This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Nischal Shetty. Nischal is the founder of one of my favorite social media management tools, Crowdfire. Crowdfire is a social media manager that helps your manage across all social accounts, grow your impact, audience, and message, and helps you to engage more fully with your tribe.
Millions of people and companies use Crowdfire for their social media growth and engagement.
Nischal not only founded Crowdfire, but physically built it, boostrapped it to its first million in revenue, and took the service from 0 to over 15 million users without spending any money on marketing or advertising. In fact, he developed a unique marketing strategy called ETC to achieve this, which is just one of the things I want him to share with you today. For his efforts, not only does he have a great company to show for it, but has also won a number of awards, including being chosen as a Forbes 30 under 30. I am really excited for you to learn from him.
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Nischal says he is an “accidental entrepreneur.” He was an engineer that wanted to create some extra money, so he created a blog because he had heard you could make money doing it. After blogging every day for a month, he realized that “just blogging” doesn’t guarantee success. So he started researching and spending time learning how to market his blog and get his message out. That lead to him building the first version of Crowdfire. He used that to grow his blog and eventually put it out there for others to use and was amazed at how many people used it.
He then bootstrapped it for the next year and then quit his job to go full time. That was 6 years ago and Crowdfire had about 500,000 users. Now it has over 15 million users and employs 45 people.
Nischal credits his entrepreneurial streak to his father – a restauranteur, but it was never forefront until much later. The building blocks were always there, but it took him some time to realize it.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself in your journey?
- The power of focus. You have to focus intently on your vision and your goal and stay disciplined and consistent with it.
At the 7:20 mark, Nischal and I discuss his way of thinking like a contrarian and turning whole business models upside down.
- You can learn from what is out there, but ask yourself what has been done that has never been done before
- The best way is the chart your own path
- To do that, you have to think completely different than anyone else in your market
Lessons learned from bootstrapping Crowdfire to its first million?
- As mentioned, Nischal started out by giving Crowdfire away free to users because he wanted to help people in the same way he had needed help with his blog
- After about 6 months of it taking off, he started to have some serious costs for servers, etc. so he kept a free version, but charged for more advanced features – but made it no obligation to the users.
- He basically asked for their help in paying to keep it going
- The users responded overwhelmingly
- This may sound like common sense, but if you are going to bootstrap a business, make sure you have a good idea and plan for how it can and will be monetized before beginning. Many people don’t think about that until after creating the business and product.
- Charging early is better than doing it than later on. Charging early on (in the 1st 6 months) helped Crowdfire grow and gain traction tremendously.
Thoughts on creating community?
- The best way to do this is when the founder is part of the audience and a user going through what the client go through.
- It is hard to understand the pain points and help people when you haven’t experienced them yourself.
- When the founder is a part of the community and can relate, emphasize, and show they have been in the trenches alongside the people using the product, people relate to them and it is easy to build a community around your business.
What does it take to build a successful company?
- There is no formula
- Every time you think you know what it takes, it seems like the rules change
- There some basics that are critical:
- The people you bring with you on your journey are so important. You cannot do it alone and you need people just as passionate as you to help you solve the problems
- Always think from the user/client perspective, then think about the money
- Be mission driven
Thoughts on building a company culture?
- First and foremost, when you hire, it is not just about skillset, but cultural fit – to be a good fit, do they understand the users and are they a user or someone who could be a user and truly sees the benefit in the product/solution
- No matter what rules you have in the company, they first apply to you as the founder. Your actions are always watched.
- Be a coach for your employees and help them grow – don’t’ just tell them what to do.
At the 21 min mark, Nischal discusses the ETC strategy and how Crowdfire used it to go from 0 to 15 million users with no marketing money spent.
- When you start out and promote your new product, you will get coverage on different mediums which leads to getting some initial clients
- One critical item to have with your product in the beginning is to have an easy way for your early adopters and easy way to share your product with others
ETC stands for Ego, Temptation, and Curiosity
- When marketing your product your goal is to tap into one or all of these for users to share your product
- Nischal gives many examples of this
- When Gmail first launched, the only way you could join Gmail is if you were invited by a Gmail user, a friend. Gmail played on the Ego aspect of their users giving them the power to invite users
- Dropbox used Temptation really well. When they launched, they “Tempted users” to get more storage by giving them the bonus if they shared Dropbox with their friends and encouraged them to sign up.
- Crowdfire used Curiosity. They created a feature that allowed people to see who their unfollowers were. They gave users a simple way to tweet about it and say “I found my unfollowers on Crowdfire” because at the time, the capability did not exist and having this feature created a lot of first adopters because of their curiosity.
What trends are changing in social media? What’s working?
- Social media has come a full circle
- Personal communication is coming back instead of broadcasting
- One on one is working
- Start having personal connections meaning reply and have discussions with people that interact with you on your social media
- The next big change is where blockchain will be used in marketing and social media – it is something to really pay attention to.
- At the 33 min mark, Nischal gives example of how he things Blockchain will impact marketing and social.
Best quote: “Everything good or bad in a company starts with the founders...”
Nischal's Misfit 3:
- Distinguish between urgent work and important work. Do the item that are urgent and important first, always.
- When it comes to hiring, first play the part. Do the position(s) for some time and then you will know the person you want to hire.
- Find the right advisors. Those that have done what you are trying to do. Be smart and clear on the things you want to learn from them and make sure they have done those things before and succeeded in them.