Ciler Ay Tek, CEO/Co-founder of Smart Moderation, the World’s first Artificial Intelligence solution that automatically removes inappropriate user-generated comments from social profiles and digital platforms.
Ciler is a Management Engineer with a background in Strategic Marketing Management and Digital Marketing. She spent more than 15 years changing the ways companies approach their marketing and sales processes. She always focused on growing with disruptive and innovative ideas and now works on solutions to stop online harassment.
In this interview, Ciler shares the mission of Smart Moderation, its competitive advantage and what she's aiming for over the next 5 years.
Her advice for entrepreneurs in California:
You have to offer better or more unique services than your competitors. You should know your difference and glorify it to show the market that you offer something new and profitable.
How did you get the idea for Smart Moderation? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?
The idea of Smart Moderation basically came from experiences of my Co-Founder Mete and I. My 15 years in marketing showed me that social media is the best way to explain your brand and the easiest way to reach your customers, and that makes it a necessity for business.
Yet, social media also has a dangerous nature that requires user-generated comment moderation. As an experienced marketing expert, I can sincerely say that inappropriate comments can ruin your whole marketing strategy and the reputation of your brand.
While I was searching for an effective solution to the moderation problem, Mete was working on artificial intelligence technology that could be trained in content marketing. So, we came up with the idea of Smart Moderation, a tool that automatically removes inappropriate comments from social media with artificial intelligence.
When we first started to develop this tool, we conducted a detailed literature review and surprisingly found that there was no moderation tool using artificial intelligence. That meant other moderation tools were very simple and required immense human effort/time and also cost a lot.
The absence of a moderation system with artificial intelligence became our highest advantage and also increased our excitement about this project. As a world’s first inappropriate comment moderation technology with artificial intelligence, our ultimate aim is becoming “the lead moderator”.
When did you know that you had a business on your hands and not just a ‘good idea’? (The ‘Aha!’ moment)
To me, when we realized that there were no current companies that moderated abusive comments and unwanted spam Ads with artificial intelligence. That was the ‘Aha!’ moment. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of advantages to being the first in any niche. Because of my marketing career, I was aware of the importance of social media management and I remember that we used to make a great effort to reduce negative impacts of inappropriate comments.
There were tools that we utilized to moderate comments but they took a lot of time to use and always required an immense human effort. Also, imagine the psychological impacts of being a comment moderator; most moderators have a really hard time dealing with abusive and traumatic language.
As a person who knows all side effects of human comment moderation, dealing with the ugly parts through A.I. gets me really excited.
However, I also had moments where I questioned our tech's capabilities, but the success rates eliminated my concerns. Our tests show that our AI technology actually can detect inappropriate comments somewhat like a human does. These are moments that I realize that we've got a great idea, which is improvable, utilizable and most importantly, needed and can be very useful for humanity.
What are your visions for your business? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
People share 1.3 million pieces of content just on Facebook every minute now and when we think about the other platforms, the volume is huge. In addition, By 2019, the global content marketing industry is expected to be worth $300 billion. So in this growing market, our ultimate aim is to be the leader AI technological provider of comment moderation.
We are aware of our high competitive advantage because of our technology, simplicity and pricing but this advantage comes with responsibilities too. We know that technology and social media can rapidly change and we have to keep improving our product and our strategies.
I believe that social media grows exponentially and there will be always new social media tools to moderate. For now, we offer a service with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube in English and Turkish. Our 5-year plan includes new languages; Arabic (which we've already begun), German, French and Spanish are our next targets.
Also, we’re planning to add new platforms like Reddit, Wordpress, Hubspot and many more. These are our plans for the following years but also we’re aware of the fact that we should also be prepared for what novelties the world, social media and technology will bring us.
What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Smart Moderation?
I believe our experiences helped us while starting Smart Moderation. Mete’s 15 years of experience in Artificial Intelligence and my marketing background came together and created Smart Moderation.
While we started the business, I was aware of the importance of social media and the problems we can solve in the social media market. Along with our experience in our expertise areas, our educational backgrounds also allow us to build more efficient strategies. We’re both engineers and I also have marketing experience, which allows us to integrate within every process of work.
Also my market research ability and brand management experience along with digital marketing, market analysis, product management and CRM help me to conduct better growth strategies.
What was your biggest business mistake and how did you come out stronger at the end of the day?
To me, the moment that you enter the startup world, the first thing you should realize is that being a startup means making mistakes. After making several mistakes, we learn to not be afraid of them anymore.
Because we know that we should always adapt ourselves to changes, changing becomes habitual. We discover that learning, investigating and changing is the nature of startups. And if you can change quickly, you shouldn’t be afraid of mistakes because you can recover from it easily.
However I can still name several mistakes that we learned a lot from. For instance, in the beginning we thought that our business should be B2C, business to customer, but soon after we realized that we offer more for businesses than direct individual customers. So we quickly switched to B2B and that brought us many new clients.
Also, our first and biggest mistake was that we thought our product could sell itself and growth would be automatic. So we published the website, launched our application, set pricing and waited for customers to come rolling in.
We banked on the uniqueness of our product, its capabilities and our pricing but forget to reach customers and gain their trust. Then we quickly realized that we should first introduce ourselves to them and build a relationship. After that, hunting became our new growth strategy and we win most of our customers from related strategies.
I mean, it might be good to make mistakes if you can learn from them and adapt yourself accordingly. So far, our mistakes have made us smarter and taught us a lot.
Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?
To be honest, we haven't disappointed our customers so far. Our customers are used to keyword-based filtering systems and our service already offers higher-level service with lower costs. Yet, we have a special moderation policy with which we define “inappropriate comments” as profanity, harmful speech, trolling, spam and ads.
We train our intelligence according to that policy. After getting requests for custom needs, we began offering a custom AI service that's specifically developed for a distinct category of 'inappropriate.' For example, some of our customers use it for political comments instead of spam or profanity.
Also, sometimes we get requests for novelties within our tool like giving automatic answers to inappropriate comments but our focus is improving what we already have. Because we know that technology is alive and changes so quickly, we have to be up-to-date and act on our strengths.
I don’t know whether the denial of these requests was disappointing for our customers or not but we promise that we'll keep improving our service in regard to their needs. But now we need to focus.
What makes Smart Moderation unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?
I think our uniqueness comes from our artificial intelligence. Currently, people/companies use keyword-based filters or human moderation to deal with inappropriate comments. Human moderation is costly and also has negative psychological impacts on moderators while keyword-based filters are incapable of catching inappropriate words like a human could.
Yet, as Smart Moderation, we offer a cheaper solution with high accuracy rates. We can erase spam and abusive comments within the minute they’re posted. So, once we take care of inappropriate comments, social media management teams can focus on the more beneficial sides of social media.
Also, our speed and AI technology offers a unique experience for brands. If you want to protect your brand’s reputation, you should always be prepared for disaster scenarios like Samsung’s. Even if disasters seem irrational, you should always be alert to harassment of your brand. Our product can always be alert for them.
In essence, we offer a comment moderation service that automatically removes inappropriate comments in real time, 24/7, understand text like a human does with its AI technology and there’s no need for complex integration. So basically, we're offering perhaps the most efficient and easiest solution for comment moderation problems with cheaper prices than you can find anywhere else on the market.
We offer integration with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. For me, YouTube is the most crucial one because we all know that the YouTube comment section can actually cause loss of faith in humanity and existing tools are very inefficient.
Also, I believe we’re also the only moderation company that offers API integration with digital and mobile platforms.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Smart Moderation?
Our main influencer is Mark Zuckerberg with his focus and strong passion with artificial intelligence with building computer services that have better perception than people. He believes that it's possible to get to the point in the next 5 to 10 years where we have computer systems that are better than people.
Smart Moderation shaped as one of the best practices of Zuckerberg’s claim with its machine learning and natural language processing algorithms. Our AI even surprises me with its decisions. Our customers are very curious about “How it works” but if we're talking about self-learning AI, it's nearly impossible to explain. Nowadays, I'm recommending everyone watch the TV Series Westworld to understand the future of this technology.
How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?
I'm passionate about Artificial Intelligence and I strongly believe what Smart Moderation is doing.
In big companies, you become a part of an already established system. Every role in the company is already assigned and the company has a self-activated system. However, in startups, humans are the engine. If you stop, business stops.
You have to be up-to-date because you have to follow new business trends, keep up with current and potential customer needs. You know that technology is always improving, so you need to find new ways to adapt yourself to these improvements and redefine your contributions accordingly.
Also, we're working in cooperation with social media tools, so we have to follow their updates and always keep adapting our technology. Naturally, I have always be alert. For me, adapting myself to change is the key daily task. I have to discover novelties in business and develop new strategies.
So, it’s not easy to stay focused and always alert but our ideas become my motivation. Because everyday that I work, I know that people and brands need it. In a way, the fact that we offer protection from profanity, abusive language and spam gives me a hope to create a safe Internet experience for everyone and that hope keeps me focused everyday.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in California? Where should they start?
Starting a business begins with having a good idea: needed, profitable and applicable. A good startup should offer a solution to some problem. So, they should begin with testing their idea and investigating the market to see what the business specifically has to offer. You should be aware of the market, its needs and your competitors.
Naturally, you have to offer better or unique services than your competitors. You should know your difference and glorify it to show the market that you offer something new and profitable. In our case, we offer instant moderation at lower costs than working with human moderators. We built our marketing strategies on those attributes.
Even if you have a great idea and you offer an important solution, California is a really hard place to survive. To be honest, competition is really high so thus the expenditures. But, if you want to be the best in your business, you need to take risks. If you have a good idea, offer a profitable solution and reasonable growth strategy, you should also remember that Silicon Valley is like the Hollywood for startups.
So, don’t be afraid, have a detailed plan, always investigate the market, keep yourself updated and more importantly build connections. Don’t forget that every single person might be an indicator of an aimed connection. And always keep in mind that “The best Growth Hackers are the Co-Founders”.