Steve Martocci: “There is so much room for truly disruptive marketing that no one has really cracked yet”

Steve Martocci himself acknowledges that keeping social responsibility in mind when starting a business is no easy, or even reasonable, feat. But despite his assertion, he has managed to do just that.

Martocci is best known for co-founding GroupMe, a mobile group messaging service that was born out of the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in May 2010 and acquired by Skype in August 2011. Prior, he worked at Gilt Groupe and founded Sympact Technologies. He has also had a hand in several technology-related social programs, including voter registration organization HeadCount, Inc. and tech employment initiative SummerQAmp.

Martocci will be a featured speaker at next month’s PulsoConf in Bogotá. We reached out to him to discuss his own personal experiences as well as the future of mobile and the question of social responsibility.

Emily Stewart:  GroupMe, which was essentially the product of a hackathon, took off quickly and was sold very fast. What was your experience like with this? Is it reasonable for other entrepreneurs to hope for or expect something similar?

Steve Martocci: The momentum of GroupMe was definitely not the norm for many startups.  We really hit the market at the right time, right place, and since the idea solved a real problem we faced in our lives, we were able to tell our story, recruit our team and raise money very passionately. We had a clear vision of what we needed to build and when we needed to roll it out. We were also able to execute on that vision rapidly by using tools and services that allowed us to focus on what we were good at and not get distracted by already solved problems. All of these factors allowed us to build momentum and have an incredible ride.

This also wasn’t my first startup, I spent three years working on a company called Sympact Technologies, and we for sure didn’t have anywhere close to the momentum of GroupMe. The quick success of GroupMe was not something I was expecting at all.

ES: The mobile market seems to really be hitting its stride right now. What business models and types of monetization do you see as most profitable in the market? Where do you see it going within the next five to 10 years?

SM: Mobile and the always on, always connected opportunities it provides can massively disrupt traditional non-tech-focused markets. I think Uber is a great example of this, a new level of convenience for users and efficiencies for businesses are possible with mobile. I think these life improving connections to the physical world will continue to flourish on mobile. I expect them to make great strides into things like health care and yield management of physical goods.

ES: Mobile ad networks and mobile publicity are also gaining importance. Do you think that the advertising models being used right now for mobile devices work? Or are they about to die out?

SM: I think there is still a ton of opportunity for new forms of mobile advertising. Current ad networks really don’t work the way they do on the desktop because the screen real estate and usage patterns are so different on a phone. Sponsored content seems to be working much better for companies like Twitter/Facebook and blogs. There is so much room for truly disruptive marketing opportunities that no one has really cracked yet, but with the amount of data available to target on mobile we aren’t too far away from finding it.

ES: You act as Digital Advisor for HeadCount, Inc. and are involved with SummerQAmp. Why have you personally chosen to get involved in these social initiatives?  What do entrepreneurs and others in the digital startup community bring to the table in such circumstances?

SM: I think that it’s very hard to be socially aware when your company is getting started.  A strong focus on your business and building your team should be your top priorities. However, the opportunities for change that can be at your fingertips as you grow your network and learn how to efficiently tackle problems are incredible.

SummerQAmp, the new nationwide initiative I founded to train a new workforce in high-tech skills and create tech jobs for American youth, came out of a conversation over dinner. It was almost harder to not start it than to get it going. I’m excited to have more opportunities to make a social change now that we’ve been successful. 

Another thing to note is that you never know what your users may do with your product. We’ve had some incredible stories come in for how GroupMe is being used for social change. Our favorite is a neighborhood watch group in Detroit who is using GroupMe to stay in touch and protect their neighborhood. I would definitely encourage other entrepreneurs to seek out ways to make a real impact where they can.