Lexalytics Moves to Boston to Exploit New Market for Sentiment Analysis

Lexalytics, whose text-analytics software can measure, among other things, whether a digital document is full of praise or insults, did not get off to a superlative start back in 2003.

To begin with, its investors almost closed the company down. Lexalytics got started when the venture funders behind a Woburn, MA-based content management startup called LightSpeed Software decided to consolidate that company on the West Coast. “They were going to close the East Coast operation, so I basically convinced them to give it to me to avoid the shutdown costs,” says Jeff Catlin, a former LightSpeed general manager who, together with a LightSpeed engineer named Mike Marshall, salvaged the Woburn operation, moved it to Amherst, MA, and renamed it Lexalytics.

But three months later, a wrinkle cropped up. Marshall, a UK citizen working in America on a green card, was deported. “They shipped him back, and we didn’t see each other for about three years,” recalls Catlin, Lexalytics’ CEO.

Marshall remained as chief technology officer, working remotely, and the company worked through its rough patch. Today, business is booming. In fact, the startup has outgrown its Amherst location—it’s already hired everyone it could recruit out of the UMass Amherst computer science department, Catlin says—and this month it opened a new headquarters office here in Boston.

The startup’s current momentum was a long time building, and was partly the result of some long-overdue luck, according to Catlin. Sentiment extraction, the ability to measure the emotional tone of a news story or a product review or a customer complaint, has long been one of Lexalytics’ specialties. But only in the last 18 months or so has demand for sentiment extraction software become red-hot, as companies in many industries have realized how the technology might help them with tasks like brand reputation monitoring and algorithmic investing.

“Looking back from a historical perspective, we were brilliant,” says Catlin. “We were the first vendor to do sentiment analysis, which landed us a number of big clients like … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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