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Building A Community For Your Startup



At this year’s Social Media Week Berlin, HootSuite’s community manager Sharif Khalladi shared his company’s secrets on how HootSuite quickly built a sustainable community. Since he shared his ‘secrets’ with a 50-odd person crowd at the Social Media Week business and PR hub, he gave the audience free reign to spread them further. Here are five key ingredients that have contributed to HootSuite’s success.

HootSuite was founded in 2008 in Vancouver as a response to the growing importance of social media platforms – and no way to manage them. HootSuite is a social media dashboard that allows users to simply keep track of their social media profiles in one interface. In four years, its userbase has grown close to 5 million users, using these five pieces of advice.

1. Aim for excellence: be extraordinary

The first step to building a strong community is to give the members a reason to be there. Your community centres around the product, and if it is not amazing, the people won’t come. Invest time into developing an extraordinary product, with all of your developers in the same room.

‘Some companies outsource some of their development to other (cheaper) countries. All the HootSuite developers sit in the HQ in Vancouver,’ said Sharif, and work on improving the product together.

‘Improving‘ is also a key word: Building an extraordinary product means making sure it’s always the best it can be. Keeping an eye open for new talent too, Sharif advised, can be an affective way to stay amazing.

Beyond the product, there are many things that a company can do to stand out from the crowd. At HootSuite, they quite naturally receive many questions about social media. To continually address this need, they created HootSuite University, a learning portal for users to access information about social media platforms.

Third, companies can create an extraordinary company culture. HootSuite is very open: all employees can be reached at any time, and can be asked anything.

2. Be where they are: go local

‘HootSuite is a global company, just because we’re on the web,‘ said Sharif. For this reason, it’s even more important to go local. ‘I came to Germany today, not just to talk to you, [but] because we want to see what Germans want.‘ Going to where the people are will help a company build strong relationships with their customers and clients, and in turn allow them to build a strong community of user-advocates.

Customizing the content and communication strategy for different markets is also important. HootSuite is in 27 languages, allowing users to feel comfortable with the product.

They have done this by allowing their members of their community to help them.

‘We often receive comments from users saying ‘Hey, I love HootSuite, I’m in Poland, can I translate it for you?‘’ said Sharif. ‘There are people willing to work with you on a result that benefits [everyone].‘ Using your existing community to localize and expand the network is extremely effective, and turns users into marketers.

Going local also means being physically present. Since 2008, HootSuite’sHootUp – like a TweetUp – is a real-life meet-ups that takes the relationship from online to offline. They have had over 100 HootUps all over the world, and they have been invaluable in creating a large and strongly knit community. In short, have fun, be open, and be social.

3. Invite them into your company’s family

Sharif then spoke of all the messages HootSuite often receives from users telling them how much they love their product and what they do. Rather than just thanking and forgetting them, HootSuite established an envoy and ambassador program, inviting all walks of life from all over the planet to be involved in the company. ‘They are already evangelizing the product!’ These ambassadors and envoys can organize HootUps, manage a country’s twitter account, or contribute in anyway they feel they can.

For a relatively small company with a community of almost 5 million, these ambassadors are essential for local communication and continuing to engage thousands of users.

Moreover, the HootClub program conveys an image of openness and trust, which are qualities that are well received when building a faithful user base.

4. Say you care, and mean it: make your community feel special

Appreciation and fan-mail should go both ways. If a user tweets about your product or compliments you, show them that their feedback is valued by sending them a token of your appreciation. HootSuite often sends enthusiastic users stickers or t-shirts to Thank you for letting us know, we’d like to thank you for that.

As Dave Olson, community director of HootSuite says, ‘[they] conquered the world one hug at a time.’

Make sure your community knows their opinion counts. Create a feedback forum where your company can read what you community is asking for or needs from your platform, and, where possible, implement it.

To date, HootSuite has implemented 683 features suggested in the forum, and 999 ideas are currently being voted on.

5. Love all equally

Love all of your community members, regardless of how involved they are in the company . Whether you’re a free user or have a pro account, Sharif stressed that they are all part of the same community. ‘Community is for everyone!’ he said. ‘You don’t even have to use social media! Tell us if you want to be part of our HootClub. We’ll decide if we’re a fit or not. But we can still be friends.’

The last, extra piece of advice Sharif imparted was short and sweet.

‘If we tried to push our product on people, we would never have made 5m users.’


Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures



Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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