San Diego Startup & EvoNexus Graduate, SOCi, Raises $120M to Further Integrate Artificial Intelligence into Their Digital Marketing Software
SOCi, a digital marketing software firm, will use ChatGPT to answer online reviews on Yelp and Google. The $120M raise will help them integrate artificial intelligence deeper into SOCi’s digital marketing software for brands with many locations. The rest of the funds will be used to expand into new markets.
“SOCi was admitted to the EvoNexus incubator in Downtown San Diego in 2012. At that time, SOCi co-founder Afif Khoury, a former attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, had decided that instead of helping startups, he would start a company of his own,” states Rory Moore, Co-Founder and CEO of EvoNexus. “The company was in the new wave of software startups that launched following the financial crisis of 2007-09. SOCi’s initial vision was to provide small merchants with a web-based platform that would give them the tools to establish local branding, reputation management, and analytics that were typically only accessible to large enterprises. In simple terms, they provided the neighborhood restaurant, service provider, or sole practitioner with an affordable way to compete against big brand companies. Having played an early role in part of the success of SOCi, myself and the EvoNexus organization are thrilled to be part of their continuing journey.”
SAN DIEGO, CA / San Diego Union Tribune / March 7, 2023 / San Diego digital marketing outfit SOCi said Tuesday that it raised $120 million in a tough funding environment for startups to bulk up artificial intelligence in its software platform — including the integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT to respond to online reviews.
The company also will use the additional funding to expand into new markets, including manufactured goods. The money brings the total amount raised by SOCi to $230 million since it was founded in 2012.
SOCi’s software targets brands with multiple locations, such as Ace Hardware, Jersey Mike’s, Kumon, and Ford. It helps them manage and collect data from their search and social media presence through a centralized platform — and in particular their reputations on review websites.
The company, led by neuro and data scientists, has been developing a new line of “Genius” products to further tap artificial intelligence and machine learning models to automate digital marketing and decision-making.
As part of that effort, SOCi announced last month that its online review response software tool — which integrates with major review sites including Google, Facebook, and Yelp — has tapped ChatGPT to deliver personalized, relevant responses to each reviewer.
“In an organization that is receiving reviews across thousands of locations, this could take the responsibility and cost of responding out of the hands of thousands of individuals, and dwindle it down to just a handful of individuals at corporate who are reviewing the list of automated responses,” said Afif Khoury, chief executive and co-founder of SOCi, in an email response to questions. “The savings and efficiency delivered are unmatched, and more importantly, the customer experience and reputation of the brand are the healthiest it’s ever been.”
ChatGPT, a generative AI chatbot, has been the buzz of the business world since it was released in November. It can deliver responses to prompts in a thorough, human-like and conversational manner.
But it also has sparked a fair amount of handwringing over potential downsides, such as using it for school homework or writing malicious computer code. Big tech outfits including Microsoft have touted the technology as potentially disrupting Internet search, while others see it as eliminating jobs.
Asked if using ChatGPT to respond to reviewers might alienate them, Khoury said, “ultimately it will be our responsibility to build up AI solutions to deliver not only a responsive experience but one that is customized so that every customer feels heard and gets the attention and answers that they seek.”
The company employs 600 workers. The funding round was led by JMI Equity, with participation from Vertical Venture Partners, Blossom Street Ventures, and strategic investor Renew Group Private Ltd. — the owner of 5-Hour Energy International.
SOCi is the only marketing platform that enables multi-location marketers to manage local search, social, reputation, and messaging and deploy a localized experience across limitless locations — all through one login. Multi-location businesses can establish a powerful local presence, increase local activation and adoption, and drive unstoppable business growth at every location. Uncover the limitless potential of an integrated localized marketing strategy with SOCi, the marketing platform for multi-location brands. To learn more, visit meetsoci.com.
EvoNexus is California’s leading nonprofit technology startup incubator located in San Diego. EvoNexus has successfully incubated over 260 startups with a survival rate of over 85%. Since the incubator’s formation in 2010, EvoNexus companies have secured over $1.6B in venture funding, $10B in pre-exit valuation, and had 48 acquisitions valued at over $2.1B. EvoNexus is supported by corporate partners, including some of the largest multinational corporations in the world. Learn more at evonexus.org.