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Noah Horton '02 co-founded Involver, which helps companies market themselves on social media networks.Noah Horton '02 co-founded Involver, which helps companies market themselves on social media networks.


Computer science alumnus creates popular social media software company

When he first came to Willamette University, Noah Horton '02 thought he wanted to be a lawyer. But it can be hard to ignore something you've been passionate about your whole life — and Horton has been writing computer programs since second grade.

After he took a few programming-related courses and found a mentor in computer science Professor Fritz Ruehr, Horton chose to double major in computer science and mathematics.

Today, Horton is the co-founder and chief technology officer for Involver, a fast-growing Bay Area company offering social media that helps companies more effectively use websites like Facebook or YouTube to market their products.

If you have ever participated in a poll or watched videos on the Facebook pages for Levi's or United Airlines, or you have participated in Facebook's "What's Your Story?" project, you have used software created by Involver. The company counts numerous Fortune 500 companies among its clients, and it has grown from a handful of employees when it started in 2007 to nearly 100 this year.

"I'm not sure I'd be in programming right now if it wasn't for Willamette," Horton says. "I had considered going into law, but I became friends with Professor Ruehr, and his passion for his research and programming languages rubbed off on me."

Early Career in Programming

During his time at Willamette, Horton interned at Sun Microsystems and Hewlett Packard, and he even earned a few patents for computer programs he developed — today he holds 25 patents.

He also received a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant to build a tool to help researchers better use neural networks, an artificial intelligence technique that allows computer programs to make decisions.

His first job after graduation was at HP, but after a year he headed to Microsoft, where he spent four years in a variety of positions, from sales to software architecture. His desire to develop a greater number of new products led him to Silicon Valley to work for a start-up software company.

The company went under soon after he arrived — but it was there that he met Rahim Fazal, who had already founded several businesses. Horton and Fazal joined up to create a new company, and Involver was born.

Developing Involver

Involver started by helping companies use video advertising on the internet. But as social media networks like Facebook took off, Involver adapted to aid companies in marketing themselves more easily on these networks.

Involver creates software applications that companies can use on Facebook and other social media sites, allowing them to better brand their sites and make them interactive, while more easily monitoring and responding to what others are saying about their company.

Horton and Fazal found immediate success — in 2008, Inc. Magazine named them among the top 30 entrepreneurs under age 30.

Lessons from Willamette

Horton frequently uses his Willamette experiences to help his company continue to grow — including the time he spent living in the Kaneko residential facility, located next to Tokyo International University of America. TIUA brings students annually from Japan to study at Willamette.

"Recently, a number of Japanese executives came to visit my company," Horton says. "I had this great set of experiences from my time in Kaneko that I could share with them, and it helped us connect on a different level."

But the biggest contributor to Horton's success is his well-rounded liberal arts education, he says.

"I commonly have dinner with people from Fortune 500 companies who do not understand the technical aspects of computer programs, and I have to explain our product so that they will want to buy it. I go into those situations with a diverse background — I took classes at Willamette in archaeology and comparative religions, for example — and I have more to talk about with them.

"Not being too technically focused, like many of the people who graduate from tech schools, has been a great enabler in my career."