You’ve probably had the experience of going to a website and seeing a lot of content that’s not really relevant. For the most part, a lot of this is organized in a way that’s either pre-defined or based on a limited number of signals that aims to sort of personalize the experience for a normal user.
But as time goes on and the competition for eyeballs continues to heat up, that light level of personalization probably won’t be enough. Instead, users can go to Facebook or Amazon, which have an enormous amount of data on its users, to get a much more personalized experience. Every other site that wants the attention of users needs to have a better-curated experience, and that’s what LiftIgniter is hoping to help those sites achieve. The company is raising $6.4 million in a round led by Storm Ventures. LiftIgniter has raised $8.25 million to date and was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016.
The goal is that the software will help customize the content on any given page for a specific user, which, hopefully, makes their experience more enjoyable. Those users may then end up either coming back over and over or eventually converting to customers and buying products. It’s all designed to create a more engaging experience, which in the end will help drive additional business to these sites through either more customer conversions or simply more unique visits and page views. LiftIgniter services more than 5 billion page views a month, co-founder Adam Spector said.
“Our view is that there should be a personalization API, just like there’s an API for text messages with Twilio or payments with Stripe,” Spector said. “Every digital property should have personalization built in. Media, e-commerce, enterprise, business-to-business SaaS, it doesn’t matter. If you create an experience for users, you should want to give them something they want. The only way to do that at scale is with machine learning.”
Emphasized by co-founder Indraneel Mukherjee and Spector, “machine learning” part is important because the signals that users give to various websites are going to constantly be changing. As more and more users feed more and more data to the internet, having a truly engaging and personalized experience is table stakes to keep someone’s attention. A lot of companies will claim to be AI companies, but Spector says LiftIgniter has its own flavor that looks at a ton of signals that help define a profile of a user. Each signal is dependent on the last, and it’s the sum of those signals — all closely intertwined — that determines the user’s experience.
“Our customers’ websites are living and breathing things, and the connections between every piece of content is changing,” Spector said. “The articles you write today could be super relevant to an article that’s five years old. The relevance may change over time. The world is constantly in flux, the idea of having a hard-coded, static list of connections doesn’t make sense.”
A product like LiftIgniter certainly makes sense: you probably won’t be able to manually update your site fast enough to suit your specific visitors’ needs — especially for each individual user. But the sum of all those individual users is what will drive business, whether that’s through advertising views or purchases. Instead of manually curating a site or a shopping experience and hoping for the best, LiftIgniter tries to convince companies that it can do it at a technical level and drive results immediately.
And that’s one of the core elements of the company. LiftIgniter aims to ensure that the companies are able to get some meaningful metrics of success within 30 days of deploying it. That’s key for many companies, which are looking for some kind of return on any services they employ but may not necessarily get them right away. If you’re going to A/B test and try to personalize your site in order to get users to engage with it more, you’ll want to figure out if the service is actually going to be successful. That means that the companies can, early on, define various objectives and LiftIgniter will try to determine whether it’s able to hit those kinds of targets.
It’s going to be a crowded space — with plenty of competition from companies like Google — as companies race to build these kinds of products for companies. They’re going to become mission-critical tools for the rest of the world going forward as Facebook and other services train users to become completely accustomed to very personalized content. LiftIgniter hopes that creating a sort of blanket tool that any site can employ, as well as very quickly demonstrating some success, will give it a competitive edge to survive.
“We’re literally diverging from ourselves in every moment,” Spector said. “Humans adjust to a changing environment well. Our goals are going to be able to adjust for that and give users what they want. There’s no way I could consume every article. I should find the article I care about with a minimal amount of effort. Without that, they bounce back to Google, or Facebook, and then we outsource their discovery to Facebook and Google.”
My friends used to joke that I was the alcoholic of the group. At least, I think it was a joke. On my 22nd birthday, they threw me a surprise party disguised as an intervention.
“You drink too much,” they told me.
“You’re full of shit,” I responded.
They rolled their eyes and revealed the party and I felt smug for being able to see through them, for knowing that I wasn’t actually eligible for an intervention. Not for that, at least.
I wasn’t, was I?
I used to have three group chats dedicated to friends I partied with; we’d message each other daily to make plans. I used to take my homework to the bars and work on it between drinks and conversation. I used to have a peppermint candle by my bed that I loved, but I had to throw it away because every time I smelled it I thought of lying awake with the spins and I’d start to gag. I used to make myself throw up just to stop feeling nauseous from it.
It’s funny, because I never really classified myself as the “party girl.” I drank, sure, but what college student didn’t drink? We bonded over vodka tonics and stories of drunken escapades and arguments over who would finish their sake bombs first. We found any excuse to go out — holidays, birthdays, successes, failures, boredom. Each night I’d fix my makeup and head out to the bars, where no one bothered checking my I.D anymore. “We know who you are,” the bouncers would say as they ushered me in.
And then I graduated.
I’ll never forget my actual graduation day because I was absolutely miserable. My head hurt. Everything hurt. I’d stayed up all night celebrating and now I had to smile and act excited when I really just wanted to die. I met up with my parents for lunch and my mom looked at me, shocked, and asked, “Are you hungover?” I laughed off the concern and spent the rest of the week popping cheap champagne and coaxing people to buy me congratulatory drinks.
And then something crazy happened — I stopped drinking.
It wasn’t on purpose. I moved to a new place where I didn’t have friends, with a roommate who didn’t drink at all. My environment changed from one that encouraged constant inebriation to one that looked down on it. I got weird looks when I poured a glass of wine at 2 p.m.; my new acquaintances glanced awkwardly at one another when I’d order more than a few drinks at the bar. One time I went out drinking alone and got lost walking around the city for two hours; when I got home, my roommate was already getting ready for work. “You just got here?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in concern. I laughed it off and went to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep.
I stopped going to bars by myself. I stopped bringing bottles home. I felt too weird drinking alone.
It was a strange phenomenon, to quit cold turkey — I wanted to drink, but it didn’t feel right anymore. I’d watch my college friends spend their weekends at house parties on Snapchat and I’d immediately feel jealous. Part of me craved that lifestyle still, even though I was no longer part of that environment. But, though I wasn’t ready to admit it, a small part of me felt relieved.
It’s interesting how we treat alcohol abuse in our society. How Hollywood depicts epic parties and hilarious black outs, how we’re spoon fed stories of wild nights and terrible decisions. We’re considered weak if we can’t keep up, so we take the extra shot and finish our friends’ drinks and compare our battle wounds the next day. And then I look at how we regard that same behavior with contempt just a few years later, how we complain that people who do all the same things just don’t have their shit together. How can we both glamorize and demonize the same behavior? Why do we glamorize or demonize it at all?
I still tell stories of those wild nights to friends over beers — nowadays, I usually stop after one or two. It’s surreal to look back at the blur that was college and realize it was my life. I think of all the times I was hungover by 6 p.m., when I’d bring booze to class in water bottles and take shots in parking lots, when I’d show up to work still partially drunk. And I think about the intervention sign my friends made for me on my birthday, how it still hangs in my room, a reminder that once upon a time, I was that person. I just don’t think I’m her anymore.