be big, I jumped and become part the HP internal initiatives. It was called the information highway then.

Later I decided to leave HP and become a consultant. I wanted to write books on internet commerce and internet business. I did write some books and started speaking on these topics. This happened for ten years until 2005. I decided to go back to the corporate world and I joined Aberdeen, the research company. I went on to work with Cognizant Technology Solutions of Chennai. I was the head of global marketing out of New Jersey. It was a very global company and it did not matter where you lived. We would get on a plane and have conference calls. I used to work in the evenings because of India time on a routine basis.

In 2008, I decided to jump ship again and become an entrepreneur one more time. I founded my first start-up at that time (Eqentia) and a year ago I founded Engagio. To sum it all up, I went from a big company to a small company back to a big company and back to a small company. This is kind of the fourth stage of my career!


Rohan: If you could tell us more about the logo and the background, it would be great..

William: That logo you see there has just been changed. We are launching next week. We have twisted the e and it looks like an @ sign now. It symbolizes engagement as the new e-mail and communication segment out there.


Rohan: So what’s the story of Engagio? What is your vision?

William: Engagio is based in Toronto. I am at the intersection of Yonge and King Streets now. It’s where the financial district is located and somehow it has also become the place for start-ups to be located. Between where I am and ten blocks going to the west of King Street, there’s probably about a hundred start-ups.

You and I being prolific commentators on Fred Wilson’s blog, we know what it is to comment. I was commenting here and there in a lot of places including blogs. And I was finding it difficult to keep track of all of these discussions. It dawned on me to put all these discussion in one place – aggregate them like e-mail.

I called Fred Wilson and said ‘what do you think of this idea?’. This was almost one year ago in October 2011. Fred really liked the idea and said ‘make it look like Gmail’. And we did that in 9 weeks! And we launched on AVC.com. Our story is known with the AVCers as well.

As for the progress of Engagio, there are three phases of development. Phase one is when you start by managing your own conversations at the inbox level. We evolved it into following your friends’ conversations through the dashboard – that was stage two. These are dipping points on engagements in all of your networks not just Disqus and blogs. What we are launching next week is a place where you can see anybody’s discussions and anybody’s conversation.

By the time this interview is out, we will be a search and discovery destination for the online social conversations out there. When you go to the homepage you will be able to see the discussions that are going on and you’ll be able to dip in even if you weren’t involved in these discussion.


Rohan: What do you mean by discussions here?

William: I refer to the comments on blogs and also the conversations on social networks. You tweeting or re-tweeting is not a discussion. The minute someone else responds to you it becomes a discussion. Especially when there is more than one person. The more the number of people in these discussions the more prominence these discussions get on our platform.

He goes back to describing Engagio…

Along with this discovery we have a Search component. This has been the vision of Engagio since day one from January 2012. It took a little bit of time to have a mass of conversation before we could launch this aspect. When you search through conversations, you’ll find valuable information. You’ll be able to create alerts on the conversation about the topics that matter to you.

This is the first time we bring such a feature to the mass market. Of course there are expensive business solutions that do this. This is the first time we have a consumer-based solution that lets you generate your own alerts. We are working with 14 different APIs right now from social networks to social communities to blogs to vertical networks. We are indexing millions of conversations.


Rohan: So essentially if I look for a conversation about Manchester United game on Saturday, I’ll be able to see all the discussion around that game on Engagio, right? Is that the potential you see?

William: Well, I wouldn’t say all the conversations because we are slowly building our customer/user base. We have started with a majority of American users, so the probability of finding discussion about a football game might less. We have about 5 million user profiles now and it is growing fast!

What we are doing is going under the surface. If you subscribe to Google Alerts and such you don’t get the information under the headline. We are doing that – going beneath and seeing what is being said. A 500-word blog post could generate 300 more comments with thousands more words. So we are looking below the iceberg

Rohan: There is a lot of talk about social here. People are speculating if it’s a bubble or not a bubble. What is your view on it?

William: When we say Social I like to say Social Web. It is not just social media but a web. The web is becoming social. Everything we do online is becoming social. We are becoming more engaged. The trend I see is that the online world is influencing the physical world. We are becoming more and more Advocates. Online advocacy is becoming more real, powerful and effective in bringing change. For an example we can look at what happened with the SOPA and PIPA bills. Few months ago, these privacy bills were going to be pass in the US Congress. Suddenly the blogosphere, comment sphere and social sphere started to discuss those issues and in the end we saw the online world defeating the traditional lobbyists from the legislative policy making world. The raise-up from the online world saw passionate commenting changing those laws.

That is equivalent to other parts of the world where governments are being toppled because revolutions have started online in the social media. It’s not just about changing policy it’s also about changing the minds of people for the good of mankind.

I think we are barely starting to scratch the possibilities of what online advocacy can do and how it can influence the physical world. We also think Engagio can play a role in helping the people that want to be advocates connect with each other. As an example, recently because of what happened with the Hurricane Sandy in New York, Albert Wenger realized we should come up with ways to protect the New York to prevent damages and the first thing he did was suggest an online Kickstarter initiative There would be discussions about the issue and that would become important foundations for the real world change.


Rohan: What were some defining moments that come to mind when you think of yourself as a leader?

William: I don’t think I have had one defining moment that changed everything. I have had small moments that I keep remembering. I had the opportunity to spend two days with Alvin Toffler (Author of Future Shock & The Third Wave) back in 2000. We were speaking at the same conference in Santiago, Chile. I spent a lot of time with him. We ended up flying back together to Los Angeles. He is the dean of the information age and of what’s happening right now in the world of web.

I have role-models who have been guiding me. They don’t know that they are my mentors, but I follow them and learn from them. Alvin Toffler is one such person. Of late, Fred Wilson has become a great mentor. Not just as an investment guru but also as a professional advisor and as a friend. I benefit from my relationship with Fred and that has helped me a lot.


Rohan: Is there a productivity hack that you would like to share?

William: There are a couple of things I do. I used to have to-do lists but I don’t use them anymore. What I do instead is e-mailing myself the task that needs to be accomplished. I use headers to guide me when I am looking for these e-mails. For example, I would use ‘to-do’ as the subject line and when I search for that phrase, I get the list of things I need to complete.

I have another one where the subject line is ‘listen’ for podcasts or audiobooks or just music. I spend a lot of time travelling, so during those times I use these e-mails to listen to things in my car. Similarly I have ideas for my products and I use the ‘product’ subject line. Other examples are ‘marketing’ and ‘pitch’. I essentially have four or five categories of things to e-mail myself with. Haha.


Rohan: What is an idea that you would like to pass to our small and growing group of audience?

William: To never give up. I am bold, tenacious and I try things. That is what I want to give to others. When things don’t work out don’t take it personally. Take what you learn from it. Don’t let it affect you. My baseline thinking is this and I have been believing in it for 25 years now – I never let problems get to me.

I need to be in a full position of control to deal with these problems. I park them and I go and deal with them when I am in a better state of mind. Obviously there are some things you have to deal with right away. But the astonishing thing is that you don’t have to deal with them immediately. Some of them go away and if the others stay you just need time to think about them. If you spend a couple of days thinking about it you can come up with a way to solve it; you can be in a better position to be effective with them.

Thank you for the interview William. We loved your thoughts on the online advocacy – with social web becoming the new platform for businesses we should be aware of its effects on the real world, indeed.

Real leaders Team