Founder's Feature: 8 Steps to Startup Success

By Margaret DeRosia ● November 09, 2016 03:00

James Neufeld at Enterprising Culture. Photo: Aida da Silva

CFC was excited to sit down for a chat with James Neufeld, a man of many talents — member of CFC Media Lab's IDEABOOST Cohort 5, Founder and CEO of SAM, and most recently, the Canadian winner of the inaugural Cultural Start-up Award at the Franco-Canadian forum, Enterprising Culture.

Neufeld created SAM, a specialized Content Management System used by prominent news and media organizations worldwide to create and publish social media-based content. It has emerged as the leading solution that powers social media news search, gathering, curation, publishing (storytelling) and workflow.

SAM’s customers include Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, Press Association, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Guardian and The Toronto Star. With more than one million in financing already secured, SAM is growing, with offices in Edmonton, Canada and London, England. We caught up with Neufeld and asked him to share his thoughts on starting smart and going the distance.

What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?

James Neufeld: I've always loved to build things. I like dreaming, planning and building. But beyond the stereotypical entrepreneurial tics, I wanted to build something that would empower storytellers to tell great stories. There’s nothing better than a great tool that makes your life great or empowers you to do great things.

How did you come up with the idea for SAM?

James Neufeld: Social media is largely used as a marketing channel, as data for advertisers or a microphone for brands. But I think we would be remiss if we only saw social as a broadcast medium. Everyday people share incredible stories, photos and videos at a massive scale. The idea came out of a belief that social would become the most important source of information and stories the world had ever seen. SAM is aiming to be the next generation content management platform for a world where curation is more important that content creation.

What prompted you to apply to CFC Media Lab’s IDEABOOST accelerator program?

James Neufeld: It really came about in my conversations with the CFC team. How they structured the program and their understanding of our mission made it a great fit. We wanted to work with a program that would help us get a strong sales process established in the media space — CFC did exactly that.

What is the one thing you want audiences to know about your company/product?

James Neufeld: The media industry hasn't scratched the surface on social's potential. The quality and quantity of meaningful content being created everyday is the greatest source of rich stories, media and more. SAM makes it easy to find and manage social content that tells a story.

What’s the biggest challenge you currently face or have faced in terms of development?

James Neufeld: Understanding the right problems to solve is a lot harder than it sounds. The road to success is paved with good ideas, features and customer pain points, but few actually matter. Focus is typically a secondary challenge, knowing what to focus on and who to listen to (i.e., in terms of driving informed discussions) is often the bigger challenge. We’ve been learning this and have created processes on how to filter feedback into great features that our users love.

What’s the most important thing you've learned since starting your company?

James Neufeld: Iteration and perseverance. Everyone says it, but it’s a whole other thing when you have to live it daily. It’s so important to take feedback, listen, iterate and keep refining. There is no such thing as a breakout moment, only small wins and failures that point you in the right direction. Persistence to keep iterating.

Congratulations on winning the Cultural Start-Up Award. What are you hoping to get out of the experience of working in France?

James Neufeld: The French media market is incredibly exciting for us. France has a vibrant news industry with great papers, agencies and broadcasters. We want to learn what makes them tick and how social can help amplify their coverage of local and world events.

What’s Next?

James Neufeld: Refinement is always our top priority at SAM. Even with a rapidly growing company and user base, we try to keep our attention on the details. Our customer feedback loop is amazing and it powers our business — so our horizon is about listening, watching and building.

Read/download SAM's latest study here.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.