Startup Cerkl tailors content, communications to deliver targeted messages, curated for the audience

Company has customers in 26 states

CINCINNATI -- Do you ever feel that every day, you’re bombarded with more information than you can possibly read, assimilate and act upon?

Or if you’re a content provider, do you ever wish you could do a better job of putting your content into the hands of the people who really want it?

If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, you understand the problem Cerkl is designed to solve.

Cerkl -- pronounced like “circle” -- curates content to users based on content they’ve accessed in the past. It’s similar to how Netflix makes recommendations for you based on your viewing history, Cerkl founder Tarek Kamil said.

Suppose you have a content provider -- let’s call it WCPO.com -- that wants to get its stories into the hands of the people who most want to read them. WCPO.com could hire Cerkl to use its software to read new stories, search them for keywords and send them to WCPO.com subscribers who’ve accessed similar stories in the past.

In that way, WCPO.com could send out personalized content to all its readers, something that’s clearly of potential value to advertisers.

But it’s not just content providers who could benefit from the service, Kamil said. The University of Dayton, for example, is a customer because it wants to tailor-make communications to its 100,000 alumni.

“It’s a very diverse audience,” Kamil said. “The more diverse, the bigger the problem.”

As a member of the Madeira City Schools board, Kamil saw it was becoming harder for the board to reach parents and alumni to tell them the great things the schools were doing, he said.

It seemed to him the reason was that people had too much competition for their attention.

“We, as a society, are producing more content than ever,” he said. “For us to reach our audience, we have to change how we communicate.”

So he conceived of Cerkl, which he said is his fifth tech startup in 19 years. Other ventures have included a software company he sold in 2002 and WhatIfSports, which uses sports data and math to predict outcomes of sporting events real and hypothetical. That company was sold to Fox Sports Digital Media in 2005.

Is Cerkl making money?

Yes. Kamil declined to say how much, but he added that it’s to the point where he can’t hire people fast enough. The company has 15 employees, he said, and over the next 12 months he plans to hire at least another 10.

The company has customers in 26 states. Locally, they include TriHealth and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Two months ago, Cerkl started making a profit, Kamil said.

Building a business is like pushing a big boulder up a hill, Kamil said, with the boulder always poised to crush you if you make a wrong move. But if you can get the boulder over the hill, it starts to roll by itself, and that’s where Cerkl is now.

What’s next?

Kamil’s trying to raise $800,000 in investments from individuals, institutions and venture capital groups before the end of this year, he said, and he think’s he will surpass that amount.

He’s put about $400,000 of his own money into the company, he said, and total investment has been just under $1 million.

How has the local startup scene changed since he started his first business?

In the late ‘90s, there weren’t as many entrepreneurs, he said, and people would often ask him why he didn’t work at a big company like Procter & Gamble. Now, the region has many more organizations that help startups, such as The Brandery, Cintrifuse and CincyTech.

When he started, he said, it was like running a marathon, uphill, with the wind in your face. Now, starting a business is still like running a marathon, he said, but it’s downhill and the wind is at your back.

“It’s such a different culture when it comes to innovation,” he said.

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