Hey ICL fans. Today we’re talking about finding your first early adopters and the common mistakes startups make when starting out with Ovi Negrean, founder of SocialBee. SocialBee is a platform that helps SMBs get more customers through social media and is used by over 25,000 companies. It makes it very easy to plan your social media content across Insta, Tik Tok, LinkedIn and other social platforms. Ovi is also a startup advisor and mentor at the Founder Institute based out of Frankfurt and Romania.
What we discussed:
Hey ICL fans today, we're talking about finding your first early adopters and the common mistakes startups make when starting out with Ovi Negrean, founder of Socialbee, which is a platform that helps SMBs get more customers through social media and is used by more than 25,000 companies and makes it very easy to plan your social media content across Instagram, Tiktok, LinkedIn, and other social plans.
Obvious, also a startup advisor in mentor at the founder Institute at a Frankfurt and Romania. This is a jam packed episode as Ovi And I discuss how he pivoted from an earlier startup. He created the methods and tactics. He used to find his early adopters. What he believes is a major mistake founders make and the tools he uses to streamline efficiency in his operation.
Since he is a remote CEO, we also discuss fun stuff like when he had his first. If you're wanting to get ideas on how to find your first customers and get some ideas on how to sell, then scale your product. This episode is for you. And if you want to listen to this on YouTube, you can find my channel.
Innovators can laugh and check out episode 42. Let's dive in. Alright, Ovi, I want to start with nuggets. This is another app that you help co-found in nugget was like Tinder for quotes for a book. What was the idea behind creating nugget? Yeah, sure. So basically we started nugget maybe six and a half, seven years ago, something like that.
And I was always an, a, I still read a lot of business books and it's hard to remember everything that you read in these business books. And especially back then, There was this trend with sharing the quotes on, on the internet. So basically I liked a lot to, to, to take out quotes from these business books that I was reading, but I wanted a way to be able to remember them and to revisit them and maybe even to discover books by discovering such type of quotes.
So we actually started with a very simple MVP that was just me summarizing a book and taking the quotes out from. And then putting them in the spreadsheet and then put it creating a nice PowerPoint, putting them on slideshare.net. And we were featured actually by SlideShare. We got a few people who subscribed to download like more of these nuggets.
And then we decided, okay, maybe we're onto something and we should turn this into a. But as we found out later, it was a vitamin and not the painkiller. So even though we managed to get users to download it and to use it, it was quite hard to to monetize and to keep people coming back over and over.
So it would have been quite hard to turn from a, just like a startup into an actual but luckily in in working on nugget, we found out some techniques that worked for us to grow on social media. And we were building internally some tools to help us with that. And at one point somebody from our audience kept asking us like how we were doing that.
And we decided that we should maybe try to spin that off spin it out. And then we. That, that that's how we, we got to build social beat. And once we started seeing that people are willing to pay for social beat which they were not for the nugget, we said, okay, let's just double down on social media.
And we start working on nugget scenes and they're just focused on social. Be almost like six years ago now. Okay, we're going to get into social beef for a second. But you mentioned something about the MVP in SlideShare. So did you know right away that SlideShare was a good channel to start promoting nugget first?
Or were you considering other channels to try to promote it? I think SlideShare is not as popular nowadays as it used to be, but at least back then it was quite popular. People were sharing SlideShares left and right. And. I didn't know if he, if it was the best channel, but it was the channel that feed our MVP approach because it was relatively easy to just come up with that PowerPoint to put it up there.
And then basically we also included the SlideShare in bed onto a page where if people wanted to subscribe to give us their email address, they would have gotten much more nuggets from it was Peter Thiel says, you know, to one that, that, that we first nugget. And we try to promote it in various entrepreneurship groups and the business book groups and all sorts of things.
So probably this is how we got to the first views also on those SlideShare deck. But then we were lucky that the SlideShare editorial team said, okay, this is something that we want to promote. And then it was on their home page for a few hours, which really brought us a lot more views. And then it validated to some extent.
Okay. And in terms of creating the app, is this something that you created, did you do all the coding and the developing behind it, or did you work with the team to do this? Actually, actually with nugget, we were a team of four that were all co-founders and between the four of us, we had experience in coding, the backend, the mobile apps, the design part, and then marketing and business as well.
So it was all done by, by the team, of course. Okay. And before we get into social B, if you could put one quote on a billboard on a big billboard, maybe in times square or something, what would that one quote, be Avi.
I think it will be like a take on the Nike's just do it. I need to be just get started because if we wouldn't have gotten started with a nugget, which is basically failed, we managed to, to send a nugget to somebody who was still in the space, but from our point of view from what we wanted to do it was not a success, but if we would have not gotten on that wrong road, let's say so we would have not been able to, to pivot and to then work on social B.
And that's why I think it's, it's more important to really get started, even if the day's not perfect, because first of all, you might stumble into an idea that is much better, but even if you don't, you will learn so much that you will be better off by having started. Having tried to do something.
Okay. Let's talk about one of the things that you were learning while you were trying to grow nugget. And one of the things that you learn, you mentioned this earlier is that you were gaining traction. You were building tools to help streamline your social media activity. And before, before social bee was fully bill, you started selling the product which we'll get into the second.
I, so it should be I'm using it right now. What are the key benefits of social media is that it's easy to put your social profiles on idle pop autopilot, like set it and forget it. How did you first start using this for nugget? And when did you discover that this would be valuable to brands? One of the main things that we did for nuggets.
So we took a lot of business books and we had a team of freelancers that was actually reading them, going through those books and taking out these quotes and then creating those whole summary. So all of this content was a lot of content and it was a lot of evergreen. Which means that a good quote that you share today is probably going to be relevant a few months or even years from now.
So because of that, we had a lot of content that we wanted to share, but we also want it to reshare that content again and again. And we also wanted to be able to promote all of the books that we were nuggetized in how we were calling the process. So basically we came up together, we come up with a system that.
Very, very rudimentary alpha version of what social bee was, which was actually some Google sheets with a very complex Excel formulas, basically with Zapier integrations and with us doing manual work. So each time we had a new customer in the early days, I would manually have to go in and create the duplicate of this Google sheets for that customer and set it up for them and so on.
And it was a way for us to create different categories for, for the type of content that we wanted or the customers wanted to share and to control them in such a way that. They mix well together. So for example, if you want to share a promotional post, you can schedule the promotional category on Monday too, without saying, okay, I want this exact promotional post.
And then you just need to make sure that those categories are filled with content. And the other benefit is that if you set your content to be evergreen, this means that we're going to post the items one by one, until we get to the last one. And then we just jumped to the first one. Our, our software and our system evolved since then.
And we give much more flexibility also to one of content, but in the early days, it was all about evergreen content and about scheduling with categories in mind, and with recycling, the content that you wanted to share multiple times. Yeah. I love this feature. When I first got behind social B this blew me away, sort of like the calendar and the different categories that you can use to schedule your posts like promotional.
Evergreen something that's fun, all these different categories. What's another feature that people see when they're looking at the platform for the first time and their eyes just get wide open. They get really excited about it and they think, oh, this can save me either a lot of time or this can help me grow my audience.
What's a, another cool feature about the platform that that customers liked. So I would definitely say that the main functionality is around having these Scot categories because. If you want to have a good mix of content across your social profiles. So between your promotional posts, your own blog posts, some curated content, some more fun content and so on.
But if you're using a tool like Hootsuite, where you have the one Q a, where you have to keep adding things to your queue, you have to drag and drop things in such a way that they come in the right order that you want while in social media, just say, okay, I want to have these categories come up in this order.
You fill your categories and it's done. So this would be number one. And number two would be. The fact that you can recycle the evergreen content, but then besides this, I think there are a couple of other functionalities that our customers really like one would be the RSS integrate. So basically any WordPress website and most blogs out there have a functionality, which is called RSS.
It's not something for humans to use it's for machines to talk between themselves. But basically our assess is a technology that lets what in, in this case, social, we know when the. Blog post that was published on somebody else's website. So you can connect this RSS feed to social B and we have some fairly advanced features that you can set in there.
So, for example because I'm a Tim Ferris fan and I listened to all of his podcasts and all of his content, I have his RSS feed set up to social beat, and I have it set up. So it goes on my Twitter each time that he has a new article going out. And I'm also mentioning his Twitter. So I got retweeted by him a couple of times, just because of this automation which works as you said just automatically set it and forget it.
So this would be one major function. And then the other part, which is also quite specific to us is that besides the. Delete your Senate software that we offer. We also have these concierge services, which are basically productized marketing services that sit on top of our platform. And these are services that are being delivered by a team of, we call them bees, but they're actually in human beings that are creating a social media post or a blog.
Content or or helping you grow your audience on Instagram or LinkedIn. So we have a few of these services that can be added on, on top of the platform. How are you finding the the first the first adopters? Cause it said here, when I was doing some research, it said that you were actually selling the product before you actually had a, you know, a full version that's out in the market that it could be out in the marketplace.
So how are we approaching a, your, your early adopters? So looking back, I backtracked into a model of what we did, which I call cell service scale. So basically you first have to sell the end results. Then you service that customer regardless of how you do it. And only once you did that, you, you start to scale the product and the marketing and so on.
So specifically how we did this is that as I told you V1 was very duct tape solution that he had to get a solution of Google sheets and CPA integrations and things like that. It was definitely not something that people could just like sign up on a page, put their credit card details in and just use it.
But it was good enough for me to be able to go on one-on-one calls with early adopters people that we found. Via various startup groups via product hunt via beetle, east and so on. And for the first, I think even a couple of years, You could not sign up to social, be just on your own new. Always had to go through a demo with a, with myself in the first couple of years, I think it was only myself doing these demos where I would showcase the app.
I will tell you about how we could help and then if it was a good fit, then we would get, get you on board and then get you started. And so. And during those, these, these couple of years, this solution, which was almost entirely outside of our code base at first, because it was on a Google sheet. And so on, we started building more and more of this functionality in social media to the point where now of course, all of our functionality is our own.
We still integrate with Zapier. So people can push content from JPL to social, be. But basically we managed to, to get this duct tape solution and one by one build the functionality in-house and now of course, people just sign up on the web page and go through our regular onboarding process and they don't have to go to a call.
We still offer this because this is one of the things that people like about us how approachable we are and how easily you can get an actual human being to talk to you, even in a one-on-one call, but you don't have to do that anymore. Yeah, no, no, no. The startup groups that you were, you mentioned.
And the startup cribs. What were some of those startup groups? Were they there on Reddit? Were where were you finding these groups on Facebook? I think. How we got the first, maybe even like 10 ish customers we're actually, because which nugget we had, the very good product ground lounge. So especially back then, product con really had a lot of say and it, it carried a lot of value and everybody wanted to launch a product hunt.
And if you got into the top five on product hunt, it really meant a lot of traffic and a lot of visibility. Because of that, we really planned and we worked a lot on our lunch and we managed to get in the top five in a quite competitive day. So because of that I actually wrote a big guide. I think it was like 30 pages long of everything that we did to to manage, to be so successful on product hunt.
And because I knew that guide was more valuable than my audience would have been because we had a very small average stock to found that magazine or one of the startup entrepreneurship magazines that had that was quite popular and we publish it on their, on their page. So we've got a lot of visible.
And because I'm always about helping people. I also said like, look, if anybody wants to do a protocol launch and once just a help or an idea and so on, just feel free to reach out to me. So there were quite a few people who reached out to me to either like exchange ideas or for, for me to help them in one way or another.
And this is how we got actually the first customer as well. Somebody who reached out and we were chatting about product hunt. And then we also talked about what we were doing on, on social. And this is. Before we had anything, like we had to scramble to to get their credit card details and for them to be able to pay us and so on.
But all of this happened because we were putting out a lot of value without really trying to get something in red, but we did got something in return eventually. And besides that, I think it was for us, it was mainly about Facebook. That was centered around entrepreneurship. And then we did do somewhat like growth hack ish.
If I can call it that way solution where basically we were looking at all of the products that were new on beta list because beetle is a website where people can showcase their upcoming products. And we knew that if it's an upcoming product, they will need social media presence and they will need some of our techniques to grow their own.
And then we will, we're reaching out to them in a very manual and and tailor made way for everybody. So I was actually checking each of their website and then I was trying to pull a few lines that really spoke to. And then of course we also use some tools to automate what we could, but there was a lot of manual work involved and because it was founder to founder, I think it was easier to get people on the call.
And it was easier also to people to get on board with the solution, which was definitely not a good UX and definitely not ready for prime time solution back then. But because it was other founders that were also probably early adopters and they also knew how hard it is to build something and to start something, it was an easier.
Gotcha. Got you. That's wonderful. How many customers are currently using the platform? Avi. And what is the forecasted revenue for 2022? We basically have a two different groups of customers. So we have one, we, women, we did a few of AppSumo launches. I don't know if you're familiar with AppSumo, but it's a marketplace to basically buy lifetime.
And as being mostly a bootstrap startup, this is how we managed to, to fund our growth by, by running such deals. So we got quite a few thousand people who are using us because they found a sub Sumo and they they become customers that. We we haven't done and we want, we're not planning to do any lifetime deals for for social B hopefully here, never, but never say never.
So now basically our focus is on monthly and yearly customers. We have about a couple of thousand of, of such customers. And this year we are, we, we're not sharing like full revenue numbers, but this year we're hoping to grow up by at least 50. In the first year we are, we're always like doubling year to year, but it's much easier to double when you're starting from nothing than it is once you get to a higher level.
So this year we're aiming for for a 50%. Okay. And obviously you also serve as a mentor at the founder Institute in Frankford, in Bucharest for other startups. So why. I'm actually use your from Cluj Romania. So, yeah. So I am actually in Frankfurt because my wife, she's a professor at a university here, so I just follow her all over the world.
I've been also together with her in Singapore when we were actually starting out with social BYD, Singapore. So because of the time zone and because most of our customers are. I was like taking calls at 2:00 AM. And but that's, that's what we had to do to, to survive basically. But now we're here because of her work and because of how we have our company set up, we, we can work remotely, which came in handy when Corona hit, because it wasn't hard for us to just like shut down the office.
And everybody started working from home. But I'm yeah, as I said, I'm here because of heard. And this is how I got involved with the Frankfurt startup ecosystem and how I become a, became a mentor at a founder Institute in Frankfurt. And I was first a mentor in Bucharest, but now I am in both locations, basically how many people are on the team at social?
Be. We have a core team of about 25 people. And then we have a freelancing team for the consumer services of probably around 60 people and now okay. All the year, the remote remote CEO of an in-person team. And you're not in that city here. So how do you do it? How do you keep the team motivated, functioning, growing the company?
Any tips that you can share with other people, other startup founders that have remote teams in a, in a different. What would you suggest for me? I think the number one is the fact that I'm not alone in this. I have two co-founders that are, that are helping both on the technical side and then also on the operational side, so we can show.
The, the responsibilities and everything that we have to do. So that makes things much more easier. But as I said, because of, because I was always remote, even when the team was everybody in the same place, it's just part of our DNA. We, we worked on slack from day one and at one point before Corona, we, we got to kind of like 40 people because back then, like also the freelancers were part of the core team, the concierge.
And it was funny, like you would go into our office that had like 40 people and it was that sinus. But from time to time, you would have somebody just, just laughing and that it was just because somebody shared the fun meme on slack. So it's, it's just how we set it up from the beginning. We with slack and when processes and procedures that are written down.
And so. So because of this, it was not that hard for us. And it's part of how we do things. We do have also depending on the teams and on the teams that you're working on, we have various either the daily stand-ups or weekly calls and things like that. And even though we now have our office back in.
Most people decided that they don't like to commute. And they would rather work from home even when that home is maybe just like 30 minutes away from the office. But people do go to the office from time to time. We also, when I'm there, I always try to make sure that we meet at the office. So we have also some, some real face time from time to time, which I think is very important.
And I feel that all of these working from home and working alone things, these are things that. Might might end up costing us if we don't really take care of them. And we don't take care also of the, of the human side of things. And people do want to like with social animals, we want to interact. And for some of course, we also have our friends and we meet people and so on, but what the work-life is a major part of our lives.
So I think it's also important to have. These types of socializing. Now, luckily we have our random channel on slack where names are, are shared, then jokes are made and so on. But I still think the physical in-person thing is, is quite, quite vital. Yeah, no, that's, that's one of the reasons why I come to a co-share space, at least at least two days out of the.
And even though they're not my colleagues, it's just nice. Somebody knows your name. You say, good morning, maybe you go have lunch with them. That social engagement in person is, is vital. Even though I like working from home, I still need to just be around people, you know, at least one or two days out of the.
And I'm that person and the kosher space where it's all quiet. And then you hear somebody laugh out loud. I think that's me at times, reading a joke from somebody else or something that since you're a mentor and you've mentored a lot of startups just looking at your LinkedIn profile and knowing that you're part of this founding founder Institute, what are some of the top mistakes that you come across in your experience working with with other tech startup?
I think the number one mistake is, and especially with, with startups in Romania. So Romania is quite a tech focused and engineering focused currently when it comes to the software development. So we have a lot of very good talent when it comes to engineering, but we are just like starting to build that marketing and business muscle.
So especially when it comes to Romania, but even with other startups, it's so much easier to start building. Think about how you're going to get customers or if customer Seaver cared, what you're building later on. And actually, as I see, this is a way to procrastinate and to hide behind code because when you're building, you know what you're doing, you're building code.
The code doesn't reject you while if you're going to bill put this out in the market, you might find out that that target audience that you are aiming for will reject your initial idea at least, but that's crucial. You need to put it out there as soon as possible to see if your idea has legs, or if you need to change anything, or basically, maybe it's something that you, you wouldn't even be able to turn into a business.
So because of this, I really try to. Talk as much as possible about this cell service scale model, because especially in the B2B world, but also in the B2C world, there are always, you can find creative ways to mimic what you're trying to do and to really see if you can really solve the problem that you are trying to solve by using off the shelf tours or by doing things by.
Or, or by like hacking together things as, but it's, it's so hard because people really want to build a damn thing and they have their wishes and ideas and so on. So it's hard to get them to understand. Okay. Let's, let's try to talk with the customers and trying to do that as much as possible, but I think it's, it's that that saying where even if somebody tells you, like, look, don't put your hand on the stove because it, my bird knew.
Sometimes you have to put your hand on the stove to really know for yourself that it will burn you. So next time you will know not to put your hand on it. So. What you just said, code desert reject you. I love that because that applies to so many different things. Not necessarily just code, but I'll give you an example.
We just did here at . We just did an integration with pipe drive and really excited for the team behind it. I'm excited with a good collaboration with the team at pipe drive. I'm happy to start marketing it. And I feel like it a sense of accomplishment because it's finally live. Right. But here's the, here's the reality until I start talking.
With the, the first users of the integration. I really don't know if it's good. You know, I really don't know where the friction is, whether or not they're having, you know, an enjoyable experience. And it's something I need to remind myself like, Hey, that's only part of the work, you know, the other half of the work and really the important work is talking to the customers, just like you mentioned.
So I love that there, you also wrote a guide on some of the best tools that you recommend for a long time. You know particularly a tech product, the SAS product you care to share some of those tools with the audience that have really helped you in growing social beat. Yeah. So for us right now my, of course my number one favorite tool is social B.
I might be a bit biased here though. And then we're actually also working on a brand new suit of tools and a brand new brand, which is called ACE. And of course I liked that as well, but then outside of our own space, definitely a Zapier is the tool that I liked the most. Exactly because of this, it helps you without being a developer to connect various systems that would normally not talk to each other directly.
And with a bit of knowledge and understanding of how ZPL works, you can really build a lot, a lot of functionality. And first of all, if you can even like build MVPs by using like one of these more low-code or no-code tools like edit table and things like that together with say, But then also be besides that.
We've built a lot of operational efficiency in our company by using ZPR. So for example, in our case each time when we have a new a customer on the concierge part, so this is where an actual human being will have to do maybe a social media post or some specific type of marketing content for that customer.
We have a Typeform that's integrated in social bait. And once that happens with JPL, we connect it to our Trello board to create like internal tasks for somebody to take over that customer. We send a message to some various slack channels to let us know about this. We do follow ups in a couple of weeks to make sure that we need proper onboarding and so on.
So basically you can really build a very robust What flow by just using off the shelf tools. And most of the times even free tools like we are a relatively large ZPL customer, but when we started, when we just had the few customers we didn't need the paid version. You can really get away with the free version of most of these students.
So if I would have to just speak one tool, I would definitely say CPR, and then try to integrate it in your workflow as much as. Yeah, no, Zapier is fantastic. I use it too. There's over, I think, a thousand different tools that you can use Zapier to integrate with Bon Juro. Before we go, I'd like to ask each of my guests, a few, couple of fun questions, just so the audience can get to know your personality a little bit ABI.
The first question I have for you is what did you consider was rich when you were a kid? So when I was a kid, I thought other kids who got to go on vacation outside the state of Texas, I thought those kids were rich. Right. So, and, and you, when you were a kid, what did you think was rich? I remember a time when pagers become, became a thing in Romania and I was quite young.
But you could already see a few people with pagers. So this was before the cell phone period. And I know that felt it's so cool. And so like, you've made it once you had the pager, so I can picture my son when he gets of age. He's only 40 now, but asking me when he's a teenager, you carried around this thing that I just gave you the phone number.
You couldn't talk into it. Yeah.
Oh God. The questions that I'm going to get in the comments from my kid when he, when he grows up. Yeah. Okay. Second question before. Is well, wait a minute, did you carry a pager before the cell phone before you got your cell phone? I did not. I did have a cell phone relatively early because I just also found that so cool.
I didn't, I didn't use it that much because it was quite expensive to, especially to do an outbound call. But as soon as I was able to get a second hand though, seven phone, which also for your kiddo, he would probably not understand that they were like big sized photos. It wasn't like these. Cluelessly falls that we have today, but I did not get to have a badge and I jumped over that, that stage.
Yeah. My, my first cell phone used to pull out the Indiana. Same. Yeah. Yeah. Oh man. A second question for you, Abby, is what age did you have your first kiss? Well, I think so. I was in probably ninth grade, which means I don't know what that mean. 13 ish, something like that. Okay. Okay. Was it a good kiss? Do you remember how first kisses are not that good?
So you can, you'd be able to probably, probably it felt, felt good by by then. I had no comparison, so yeah, I mean, thanks so much for being on innovators can laugh. Where can people learn more about. They can just find me on all the socials on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or just OVI at social media at IO.
I'm happy to help other entrepreneurs as much as possible. So feel free to reach out just via social media IO or OVI Negan on LinkedIn. All right, I'll be pleasure chatting with you. What a great conversation with Avi. There's so many nuggets here, pun intended that you can benefit from as obvious a pro when it comes to finding early adopters and customers for your product.
My favorite takeaways here are be creative when it comes to getting your product out in the marketplace. For example, Avi. Didn't just let Jay didn't just list social. Be on product time. He wrote a 30 page guide on everything they did and offer to help other startup founders. If they had any questions by not asking for anything in return, this helped him get social B into the hands of new users.
Another thing ABI talked about was that code doesn't reject you, meaning it's so easy to hide behind the code, but what you really should be doing is talking to customers and getting feedback, which is crucial. If you want to grow, I've included links from this show on the ICO website in newsletter. It's number 42, if you forgot.
And if you enjoy this. Feel free to give us a review and tell others about it as always. Thanks for listening. Keep hustling out there. This is Eric signing off. Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it. If you could give us a review and star rating, also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO newsletter innovators, collab.com, where you can get the bio and details of each guest.