Microsoft Funds Social Polling Startup Askem

Another mobile-friendly startup gets funding from the software giant's early-stage startup accelerator and venture capital arm.

Microsoft Ventures announced on Feb. 11 that it has made an investment in Askem, an Israeli tech startup whose namesake mobile app for Apple iOS fosters engagement, and presumably better decision-making, by polling friends on social media.

"Unlike other decision making apps like Jelly, Seesaw and Polar, Askem goes after the toughest issue with social decision making—getting actionable answers from the wall of noise," said Rahul Sood, general manager of Microsoft Ventures, in a company blog post. "The app is fun, addictive and has a huge potential to scale."

Askem's CEO, Itai Herman, shared with eWEEK just how addicted Askem's users can get. "Average daily time on app: 14:30 minutes, which is really good and goes to show how sticky and addictive Askem is," he stated.

The app integrates with top social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. Users upload photos that include touch-friendly poll questions (with up to five responses) and solicit answers from other users on social media. Askem was founded by Herman, CTO Zeev Rubinstein, Vice President of Product Yoni Hemi and Tomer Zakai, the firm's design head.

Herman points out that when it comes to polling and decision apps, his firm is no Johnny-come-lately. "As I just read, some people are comparing us to Jelly—the new player in our category. It's important to emphasize we beat them to the punch by six months," he said.

The company also offers a version of the technology for Websites via a plug-in for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal that is currently in beta. Sood suggested that the technology is ready for business.

"Askem isn't just for the casual user either. The decision making app continues to develop and expand its services, and offers a similar format designed for marketers, helping them get insights about their target audiences," wrote Sood. "Retailers and other companies can engage consumers by asking creative questions and get real-time feedback."

While the companies did not disclose the deal's value, Herman provided a glimpse into the firm's early funding successes. "Our seed round was $550K in Feb 2013 and was led by Tal Barnoach. Our current round is led by Microsoft and The Disruptive Fund—Tal Barnoach's newly established fund."

Microsoft's connection to the startup goes beyond that of benefactor. "Azure is our cloud computing infrastructure," revealed Herman.

Sood noted that the company is one of the success stories to hail from the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Tel Aviv. "Herman, Rubinstein, Hemi and Zakai built Askem not only to cut through the digital noise, but also to create a new platform for visual storytelling that helps everyone 'question everything,'" he wrote.

Mobile has clearly been a focus of Microsoft Ventures, which was founded in June 2013. Other funding recipients include SkyGiraffe, a cloud-based software startup that enables organizations to deploy custom, job-specific mobile apps that link to enterprise databases in as little as 15 minutes. In November, Microsoft invested in Zula, a mobile collaboration startup that consolidates contacts in Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and the company's own service to provide file sharing, one-touch conference calling and secure, private one-on-one and group messaging.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...