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Chris Cardell

Interview with John Lawson (3rd Power Outlet)

3rd Power Outlet specialise in urban accessories and jewellery.

I interviewed John Lawson, 3rd Power Outlet founder to find out more. This is the sixth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to John!

How would you describe 3rd Power Outlet in under 30 words?

We specialize in urban street accessories. Particularly in the area of shoelaces, sweatbands and flags.

Why did you decide to launch 3PO in 2005?

We had already been online since 2001 on Ebay as a vendor. At that time we were all over the place. I have sold everything from Books to Concert Tickets. I started to explore some items in a local wholesale store near my house in Atlanta. That is how we ended up trying certain apparel and jewelry and that is what got me focused.

You’ve had past experience at Accenture and Bank One Corp, did this previous experience help in getting 3PO set up?

I know working for a consulting firm did acclimate me for the rapid changes that came with ecommerce. I have been used to being put in situations and teams where you had lots of change and flux. So the Accenture environment prepared me well for what I embarked on in ecommerce.

When and why did the ColderICE persona come about and how has your personal brand helped your business?

The ColderICE thing really came about because I missed the social environment of the workplace. Once I was at home and working basically alone, I just had no one to talk to. So I turned on the video cam and starting talking to it via YouTube. The weird thing was, that people actually started to listen. Then I moved the conversation between videos to this new Twitter thing at that time. There were only 200k people on Twitter back then, and I used it a lot to interact. That was how ColderICE started.

How long did it take to get from idea to launch?

I think I launched FIRST and then had an idea LOL. So I was out there as John, but I had no URL for me to do the blog. What I wanted to do with a blog was to simply have 1 landing page for all my videos. When I went to Go Daddy to buy my name url of JohnLawson.com, I was disappointed to find it was already taken. Of course with such a common name, I guess I should have known. So I had to come up with something and I wanted it to feel unique.

I had kicked around dozens of names for the site and one day I remembered a story. There were massive amounts of African American businesses in the days of segregation that severed “Blacks Only” in the separated Jim Crow of the south in America. Once the integration took hold, many of those business owners were harmed by the new competition of Blacks being able to leave the “Black part” of the town and shop and interact where they were previously not allowed to go. Out of that, there was a saying in the African American Business Community that “the Whiteman’s ice must be colder”…I laughed to my self about it, flipped the words around, Googled “colderice” came back with few results. Went to Go Daddy and it was available and that was IT. Cause I knew I wanted to use the ICE as an acronym for Internet Commerce Education. The rest….history.

With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything differently if you were to go back to 2005?

Yes, I think the one thing I would have done completely differently would be to have focused MORE on building my own webstore a little earlier than I did. I didn’t take that seriously in the beginning.

Who do you see as your target market? How are you reaching them?

I have a couple of targets. We deal in both B2B and B2C sales. On the B2B wholesale side of things, we reach them through many of the normal channels for wholesale retail ready merchandise. However on the consumer side, we use a lot of social commerce and we are very heavy into channel marketing with sights like Amazon and Ebay to reach the demographic.

What have been the most successful ways you’ve found in driving traffic to the website?

YouTube videos are probably one of the MOST successful things I ever did. I created a short video on “How to Fold a Bandanna” which today has more than 260,000 views. We have tracked over 10,000 actual sales from that one video. Nothing has ever been that successful as far a ROI, ever. That is ROI to the infinity really.

Where do you see 3PO in 5 years time?

We are in the process of redoing the entire thing. We are niching our product mix, beginning to manufacture our own brand and the 3rdPO you see today will most likely be an entirely DIFFERENT entity. Changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. That is where I see us in 5 years.

Where do you see the future of e-commerce?

The future of this ecommerce industry is BRIGHT, vast and set for a RAPID increase within the BRIC nations. As they come online, they will move this method for product delivery forward in ways I can not image. The future of the industry is also being driven by the hardware more than ever. As consumers now get the ability to interact 24×7 with the virtual world through mobile devices along with advancements of mobile payments what we see today will be UNRECOGNIZABLE tomorrow. We are living in ancient history right now.

With the high competitiveness of e-commerce; which strategies do you implement to differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

You have to engage with your customers, your engagement makes you different. Even when others engage with them it is still the uniqueness of your company and its persona that makes all the difference. Plus when all things are equal as far as product, price and availability it will be SERVICE that tips the scale. Offer the best service possible.

What advice would you offer to anyone starting up an e-commerce business?

Research! It is so easy to do research on your industry today online. You do not have to fly blind, you can listen to the echos. People are telling you what is needed, where the opportunity is. Put up the radar and listen and you will breed success.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I am most excited about the marriage of social media and ecommerce. I think social + commerce = business … and not just online business…ALL business. That is exciting to me because this is the industry I have studied, been apart of and have been immersed in for over a decade. Now the world is catching up finally to what we are doing and what we have been doing now is positioned to go main stream. The technology is making the connection from “brick stores to click stores” and they will not be that hard line between the two.

Can you convince the reader to start shopping at 3rd Power Outlet in under 30 words?

I got more shoestrings in more colors than anybody else… LOL

Finished reading? Check out 3rd Power Outlet!

Interview with Eyal Lewinsohn (Iridize)

Iridize is a tool for creating online guided tours for web applications.

I interviewed Eyal Lewinsohn, Iridize founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety third in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Eyal!

To those who haven’t come across Iridize, how would you describe it?

Iridize makes it easy to create guided tours for your webapp that get your users going. Based on the tooltip technology, our guides can provide an encompassing first time user experience and help you make sure no user is left behind.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

Proud husband and father, CEO and entrepreneur, recovering java developer and devout basketball enthusiast.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Iridize in October 2012?

For as far back as we could remember, Oded and I were always our friends’ and families’ tech support. Being the tech-savvy geeks, we would spend hours on the phone with Facebook-aspiring grandmothers or advising friends on anti-viruses. The question “where do I find that feature that does the thing?” was one that echoed in our experience assisting people and ultimately inspired us to create a tool that would be able to do that by itself.

The thing is, on-page help was nowhere to be found. It didn’t make sense that in 2010, users would still have to go off-page for help with webapps or wait for chat support or even a call center rep. Sure – FAQs and knowledge bases were doing as thorough a job as ever, but the slot for immediate response on the same page for which you need the help was vacant.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of Iridize?

My partner, Oded, and I worked a full year on iridize as a side project- nights, weekends & holidays. On April 2012 we decided to quit our day jobs; on October of 2012 we launched our beta and 2 months later iridize v1 was born.

How does the current version of Iridize differ from the original version?

We have come a long way, in terms of user experience. Since our users are highly sensitive to user needs, working with them has provided priceless feedback. A good example of that is the evolution of our balloon tip settings: initially the setting were inside the tip, making it a bit clunky. When we realized our users were puzzled by the icons, we created an external Flow Panel to manage the settings, drastically reducing the editor to contain only editing functions.

Your pricing plans scale with your customers page views. Where have you seen the most traction?

Most of our customers are small-medium sized SaaS companies. Their page views usually fall in the 10-100K page views per month. But we are very happy to have the full range of customers both bigger and smaller. We also pride ourselves in providing the service for free for non-for-profit organizations and for startups that don’t have a positive cash flow significant funding yet.

Has Iridize got the feedback and growth you expected since launching in 2012?

To some extent – of course. Since the launch in 2012 we have been confronted with challenges and have had some realizations about changing directions, in regard to PR and networking, but all in all, I think we had fairly adjusted expectations and reality lived up to them. I mean, sure – we would love to have gone viral like Instagram or Fiverr, but we aren’t holding our breath for a cinderella story. Instead, we just work hard with and for our customers and take it one challenge at a time.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

It’s simple: we are the only ones who actively and directly target small-medium SaaS companies, like ourselves. We like working with these folks and provide an easily affordable and implementable solution for their common issues, leaning on a thorough understanding of how to provide the optimal first time user experience. We are also the only company in the field that provides a solution that does not require installation and can be accessed 24-7 from anywhere with an internet connection.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We are in a constant state of improving our user experience, basing our changes on user feedback and top notch UX feedback. It’s remarkable to see how dynamic the process is: we get input from one of our users about a needed feature and immediately move to implement it. Oded and I have recently been accepted into The Junction accelerator in Tel Aviv and have been receiving a lot of quality feedback from the best designers, marketers and UX professionals in the field. So naturally, that is where we are focusing our energy at the moment.

We are also exploring some very exciting new opportunities that I can’t reveal at this moment, so stay tuned…

If you could startup again, what one thing would you do differently?

The one thing I would do differently is start with more aggressive salesmanship from the get-go. It is never too early to start networking, especially if you believe in your product, like we do.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Trust your instincts, choose your professional partners like you would your spouses and give it everything you’ve got.

Can you convince the reader to start using Iridize in under 50 words?

Iridize lets you easily create guided tours for your webapp to orient your users, increase trial conversions and reduce customer support costs. We provide an engaging first time user experience that’s like a personal instructor who encourages your webapp users every step of the way, saying “click here”, “almost done”…

Finished reading? Check out Iridize!

Interview with Jerome Ternynck (SmartRecruiters)

SmartRecruiters is the social hiring platform.

I interviewed Jerome Ternynck, SmartRecruiters founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety second in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Jerome!

How would you describe SmartRecruiters in under 25 words?

The Hiring Platform. Everything you need to source, engage and hire top talent.

If you could go back to 2010 and start-up SmartRecruiters again, would you do anything differently?

I see the startup world as an accelerated learning course so, yes there are several things that I think I would do differently in retrospect. However, if you would have told me in late 2010 that I would end Q1 in 2013 with 36,000+ customers who have created 177,000+ jobs, I may not have believed you.

You’ve received $5M in venture capital, how long did it take to secure the funding? What was the process like?

It is a good time to be an entrepreneur. With the right plan, fundraising is not difficult. Fundraising is not about convincing people, it’s about finding the other innovative believers. Upon moving to San Francisco, I networked and met about ten VCs for our Series A. Eights weeks after introductions, we were backed by Mayfield.

Over 36,000 businesses use SmartRecruiters, which marketing channels have you had the most success with?

Our philosophy is results driven. How we have grown: (1) build an awesome product, and (2) share remarkable content. Above all else, product comes first. The resource and development team is two thirds of our company.

If you are going to subject people to marketing messaging, it should be content that will help their lives, even if they decide not to use SmartRecruiters technology. This customer first mindset is why so many practitioners and influencers want to contribute to the SmartRecruiters blog. The SmartRecruiters blog has published 400 posts from 75 different authors. Resourceful advice around a great product makes every dollar spent quite viral.

Frankly, an awesome product in a big market doesn’t need much marketing. With that said, “More, Faster.” We recently started some demand generation campaigns, and are actually hiring a Director of Demand Generation. So if you know someone interested in generating demand for a great free software that is already organically disrupting a massive industry, give me a call.

You employee over 30 people, have you had any difficulties in finding talented developers and managers?

No. We use our own platform to source, engage and hire people so that’s been easy. On the tech side, our development team is in Krakow, Poland, and we really are a major player in bringing the San Francisco Startup scene to Krakow. Every time we host a meetup (part of our SmartUp Series), over a hundred developers come to our office and leave wanting more.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

You can never iterate fast enough. There is also more data to learn from.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We want to continue to execute on our vision to make hiring top talent easy.

We just opened a marketplace for recruitment agencies to seamlessly connect customers to the best recruiters at the best terms. Later this year, we’ll be launching an assessment center to integrate assessments for any type of work at any type of company. Recruiting is increasingly a science. Know who fits.

You have offices in San Francisco and Krakov, how do you deal with time difference?

Mamy skype codziennej.

Where do you see SmartRecruiters in 5 years time?

The goal is to eradicate unemployment.

Realistically, having empowered businesses to create several million jobs, and continuing to build an online labor market that is much more effective to the one in real life.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Hire top talent, and then everything else will work out.

Can you convince the reader to start using SmartRecruiters in under 50 words?

Give us a try for next hire, you’ll see.

Finished reading? Check out SmartRecruiters!

Interview with Siddharth Batra (Mine)

Mine is a directory of people and purchases.

I interviewed Siddharth Batra, Mine founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety first in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Siddharth!

How would you describe Mine in under 50 words?

Mine is a directory of people and what they buy. On the web and iPhone.

People do three things on Mine:

They import their purchase history by connecting an email address
They browse and follow other people and their purchases
They discover and buy new products through other people

What in particular prompted the idea for Mine?

The inspiration really came from empirically analyzing the Twitter and Instagram public streams.

Search for “just bought” right now on Twitter, and you’ll see an incredible volume of tweets from people just telling the world they’ve bought something.

It’s the same on Instagram. Search for “instagr.am” right now on Twitter — nothing specific to shopping — and you’ll see that a ton again are about products! And the overarching context for talking about products tends to be ownership, what you’ve just bought.

So there’s a gigantic product revealing itself here:

It’s one that’s completely focused on ownership
It’s one that improves on the current situation by including
– a catalog picture of the item
– the store where it was bought
– a link to more info, where the item can be bought
and by cataloging all this over time so that you build up a profile of what you’ve bought.

How did you meet co-founders Pierre Legrain and Deepak Rao?

Deepak and I went to the same undergrad college back home in Delhi. We had a blast working on a project together and haven’t looked back since.

Pierre and I met at Stanford where I was doing my CS Master’s and he was doing an MBA right down the street. We co-founded a video advertising startup while at Stanford and have been friends since.

The three of us got together in early 2012 after Deepak’s graduation from Stanford and started working on Mine.

How long did you spent developing Mine before launching?

The excruciating period of grinding that happens before a startup succeeds (or appears to) is the most overlooked part of startup stories. Startups appear to be overnight successes but all of them go through the trough of sorrow when they’re figuring things out.

We spent a little over a year grinding it out with early users before we officially launched Mine.

How did you manage to raise $600,000 in initial funding?

We were really fortunate during fundraising. Early on in the process we met Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal and he decided to invest.

Working with Michael Dearing is an enriching experience. He’s a remarkably supportive investor who likes to stay under the radar. If you’re contemplating raising a round of angel funding, go see him at Harrison Metal.

Through Mine, can you see what anyone in the world is buying or just friends?

The concept of getting inspiration from other people’s purchases works phenomenally across any influence relationship – be it a friend of yours of someone you follow on Twitter.

On Mine you can lookup what anyone in the world is buying – the new shoes your best friend bought, the latest book J. K. Rowling is reading or the cookware Gordon Ramsay is using in his kitchen.

Are there any new features coming up you can tell us about?

Once you connect to enough people you care about on Mine, it becomes an incredible destination to start your purchasing decisions. We’re beta testing a feature to search the purchases of all your connections.

So, if you’re looking to buy headphones or the next iPhone app to download you can enter queries like “headphones my friends have bought” or “popular games from my friends of friends” and get relevant results from the people you care about.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

If you’re solving a problem that you deeply care about nothing else will matter.

Can you convince the reader to start using Mine in under 50 words?

Mine gives you a superpower. There’s never been a directory of ownership where you could see what others you know have bought. Mine gives you super power eyes, and once you’ve seen with these eyes, you don’t want to stop.

Finished reading? Check out Mine!

Interview with Justyn Howard (Sprout Social)

Sprout Social provides a set of tools for social media management.

I interviewed Justyn Howard, Sprout Social founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninetieth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Justyn!

How would you describe Sprout Social in under 50 words?

Sprout is a social media management platform for business. Our engagement, publishing and analytics features bring social presence into one powerful tool and turn keystrokes into happier customers, followers and fans. Sprout gives one user the power of twenty and large teams surgical precision to create exceptional brand experiences.

How did you meet CTO Aaron Rankin?

That was a lucky bit of chance. Aaron and I met on a double date in 2009. While our dates caught up, we started talking about liquor and eventually about a software idea Gil Lara (Creative Director and co-founder) and I were tossing around at the time. The conversation went well and we decided to meet a few days later – things moved pretty quickly from there.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Sprout Social in 2010?

In late 2009, I was working for an enterprise software company and trying to find tools to help me use social media to connect with my customers. Everything in the market was focused on consumers and lacked the business layer that would make it really work for professional use. The idea has evolved a lot, but that was the original itch. It wasn’t even clear at the time that consumers would ever want to communicate with brands through Twitter or Facebook, but we (and our investors) made a pretty big bet that they would.

What made you think of the name Sprout Social?

It wasn’t a very involved process. Gil and I were just throwing around name ideas to help bring our design concepts to life. I think we ended up with 4-5 options and Sprout Social fit the best with our brand direction. After some back and forth and an occasional second guess, it began to feel right. Now it sounds perfect.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Our customers are very diverse. We work with big brands that have large teams, like McDonald’s; complex programs like the Obama for America 2012 presidential campaign; brands with smaller teams; and even our favorite local businesses. The common thread to each client is their desire to make meaningful connections with their audience and the recognition that social media is another way to build a relationship with their customers and fans.

A large part of our business comes from word-of-mouth, as our customers are social by nature. Happy customers multiply. We also find new customers through integrated campaigns across the typical digital marketing channels, as well as through our popular blog, Sprout Insights.

What technologies have you used to develop Sprout Social and which were the most technically challenging development problems?

Our technology mix is pretty intense but our approach is simple – pick the best tool for the job. So we have a healthy blend of bleeding-edge and trusted technologies. That goes for our front-end tech and back-end stack.

We process more than 6 million interactions per day for our customers and support heavy daily use across tens of thousands of users. In addition to scaling for that volume, we build against a requirement list that develops in real-time. There is no precedent for our features and the social media ecosystem changes overnight. Agility is critical to our success and remaining nimble has been harder than any singular technology problem.

How successful has your 30 day free trial been and why?

The world becomes pretty clear when you can rely on actual use of your product to convert prospects to paying customers. There is no such thing as buyer’s remorse when you’ve fully experienced something before you buy it. We know exactly how much value we bring to the table and get immediate feedback on changes and enhancements. It’s like running a school where every kid loves being there. For us, every customer relationship starts with a fair value exchange and great rapport and that makes a big difference.

You’ve received over $10M in funding, how long did this take to secure? What was the process like?

This is one of those answers that will be relevant to no one. We’ve raised two rounds of financing and both were done over the course of a few days (not counting contracts/legal). In each round you optimize for different things and when both parties find the right fit it’s pretty clear. We didn’t do a lot of frog kissing.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Our biggest hurdle has always been being ahead of a roadmap where the industry is developing in real-time. Corporate adoption of social media has changed and moved so quickly throughout the past 2-3 years, it’s crazy. We have to constantly find ways to innovate against a moving target and do it at break-neck speeds.

You employee over 35 people, have you had any difficulties in finding talented developers and managers?

Finding great people anywhere is tough. Our team is about 65 now and has grown pretty steadily over the past 3 years. We have an exceptional group and with each great addition it becomes easier to attract the next. As we become more specialized, certain roles take longer to fill, but we’ve definitely had a lot of good fortune.

Has Sprout Social got the feedback and growth you expected since launching three years ago?

I think we had a vague idea of how big we wanted to be 3 years ago, but it wasn’t based in any reality. We had no point of reference from similar SaaS companies, so it was all wild guesses. I do remember telling Aaron in one of those first meetings that I thought we could eventually hit a certain revenue number, which sounded crazy at the time. We’re doing about 10x that now.

How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

Everyone in our space uses the same buzzwords and the same value statements. At some point, the only differentiation that matters is the product and service. That has consistently been our biggest strength – we’ve built a top-notch platform and it speaks or itself. We’ve always been pretty understated in our marketing/positioning, but we’re starting to open up more about our success and capabilities this year. Most people wouldn’t know for example that our Enterprise customer roster is as large as it is, but our product is incredibly powerful.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make social effective across an organization. Two years ago, a small team handled social – today social teams are regularly in the dozens to hundreds. Two years from now, it will touch more employees than most other types of business software. Our team is focused on anticipating the needs across an organization as social media adoption and implementation become more sophisticated.

Do you have any upcoming features for Sprout Social that you would like to mention?

We just introduced new engagement metrics in our app and also the opportunity for any brand to run a free engagement report. All they have to do is visit mustbepresent.com, authorize with Twitter and run a report. The new metrics detail average response rates, typical response times and more. It’s a great way to get a pulse on your performance; you can even compare your brand to vertical benchmarks.

There’s another feature I’d love to mention as our customers are begging for it. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to talk about it and contractually we can’t even say that it’s almost finished. Aside from that, we’re totally revamping our reporting engine and opening up some internal tools that we’ve built. We’ve had a very aggressive roadmap the past two years, but 2013 will bring twice as much new functionality.

Can you convince the reader to start using Sprout Social in under 50 words?

Happy customers are the only currency that matter in business. Sprout helps you get and keep more of them. It’s free to try, so please do.

Finished reading? Check out Sprout Social!

Interview with Itzik Levy (vCita)

vCita is an all-in-one solution for client facing small businesses.

I interviewed Itzik Levy, vCita founder to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty ninth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Itzik!

How would you describe vCita in under 50 words?

vCita strives to provide small businesses with everything they need to work with their clients online. It’s a must have service for any small business to capture more leads on their website, provide online scheduling, manage invoicing and payments, manage and track clients and do email marketing – all in one place.

What made you decide to launch vCita mid 2010?

It was important to us to get customers using the product as early as possible. Mostly because we believe that the best way to build a great product is by getting constant feedback and usage statistics from customers. This approach made us release the product as soon as we thought it is stable enough and provides value to our clients. Since then we are in an endless cycle of collecting feedback and releasing a new version every two weeks.

How have you funded vCita?

We are funded by a group of private investors that have been a great help and support to get vCita to where we are today. We are lucky to have very experienced investors that know to give the right advice at the right time.

How long did it take to put together the initial version? What was technically the most challenging part of developing vCita?

It took us 6 months to start a beta, and then another 6 months to launch it. We have a strong development team – they can do anything technically – but for us it’s always been about presenting the technology to our customers in a way that’s super easy for them to use. When you serve people around the globe, and from so many different verticals – it’s not trivial to create an experience everyone understands and can work with. I believe this is the true challenge when working with small businesses.

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

We are totally focused on small businesses, specifically service providers – businesses who sell their services rather than products. Our goal is to introduce small businesses with concepts and tools that so far have been too costly, or only available to technology savvy, bigger companies. We want to provide an integrated and inexpensive solution, and help them make the most of their online assets, and manage their time efficiently.

How does your service encourage website visitors to get in touch with the businesses they’re looking at?

If you build a business website you must think on how you turn visitors into clients. How you never lose a potential lead. One of our key investments is our lead generation widgets. We offer contact forms, contact sidebars, contact widgets, scheduling buttons, standalone contact pages and even a Facebook plugin – a variety of layouts, easily customized to any business need and design.

vCita also has a unique proactive contact box that shows on every page of the site. Altogether, when starting to use vCita a business should expect an increase of at least 100% for the number of contact requests they’ll get from their website. We repeatedly see this increase in our statistics and we get positive customers’ feedback about this all the time.

How different is the current version of vCita compared to your initial launch?

We’ve made it a long way since launch. We were initially focused on a narrow aspect of video meetings and scheduling. Since then we’ve added countless features and improved our product immensely. To be honest, I don’t think we have a single line of code that stayed from our initial launch version!

You provide your service to over 100,000 professionals. Have you received the feedback and growth you expected since launching August 2010?

We are very happy with our growth since our public launch Sep 2011. We keep a constant growth in user acquisition and activity.

What are some of your features that make people’s lives easier?

I believe features our users like the most would be our proactive contact form, our online scheduling, our invoicing & payments collection and our mini-CRM. But the most important aspect is that we provide everything within the same service and we integrate into your existing scheduler, email, website – providing you and your clients which a very simple and professional experience. I believe that’s why our users love our product.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

We are trying to move fast and respond to our users need. We regularly survey our client base for their needs. Just over the last couple of months we’ve completely revised our contact form design, our daily calendar view, our invoicing solution and provided a new client portal client (See example).

Where do you see vCita in 5 years time?

I believe vCita will become a standard for any small business that goes online. We will make business-client communication and interaction smooth and easy – from initial contact, to scheduling, payments, follow-up and marketing. As time goes by, clients expect their service providers to be available for them 24/7 online. We will help millions of small businesses around the world to deliver this to their clients – at a minimal effort and at a low cost.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Online the advice that all founders keep saying: don’t be too discrete – share your thoughts to get feedback from relevant people. Try to raise money only when you have a good story. Build a minimal viable product and release as soon as possible. Listen to your clients well. Constantly track usage statistics to know what works and what doesn’t. Train your team to be really good at doing those short learn -> implement -> measure cycles.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Seeing businesses from all over the world – from coaches, to accountants, lawyers, and consultants, telling us how vCita changed their practice at so many levels is so great. It makes me feel we’re doing the right things. It’s what driving our team to keep on thinking what we should introduce next to our customers.

Can you convince the reader to start using vCita in under 50 words?

Start with our Free Forever plan. If you build a website – we have awesome contact forms and widgets for you – It will get you more leads. If you do scheduled appointments – save time with our self-service appointment booking – It will help your clients and fill your calendar. Let your clients view and pay invoices online.

Finished reading? Check out vCita!

Interview with Rob Walling (HitTail)

HitTail reveals promising keywords hidden in the long tail of natural search results.

I interviewed Rob Walling, HitTail CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Rob!

How would you describe HitTail in under 50 words?

HitTail tells you, in real­-time, the most promising organic keywords you should target based on your existing traffic.

Why did you decide to acquire HitTail in 2011?

I decided to acquire HitTail because I had been a customer since 2006 and had seen the results it could provide. I was a fan of the service and was concerned it was going to die since it was having outtages every few months. I saw a lot of potential in HitTail in a post-Panda world, where creating quality content is more important then perhaps it’s ever been.

So I contacted the owner and acquired it.

How did the name HitTail come about?

The name comes from the concept of the Long Tail, which says that there’s as much value to be captured with the few big “hits” as there are in the multitude of smaller successes.

HitTail points to the snowball of organic search traffic you can build over time from low-competition, “long tail” keywords that virtually no one else is targeting because they don’t know about them. The major SEO keyword tools provide the same information to everyone so it’s not a huge competitive advantage. And mining your own traffic for long tail keywords that no one else has is a good way to build a long tail of “hits” (website visitors).

Thus the name, HitTail.

How different is the current version of HitTail compared to the initial version?

In terms of the look and feel, it’s day and night. It’s been completely re-designed from the ground up to fit the look of a modern SaaS app. We did this both to improve usability and speed, but to create confidence in the minds of our users that HitTail is a stable, solid, fast web application.

In terms of the algorithm that analyzes keywords, it has been tweaked and adjusted over the years, but the core concept has remained unchanged for nearly 7 years.

Can you tell us a little about the secret sauce that goes into finding the best keywords?

The algorithm pivots on 7 factors, including: length of the keyphrase, number of words, your current rank, and a handful of others. The algorithm has been optimized by analyzing more than 1 billion customer keywords.

How long does it take for websites to be analysed so that they can find out which keywords they should be using?

It depends on how much traffic they receive. HitTail doesn’t crawl your website, it watches your incoming traffic stream. If you have 1500 unique visitors per month, with at least a third of them from organic search, you’re in a good place to get at least $10/month in value from HitTail (that’s out lowest pricing plan).

How do you differentiate from your competitors?

HitTail is unique because it’s a keyword tool that:

a) is real-time
b) analyzes your existing traffic for keywords instead of keying from a term you enter
c) automatically finds new content & keyword ideas day and night as your website receives visitors
d) is designed to filter out the noise rather than overwhelm you with information

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments to HitTail at the moment?

We’re focusing on tying into other applications: we recently launched an integration with Basecamp, we have a HubSpot integration that’s nearly complete, and we’ll be beefing up our WordPress plugin in the next couple months.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Building something people want isn’t enough. You also need a scalable, repeatable way for them to hear about what you build. That might be a viral loop, content marketing, SEO, or advertising, but most likely it will be a combination of all of them.

What excites you for the future of HitTail?

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the impact it’s having on peoples’ businesses. That excites me.

Can you convince the reader to start using HitTail in under 50 words?

Don’t leave traffic on the table. Give HitTail a try for a look at your low hanging fruit keywords and content ideas.

Finished reading? Check out HitTail!

Interview with Simon Hill (Wazoku)

Wazoku provides idea management tools for businesses.

I interviewed Simon Hill, Wazoku co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Simon!

How would you describe Wazoku in under 50 words?

Wazoku is a leading innovation management software company. We produce awesome, user friendly software that businesses buy to manage the collection, development, evaluation and decision making process around ideas. If you value new ideas but lack the tools to collect and manage them, you should be talking to us!

The name Wazoku means great idea in Swahili, this is a really unique name, what gave you the inspiration for it?

We wanted a name that meant something but also made you think. My girlfriend works for a startup and was based in Tanzania at the time, so the idea for a Swahili name is not as random as it may first seem!

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Wazoku?

Innovation is critical for all businesses but all too often people are involved in the innovation process way too late in the overall process to input or impact any real innovative change. We wanted to make the front end of innovation, the gateway, where ideas happen, as social and collaborative as possible. By doing this companies will get a wider, more balanced set of ideas (and opinions) and make more inclusive and effective decisions. Everything else was going social and collaborative, this just seemed to be being left behind!

What do you find most interesting and rewarding in terms of running your own business?

We started out with something that we thought was a great idea but didn’t know for sure it was. We now work with some of the best companies in the world and help them to engage huge work forces in the business critical process of new product development or other similar processes. We have helped bring to market new products, services, more efficient ways of doing things etc….it’s easy to be proud of this!

What technologies have you used to develop Wazoku and which were the most technically challenging development problems?

What we do sounds fairly easy – capture ideas, review ideas etc. However, innovation is complex and means different things to everyone. We have to have a very flexible and dynamic platform that can flex to meet the needs of a large corporate such as HSBC, through our university clients and all the way to our smaller, even start up customers.

We built the tool in Python/Django with a CouchDB database. We are constantly challenging ourselves and reviewing our key tech decisions, it’s a living, breathing entity!

Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?

Global companies from small to large who value ideas and innovation. Pretty much anyone therefore! It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

We reach them by being great at what we do, by having others share their successes through our platform, by getting out there and talking and sharing our ideas. There is no one single approach, it’s a mix of online, events, paying for some stuff, getting other stuff for free, being smart and using our network and contacts.

You seem to have a lot of large organisations that use Wazoku, which sector would you say is the one where you’re most successful?

There really is no one single sector, we work with some awesome clients from media, tech, financial services, education, retail, government etc….ideas permeate all sectors and what we do is so intuitive and effective that it spans sectors.

You provide training, workshops, and adoption advice as well as the required tools, do you feel this is the main point which sets you apart from competition?

Not at all, we help our clients to get going, to make informed decisions when getting set up, so that they get the most they can from the application. However, many do not require such support, the application is extremely easy to pick up and use, I would say that is what differentiates us from our competitors.

Which platforms is Wazoku available on?

We are pure cloud and work across all main browser types, unless you are stuck in the IE dark ages you can use our tech!

How else do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?

We have a great product that is highly flexible, easy to use and available off the shelf at a very low cost. We are also UK based so for our local customers we are the only company in our space here on shore for support and account purposes.

Has Wazoku got the feedback and growth you expected since its launch?

We are doing amazingly well and have a huge year ahead of us. I couldn’t be happier, but the best is yet to come and we have some amazing stuff in the pipeline.

With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything different if you were to start-up Wazoku again?

Yes of course, there is a lot I would do differently, but none of it is material to the core business. I think that you have to be bold, make big decisions and be prepared to get it wrong but learn fast. There is no one big thing, but lots of smaller things I would do differently if we were to start-up again.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

It is hard work but worth every second. If you think you have the legs for it then you will never look back.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

The next 12 months are huge for the business, I am excited about what they hold for us, right now we are moving hand in hand as a sales and product organisation, there is a lot of great stuff coming through on both sides and we will be a very different business in a years time. Watch this space.

Can you convince the reader to start using Wazoku in under 50 words?

How do you currently capture ideas from within your business or from your customers? Do you have a culture of innovation and are you seen as an innovative firm? We have the best product on the market for internal and external innovation, let us show you why!

Finished reading? Check out Wazoku!

Interview with Harshal Katre (ProfitBooks.net)

ProfitBooks.net is an online tool offering accounting and payroll management.

I interviewed Harshal Katre, ProfitBooks.net founder to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty sixth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Harshal!

How would you describe ProfitBooks in under 50 words?

ProfitBooks is an online accounting and payroll management application. It also comes with productivity tools like task management, notepad, internal messaging system and document management (with Dropbox integration).

ProfitBooks includes everything a small business would need to efficiently manage their business finances online in a cost effective manner.

What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch ProfitBooks in 2011?

Before starting ProfitBooks, I worked at MNCs like HSBC and Barclays technology. During my this time, I realized that these big companies were able to manage their business effectively because they had access to various powerful tools. These tools were too expensive for small companies and that’s why they are mostly unorganized.

Apart from the cost, we realized that SMEs were using different applications for accounting, payroll and document management.. most of them were standalone. During that time, one FMCG asked us to develop an accounting application to manage their offices in different states. We learned a lot about SME pain-points during this assignment and finally ProfitBooks was born.

Which channels have you used to reach potential customers? Are you reaching out to accountants or directly to businesses?

We are reaching out to both accountants and businesses. Accountants play a key role in the decision making process. So, we have added few features to attract them and make their life easy. For example, you can invite an accountant to audit your books directly from the application.

We have an offline sales team as well as a team that manages digital promotions.

You target your product towards self employed professionals to medium sized businesses. Any plans for enterprise?

We constantly get inquiries from enterprise customers who have complex requirements like multi-branch accounting. We also get customization requests on regular basis from bigger companies that have more than 100 employees. We have to turn down those requests as we didn’t want to loose the simplicity that ProfitBooks currently offers.

As its not wise to ignore enterprise customers, we are coming up with ‘extensions’. These small pluggable components will add complex functionality to the application. We are also working to release a developer API to offer better integration with existing tools. We are planning to release our first extension in Q3 of this year.

How long did it take to put together the initial version of ProfitBooks?

It’s been a long journey. It took us nearly 2 years to release ProfitBooks publicly.

Many managers find accounting a long and difficult task, how does ProfitBooks help managers?

We got this feedback from a lot of business owners. They used to tell us that they don’t understand the complex accounting tools and they need to depend on to their accountant to get the holistic view of the business. Keeping this in mind, we made ProfitBooks very simple to use. If someone can send and receive emails, they can use ProfitBooks.

We replaced complex accounting terms with user-friendly terms. For example, there is a separate screen in the application that lets you record your bank deposits. In traditional accounting application, you have to struggle to find an option to record bank transaction in a correct manner.

You offer four different pricing packages. Which is your most popular?

To our surprise, our most expensive package is our most popular package. We always wanted to keep the entry cost very low and hence our starting package (Essential Plan) is very pocket friendly. However, we noticed that the Professional Plan which comes with payroll functions is selling more.

Has ProfitBooks had the feedback and growth you expected since launching?

We had an internal target to get 500 customers on board during first year. We were overwhelmed when we achieved this target in the first 4 months.. and this feat came mainly though word-of-mouth. That was very encouraging.

How do you differentiate yourselves from competitors?

Our competitors punish their users for their growth. For example, users need to pay more to send more invoices or to add more clients. ProfitBooks does not have such restrictions and offers a very simple pricing structure. No other app integrates collaboration tools like notes, messages, etc and offers role-based access to the users at such a low cost.

Where do you see ProfitBooks in 5 years time?

We want to take ProfitBooks to more countries in coming years. We also plan to offer country specific features (Taxation, etc).

Can you convince the reader to start using ProfitBooks in under 50 words?

ProfitBooks offers smart tools to manage office finances effectively. It’s available anytime and anywhere, on your smart phone too. So record expenses, send invoices or view bank transactions even while travelling. Use smart reports to take better decisions. Start using ProfitBooks and take charge of your business.

Finished reading? Check out ProfitBooks.net!

Interview with Mark Yolton (SAP)

SAP provides business management software and services for improving processes.

I interviewed Mark Yolton, SAP Senior Vice President of SAP Communities & Social Media to find out more. This is the hundred and eighty fifth in a series of interviews.

Firstly, please could you briefly tell us what SAP is?

The traditional way to answer this would be to say that SAP is one of the world’s largest providers of business software and technology. We have 65,000 employees in 180 countries and over 230,000 customers, many of which are very well-known brands in 25 industries.

A better way to look at SAP is this: we help businesses run better and improve people’s lives… and we do it with innovative software solutions and technology products… through companies and government agencies.

To give just a few examples, we help our customers produce over 70% of the world’s chocolate, and our customers brew 72% of the world’s beer. We work with 54% of the United Nation’s governments. More than 60% of the world’s transaction revenue – just think about 60% of “global GDP” – run through an SAP system.

SAP is a 40-year-old company that is mature in some areas like Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP, and very innovative and defining the cutting-edge in others such as big data, mobile, cloud computing, and business analytics. That is how to think of SAP.

What brought you to found the SAP Community Network in 2005?

Our community launched back in 2003 as the SAP Developer Network – or SDN – and we will celebrate our 10th anniversary this year! Back then, social media as we now know it didn’t yet exist – we called it “Web 2.0” or “social networking,” and we used then-new technologies like discussion forums and blogs to initiate direct connections, engage actively and personally, and sustain conversations and knowledge sharing between our customers, partners, consultants, developers and our employees.

That predecessor to the SAP Community Network (or “SCN,” for short) was born with the initial goal to connect customers with each other, and with partners, and with us – to provide post-sale sharing of solutions to technical challenges and to enable customer-to-customer collaboration on best practices for implementing, operating, optimizing, or upgrading SAP products and solutions. It quickly grew and expanded far beyond technologists at the core to business process experts, project managers, business analysts, and line-of-business managers in HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales Support, and many other areas.

And the purpose grew to encompass training, pre-sale recommendations, collaborative innovation, tightening relationships, skill-building, career-expanding, the identification of experts in our ecosystem, solution-sharing by partners, online commerce, the empowerment of influencers, and much more.

Tell us about the SAP Community Network (SCN).

We host nearly 2 million unique visitors monthly who discuss topics about which they have a real passion. As a member, anyone can find and connect with that person halfway around the world who shares a business dilemma – and help solve that problem or challenge, or answer that burning question, or share their experiences, opinions, approach, and insights.

The community is exactly that – a community. A place where anyone can show off what they know, ask or answer questions, or collaborate with people they have never met on issues vexing them or their company. It is a business community with a technology twist, but it is a very human, very interactive and engaged community.

The members of SCN are passionate, engaged, and actively participate in sharing ideas, complaints, problems, solutions, best practices, their experiences, their company challenges and approaches to solve them, insights into what’s emerging or coming next. Those members set the tone of interactions, even the cultural expectations and behavioral norms of how to engage and participate.

Members of the community – our customers and partners – are the lifeblood of the community, and it’s our job to host them, provide guidelines and guard rails, to encourage and enable them, and to listen and respond when they express strong opinions and desires.

How has SAP has been transformed by social media and community engagement?

Because our community experiences actually pre-dated “social media,” including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook in the “Web 2.0” era, we feel like we were ready for public social media when social appeared on the scene. It is truly amazing to watch a large enterprise like SAP talk about “audience engagement,” or “social ideation,” or “pull marketing” and “crowd-sourced innovation” as part of our shared DNA.

More than anything, engagement with our community helps us become more customer-focused, to empathize with customers’ business and technology challenges in 25 industries and 180 countries, to know those customers on a deep, personal level, and the community itself becomes a real-time platform and channel for us to interact and help them.

Broadly, the community focused us on our customers and what we can do to help them run their projects, departments, or companies better; even to improve their personal professional skills, to engage in a professional network of peers, and to expand their perspectives and their career opportunities.

For SAP, own hosted customer community gave us practice, a proving ground, a place to experiment and learn what works and what doesn’t, to establish a social voice and tone.

The pace of change within large corporations can be frustratingly slow. How easy was it to ‘pull’ SAPs corporate culture towards social media?

In any large organization, to change everyone – simultaneously, to the same level of competency – is a slow process and probably an unrealistic goal. In fact, I’m sure there is someone out there who is still resisting email or smart phones, or who is railing against the internet as a waste of electrons.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from William Gibson: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” He’s saying that there will be spikes and pockets of innovation, advancement, and adoption that will eventually be smoothed over time as they become the norm.

So, the good news is that we don’t need everyone at SAP or in any large company or society to be equally enthusiastic and engaged in social, in order to make massive progress; we need enough of the right people. And we need to keep moving this forward, broadening from the early adopters to the majority, and getting social media ingrained into the culture and normalized business practices.

What we have seen is that pioneers and early adopters have stuck with social media and social networking for a decade because they see tremendous personal value and business benefit from it. Our leadership gets it, and prioritizes social engagement, because we realize business benefits from this new style of engagement. We hire new smart social people and we re-train our existing smart people on how to think social. In the end, it is all about “being social” first … instilling the right attitude and changing people’s thinking, and the corresponding authentic behaviors follow.

With previous jobs managing well known brands around the globe in a variety of leadership roles (Oracle, Peoplesoft, Sun Microsystems, Unisys), when did you first become a social media enthusiast?

I got the bug when I joined SAP in 2005 to lead the fledgling developer network to its next phase. Previously I was an early adopter of the web and the Internet in the mid-90’s. (Boy, that makes me feel old, but it is probably worth reminding ourselves that not very long ago there was a time when the internet and the web did not exist, and then a time after that when the value of these new technologies and capabilities was not widely understood, was criticized and questioned, and was a new skill and process to learn, adopt, and adapt).

At my previous company I managed an online technology network, but it wasn’t nearly as engaged as SAP’s, even in the early days of the SAP network… there was just something more personal about SAP’s community, a greater commitment from the early adopters and proponents.

To prepare myself for this new challenge and new mode of working, I read “Net Gain” – one of the first books about virtual communities, by John Hagel – to get a sense of the task ahead. It became my “how to” manual.

Most importantly, I got personally engaged in the SAP community on a daily basis, saw the power of networked engagement to solve challenges and create strong bonds, and recognized the potential business benefits and customer value of social networking first-hand.

Once you participate in a social network, the value is exceedingly clear and blindingly obvious.

SAP is a huge company offering thousands of products and services in more than 25 global industries with 65,000 employees. With such a broad organization, how easy is it to ensure that successful social media strategies are replicated across a global company?

It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone across a large and complex organization to be executing in harmony, using standard approaches regardless of country or market nuances, and operating at the same skill level or phase of maturity.

I’m happy when a good percentage of our now-65,000 colleagues are doing something – anything – social, even if it’s just observing and listening. Then, once they get the itch to do more, I’m happy for our extended team of champions and early adopters and experts to help them make smart choices about how and when they approach social in a more thoughtful way, with the benefit of experience and its requisite successes and failures.

I then see the social media and “Pull Marketing” advocates connecting with each other, sharing insights and helping others to make progress. And we capture these insights into training modules, playbooks, case studies, and guidelines.

Our journey has been a very distributed approach, one marked more by directional leadership than by formal management, more by grassroots empowerment of the crowd, and less by top-down governance through rules or processes and procedures.

Since we have the usual constraints of time, energy, focus, people, and money, adoption is sometimes spotty and uneven. But I’m happy to see that in the aggregate, the company is moving forward fast, adopting good practices, learning and adapting through experience. The results are so compelling, and the untapped opportunities are so vast, that I’m happy with the rapid forward motion even if it is uneven at the moment – normalizing around common best practices can come later.

When you hear the term “social business” what does that mean to you?

To me, “social business” refers to a company that is “social first” or “social embedded” not just in a narrow area of Marketing like broadening awareness or generating demand, or even in a single department or business process, but social in everything and everywhere across the company regardless of department or line-of-business.

Think of potential use cases for any company: “social marketing” to increase reach and to influence the prospect’s buying journey by engaging them with employees, opinion influencers, and existing customers; “social selling” where the sales reps know their account’s hot topics and proactively work to solve them; “social product development” which involves the customer and the broader market in designing future solutions; “social HR” including recruitment through social channels; “social procurement” where buyers and sellers are connected in a networked web of relationships… the possibilities are endless.

Social business is realized when a company and its ecosystem of suppliers, partners, and customers have social networks and transactional networks embedded in their day-to-day practices.

And at some point we’ll drop the modifier “social” and just call it “business” because any company that isn’t operating as a “social business” will be at a massive competitive disadvantage and will be soon out-of-business.

These days, people not only check their email inbox, but also countless other accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by Social Media?

Just those? Add to your list Slideshare, YouTube, Vine, GooglePlus, RSS feeds from favorite blogs and bloggers, Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, and the latest app of the moment, and it’s even worse.

Absolutely, there are times when I feel overwhelmed, but social media is not the culprit. But what’s the alternative? To be out-of-touch, out-of-step, clueless about what’s going on, less connected, less aware, less productive, less relevant, and less valuable?

I think our collective feeling of being overwhelmed reflects the busy-ness of our lives in the twenty-first century, the competition for our attention, the always-on nature of work, the ultra-connectedness we gain from technology, the increased pace of work and life, the higher expectations our devices and our behaviors establish for responsiveness, and the finite aspect of time.

My best advice is to take it one app at a time, and supplant underperforming channels – those that don’t yield much value – with new ones where activity and benefits are higher. Maybe email will eventually succumb and be crushed under its own weight. Or other apps and channels will. In the meantime, don’t feel like you have to do it all, to be the top contributor or node connector in all of them. Choose what works for your role and your company and your own personal style, and focus on those while minimizing the rest.

What do you think has been the key to SAP’s success with the SCN to date?

They key to SCN is – and hopefully always will be – the people, and the human connections we enable.

When I say “people,” I’m not talking just about the team that skillfully runs the technology and infrastructure with monthly upgrades and improvements, or the team that helps manage our community content or encourages our members to contribute, or the team that helps new SAP product or industry or audience groups to engage – but the people who make-up the community.

Our SCN community members – customers, partners, independent consultants, thought leaders, pundits – do as much “managing” of the community as we do as the core SAP team. We host the community for its members, while they largely define what’s important, they set our priorities, establish the culture and tone of conversation, define the boundaries of desired behavior, govern content quality, and set the scope of relevant topics.

Our SCN members tell us that they are better skilled in their roles, more valuable in their jobs, and more successful in their careers because they consume, communicate, contribute, and collaborate in the SAP community. Those community members are the heart and soul of SCN. Our “secret sauce” in orchestrating that community has simply been to find ways to enable, empower, encourage, and trust those community members to seed, nurture, grow, and tend their community.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

I wish I would have known when we’d reach the tipping point, and then how rapid the pace would become once the rest of the company and the ecosystem caught on to the value of social. I feel like we spent years and years pushing, prodding, promoting, and advocating for what we saw early as a potential game-changer: the use of social media and social networking, through both public and hosted channels, to serve customers, broaden our reach, influence the market, and to participate in deeper relationships with customers, prospects, partners, and influencers. It was a long, uphill slog. Then, all of a sudden it seems, a wave of interest and demand has crested and we’re now paddling as fast as we can just to keep up with the interest, desire, and demand to do more, better, faster.

Aside from the onrush of recent interest in social, I also wish we knew that the lines between “B2B” and “B2C” would blur so quickly and so decisively. Customers are now in control of the buying process, whether they are purchasing a pair of running shoes or million-dollar software.

In social conversations there are no big glass buildings buying software, the brand of multi-national corporations is not the logo or what it says but is the aggregate of its employee and market conversation, the gobbledygook of old-school marketing speak is finally on the wane, and the distinctions between marketing for B2B versus B2C are fading. It’s not B2B or B2C, it’s B2P and P2P: business- and people-to-people. Many aspects of the “Cluetrain Manifesto” are finally coming to fruition, and it’s wonderful to witness, to be a part of, and to be supporting, enabling, and accelerating that transformation.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is in the process of setting up a customer community?

It’s not as easy as it looks: vibrant communities appear to be natural, fluid, frictionless, but they require a tremendous amount of hard work by good people in the background. And it’s a long-term commitment: a relationship rather than a date.

Creating a new community can be challenging, no doubt. But, if you understand what value you are trying to create for your customers – what they need in the market – and then diligently provide that for them, you are well on your way.

Along the way, don’t ever forget that the community members – your customers – are people just like you looking for answers to their questions. Solve even one small challenge for them – access to technical information, fluid connections to other customers, an easier product evaluation tool are just a few examples – and you have a starting point.

In the end, the benefits your company gains, and that your ecosystem of customers and partners gain, and that you gain by being a part of it, will be far more than you expect or can even measure.

Has SCN got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

SCN has exceeded my wildest expectations on every level. We grew from under 200,000 members when I started at SAP to well over 2 million today. The community has expanded from developers and technologists to all sort of other functional roles including core business people.

The community has influenced SAP’s product roadmap, solution features and functionality, our support processes, our policies, and our company’s strategic direction. It has changed the way we engage with customers, and set the foundation for our social media presence.

SAP Community Network members come to our defense when we’re under fire, they prod us to go faster or in different directions, they point out gaps in our offerings that we can then fill. They help each other with an altruistic “pay it forward” attitude, they improve customer success and therefore enhance customer loyalty.

Our most-senior executives listen to the voice of the community in guiding our strategies, and people deep in the SAP org chart or in back-office roles who rarely interacted with actual customers before now have rich relationships with customers all over the world. The SAP community has changed our company from the outside in.

What is your greatest achievement so far?

My greatest life achievement is my family: an amazing, talented, beautiful wife who is the glue for our crew, my three kids who are all grown, employed, making their way successfully navigating and contributing to the big world out there, and my two grandsons. All of us are closely connected and intertwined, we enjoy each other’s company and appreciate one another’s gifts and quirks, and we take joy in each other’s successes and small victories.

My greatest business achievement is my overall journey at SAP. I’ve played a small role leading the team that managed and shepherded SCN to where it is today – and I’m proud to say that it is a model for business social networks. In addition, I’m enjoying SAP’s leadership in social media, our top rankings and solid results through digital marketing and the SAP.com websites. These are solid foundations, the work we’ve done will last long into the future, and digital / social / communities are just at the starting point – there is a lot of runway and tremendous potential for growth and expansion from here forward.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

My biggest hurdle right now is, and will continue to be, evolving this 40-year-old company of 65,000 employees to become a world-class social business, at the forefront of this market transformation especially as others have awoken to the potential, helping to chart the path for our customers and others. We’ve made huge progress already, but there is so far yet to go.

There is no company of our size that has achieved this so holistically, and we want to keep accelerating and always be at the lead. We need to shift more of our resources to achieve this, and that’s always a challenge. We need to evolve skills, change business practices, put systems in place, and re-orient our focus. But culture will always the hardest thing to change and sustain, and perhaps the most important, to get social business practices ingrained into our institutional muscle memory.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

There is no better time to be a Marketer than right now. All the major business trends we talk about today – social, mobile, big data, analytics, cloud – they all provide tremendous opportunities to apply the art and the science of marketing to connect with customers in entirely new ways.

The economic climate is also recovering. I believe we’re coming back strong from the global recession that began back in 2008. I think 2013 will be a year of continued and significant economic growth, and that’s great news for anyone in business.

And for me, SAP’s journey to becoming a social business provides an opportunity to renew our profession, and to humanize and modernize our approach. I get a charge from building something extraordinary, and I see growth and expansion ahead. These are exciting times, transformational, that we’ll look back on from the future and realize what a leap we all made together.

Can you convince the reader to join SCN in under 50 words?

Sure. Ok, here goes:

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