Citelighter makes Internet research tools. CollegeHumor makes light of everything. This week, the seemingly strange bedfellows kicked off a cross-promotion to help students get their work done more efficiently. How did that happen?
The New York City educational tech startup Citelighter, cofounded by Saad Alam and Lee Jokl in 2010, has been testing their product in closed beta since May. It's a web research tool that grabs highlighted text from sites and stores it in an online account, complete with detailed citation info, for later use in term papers. For now, Citelighter is a free plug-in for the Firefox browser, but Chrome and Safari versions are also in the works. Until yesterday, Alam reports, just 500 users had tried it.
Now Citelighter is publicly available and part of a cross-promotion with CollegeHumor. The pop culture powerhouse responsible for viral videos like The Six Girls You'll Date In College and John Stamos' Guide To Cuddling (featuring Bob Saget) is including Citelighter mentions in emails and social media seen by some 2 million subscribers and followers this week.
It's not typical for the notable distraction factory to promote a productivity app. One CollegeHumor Media spokesperson said, to his knowledge, the promo with Citelighter marks a first for the company, part of IAC, whose content portfolio includes: CollegeHumor.com, TodaysBigThing.com, Dork.ly and SportsPickle.com.
Both brands target the same demographic, of course— college students. And students have always mixed work with pleasure. That was essentially the pitch that Jokl and Saad took to CollegeHumor. Integrating a CollegeHumor RSS feed and tab into Citelighter, the entrepreneurs would guide students “[bound to] take a study break to CollegeHumor instead of Yahoo…or YouTube,” Alam explains.
They also pointed to a 2006 study by Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted and Rohrer that found that incorporating study breaks between study sessions increases learning potential as a justification to work together.
As part of the promo via CollegeHumor, Citelighter is sponsoring a sweepstakes. One lucky co-ed gets a cache of swag including an iPad, gift certificates to Urban Outfitters and Staples, and two pairs of Calvin Klein sunglasses. Where did a couple of cash-starved entrepreneurs get these goods? “We have friends at the companies,” Alam said. In a bubble-wary, recession-weary startup environment, cofounders gotta get creative.
They did so on other levels, too. After raising some angel funds for Citelighter, Jokl and Alam found their development, design, and promotional costs were on the rise. Rather than ask for more money, they started another business, MyPadLife, as a bit of a cash cow.
Alam explained: “I was at the gym one morning and I said ‘I would love to strap my iPad to the treadmill...’” The Citelighter guys designed a case for strapping an iPad pretty much anywhere. On the strength of a late-night-infomercial-style appeal, the business school buddies pitched and garnered a $12,000 investment from the community funding site Kickstarter.
Sales of the iPad accessory, which are warehoused in Alam's parents' garage for now, are helping keep Citelighter in business. All MyPadLife profits—until Citelighter is generating its own revenue sustainably—are going from the physical goods startup to the tech startup, Jokl explained. Combining angel funding and MyPadLife profits to-date, the cofounders have invested $80,000 into getting Citelighter up and running.
Will Citelighter itself make money someday? Alam and Jokl are still working on that plan.
They want to introduce a premium, paid version of Citelighter—they hope by the end of the first quarter of 2012—that can help students grab and cite content from PDF files without downloading them, and that can make recommendations as to credible, authoritative sites that they should check out, based on what other users are "citelighting."
One of the startup's advisors, Christopher M. Schroeder—former CEO and publisher of Washington Post and Newsweek Interactive, now the CEO of HealthCentral.com—told FastCompany in an email that he believes Citelighter's market opportunity is tremendous:
"Millions of researchers and writers get lost in the cacaphony of information online. Citelighter helps me find what others like me have found useful in areas I care about, and ensures proper and easy citation. Better, more relevant knowledge and utterly clear attribution—there is nothing like it."
Meanwhile, Alam and Jokl are living the double startup life among friends. The business partners combined a roommate search with a startup recruiting effort to pull together a house full of talented techies, which they now refer to as "The Tech House" in downtown Manhattan. It's one big group bromance. Some of them have day jobs, others work on Citelighter and MyPadLife full-time. And yes, of course, they're looking for funding.
[Image: Flickr user Duke TIP]