Video by: Ignacio Torres
What is influence? More importantly, how do you measure it? Joe Fernandez — whose family’s journey took them from Cuba, to Las Vegas to San Francisco, and who still has the startup bug that saw his other companies crash and burn — thinks he has discovered the answer.
Fernandez was laying in a hospital bed in 2007 with his jaw wired shut when it came to him.
“During that time I had to completely rely on Twitter, Facebook to communicate and it really changed the way that I looked at those platforms,” Fernandez says in Klout’s offices on a typical, partly cloudy San Francisco day. “It amazed me that the people I trusted the most, I could tell them my thoughts or opinion on anything instantly from my phone.”
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Fernandez says it was the idea that for the first time word of mouth is scalable and people finally have the power to share whatever they think with their friends instantly. “So I wanted to measure that — and Klout is the measurement of your influence.”
The controversial beating heart of Klout is the “Klout score,” a merciless 1 to 100 designation that can either make you look silly – or sought after – by brands and hiring managers alike. The score comes from the content you create on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Instagram, Foursquare and others, and how much people interact with your content.
“The higher Klout score you have the more influence you have,” Fernandez says. “From there brands look at the Klout score and potentially reward you for your influence. So Nike was giving away Fuel bands to people with high Klout scores and Chevy was giving away test drives of the Chevy Volt.”
But when Fernandez unveiled his genius idea, his friends reacted as if he was still hopped up on jaw medication. “I was finally about to tell my friends what I had been working on with Klout and everyone thought it was a really dumb idea, the idea of measuring who is important on social media didn’t really make sense.”
In the process of creating his company, Fernandez knew the name had to be Klout – it was the only way he ever envisioned it. The problem was that Klout.com was already owned by somebody. So Fernandez offered him $1,000 – and the guy laughed in his face, responding that the domain was worth “high five figures.”
What would follow, would be a lesson in dogged determination, sustained stubbornness, or maybe both.
“For the next 18 months I would just call him, email him, harass him to get this domain name and every time he would say no and he wanted way more money,” Fernandez says.
When he got his first check from his investor, he cashed the check and kept the money in his apartment, which he says is definitely a no-no because “investors want your money in the bank.”
By this time he was living in San Francisco and the guy also lived in San Francisco. Fernandez was following him on Twitter and when the man tweeted that he was at a restaurant, it was time to pounce. “I went to the restaurant with cash, found him at a table and threw some cash on the table and I said, ‘I’m the guy who’s been harassing you for the Klout domain name. I’m never going to stop. Sell me the domain right now.’”
The two completed the transfer right there at the dinner table in front of all of the man’s friends. Joe left with his pockets $5,000 lighter — but Klout.com was his.
Hernandez says this persistent business attitude comes from his family.
“My dad’s family is from Cuba and they’re actually pretty entrepreneurial, my dad has always been a business person,” Fernandez, who grew up in Las Vegas as his father rose through the casino industry, says. “That element of ‘just hustle’ is something that’s instilled in me. Las Vegas is an entrepreneurial city. If something is ten years old they implode it and build something new. All those factors drove me to build through it and not take no for an answer.”
Fernandez experienced some growing pains when he decided to modify how the Klout score was measured last year. In late 2011 the changes were not very well received and Fernandez had to change his phone number because of the calls and complaints he was getting. But recent changes, unveiled in August, were seen as much more favorable.
“We started measuring about a hundred signals,” Fernandez says. “A signal for us is Facebook likes, Facebook comments, Twitter retweets. So we went from measuring a hundred factors to over 400 — so much more data.”
The score also now includes Wikipedia to factor in offline influence if you’ve done something important in the world. The oft-given example of this change can be explained easily: Barack Obama, at 99, finally has a higher Klout score than Justin Bieber, at 91
In terms of Klout’s plans for 2013, he says it will be localized into other languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and French. “We actually have a lot of users in Latin America who use Klout now but don’t get full benefit because of the language translation problem. So that s something that were very excited to take on next year.”
One thing Fernandez is personally interested in is getting Latinos to begin to make noise in the startup world.
“There’s not nearly enough,” he says. “I rarely come across Latinos either, some engineers but not enough CEOs and founders.”
Fernandez says young Latinos shouldn’t feel like maybe they won’t be as comfortable on the startup scene. “I think not being afraid to take those challenges on is critical. I didn’t graduate college — I went to just a public high school in Las Vegas, which isn’t known to be the best.”
“As an entrepreneur there’s this swing where you feel invincible and you’re the smartest person and you’re taking on the world and it feels great till your terrified and it feels like you’re going to fail,” he says.
“And you learn that you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low, you just have to keep pushing forward.”
This mindset led to brands relying on Klout scores to send out invites to VIP events. After all, the well-connected attendees will probably be tweeting and posting on Facebook about the event and spreading the information around their network to their friends.
Now that’s influence.