We first met Hong Kong-based Lamplight Analytics when the startup raised US$1.49 million in seed funding in September.
Since then, the team has grown – they can barely fit into office at co-working space The Hive – and the social data analytics company is fine-tuning the service that scours 20 million data sources, from social media sites to forums and blogs, to create a simple monitoring dashboard for companies that want to understand an Asian audience.
The platform analyses multilingual content to provide data on what’s being said within each Asian country by their native speakers. Aside from English, this includes Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesia.
“We process the data through an engine, and from there we can determine the sentiment of what’s been said,” says Nathan Pacey, CTO of Lamplight Analytics, a.k.a. the one with the developer background.
What this means, essentially, is going through what seems like infinite amounts of data out there to provide a bespoke dashboard of insights or ‘social intelligence’ that comes from monitoring conversations across platforms.
Analysing social intelligence is a complex field, resulting in many companies like Brandwatch coming up with solutions to monitor and understand what’s being said, though few focus specifically on Asia.
e27 caught up with Pacey, alongside Fergus Clarke, COO, whose background is in advertising and research, and Sam Olsen, CEO, whose diverse CV includes serving as an officer in the British Army with a side expertise in cyber and intellectual property.
What’s the difference between Lamplight’s services to, say, setting up Google Analytics or even manually scouring for data?
Olsen: It’s not feasible to manually go through that many sites and blogs. Depending on what you’re interested in and what you’re looking for, you probably won’t have the time to dump all the data in.
Imagine the ability to go to one place where everything is said about you. For companies, you also don’t want to spend time to build the services to run this service.
Our dashboard is completely customisable, so you can adjust accordingly to what matters.
Pacey: It’s also the difference in the data you are picking up. We run 24/7 and gather real-time data. Manual searches are myopic, and it wastes time to employ people to do these services.
How do you account for spam bots or fake users? Can the platform pick up on evolving slang, which is often used in China to avoid censorship?
Clarke: One aspect of data analysis is social influence. What we found is that some of the metrics used for influence in the US simply don’t work in China. So, we are working on our own algorithm, based on active engagement, which looks at authentic human-generated content.
It’s much more nuanced and allows us to see where the real people are.
Olsen: In some situations, bots might actually also be of interest. Take, for example an incident that happened in October 2014, the Virgin Galactic crash. [The VSS Enterprise crashed in the Mojave Desert, California, US during a test flight.] We were analysing that, and we found that the leading source of activity was generated from bots.
But the point is that it was creating enough content to create a wave. Even though it wasn’t human, it was still creating that wave.
In terms of how language evolves, that’s why we have to be based in Hong Kong. Social listening tends to be based in the US, but it’s so much more [effective] to be right next to the source.
Clarke: We also are not just looking at China, we are a global focussed company. We are in the jurisdiction that is probably the easier place to do business in China.
There’s almost too much information online — how can companies benefit in looking at more chatter?
Clarke: We are working with brand owners, agencies and marketing companies to find out more about customers, measuring employee engagement, or new market entry, product development. There’s really a wide market. Each report we do, which comes as a standard dashboard, costs US$88, so it’s affordable to startups as well.
One interesting case study we did was during the Uber arrests [in Hong Kong], which generated huge amounts of conversations. It was very media-driven. Uber launched a hashtag campaign and also collected signatures for a petition. It all looked like it was successful.
But we were able to see that the conversations were surface. Uber was being drawn into other conversations about other issues, like Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’ or economic freedom, which, I would imagine, is not what they imagined the results would be. They got sucked into a political conversation though all they wanted to do is [improve] their image.
Olsen: That’s just one example. Brands want to know things like, is our marketing budget being spent wisely? What demographic are we appealing to?
Data can show, for example, that a hotel chain gets more [positive feedback] from male business travelers over female leisure travelers. If you are a hotel attracting mostly businessmen and you want to target more females, then you need to change the marketing campaign and get back on track.
We are not just a tech company, we can provide data insights leading to action and benefits.
What trends have you seen in media and tracking feedback since you’ve started?
Clarke: There’s a huge evolution of marketing tech, it’s far more experimental than it used to be. It’s not just about measuring click-through rates to determine effectiveness.
Olsen: There’s also huge amounts of power given to people who have been traditionally locked out of research before this, and this weighs in heavily on brands looking Asia.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced, since the beginning, as a startup in Hong Kong?
Olsen: Opening a bank account for the company! It could literally take months.
Clarke: Post-funding, they’re probably a lot nicer to us. [laughs] But everything about banking is difficult.
Olsen: Getting registered is no problem. InvestHK has been supportive. It has been nice to see the government making active decisions.
It is also difficult to find talent, a common problem for companies. What makes it slightly harder in Hong Kong is that young people are indoctrinated to go into finance. There’s still cultural pressure for the younger generation to go into a corporate job. Obviously, it is starting to change. Tech is the new Finance, and success stories from Hong Kong will change the paradigm.
Clarke: Space in Hong Kong is also an issue. We want our office to reflect our collective personality and community, so we don’t want to be in the standard Hong Kong corporate space.
Pacey: There’s a lot of co-working spaces, it’s always being cited as a sign of growth, with no real metrics. This reflects Hong Kong’s love affair with real estate.
You judge how successful a place is based on numbers. I’d be interested to see how many startups got international funding, how many startups came out of universities in Hong Kong, what partnerships, etc.