Solving the problem of community organization

Today’s guest is a San Francisco entrepreneur who discovered a problem that maybe you have.

I know when I go to conferences, sometimes they want to do add me to a Slack group for everyone at the conference. It’s fun for the first day, and then it becomes a distraction from the other stuff I do in Slack. It doesn’t really work for me. Other times, they create their own app and I forget to go check their app or it’s not written very well.

They’re trying to connect with the people at the event, send updates, last-minute issues or changes, and also allow attendees to get to know each other. Slack doesn’t really work for that. Facebook doesn’t really work for that. There hasn’t really been a product that works. Today’s guest said, “How about if we create something better?” And she did.

Sharon Savariego is the founder of Mobilize, a software that allows communities to get organized. It allows you to reach your community members via email, if that’s how they prefer, text if that’s how they prefer. The whole idea is to make it easy for community managers to grow their communities and community members to participate without a big distraction to their day.

Sharon Savariego

Sharon Savariego

Mobilize

Sharon Savariego is the founder of Mobilize, a software that allows communities to get organized.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, all in the tech space, all—at least I am here in San Francisco, but people that are all over the world. Today’s guest is a San Francisco entrepreneur who discovered a problem that maybe you have.

I know when I go to conferences, sometimes what they want to do is add me to a Slack group that they have for everyone at the conference, which is kind of noisy. It’s fun for the first day, and then it becomes a distraction from the other stuff I do in Slack. It doesn’t really work for me. Other times, they create their own app and I forget to go check their app and it’s not really written well, but I get what they’re trying to do.

They’re trying to connect with the people that are coming to the event, send us updates, maybe last-minute issues and changes, and also allow us to get to know each other and communicate as a group. Slack doesn’t really work for that. Facebook doesn’t really work for that. There hasn’t really been a product that works, but we’re all kind of dealing with what’s there. Today’s guest said, “Why deal with it? How about if we create something better?” And she did.

Her name is Sharon Savariego—not very hard to pronounce at all—Sharon Savariego. She is the founder of Mobilize. Mobilize is software that allows communities to get organized and allows you to reach your community members via email, if that’s how they prefer, text if that’s how they prefer. If they want an app exclusively for the event or for the community, they got that. The whole idea is to make it easy for community managers to grow their communities and community members to be a part of it without having it be a distraction to their day. You’re smiling as I say that, right? I feel like I’ve nailed this down.

Sharon: Yes, you totally did, and also my name, so thank you for that.

Andrew: Yeah. The only issue was I have multiple tabs with notes on you, and I wanted to make sure the pronunciation was on the right tab. The reason I’m shot out of a cannon about this is because I know the problem. I’ve experienced the problem, mostly as a community member, occasionally as someone who’s trying to organize people.

This interview is sponsored by two companies you’ll find out about later. The first will help you get beautiful designs for your websites, for your brochures—anyone need brochures? Probably not. For anything. It’s called DesignCrowd. The second will help you host a website right. It’s called HostGator. Sharon, good to have you on here.

Sharon: Thank you for inviting me. I’m very happy to be here.

Andrew: You were also part of a community before. You were a do-gooder. What were you doing at the UN that led you to this issue?

Sharon: Okay. Yeah. I’m a do-gooder. I’ve definitely been part of communities. So, as you said, you’ve been a member. You’re also a community organizer yourself. I believe that each one of us, every person I know is a member and a community leader as well. So I’ve been in the political and social movement space for a long time organizing delegations, organizing activities and doing volunteer management, much, much more.

Andrew: Delegation for what? I see this in my notes here—delegation with 150 students to the UN. To do what? What were all these people going to the UN to do?

Sharon: Well, that was a very specific event that I would say was pretty much life changing for me. It was two conferences called the Conference Against Xenophobia, Racism and Other Intolerances. It was in Geneva in Switzerland. We organized a delegation of 150 students to be there and raise more awareness to the real human rights issues that are happening around the world.

At that time, there was Darfur and Sudan. There were a lot of different things happening, and the focus was not on them. So we organized 150 students from around the world. We organized a lot of events throughout the entire conference. We protested. We actually did the first protest within the UN corridors, which led me to be banned from the UN for 24 hours.

Andrew: Because you got all these students who weren’t invited to the UN to come to the UN and protest against racism?

Sharon: Yes, and to raise awareness for the real human rights issues and make sure that all the people that need someone to speak on their behalf and make noise for them, that they are being supported. It was a silent protest. At least at the end it was silent. But it was an amazing experience. We’ve done a lot of noise in terms of the press. We did raise awareness.

What I’ve learned from it is the power of getting so many people, passionate people together, working together and collaborating, there is no parallel to it. But what I’ve also learned while doing that is that organizing was a total mess. It was a combination of Google groups and spreadsheets and Facebook groups and like at that time, there were equivalents of WhatsApp and chat messaging.

Andrew: Why couldn’t you just use—maybe you were over-complicating things. Couldn’t you say a WhatsApp group could reach 130, 150 people? I forget. Just do a WhatsApp group, all in chat. That becomes a little bit noisy because then you hear everyone’s backtalk, so a Facebook group, why not a Facebook group?

Sharon: So, first of all, one of the main issues that we found about it is that we had a Facebook group. But at one point, prepping towards that event, we were like okay, we have about 150 people. Some of them are within the legal space. Some of them are within music and entertainment. That could help prep different activities. Some of them are from different locations. You don’t know that looking into a Facebook group. You have no way to know who are your members. Who are the different people and expertise and locations? What makes that community so powerful is the people and the differentiations between them.

So we couldn’t know that. That’s why you need a spreadsheet to keep track of all that, but then when you want to send an email, not just a Facebook message because not everyone are all the time on Facebook, most of the people are on Facebook, but it’s still when you want to send a message across, like an email or something that is like critical or text message, then you are stuck again.

So, across all these tools, we understood that we managed to organize—I’ve done a lot of different other activities as well and built a lot of different communities and that problem surfaced again and again and again. You could see that we need a bunch of tools and data goes lost between that. You send out the message, but you don’t know who saw it, who replied to it, who RSVP’d, who will be participating. So you don’t really unlock the potential.

Andrew: One of the problems with Facebook—Facebook comes close to this. One of the problems with them is they don’t send—if you had a message like, “Hey, everyone, we need to get out there today,” you don’t know if everyone’s going to see it or not. Unless they happen to have engaged with your Facebook group for a while, they’re not going to see it. If people aren’t thumbs upping it, then the rest of the community doesn’t see it. There just isn’t enough confidence that you can get a message out to everyone. So that’s one of the issues.

All right. You said, “I think I can do better. I’m going to do better.” A lot of times entrepreneurs who interview then go into creation mode. But you couldn’t create. You were a community organizer. You weren’t a developer.

Sharon: Yes. I had a lot of ideas. So, being also in the tech space after I’ve been a social entrepreneur, I joined different tech companies and I’ve seen all the amazing platforms, like I’ve seen Salesforce for sales and I’ve seen Yammer at that time for team collaboration. I really already started understanding what I wanted to build and how I could shape these types of platforms to mimic and to fit the unique dynamics and needs of a community, but I’m not an engineer. So, while I could draw prototypes and design a page, I couldn’t actually build what I wanted. So the first thing I need to do obviously as an entrepreneur was to find a cofounder, a technical—

Andrew: A technical cofounder.

Sharon: Thank you, just to get someone that will have the product, that will share my vision for this product and will be able to build a dev team. So that’s when I went out and sought a cofounder, and I found my cofounder, Arthur Vainer.

Andrew: How?

Sharon: It’s funny. We always say that we met on a dating app. It’s not necessarily a dating app, but it is matching up for tech entrepreneurs and business entrepreneurs. I actually reached out by mistake because I had a class that day. The founder of that platform came to kind of like mentor us, said, “Okay, why not? I will open a profile and ping a few people.” He was one of them.

When he saw that I didn’t reply—he replied to me. When he saw that I didn’t reply to that, he sent me another message on another platform saying, “I actually replied to your message, but you didn’t see it. So I went back to the platform, checked it, found the bug. I reported that bug, but okay, by the way, I want to meet you.” So I was like, “Okay, the guy is serious.” Then we met.

Andrew: What was the app or the founder dating app that you used?

Sharon: It’s called Founders Nation.

Andrew: Founders Nation. Okay.

Sharon: I think it’s still active.

Andrew: I don’t know it.

Sharon: We’re probably one of the best success stories that happened there. It’s pretty random that you meet someone on such an app and actually end up building a business together. So it was luck, honestly.

Andrew: So many of these sites have tried to make it work, but it’s hard. It’s hard to find a way to get developers and entrepreneurs together. All right. So you found it. This was the right developer for you. How’d you now he was going to be the right person?

Sharon: We had good communication to begin with, and I think that every time that we hire anyone, every time we add an investor or cofounder or anyone to the team, both of us are looking for first of all good people. So we identified it in each other. We identified that we can trust each other, that we’ll be hard working. On the technical side, I didn’t know if he actually could code. I let my other friends kind of like interview him.

Andrew: This really is like dating, isn’t it?

Sharon: I actually think that also he did some reference calls on me. We did like mutual reference calls, which was pretty cool. But then we also didn’t know that would work. We took about four months to explore that relationship to see if we fit, if that could work, if we could build a business together. The first thing we’ve done is that we went and talked to about 40 different community managers. So we didn’t assume that we knew what to build. We knew that we think that we knew what to build.

Andrew: What communities did you go and talk to?

Sharon: A lot of the political and social movements. We even reached the third political movement in Italy called Movimento. We reached the Vatican. We reached some random communities.

Andrew: You were going after political movements? I feel like political movement don’t have that much money. What they end up doing is using free tools, and it’s business groups that end up having money, no?

Sharon: So part of journey was we started with a problem I know. We started with a problem that was very close to my heart, which is the social movement, the professional networks, the political movements. We talked with all of them, understood what they need. Then when we ourselves joined an accelerator and then later on, moved to Silicon Valley, then we saw how deep the need and the reliance on communities is now becoming a thing in businesses as well. So, while I was actually a part of a crowdsourcing company called Applause—bless you.

Andrew: Thank you. I was sneezing.

Sharon: While I was part of a crowdsourcing company at that time called Applause, I saw them organizing about half a million QA testers around the world. That was critical for their business. I saw that challenge as well. I could really see the similarities between organizing that community and organizing the communities that I knew. But the only one I landed in Silicon Valley, it was really, really apparent how big of a trend it is. It’s only grown since then. When we just got here, we started understanding the developer community’s importance as brand ambassadors, marketplace sellers, etc.

Andrew: People are talking about you like you’re going to take on Slack. Slack is a multi-billion-dollar company that you are the next Slack for this underserved group of people. Was that part of your PR, by the way? I do keep seeing you as the Slack competitor in a world that Slack doesn’t want to compete, so you get the advantage of being associated with Slack without any of the risk of having to say, “You can’t compete with Slack. They’re going to crush you.”

Sharon: We use Slack. We love it. We use it internally, especially because our team is segmented. But when we need to communicate with our investors, mentors, advisors, early beta testers, champions, brand ambassadors, name it, all of our communities, we use Mobilize because it’s different. It’s complementary. That’s exactly how we look at it. It’s kind of funny because you see in the last few years Slack took over the IRC concept, like they kind of reinvented the concept of IRC. We’re basically reinventing the concept of listserv, mailing list. We started our first PR that really picked up for seed funding, they called us the Google Group alternative or better alternative to Google Group.

Andrew: Yeah.

Sharon: I hated that title at that time. I was like, “No, we do so much more. But then I learned there are a billion Google Groups out there.

Andrew: I can’t believe how many are still out there. It’s a neglected product, but I get it. I get why people use it.

Sharon: Yes, because communities—I don’t believe that email is totally dead. I think it should be more silent within your own team. I believe also that we will see that happening for communities as well. They will find more reasons to come online and have the discussion online and on push notification on mobile and not just emails, but you want to give members the flexibility and you want to engage members wherever they are.

That’s the difference, by the way, within a community and a team is that within a community, your members dictate what works. You can’t dictate anything else. It’s just you listening to your members. We found that members liked the flexibility, and that’s what we tried to give them. So if you wanted Google Groups, like a listserv, you have that. If you want an in app experience, we have that too. We just kind of like are all over in that lifecycle.

Andrew: What’s the accelerator that you were a part of?

Sharon: We were part of UpWest Labs. It is an accelerator bringing Israeli companies into the Valley. It was a game-changer for us. I’ve never been to Silicon Valley before that. They opened all of the doors. That’s actually one of my best tips for any entrepreneur is I always meet is join a program, join an accelerator, find a special network.

Andrew: Why? What did they get you? What’s one thing that you got that made the whole thing worthwhile?

Sharon: One thing? I can list ten.

Andrew: Go ahead. List whatever.

Sharon: Well, first of all, they introduced me to my seed investor because they had this kind of like pitch day. They brought in investors. Within two months—

Andrew: Who’s the seed? The seed is Hillsven?

Sharon: Hillsven.

Andrew: Hillsven and UpWest Labs.

Sharon: Yes.

Andrew: $1.2 million. So that led to $1.2 million so fast, within months. Okay. What else did you get?

Sharon: Access to amazing mentors. To date, we still talk and get advised from all of the mentors that we met there. If I need someone like to advise me on a new topic, I contact the partners.

Andrew: Eoghan McCabe from Intercom, is that how you met him?

Sharon: No. Actually, I met him through—well, kind of. I met him through a CEO that I was introduced to by UpWest Labs. It was the CEO of Base CRM. He introduced me to Eoghan. So it goes back, again, to your professional network.

Andrew: I see. You basically coming into the country, you’ve never been to Silicon Valley and now suddenly because you’re part of an accelerator program, you get funding, you get a connection to the Valley and you get some advice and mentorship. How do they shape the product? How did that help shape the product, that experience?

Sharon: So, specifically, it was all about just meeting community managers here. So being in the Valley, we went and met with all the community experts. We met with local communities. We got their feedback. We showed them the product. At that time, it was like a really raw kind of like early-stage product. But we got in to meetings at Google and Uber. Even though the product was really, really early stage, it was an immediate yes.

We were like going into these meetings and saying, “We just want your opinion on our idea to build a community platform. Here is something that we worked on. This is how it worked. It’s a Google group on steroids together with the member directory and CRM and the registration form and an email blast.” They were like, “Oh my god, we need this. We’re now running the Uber focus groups, the driver focus groups.” So it was just immediate yes.

Andrew: So, because you’re coming in from an accelerator, probably friends of friends are running the accelerator or are connected with it, so you’ve got this warm introduction. They say, “Sure, we’ll sign up. We’re going to use this software even though it’s half-baked.” Uber used it for what?

Sharon: They had, at that time, a driver product feedback group. So they had basically drivers signing up to focus groups.

Andrew: They wanted to be in touch with the people who were giving them feedback, and they didn’t have a good way to do that.

Sharon: Yeah, because guess what? They had spreadsheets and listservs, Google Groups and then event invites. We just gave them, even though the product was just at the beginning, we gave them all of this in one succinct workflow. So just getting these access to these communities was big.

Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment and rave to everybody about DesignCrowd. Have you used DesignCrowd yet?

Sharon: Not yet. I will check it out.

Andrew: You’re going to love it. If you need something designed, one thing you do is go to your designer and ask them. But maybe you don’t want to go to your designer who keeps giving you the same thing. You want a new perspective. Or maybe you don’t have a designer. Well, that means that you go out and you start looking for designers and interviewing them and looking for the person who can do the work, as opposed to seeing the work and then finding the person behind it. That’s what you would like. That’s what DesignCrowd does. DesignCrowd is so simple. They say, “Come to our site, tell us what you’re looking for. Describe what kind of feel it has or tell us as much as you can about it.”

Then they take this, this description you’re looking for, and they send it out to a ton of designers. Now, these designers all get to work on it, and each one comes up with their own perspective on it. I need the cover art for my podcast. I know that I’ve got designers that I work with. I wanted a bunch of fresh ideas. I put out what I was looking for. I got, I think, about 100 different design ideas from multiple people. One of them went completely off of what I wanted and gave me something so much better that I ended up just paying for that one.

That’s the thing about DesignCrowd. You get tons of ideas from lots of different perspectives. You only pick and pay for the one that you want, and if you’re not happy with it, they have a money-back guarantee. So, if you’re out there and you’re looking for, if it’s you, Sharon, or someone else out there, wants to get good design, well, I’m going to suggest that you don’t get good design. Instead that you get good designs, plural.

The best way to do that is to go not just to DesignCrowd, but go to DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy, where they’re going to give you up to $100 off your designs. You’re also going to come through and see my design, the one that I ended up with and get some ideas for what else you could get from them and frankly, you’ll be tagged as a Mixergy person. I know that my sponsors love to take care of my people because they want to maintain a good relationship with me. They know that you guys are the kinds of people who are going to spread the work and end becoming repeat customers for them.

Go check it out—DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy. Get your new landing page created, your new website created, your new book cover, business cards if you’re still out there using business cards, anything designed right by multiple people. Only pay for what you want, DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy—really good company.

Sharon: I should check out how they are running their community of all these amazing designers.

Andrew: I do wonder what they use for their design community. So that would be one use of it. If they have this community of designers, they want to start sending them feedback, “Hey, guys, here’s a way to design. Here’s a way to communicate with our clients,” that’s what they would use you guys for. Then their designers would start to pair up sometimes and talk to each other?

Sharon: That’s something that we always recommend. We really believe in professional networks, and we also believe that’s kind of the future of inbound marketing. If you are able to create as a company the tribe that will support your business and to provide them value by connecting them to one another and allowing them to support each other, ask questions. You will see much better adoption and also referrals, everything, just by giving your crowd, your tribe a place to be, a place to build their own professional network.

Andrew: What is it that you guys are doing with Etsy? I saw Etsy on your homepage.

Sharon: Yes, Etsy are a very beloved customer of ours. They are with us for about three years. If you know how Etsy works, they have this amazing program. So funny story about them—if you read their IPO, their public offering documents, which I read, you can see they actually have the word “community” in there about 80 to 90 times. They believe in supporting and empowering sellers. That’s their community. That’s the people they built this company for. To do that, they empower local leaders to local sellers to create their own groups.

One of the main groups that started is the San Francisco local sellers’ community. It started with a few hundred people. It’s now a few thousand people. They organize pop-up shops. They support each other. They help each other get started on Etsy. They welcome the newbies. They help each other with merchandising and everything else they need, and we love seeing that. It’s all happening on Mobilize and also going out to the real world when they meet each other. It’s an amazing community we love supporting.

Andrew: I am now looking at their S1 form when they did their IPO, 78 times the word community comes up in that document.

Sharon: Yes.

Andrew: I see. I get a sense of who you got your first couple of clients—Uber, Google became clients. Actually, at that point, they weren’t paying. There was nothing to pay for. They became first users, right? Then you had to build a product for them. I have here in my notes from your conversation with our producer that it took a year and a half to open the product and get it going, right?

Sharon: Yeah. So, if you know Mike Maples’ articles—Mike Maples is one of the leading investors in Silicon Valley. He really believes in prime movers. He invested in Lyft and Twitter before they were even Lyft and Twitter. His idea about building companies like Mobilize is that some companies are prime movers. They go into the space before the market is really ready. In that case, you can’t just go and start charging people when they don’t yet understand the value, when it’s very new to them.

In our case, we felt that it was too early to charge. We wanted to get the right pilots on board. We wanted to get their feedback. We wanted to see what they were using. Only by that we were also able to test with them and talk with them about what would be the pricing structure. Only a year and a half after having a bunch of pilots, I think it was like 100 to 150 pilots at that time, we kind of like paused and we said, “Okay, let’s launch our pricing.”

It was after really robust research, really thorough research with our customers, giving s feedback on why they would pay. We had this spreadsheet like we’d try different pricing and if they said, “Oh, my god, that’s so expensive,” or, “I love it, it’s cheap,” we’d kind of average something between that and then launch our pricing. The beautiful thing was that all these pilots converted almost all of them into annual deals within the first month. Then we started figuring out how to bring in new paying customers.

Andrew: I heard you had this email that you used to have the hard conversation with customers to get them to go from free to paid and that you still use it to this day. What was it that you said that got people who are free to pay?

Sharon: From free to pay?

Andrew: Didn’t you have to go from free to pay, from people using your stuff, the 20 pilot customers?

Sharon: It was a very—we have a very personal relationship with our customers. We actually send them—we jumped on a call before telling them we’re about to launch pricing, telling them it’s based on their feedback and we would love to jump on a call to share with them what the pricing would be according to the features they use and all of that. Just when we got their buy-in, that’s when they jumped on board. So it was actually a pretty good and collaborative process.

Andrew: Okay. You know what I’m wondering is why is it that you don’t have a community that I can join on your site? I’d love to try it out. I don’t have one yet. I see the product tour, which I really like. I love the product video at the upper right. I saw the agency you guys hired to do it. They’re fantastic. They did fantastic work for you.

Sharon: Thank you.

Andrew: Two minutes, explains what the product is, really good personality, the person who did it. It just fits well. Why no community that I could join? Is there one that I could try out?

Sharon: Yes, of course. First of all, the product has a free offering.

Andrew: I see it. Up to 500 members, it’s free forever. I want to just try it not to create a community, to see what it’s like to be a part of the community.

Sharon: Yes. So we have the Mobilize champions community. I’m happy to add you to it. It’s great that you mention it because in January, we’re launching a new community. It’s a global community of community leaders. We’re about to launch it. We’re doing a campaign called real life leaders, highlighting all the amazing leaders that we’ve met in their communities.

That will be all over social media, and then we basically are opening and launching our own community on Mobilize to provide a home and a space for community leaders from all around the world to support each other, to see each other’s profiles, to start private conversations or group discussions, and then we’ll also follow up with events all over the world.

So we’re launching in a week our new product called the Mobilize lounge. The Mobilize lounge was designed to provide members the best experience they can have, the best way to meet other members to start discussions, to feel that they have a home online. We are very excited to launch that. It will be our third product offering after we launched a community CRM or what we’d love to call relationship management.

Andrew: The CRM is part of Mobilize, right?

Sharon: Yes.

Andrew: So I get a list of everyone who’s there, and I could figure out what their job titles are, where they are and if I want to—I think the example I saw on the site was if I wanted to come to San Francisco—I happen to live here—and see all the people who are in my community in San Francisco, boom, I see them all, I send them all a message saying, “I’m getting together for drinks. Who wants to be here?” So I get that that’s all together. What’s the lounge? I actually hunted around, and I found a link to it. Tell me what it means.

Sharon: So the lounge is exactly what you imagined what an offline lounge would be. Imagine walking into a room, opening a door, walking into a room full of like-minded people having like-minded conversations, mind-blowing conversations, actually. What the lounge provides the members is a space to have conversations, discussions. We are reinventing and we worked very hard in the last year to reinvent how community discussion should look like.

Andrew: Is this a place where they would all talk to each other? It seems a lot to me like this is the feed that’s part of the Facebook group.

Sharon: If you think today about community discussion, then you have two options, right? You have the forum, threaded forum option where you can go into one thread and just engage there. It kind of like feels clunky all the time, or you have the option of a live chat when it’s really fun and engaging, but you end up losing the conversation or if someone jumps in with another topic, then you can’t track that.

Obviously, if someone goes in like a month after, they can’t find anything. We’re combing both of these experiences. We want to provide members a way that they can log in, see all the different conversations that happen, but then if they jump into one conversation, it becomes a live chat. It becomes a live experience that they can engage and have discussions.

Andrew: Okay.

Sharon: So that’s the feed. Then you have the member directory, where you can find other members, as you explained.

Andrew: Can I disable that if I don’t want that?

Sharon: Yes. You can always go and provide—

Andrew: Enable and disable. The thing that I like is not forcing people to use any piece of software and having the ability to reach them in any way that they want to be communicated with. So, if they don’t want to come into my app, if they don’t want to go into Facebook, if they’re not Slack users, you still reach them via email. If they don’t use email and you want to reach them via text, you can do that. I get it.

I see how you got your first set of customers. I then want to understand a little bit more about how you expanded beyond it. I know the first set of customers you talked to one on one and you got them as customers. Then when you wanted to go after other communities, you had to go beyond that. That’s, I imagine, when you started doing the webinars you personally were hosting.

Sharon: Until today, we’d try out different go to market strategies, all the way from webinars to live events. We get a lot of inbound. We get a lot of people contacting us all the time. It’s really more about jumping on calls with them and trying to understand what they need. Our approach to talking to our community leaders is very different than any other business, I would say. We see them as leaders. It’s actually our mission statement.

We believe anyone can be a leader, and it’s our mission to empower them. That’s why when we take calls with any community leader that is interested in Mobilize, we consult, we give them advice. We look at what they do. We understand their goals. We take them through a framework I’ve built called the Snowball framework all about how do you recruit, onboard, communicate, create a sense of belonging and scale your community. While going through that framework, we’re always able to also show where Mobilize fits in if we can enable and support them.

Andrew: So that’s part of what you did. How effective was it? I know that webinars are exhausting. Doing it all yourself is exhausting. How many customers were you able to get through that?

Sharon: So, when I did it, it was a month and a half long, very exhausting process. I felt that I need to talk to all of our inbound customers. We also had a month where like my head sales director, she went on maternity leave. The rest were really new. I just felt that I needed to jump in there and talk to everyone. We recorded right away all the calls, obviously with permission, because we wanted also our product team, who was in Israel, to go through that to understand do we actually nail the product market fit?

While it was exhausting and I found myself, I think, on calls from 7:00 a.m. to probably 7:00 p.m. and then needing to do the follow-up emails and then at 10:00 p.m. jumping on a call with my Israeli team to review the calls and understand what it means in terms of each vertical that we’re supporting, it was a game-changing moment for our company. We’ve learned that there are over 19 to 20 community types out there, everything from brand ambassador, developer relations, professional networks, membership-based organizations, associations.

There are so many. Each one of them needs something slightly different. While we can support probably 60% of what all of them need, you need to get started. One of my favorite books is “Crossing the Chasm.” I read it when I just got started and I don’t think I got it. Now I read it again when I did that month of doing all the sales calls and I all of a sudden figured out, “Okay, we need to stop for a moment. We need to go back to basic to analyze all the different community types and verticals and focus on one.

Andrew: Which one did you pick?

Sharon: The professional communities, the professional networks.

Andrew: What’s considered a professional community?

Sharon: Membership-based organizations.

Andrew: Where they pay to be part of a community?

Sharon: They could be. There are different tiers. There are grassroots, independent membership-based organizations. Those are usually groups and communities that are getting started by a member that needs support and needs to be around like-minded people. They usually start on a free solution, which we offer. So that’s good. Or if they can pay, they can pay out of pocket, so it will still be in the range of about like $60 per month, which we have such an offering. But then there are the communities that are either getting sponsorship or members are paying membership dues.

Andrew: I’m sorry, I’m going to adjust the lighting. But give me an example. What’s one?

Sharon: So one community we can talk about is actually a funny one based on the story that I told you before. It’s the United Nations sustainable development network. We love that community and what they do. That’s a community of over 3,000 or more sustainability researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators from all the world that are unmobilized.

In order to get to know each other, collaborate on different projects, share information so that if you’re solving a water ration in Africa, someone in Asia could take the same solution or if you’re working on a water issue in a specific country in Africa and someone else is working on an energy problem in the same country, you can collaborate because you might have the same connections or needs or challenges. So supporting that type of professional network is incredible for us because, obviously, we care also about the impact.

Another community we have is called [inaudible 00:37:48]. It’s a professional network of women in tech. They support each other in so many ways.

Andrew: I see. Let me talk about my sponsor because I have an idea of how someone could create a community. You tell me if this makes sense. My second sponsor is a company called HostGator. Imagine this—so cryptocurrencies are getting really big, right? I’m noticing most cryptocurrency communities are on Telegram. Have you noticed that?

Sharon: Yeah.

Andrew: The problem with Telegram is yes, it’s secure. It’s a great app because it’s chat, but it’s just too freaking noisy in Telegram. All it is, is one person talking, then another and another and another. There’s no ongoing conversation. There’s no real community. These people are doing it because it’s easy because that’s their world and it’s secure, but it’s kind of amateur hour at this point. Imagine if somebody decides, “I’m actually going to professionalize this thing and what I’m going to do is put a website up.”

Let’s say their name is Andrew. I’m not doing this. They could replace my name with theirs. Let’s say it’s AndrewCryptoGroup.com. All AndrewCryptoGroup.com is a description of what this group is that you’re putting together. Anyone who wants to be a part of it basically ends up going into a Mobilize community, a paid Mobilize community, but we start with free. What I would probably do if I were doing this idea is once I have my landing page and the landing page looked nice, I would go after the top people in this community and say I’m creating this group, it’s highly curated. It’s only you and these other five people to start and then we’re going to add more. Can I add you to it?

Most people, especially if they’re big names and they’re trying to raise their profile, they’ll say sure, add me to it, thinking I’m never going to go in there, I say yes, it’s an easy yes. Fine. I get them in. Now I bring in the next 50 people and say, “Look, I’ve got these five people who are really good. It’s all free. I’m going to charge others but you’re free if you join now.” I get to about 100 free and then I start to charge.

Now what I’ve got is ongoing conversation with these people. Now what I have is a community where these people exist and you can get close to them and it’s structured and it’s organized and maybe I do weekly AMAs or something. Then I’ve got a community that I can start charging. I might start by saying, “You know what? You only paid $10, but it’s in cryptocurrency,” and then I build beyond that. What do you think of that? Does that model make sense?

Sharon: Totally. We already have a bunch of crypto communities on Mobilize. That’s exactly what you said. You can’t just have a live chat about these topics. You want to go back to a specific discussion or you want to update them about stuff happening live and you need to get immediate response and that’s obviously why we are called Mobilize, because you need to mobilize people into taking immediate action and participating. So, we have a bunch of those communities on Mobilize. It’s obviously a growing trend now, so we see more and more of them all the time and we’re happy to provide a home for them so they can continue growing their communities.

Andrew: Think about real time. These ICO guys now are really big on promoting themselves. Imagine you get one of them on and you message everyone and go, “Look, this person who’s doing the ICO is coming on live. You ping them in real time. They get to come on in real time.

All right. This is one of many ideas for what you can do with HostGator and Mobilize. If you have any idea for a website, for a business that you can get started, one of the things that I’d love to do is not think on paper, but think on the web. If you’re like me and you want a place you could do it, a blank canvas that you could build your site on, build your idea on, see if it takes off or not. I urge you to go to HostGator.

When you go to HostGator, they’ve got this plan that gives you unlimited domains that lets you keep experimenting. All you have to do to get this plan at 50% off of what other people pay is go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. You’re going to get the unlimited domains. You’re going to get one-click install of things like WordPress.

So many sites advertise other platforms for creating websites actually are on WordPress. You might as well get on WordPress yourself. It’s easy to customize, used by 29% of the internet built on WordPress, something like that. I don’t know the number. If I’m going to talk about it, I should know it.

Unlimited email addresses, unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth, 45-day money-back guarantee, go be creative on HostGator.com/Mixergy. Man, imagine if they did that if they heard this ad and created a community and started charging.

Sharon: Yes, definitely. We will probably see more of them coming up.

Andrew: Is there a way to do paid on your product, on Mobilize?

Sharon: There is a registration form that you can easily link to your PayPal or any other payment method that you want like Stripe or something.

Andrew: Are you seeing anyone do anything especially interesting that way where they’re charging?

Sharon: Yeah, definitely. We have a lot of communities that use the—we have an amazing structure of groups. So you can have your community and have like 25 groups and organize them according to different hierarchies. What we see in a lot of communities is they would have a free community for everyone. The conversation there would be generic. Then they would have VIP groups or smaller groups that are more like the highly vetted and they are obviously the paid tier.

Andrew: What’s the deal here? Both of your plans, the professional and the organization each include 500 members. Most communities would have more than 500.

Sharon: They start at 500 members.

Andrew: And then how much is it to go beyond? 500 members is not that much.

Sharon: We bring a really high-volume discount. On a pro, if you want up to 15 groups, up to 15 admins. If you want to use email blasts and text messages and all the analytics, that only costs you $45 for 500 members and even if you grow up to 50,000 members, it will not cost you more than $300. So no matter how big you grow, it’s actually cheaper than MailChimp in that case, although you’re getting a lot more.

Andrew: And I can put the whole thing on my own domain so I don’t have to worry about sending people to someone else’s site.

Sharon: You can customize it.

Andrew: Revenue, how much are you doing with this?

Sharon: That’s private. It’s still confidential.

Andrew: Can you give me a ballpark? You told me in private what it is, and I told you I wouldn’t—I said let’s get into a private conversation, I won’t reveal what you told me. You told me the number roughly. What can you give people as a sense of how well you’re doing? I want them to know it’s a startup that’s not just getting started, but it’s an established business we’re learning how you built.

Sharon: We talked about the seed round. We’ve done our A round by amazing investors, by Trinity Ventures. We’ve done it with them and Floodgate.

Andrew: You raise $7 million, no, $8 million—

Sharon: $8 million.

Andrew: Roughly $8 million, but I get that. What about how well the business is doing?

Sharon: We’re supporting about 1,000 communities and over one million users. We’re seeing hundreds of paying customers as well. So, as I said, we have the free version and we have the paid version. So, we’re excited to support so many communities around the world.

Andrew: Hundreds of paying customers. Let’s say you have 200 times $45, which is your cheapest. That’s only $9,000 a month. You’re definitely doing more than that from what I heard before.

Sharon: Yeah. We have different tiers as I mentioned. We have the enterprise tier.

Andrew: Right. I forgot about the enterprise tier. No one ever publishes how much enterprise has to pay on their website. Why not? Are you feeling them out? They call you up and then they say, “Tell me about your budget.” Then you realize, “Okay, I can charge them. . .”

Sharon: You can actually see it. The pricing is there. It starts at $1,000 a month. The reason it’s not there up front is just because it’s not the main use case, and we wanted to highlight what the main use case is, which is free and potential, the low price is. The enterprise is really for companies, like we have Docker and Couchbase and Microsoft. They need single sign on. They need very customized branding. They need custom domains.

Andrew: It costs more because you’re customizing it for them.

Sharon: We customize it for them. We give them a monthly success strategy session. It’s fully branding. It’s synced with their API. So, it’s not out there. It’s not as visible as the other pricing tiers just because it’s not the most common, but then the most common is the pro that starts $45 per month and it’s easy to get started.

Andrew: All right. The website, for anyone who wants to check it out, it’s Mobilize.io. And it will help you run your communities well. My two sponsors are HostGator.com/Mixergy and DesignCrowd.com/Mixergy. Thanks so much for being on here.

Sharon: Thanks so much for inviting me. It was great.

Andrew: You know what? I invited you here. Invite me to one of your communities. I want to try the software for myself. I have seen screenshot after screenshot. You sent us an old video of what the site used to look like. I thought it was a big improvement. I thought the first version was not as bad as I imagined before I hit play on the video you send over, but this looks way better. This is much more polished. I think people would be proud to have this. I still want to see it on the inside. I feel like I can’t really speak about it until I do. Invite me to some group.

Sharon: I will invite you right now. We have the launch next week, which is a much better, more upgraded version of what we’re doing. So, I’m sure—

Andrew: By the time this interview is published, that will be ready for them to go be a part of. They can go where, Mobilize.io to get that?

Sharon: Yes.

Andrew: All right. Cool. Thanks so much for being here.

Sharon: Thank you. All right. Bye.


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