Kristin Muhlner likens work at a start-up to a theme park ride, with the ups, downs, twists and turns coming quickly and often. The past two months as chief executive of District-based NewBrandAnalytics have been no exception.
“What you have to be careful about is not getting on the roller coaster ride,” Muhlner said. “We had a great day yesterday, but invariably there will be something today that doesn’t go so great. You have to be able to not take any of that personally.”
Muhlner has joined NewBrandAnalytics as the two-year-old firm is preparing for its largest market push to date, rolling out an updated version of its software next month that will allow the firm to reach new industries and expand globally in the next year.
The company’s software uses text analytics to help restaurants, hotels and government agencies track customer feedback on social media. The businesses can then contact dissatisfied customers and use the unsolicited criticism to adjust their operations.
Web sites such as Yelp have made customer reviews public and easily accessible — much to the chagrin of small-business owners and commercial chains alike. Negative reviews, merited or not, can directly impact the bottom line with little recourse for merchants.
NewBrandAnalytics culls that information, as well as less structured feedback on Twitter and Facebook feeds, then figures out which location the critic visited. As a result, Muhlner said, the software can tell a retailer which store is too cold or a hotel that Joe The Concierge is less than hospitable.
The soon-to-be-released version of the software will be able to compare the criticism of competing businesses, allow a shopkeeper to interact directly with critics and analyze comments written in foreign languages.
“We’ll not only tell you what folks think about the product or service you’re delivering, but how you delivered it, and the people that delivered it, and the location it was delivered in,” Muhlner said.
Founded on April 15, 2010 (yes, Tax Day), NewBrandAnalytics is the brainchild of Neil Kataria, Kam Desai and Ashish Gambhir. The trio grew the business from an unproven idea to a functioning product, and secured an anticipated $26 million in venture capital last November. They ultimately closed on $20 million of that.
But Kataria, the firm’s chairman, said NewBrandAnalytics needed fresh leadership as the company started to build out its sales force and began the sometimes-precarious transition from fledgling venture to full-scale company.
Harry Weller, an investor at New Enterprise Associates, introduced them to Muhlner. She had been an executive at Reston-based WebMethods, before it sold in 2007 for $546 million, and the chief executive at McLean upstart RollStream when it was sold last year.
Kataria said the founders were interested in “finding someone who could help take the vision ... and actually start to build a team and execute on it to grow the company to the next level.”
“When we were introduced to Kristin, she checked every single box,” he said.
Diving back into another start-up wasn’t exactly what Muhlner had in mind. She was filling her days with consultant work and taking turns on the tennis court, a welcome change after the sale of RollStream.
But the offer from NewBrandAnalytics meant a job that would have her working with former colleagues in an industry she already knew and at an office just 10 blocks from her District home. She and her husband took a weekend to make a decision.
“I kept waiting for something to be wrong with this,” she said. “We ultimately decided there isn’t. We need to lean into this and just let it be what it’s going to be.”
At one point last year, NewBrandAnalytics was just days away from moving west to Silicon Valley. The founders were close to landing money from two California venture firms and had already begun shopping for real estate. Kataria’s wife even quit her job.
Then came an 11 p.m. phone call from the firm’s adviser and former District mayor Adrian Fenty. He lined up a breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown for the following morning with investors from New Enterprise Associates.
Two weeks later, local investors stepped up. NEA and Revolution, the venture firm helmed by former AOL executives Steve Case and Ted Leonsis, cut a deal that kept NewBrandAnalytics in the District.