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ShopIgniter has assisted Nike in selling golf balls and Levi’s in selling jeans, but not from the traditional storefront.

Instead, the 4-year-old Portland startup is helping big brands tap into the power of social networks, making it easier for them to attract new customers via channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The 4-year-old company, which landed $8 million in funding from Madrona Venture Group, Trinity Ventures and others in 2011, could be a the forefront of a big trend in online shopping. While Forrester Research estimates that social channels drive less than one percent of current e-commerce sales, the tide could start to turn, especially as Facebook ramps up its Graph Search effort.

We caught up with CEO Matt Compton for the latest installment of our Startup Spotlight series to learn more about how ShopIgniter is looking to lead the charge in social commerce.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it“ShopIgniter provides software and services that enable brands to promote and sell their products using social media.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We saw that amazing Nielsen study about consumer trust in various marketing vehicles. 92 people of people trust product or brand information from people they know. Consumer trust in all other forms of marketing and advertising — TV, print, traditional display, paid search, company websites, email, etc. —  is decreasing every year, especially in the core 18 to 34 demographic. All those brand marketing dollars and efforts will have to flow towards activating the only mechanism that people actually trust.  Additionally, we saw brands and retailers getting much more meaningful, valuable engagement with their social-mobile customers when they focused on product-related content and experiences, rather than just asking them to “Take a Quiz!” or “How was your Weekend?” A marketer would never burn an email drop to their customer list simply to ask “How was your Weekend?” so why had they been doing that in social? Part of it was, at the time, the industry was in the early audience building stage but also marketers did not have the tools to promote their products and drive real business outcomes in social. Based on our experience with social commerce, we knew that enabling this kind of product-centric social engagement for top-tier brands was going to require a different approach and toolset than they had currently. It would take something more robust than widgety polls and quizzes to create compelling social & mobile experiences around products.”

Matt Compton

VC, Angel or Bootstrap“All financings strategies have their pros and cons and all methods can be used to build a great company. In general, I like the VC approach for the access to high horsepower people who have seen the story arcs of scores of startups. This knowledge and experience is invaluable but you need to make sure your VC partners can deliver on this. The other consideration is if you plan on building a disruptive product or addressing a new category, you most likely need a war chest to get to scale.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is“We’re able to connect the dots between social product discovery, engagement, amplification, and conversion with an end-to-end toolset that delivers real (return on investment). We don’t see anyone else taking this product centric, end-to-end approach to social marketing. Connecting these dots is what brands are going to have to do to drive meaningful business outcomes from social and, frankly, to stay relevant to the social-mobile customer. Furthermore, more than percent of social “stream” consumption is mobile. Very few social marketing solutions are designed for this fact. We are.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far“Focusing on top-tier brands. We learn a ton by working with and refining our solutions with innovative clients like Nike, Levi’s and Target.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far“Early on, we thought we knew what would work for retailers and brands and had all the answers. For example, we initially sold a platform technology into retailers and brands but the marketers really wanted a solution to help them deliver product promotion campaigns against their marketing calendar. We are now much better at learning from and listening to the market.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Zuck. He is literally changing how people interact and bringing web scale to authentic person to person interactions. More than ever, people now have to be online who they truly are. That is a fundamental change and its for the better.”

Our world domination strategy starts when“(Last October after) we launched Igniter 4.0  — the world’s only end-to-end social product promotion suite.”

Rivals should fear us because“We have world class tools for social product promotion, we have the recipe for what works and we have incredibly innovative customers who are excited about what’s next. We have the best foosball kung fu. We have a lucky Gnome.”

We are truly unique because“We can actually deliver (return on investment) in social around the two assets that matter most for brands, their products and their customers.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is“Breaking through the fluff and noise in social to communicate the core value of social product promotion and deliver real business outcomes for leading brands.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out“Focus on a core idea and get the most talented people you can find.”

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