Wildfire’s Founder On How To Land Big Clients Even If You’re A Bootstrapped Startup

The first thing I noticed when I checked out her web site is her clients’ logos: Pepsi, Universal Studios, Facebook, Victoria Secret, and many other big names. How did Victoria Ransom’s young company get such well-known clients.

That’s one of the big questions that I asked her in this interview. I also asked about how she bootstrapped her company, how she builds fans for her clients, how she built a profitable company before Wildfire, and more.

Victoria Ransom

Victoria Ransom

Wildfire Interactive

Victoria Ransom is Founder and CEO of Wildfire Interactive, Inc, a technology company that’s dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes leverage the marketing power of social networks such as Facebook & Twitter.



Full Interview Transcript

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Here’s the program…

Hey, everyone, I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and what I mean by that is I’m creating a home here for the kind of person who walks into a great restaurant, sees it full with people, and instead of saying this must be the place with the best food; says these guys must be making a killing. How do they do it? That’s the goal here at Mixergy.

And to help me, I bring in entrepreneurs who are building incredible companies, who are willing to talk about how they did it and teach along the way. And today I’ve got with me, Victoria Ransom, she is the co-founder of Wildfire Interactive. And I copied and pasted the description of what Wildfire Interactive is from you website, Victoria. I’ll read this then I’ll ask you to give a clear explanation of it.

“It is dedicated to developing simple tools that help you promote your organization on the social web.” That’s my copy and paste. How do you explain it?

Interviewee: That’s exactly, I’d say broadly speaking that’s exactly what we do. Specifically what we’ve created is a self-service platform. So we’re very focused on creating a scalable, easy to use model. So it’s a self-service platform, makes it really easy for businesses of all sizes. We’re actually successfully serving everyone from little restaurants and spires, right up to some of the biggest brands in the world, can use our technology to create different kinds of engaging, interactive marketing campaigns like sweepstakes or photo contests, or video contests or giveaways, or coupons…all kinds of campaigns that consumers find engaging.

Companies can create them using our technology and a six-step process. It’s very, very simple. Then they can simultaneously publish those campaigns on their Facebook fan page, on their website, which we automatically integrate with Facebook connect, and we integrate with Twitter as well.

So basically what we’ve created is without Wildfire, a company would have to go out and hire a developer to build them a Facebook application, and they have to hire someone to build them a microsite for their website…they have to hire someone to help them build something for Twitter. We’ve turned it into this really easy process that any business can afford.

And we found that these kind of campaigns are just highly successful ways of engaging consumers and getting them to take actions like become fans, become followers, signing up for a newsletter base, etc.

Andrew: Okay, and before this interview, I went on to your website to try and create a campaign for myself to see how easy it was and to see what it was about, and what I was able to do was create a quick contest for Mixergy — it’s not live, I just did it to practice and see the website — that allowed me to give anything away. And every time somebody joined the contest, they were essentially promoting the contest and promoting Mixergy to their friends on Facebook and on Twitter. And that’s essentially one of the products that you have, right?

Interviewee: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, really, a lot of these campaign formats that we’ve developed, they’ve been around for a long time because they really work, but we’ve done is we’ve added this social element…so that you’re running a contest, people upload their photos. Let’s say it’s a pic contests — I give that example because we’re seeing many, many, very successful pic contests — by integrating it with the social features. On Facebook for example, when people vote they can send out a news feed that displays the entry they voted on.

When you enter you can invite all your friends to come and vote for you. When you come in, you can spread the word through news feeds, so it’s just the social networks have really opened up a fantastic way to get your existing customer base…

Interviewee: The social networks have really opened up a fantastic way to get your existing customer base and then to spread the word to all of their friends. And we’ve seen some highly viral examples of these kind of campaign formats. And, and in many cases on another one of our big brands we’ve seen some of our most successful campaigns have actually come from smaller businesses that just had great ideas.

Andrew: OK. So, before the interview started we created a list of topics that we’re gonna be talking about. Let me read them out to the audience. We’re gonna talk about how to build a fan base and I love by the way that businesses are getting fans. Not just talking about how you get customers but how do you get fans. As a kid before this whole Internet thing took off, I remember saying, ” why don’t businesses have fans the way the Backstreet Boys do, you know? I would much rather read about them then I would about, about businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them, then I would about the, the guys who were up on stage. You know those kids have nothing interesting going on?”

Interviewee: [Laughs.]

Andrew: And today by the way, businesses do have fans! I get people here who I’m interviewing, who are entrepreneurs who are successful in their own right who are fans of Thirty-Seven Signals and they’ll start quoting the ideas of Thirty-Seven Signals or start quoting the ideas of, of one of the other guests that I’ve had here on Mixergy like Gary Vain or Chuck, for example. So, I love that! And I want the same thing for my audience. We’re also gonna talk about how to engage your audience and that’s kind of a bitch of being in social media. You can’t just create something and move on. You have to really engage. I wanna find out how to do that and if I’m going to engage. If I’m gonna spend my time talking to this fan base and if my audience is going to do it with their fan base, how do we maximize results from that. We’re gonna talk about bootstrapping techniques. You recently raised some money but you started off the business as a bootstrapper. We’ll find out about that. Talking about, lets see, you were an entrepreneur before this. This isn’t your first business. We’ll talk about your entrepreneurial experience in general. We’ll talk about just starting a, a business! Just taking that initial, that initial leap. And finally, and actually why don’t we start with this list of clients. You’ve talked about here in this intro, how you’ve worked with restaurants, how you’ve worked with smaller companies. But I got a list here of the big name clients that you guys have: John BG’s, CNN, Victoria’s Secret. When Facebook did it’s governance vote they used your platform to do that. Universal Studios, Business Week, Forbes, AT and T, so many others. Why don’t we start with that. How do you as a young company get such great clients?

Interviewee: Sure. So, I guess, for us it was a lot to do with the first, first clients that we got. So, you gotta get those first clients in the door and give them a good experience. And then that obviously makes it so much easier next time you’ve gone into a meeting, because you can say, “hey we’ve done work previously for Pepsi” which was one of our first clients or “we’ve done work previously for Facebook” which was another one of our first clients. So certainly, you know, getting those first ones helps to build momentum. Cuz then you get the third one, and the fourth one and then it starts to hopefully snowball, from there. So, I would say, you know what we did for those first clients, is we just, we were very willing to work very hard to do what they needed, to get a good result. And so you know, one of the first clients we worked with was Facebook. And I would say, [laughs] I remember, I stayed up for about forty-eight hours [laughs] straight, trying to get this online and, and the whole team did. And we, we gave it away for a, a really, really good deal. So, it wasn’t free but it was, it was a very low cost campaign for them. And we did whatever it took to, to make that work for them. So, we certainly gave away a lot, but obviously, that was a great first client for us. Now you’re probably wondering though how did we first make contact with Facebook?

Andrew: So there I ask,

Interviewee: So there, I would say,

Andrew: So, were they the very first big client?

Interviewee: They were, I’m trying to think of the sequencing. So, the very first campaign we launched was Pepsi, but I believe we started working on the Facebook campaign first. It just took longer to launch. So, I guess it was the first client that we got in the door, in terms of big clients. We’ve worked with smaller ones. And honestly, there, it was a combination of us coming out with a product that was just very timely and that was needed by those companies. So, I think it certainly helps to have a product that they needed, and we were early to the market with their product, and so it wasn’t a particularly hard sell. And then we also worked hard. Clearly, Facebook was, an important partner for us, although in this case they were a client. So we just really worked hard at making some connections at Facebook. And, and in all honesty, I did that by looking at who and my cofounder as well, who in our network might know someone that’s in Facebook that we can let them know about what we’re doing. And, and through that we eventually, got the right people to at least hear what we’re doing. And, and I mean for the first fun go ahead with Facebook it was very exciting and it felt like a very, very big deal, which it was. And that just lead into these conversations of, you know, what, what could we do for Facebook and, and they had a particular need, which was trying to get the word out about at that time, all the

Interviewee: …word out about, at that time, all the good things that Facebook was doing in their communities and so a contest, we used to generate a contest, just seemed to make a ton of sense.

So I think it was, theres no magic formula, but its a combination of having a product that these business want, but you really really had to find someone that you could get the attention of , and then being willing to really, frankly, give away a fair bit of value on those earlier clients, because they’re worth a lot to you.

Andrew: When you say that a contest is the best way to promote what the good stuff on Facebook is doing, how? How is a contest the best way to promote that?

Interviewee: So in this case, it was a great way, so Facebook really wanted to hear from the users about the great things that people were doing in their communities that was being facilitated by Facebook, so a contest is, a user generated contest, where you upload, in this case it was a photo and a little story about how Facebook had been doing good in the world, was just a great way to encourage people to submit user generated content, user stories, and in this case the prize was money that went to a charity, so people were not actually self motivated, and I’d say thats a really interesting thing that we’ve learned from user generated contests, a price helps, but id say the contest that wed seen be wildly successful are much more about peoples ability to express themselves, and the potential pride and i guess a little bit fame that comes from having their idea having float to the top and perhaps actually be chosen, and so a contest, a user generated contest, just a great way to facilitate real life stories from people about, in this case how they were using Facebook, but we’ve seen many companies do campaigns about getting customers to use their company or something that relates to the company.

Andrew: Ok, so lets see how you ended up getting Facebook as a client. The first thing you did was, you reached out to all the people in your network and said ‘do you know anyone at Facebook?’, what was their response to that?

Interviewee: People were very very supportive Id say.

Andrew: Did you get a helpful introduction or did somebody; what kind of introduction did you get from that?

Interviewee: Sorry, I’m trying to think exactly. We managed to get to know a few different people at Facebook, and the person that we ended up connecting with was actually someone that was really looking to see if there was a solution like ours in the market, so that helped, lets be clear, that helped that we had something that Facebook thought was important for their platform anyway, but through – I have a pretty big network and so does my business partner, and we went – I’ve been to business school, I was at HBS and Alam was at Stanford, so through that network we were pretty quickly able to find people who were currently at Facebook or knew someone who was there, so frankly we had a really favorable response, and obviously, sorry, i guess the moral of the story there is the more you can build your network and have people in there, so I’ve heard this be said before, a network is less about how many people in your network, but whose in your network and how well connected those people are, so i think a few key people in your network, and someone that I’d point to I got to know recently, he did not help us to get to initially know Facebook, but someone like Dave McClure whose been a wonderful supporter of our company through the FB Fund, he just seems to know everybody, so if you’re able to connect to people like that who believe in your business and are obviously willing to make introductions, and they’ll only make introductions when they think it’ll be beneficial to both parties, that can be hugely important I think, as opposed to going out & creating this massive network of people that you don’t really know that well.

Andrew: Did you know Dave McClure before he funded the business? Did you know him at this stage in the development of the company when you were trying get a hold of Facebook?

Interviewee: I didn’t know him personally – I’d certainly heard of Dave, but got to know him a little later in the company, yeah, so the first relationship we had with Facebook and we can, I mean, I’m not sure if you want to chat about that but we were winners of the FB Fund – that whole stage we went through without getting to know Dave, but I would say just in general, its something, when we started the company I was out in Boston, finishing up business school and jumped int he car and drove all the way across the country to come out here and one thing that has been, and I imagine you find this with entrepreneurial communities in a lot of areas, but certainly here in Silicon Valley, have been totally overwhelmed by how willing people are to help, young or new entrepreneurs, and I think theres a lot of knowledge in this community here and in a lot of the startup communities, of people that have been there, done that, and really kind of..

Interviewee: Kind of I think almost like re-living the entrepeneur experience through others that are getting started. So I’d deffinitely say that we had no trouble getting people. You know reaching out to people and just saying “Hey, could I get your advice about x, y, z or could we chat?” and so I definitely think that its been something important for us and that every entrepeneur should be looking to leverage and something I’d say we learned over time. I’d say when we first started the company we were a little too focused on kind of being hold up in our apartment just getting stuff done cause you feel so overwhelmed and there’s so much to do and its easy to spend frankly three days without leaving your apartment, but we realize that there’s a lot to be gained and it’s very worth taking the time to get out and about and going to events and just meeting people because every person you meet just leads to someone else who leads to someone else and often there is an amazing result that comes from, from that chain of connections.

Andrew: Ok, so you finally get into facebook. This is a person who your talking to who’s looking for a solution like this. So she’s already thinking about sweepstakes.

Interviewee: So this guy was called Yon Funeger actually and his responsibility at the time, I think it still is, was really looking at solutions for fan page owners and how they could really engage thier fans and so you know I think these kind of promotions are just a frankly no brainer way to engage your audience. So I, he had been, I believe had had requests from fan page owners how could they do this and so had had his eye out for this kind of solution. I believe he had actually spoken to some companies out there that have more of a traditional focus on online promotions to see if, if they would be willing or interested or looking to do some kind of solution for facebook and then introduce to us and it was you know in that respect it was fortuitous. I’d say there was a real element to our business that we had a great idea at the right time, perhaps even a little early for our time but that was great because it gave us time to build up our product. You know, I think, we thought there would be a much bigger up take on fan pages then there preps was right away and that came a little later when facebook tweaked some of the features and would enable you to message your fans through newsfeed for example was huge in terms of generating fan pages, but that was great. It gave us time to build up our product so that by the time we launched, the market, I think was really right for that product. So it certainly one of the learings we had and this is a hard one you know great piece of advice is you know find, find the right market at the right time and try to be early into that market that’s always seemed not that easy to do, but I will certainly say if you can find those kinds of dynamics it really does help.

Andrew: Waht did you have in place, what did the product look like when you talked to facebook?

Interviewee: So we had, I think the honest truth is, so this is why there was you staying up late for a period of time, I think we showed some screen shots of of what the product would look like. So we had a, I believe we had our sweepstakes solution build out but the actual user generator contest functionality was something that we were planning to build but we hadn’t finished building it, so you know we portrayed some very good looking screen shots and and then got it done. So you know that’s that’s another thing I think can really help get those early customers in. So it was great, right, because we had already been able to talk to some clients who we knew needed that product before we even hit to build out that product. So it was a real sort of justifying the market or or being able to yeah get some feedback from customers before we actually had to invest in them.

Andrew: Did they help you shape what that initial product was going to look like on launch, did they “well I like these screenshots but you should do this or you should give us that, that’s what were looking for?”

Interviewee: They did, yes and so I would say that’s good and bad and I think that’s something to really be careful of when you’re a start up with those. I think a lot of start ups go through this experience to get your first clients. It’s very exciting when your into a company like facebook or pepsi and and you feel a little bit willing to do whatever it takes, but I think you can get into trouble with it because it means you do shape that early product to what that early customer wants instead of what you want the product to be. So it overall that that was great because we built a product that we’ve been able to leverage a lot, with a lot of customers, with thousands of customers but there were a few things that we did. One for example is facebook wanted to run that contest in France, Spain, Germany and the U.K. So we built out translations for all of those markets which frankly was probably too early for us to focus on that piece of the product. If we’d done it just sort of in the direction we wanted to take it right from the begining that probably wouldn’t have been the highest priority right away……..

Interviewee: …in the direction that we wanted to take it right from the beginning, that probably wouldn’t have been the highest priority right away. So you know, you’ve also gotta be careful with these early customers you don’t end up taking yourself off on tangents that are not in the best interest of the company, which certainly was not…largely it was a fantastic [deal with inaudible 20:17], but it’s something to be aware of I think.

Andrew: How much time of your time did they pay for when they paid for the finished product? I mean, what was the payment like?

Interviewee: I’m trying to think, I think it was frankly, to be honest, I think it was a fraction of the cost of what it cost us, but let’s also be clear, we were helping to build out our product that we could then leverage in the future. So I think that was, a lot of that was in the best interest, we would’ve anyway to making our product. But even relative…

Andrew: What do you mean by that? That you had, did you hire someone else to develop the product for you?

Interviewee: Yes, we did.

Andrew: So you guys, neither you nor your co-founder, is it Elaine? I’m I pronouncing that…

Interviewee: Elaine, yes.

Andrew: Neither one of you were developing it.

Interviewee: No. I think that’s a process that we can talk about, how do you actually go to product if you’re not…

Andrew: Yeah, how do you build a product if you’re not developers. A lot of people have that question.

Interviewee: Yeah. So in our case what we did is you know, hiring developers here in the US is incredibly expensive and frankly, we were bootstrapping and it was beyond our budget. So we did decide to hire overseas developers. And we talked to a few outsourcing firms and we were immediately uncomfortable with that because we felt like we were talking in a way to a salesperson, and never really talking to the person who was gonna build our product.

And plus, we heard a lot of stories about sort of turnover. So you may get an outsourcing firm, you may get these developers working on your product, it’s all great, and then you know, the turnover is huge. And suddenly you’ve got a whole new set of developers that you’re working with. So we didn’t want to go down that road.

What we did though is we found some very small teams. Our first team of developers were in Estonia. It was a team of two guys. So we were dealing right with the developers themselves. And we were able to get very high caliber developers at a price that you could never have got in the US. Having said that, it was still more expensive than we probably would’ve got if we’d gone with an outsourcing firm. So we did pay for high talent.

I’d say that’s a key learning. Don’t skim on your development costs because you can end, it can end up costing you a lot more if you have an ineffective or inefficient developer.

But the other challenge is we found these two guys, I believe it was — giving away some secrets here — but it was on a website called workingwithrails, which I’m sure others have looked at. It’s a great rubyonrails site where you can find different developers and see how they’re ranked by their community, their peers.

But nevertheless we found these two guys in Estonia who we never met, and we’re not developers ourselves, so how could we know that the code they were producing was good? So what we actually did is — we were in Boston at the time — we found a local developer, someone we could get to know in person so that we could get very comfortable with him. And we had him not code for us, but just take a look at the code that these two guys in Estonia were producing for us in order to just…

You know, we could judge the end product, but what about what was under the product. The last thing we wanted to do was just create a product that was just a mess underneath. So this guy worked with us for about six weeks just looking over the code. These guys were producing it and the honest truth is, after a little while, he said you know what, these guys are brilliant; they’re even better than me, don’t worry about it.

And we worked with those guys now I guess it’s been two and a half years, but it’s been fantastic. They’re a core part of our team and then we were able to find other developers overseas to work with. But you know, that’s how we did it. Neither of us, that’s how we did it in a cost effective way without having any needs for a developer background ourselves.

Andrew: What are some of the challenges involved in telling developers what you’re looking for when you’re not a developer yourself, at least in the early days?

Interviewee: Yeah, so this is important. I’d say, previously we’d had an experience with building software before. And I think we made a lot of the classic mistakes so we were able to learn from them. So actually, Elaine and I own an adventure travel company; it was our first company that we started.

And at a certain point that company got big enough that we needed to create some kind of booking software and customer management software. We couldn’t find anything on the market that we liked and decided to go build something ourselves. So that was our first experience building software.

Interviewee: I actually loved that experience, loved it. It was a real learning … to realize that building software is about understanding problems and breaking them down into very nice, simple flows, and then getting someone to build it for you. But we made the classic mistake of sort of mapping out this software that we wanted and handing it over to some developers, and saying “How long do you think it’ll take?” And they said, “two months,” and so we said “great, we’ll check in with you in a month”. And y’know, we check in in a month and it’s nothing like what we wanted, and it’s way behind schedule. So the learning from that is you’ve got to be very, very hands-on with the development process. And so actually this was Alan’s key role at that time, when we started Wildfire and he worked extremely hard of just–and we did this through Skype–he was online with our developers in Estonia, practically 24/7. I mean, he worked really hard and the way we did it was, first we would sort of sketch something out on paper, Alan and I, make something out, and then Alan would actually put it into Photoshop to just sort of show visually, not the end product, but sort of a rough vision of what the end product would look like. And then we would pass it over to the developers and then there’d be a very intense back-and-forth questioning of “what do you mean by this” and “what does this do exactly?” And then just a very collaborative back-and-forth as they’re building things. As soon as possible they would show us what they’re doing, so it certainly wasn’t a “let’s wait and see until about this in a month,” it was like “show us something, show us something more, show us again.” And just very back-and-forth. So I would say, if you’re gonna go down that road, that road of, if you’re not a developer yourself, you’re gonna hire developers, you have to be prepared to manage that process very, very carefully. And particularly if you’re bootstrapping, don’t think you can just hire a manager to do that for you. You’ve gotta be really active, and if you’re hiring overseas developers, you’re gonna have to work really odd hours. So, [???], it was not uncommon to be working at 4 or 5 or 6 in the morning, cuz that’s when our developers were working.

Andrew: [Mos?] in the audience is asking, “What kind of rates do you pay for developers in Estonia?”

Interviewee: We’re paying our developers more now, because we really, really value them. I think at the time when we started out with them, I believe it was around $40 an hour, and so that was, y’know, I remember we could have gotten developers in India for $15 an hour. So we didn’t go for the lowest-cost solution, we went for the highest quality, and people we felt very comfortable with. These were developers … So, we reached out to a bunch of developers, these guys got back to us really quickly, they were very responsive, we were able to communicate very well because their English was good, and now we’re paying them … we’ve certainly crept up quite a bit from the numbers we were paying them at the time.

Andrew: OK. Let’s go back to Pepsi. Can you tell us the story of how you got Pepsi as a client?

Interviewee: I wish I could give you a really good story about this, but the honest truth is, that Facebook helped make the introduction to Pepsi. So there’s another example of getting that first client, who helps you get the next client. And I’m trying to think of what the third client was … they were some earlier clients though. So I can talk about how we reached out to them, because these were sort of our … When we started the company, we actually were working on something else entirely and Wildfire started as sort of a side project to be honest. Facebook opened up its fan pages to businesses, we created a fan page for [Axis Trips] for our [???] travel company. We thought, “Well how are we gonna get fans?” We’d had success in the past running sweepstakes on the website to build up our newsletter base, so we thought that’s gotta make sense to build up your fanbase, but realized we’re gonna have to build an application to run that on [Axis Trips] fan page. And then thought, “Gosh, how many companies are gonna be [???] enough to build their own application, why don’t we create something a little more up scalable?” But at the time we were working on an entirely different software project, so it was really meant to be a side business. And that’s a little bit of a different topic, but around the idea of how do you jump into entrepreneurship. Well one way is to just sort of start with something like a prototype and try it out. So Pepsi and Facebook were our first customers for our more fully-fledged product, once we’d realized that we’d wanted to go into working more with Wildfire. But this first test product that we had, we also need to get first clients, and some of the first clients …

Interviewee: Some of the first clients we got were actually Client [?] and Zepos [?]. So, those are some great companies to. And there it was through pure persistence. We just used Linkton [sp] and at Zepos we did have a indirect personal contact, but with client.com we found lots of people on Linkton and we just contacted them. And when we didn’t hear back, we contacted them again. And we were just very very persistent until the right person saw it. And again we had something that was useful. You’re not going to hear back from any company if you’re not offering something that’s useful.

But, in that particular case it was just shear finding the right people using different kind of combination of email addresses to you reach them and being persistent. I know that myself when sometimes I’m really busy and people try to reach me and I might not respond the first time, and it’s not because I’m not wanting to, it’s just because I got busy. It never worries me if someone follows up again. May again after that it’s probably too much. So, that’s what we did with those companies.

Andrew: Oh, so, you were just cold calling in or cold emailing in until you found somebody who was interested. How many companies did you do that to?

Interviewee: Um, I’m trying to think. Probably, might have been instead of . . . 20 companies or so. At that time, those two paid off. But, yeah, it was certainly . . . It wasn’t like we email one company and then heard back. We tried with a few companies. It’s a fine line, so I don’t mean to advocate people bugging companies.

I think if you reach out to someone two or three times and you don’t hear back, there’s a point where you stop. But, I think, certainly don’t email someone once and think that because you didn’t hear back that they’re not interested. The likelihood is that they’re just busy and you’re one of the top of their priority list.

Andrew: Yeah, and I think for most people the issue isn’t contacting too often, but actually starting off and making that initial contact and knowing that it’s okay and knowing that’s an acceptable way to get through. It’s not the idea way. It’s better to have a contact the way that you did into Facebook or from Facebook afterward. But, you’ve got to do it.

Interviewee: Yep.

Andrew: What was your biggest source of customers?

Interviewee: Since the company is kind of . . . so, the second way of company we’ve really build up our product, I would say PR has been huge for us. We were able to get . . . when were were launching Private Beta we were able to get a story in Tech Crunch [?] and that certainly got lots of sign ups for our Private Beta products.

And we’ve got a product that’s . . . we’re generating tons of word of mouth. So, we just need to get those initial customers in and they really like it and they’re telling their friends, so we’ve found that press has been huge for us to get started. Facebook helped as well. There’s a directory on Facebook. Early on there were not so many applications for businesses, so that helped for us to get customers as well. But, I would say PR was huge for us to get [overlapping conversation]

Andrew: How did you get so much publicity?

Interviewee: How did we get it?

Andrew: Yeah. If PR is the answer, I want to know how you got that.

Interviewee: Well, again I think the first big story was with Tech Crunch. So, that’s great. We were persistent, so we just didn’t sit back and hope that would happen. We found the contact information for Glover[?] at Tech Crunch and reached out to him. We offered [xx] on that story, that’s always important.

We offered a bunch of free Beta invites. So, there was something to give away. Which was not only an incentive for Tech Crunch, but it also it created a little bit sense of urgency when the story came out because people really wanted to sign up to get the, I think there were 500 free Beta invites or something like that. But, again I think . . . actually we reached out to Tech Crunch, I think it was about midnight on a Saturday and that journalist, I guess, just happened to be on line and he responded. So, we’re probably really lucky.

But, had he not responded, I would have just tried again and tried again. That’s not going to work for everybody. So, I think again it’s helps to have a company that’s in a interesting phase or that’s doing something that’s interesting. Tech Crunch thought would be interesting to their readers. But, persistent and not sitting back waiting for thing to happen is certainly important.

Andrew: It does seem, by the way, to be moments where everybody cares about topic and everybody cares about a specific section of the internet space, but then after that they move on and then they don’t care. At the time when you launched, it seems like . . .

Andrew: Everyone was obsessed with apps on Facebook, everyone was obsessed with Facebook as a platform and curious about who was gonna win and who was gonna be there and how it’s gonna…how it’s gonna take off. Today are you able to get publicity the way that you did back then even though you’ve got an established business?

Interviewee: Yeah, we are, and I think…

Andrew: How?

Interviewee: You know, in actual fact, we were doing something quite different than what was popular at that time. It was all – you’re right – it was all about consumer applications on Facebook and you know you hear these stories about companies that were blowing up from, you know, one user to three million users or more doing some simple little consumer application. And so we had to actually take a very different tact, which is, let’s build applications for businesses on Facebook. And again like I said, I think we were almost before our time a little bit. Right then they’re focussed alone on consumer applications…I’d say now we have moved more into a period where there’s a lot of focus on social media marketing and in companies that are helping businesses. But I think, you know, we..we had something different at the time – that probably helped. So yes there was a lot of buzz around consumer applications on Facebook…we’d taken a different tact..and so that, I think helped us to get interest and..and publicity in what we were doing.

Andrew: Where’d the initial money come from? The money that went to the Estonian developers…

Interviewee: Yeah..

Andrew: and that you used to live on…

Interviewee: [unclear]..combination of I was..I was in school, so I had student loans that [laughs] helped me to live. We had some personal savings and then we took a..actually took a..a bit of a loan from family as well. So it was a combination of scraping together money and then just keeping it very very lean. So if you’re gonna bootstrap a company, be willing to live really really inexpensively and be willing to just do everything yourselves. So..we didn’t go out and hire this person or that person..we just did everything ourselves and lived very inexpensively and that was enough money to get us through…so we operated for about a year on just personal funds until we were very fortunate to win the fbFund and that provided us with a grant..it was a two hundred fifty thousand dollar grant from the fbFund. So that was huge and obviously at that point it was much easier to operate, although we still had to be very lean because we..we used that to get the entire product up and running.

Andrew: What other…what are some things that you did back in the early days that you may not do yourself now?

Interviewee: I mean it..it was everything..so we did a lot of the..my co-founder Alain did a lot of the design work..we did all of the customer support of course..we did all of the looking for, you know, email addresses and reaching out to potential customers and all of that kind of data research sort of stuff or contact research. What else?..I mean everything. I think, aside from hiring two developers, everything else was..was done by us.

Andrew: The previous company was an instructional adventure travel company? How did that do?

Interviewee: [unclear]..it’s actually still running..it’s..I’d say..it’s a profitable medium sized company. So we managed to grow it to..I think we got [unclear] in eighteen different countries..so it certainly doesn’t have and never had the scalability potential that we’ve got with Wildfire. But it was, you know, a really successful adventure travel company that we managed to grow out to a number of different [unclear] and we learnt an awful lot through that because that..we never had any financing through that..it was completely bootstrapped and it’s a very labor intensive kind of a business. So it was a great..a great company for us to cut our teeth on and as I said before, actually it was that company that introduced us to this idea of producing software and we’re enjoying that process.

Andrew: Who’s [unclear]…

Interviewee: And you know..sorry you’re saying?

Andrew: [unclear]…you go ahead..

Interviewee: I was just gonna say..I mean Access Trips was a..a similar sort of start to what I described with Wildfire in that Alain and I both were working in investment banking in New York and got fed up with all that, decided that wasn’t the career we wanted..and so really just decided, you know, let’s take a..take a year off to take stock of what we want to do..let’s create this – Alain is a professional snowboarder or was a professional snowboarder – let’s create a snowboarding trip in New Zealand, we’ll build it up for a year..put someone in to manage it and then we’ll go back and get a real job or go to school or whatever. So again..

Interviewee: And then what happened is we run our first trip, and people loved it [inaudible]. They asked: could you create another trip [inaudible]. And so it really then grew and took on a life of its own. It didn’t feel risky to start it because at the time we didn’t start it thinking OK, we’re gonna be in eighteen different countries and it’s going to be this global network. We said let’s just try this out and see what happens. And Wildfire, like I said, started out that way as well. It was let’s create this sweepstakes application and see what happens.

So certainly, you know, to the extent that you can sort of prototype your concept or your idea. It’s a great way to be out to, I guess validate a market without taking a mess at risk and without needing to put tons and tons of money into something.

Andrew: Who is running it now?

Interviewee: We actually have a manager in place that is running Excess Trip.

Andrew: Full time person who runs a business?

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: And it still produces profit?

Interviewee: Yes it does. So it’s been obviously a tough year or so for the travel industry. I guess the macroeconomic conditions couldn’t really be worse for the travel industry, or frankly most businesses.

We have a good customer base. We’ve build actually a really good, solid group space, so we run a lot of group trips through universities. So, that’s been very consistent, and yes, the business is continuing to be profitable.

Andrew: What size profits?

Interviewee: This is private information. It’s enough that we’ve been able to do well from it. We won’t be going out looking for VC (venture capital) investors.

Andrew: OK. Was it paying the bills when you were starting out the business, when you were starting out Wildfire?

Interviewee: It was helping, yes. It was actually helping. That time we brought on a manager which certainly added more cost than the business had previously had, but yeah, it was certainly helping. In addition to covering all those costs it was helping to cover other costs as well.

Andrew: You mention that you went to Harvard Business School, that you had student loans. You had a job before that on Wall Street. With all those loans and with that experience on Wall Street, knowing that you could go out and get a safe job that pays really well, how do you then take a leap into entrepreneurship? Why do you take that leap?

Interviewee: So, I went into business school having, you know, had my own business. I went in with an open mind thinking, you know, I won’t necessarily stay into entrepreneurship. Let me see what else is out there. The first round of company interviews came in the fall of the first year, and people were putting on their suits. I don’t even own a suit for starters. Still don’t. It just didn’t feel right, that sort of feeling in my chest that this doesn’t feel quite right. And so part of it was just that I wasn’t excited. I was excited, I kept thinking about business ideas and I think at that point I was already working on a new idea. It wasn’t Wildfire, it was something else. So it was partly about that it just didn’t feel right. But the other way that I was looking onto entrepreneurship is: what have i really got to lose? What is the worst that can happen. I guess the worst that can happen is that you can come away with nothing financially, but in any business that I have been involved with what I’ve come away with, in terms of learning and context that I’ve made, is just enormously powerful. And the great thing here, in the US I’d say, is that people are very open to the idea of entrepreneurship, and frankly even open to the idea of failure. I think if you build a company and it doesn’t work out it’s not necessarily a black market. It’s sort of: wow, look at that person, they’ve really tried hard and they took a risk. It has always felt to me like that the worst that can happen is that — So when I, you know, when I graduated I should be asked to go and do this business. The worst that can happen is that

it didn’t work out. Maybe I have to go and get a job and maybe I’m a year behind

my colleagues relative to where they are in their careers. So what, the potential awards are so high and as it’s turned out I think the people we’ve met through this entrepreneurial process would enable me to get much more interesting jobs than I could have got just being another student at business school. Also my family background — I grew up on a farm in New Zealand, so I’ve already, probably, exceeded the expectations of my family. It also feels like, you know, what have I got to lose there as well. That’s the way I look at it.

Andrew: Where does your motivation come from?

Andrew: So where does your motivation come from?

Interviewee: So it’s you know, the motivation around this business or just in general?

Andrew: To do anything – you didn’t have a burning desire to build this business, it just happened, but you did have a burning desire to do something new – to go be an entrepreneur, to own your life, to have this possibility, to have that upside, where did it come from?

Interviewee: I definitely always had that kind of desire too really do things differently and take risks. You know, honestly I think it came from two parents that always led me to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do and that I should never settle for anything. So I think it started there and then you push yourself ad do well and they encourage you to push yourself more and then you start setting high expectations for yourself. At that point, you just want to keep pushing yourself. And my co-founder is a very , very determined person. His case came from sports for him. He was a professional snow boarder – so that kind of drive to succeed was really sparked through his sports experience, but I guess it’s sort of something that’s in you?

Andrew: Did you always have it in you? Were you as a kid, thinking of business?

Interviewee: No, I loved those stories, right? Like I had a lemonade stand when I was 11. No, I really didn’t even know (it might sound silly) that entrepreneurial ship was a career option. And that’s one of the things I got out of my investment banking experience. I caught a little piece of the dotcom boom and saw the bust and it should have discouraged me, but the boom part encouraged me because I was in this meeting group and we saw all these young entrepreneurs stopping to do pitches. At that time investment banks were investing in 2-team start ups. But I saw that these were just regular people that had ideas and they just took the risks and did it. Again, it might sound silly, but I didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs so I thought entrepreneurial ship was something that got passed down through families – family business or something like that. I think, if you grew up in Silicon Valley, obviously you’re going to realize that there is something you could do, but where I grew up in New Zealand, it was not a career choice you talked about. But though, as it turns out, my father is a farmer, that’s an entrepreneurial career I guess but it was not something that I thought I would do – I was inspired after seeing others do it.

Andrew: Oh, going back to something that I brought up at the beginning of the interview about fan base. How do businesses get a fan base? How do we grow our fan bases?

Interviewee: Right so, one thing and I think you mentioned it before. It’s through “if it” – one of the biggest mistakes that we see companies doing is, I think, is just thinking that they can do some biggie right from the start. So we see some bigger companies who want to invest in this flashy application that’s gonna this and it’s a game – often times it frankly doesn’t work. It doesn’t resonate with people as much as they would have hoped for and even if it does, you gotta continually engage your fan base. So I think where we’ve seen companies be more successful is where they draw on a regular schedule – they are dishing out content and reasons to engage on their fane page. So whether – we’ve seen businesses do small things like Tuesday giveaways – so therefore those fans are encouraged to come back to that fan page every Tuesday. They are encouraged to look out for the updates. Companies that do things around seasonal events like Valentines or Easter or whatever it may be, continual engagement. It doesn’t just have to be promotions obviously. I see a lot of that but you know, engaging your fan base with questions or little polls are also important as well. So continued engagement is very important and companies need to realize that if they are going to have twitter followers or Facebook fans (Facebook now calls it people who “like” you). And then in addition to that, I think, you have to be pragmatic as to why people become fans. I know Razor Fish came out with an interesting study as to why people become fans or follow a company. And the overwhelming and biggest number of people said because they want to have access to exclusive deals and offers and things like that. So you might like to think that people fan your company just because they love you and if you’re in a really cool brand, that may happen, but I think you got to realize that offering promotions and those sort of things that are a piece of your strategy – should not be everything.

Interviewee: …biggest number of people said because they want to get access to exclusive deals and offers and things like that. So you might like to think that people fan you just because they love you and if you’re a really cool brand that might happen, but I think you’ve also got to realize that offering promotions and those sort of things are an important piece of your strategy. It shouldn’t be everything. So that’s certainly important and obviously, that’s part of what Wildfire does.

So, what else have we seen? So you know, just getting started, getting that initial fan base I think really leveraged the audience that you’ve already got. So obviously if you’ve got a newsletter base, you should be really encouraging that newsletter base to fan or follow you. If you’ve got traffic on your website, then absolutely utilize that traffic.

So whether it’s just putting the Facebook button on your website, or our solution actually enables so you can run a, let’s say it’s a contest or a sweepstakes or a coupon, you can run it on your fan page, but also on your website. And we provide a widget solution where you can easily put it right on the homepage of your website.

So if you’ve got a bunch of traffic coming to your website, what a great way to encourage those people to become fans as opposed to trying to drive people to your fan page where’ve you’ve no audience if you’re just starting out.

And then also of course, just reach out to your friends. I know when we started, we reached out to all of our friends and said hey, we’re launching this fan page, could you please post this as your status update to try to get others to fan you as well.

If you’re gonna do some advertising, which I think if you’ve got a budget then you should do that as well. One thing I’d say is if you’re using Facebook ads, there’s this feature, we can advertise to the friends of fans. And I’ve heard from Facebook directly that that form of advertising is 70% or more effective than just advertising to anybody. So really leverage that connection because what happens if you advertise to friends of fans, is that then when the friend see the ad on Facebook, it’ll show that someone they know is already a fan of that page. So if you’re using advertising that’s absolutely the way you should be using it.

And then the other thing I think is the news feed is really important, that’s how you continue to engage people. And I think what a lot of fan page owners don’t realize is that the news feed doesn’t automatically get sent by all of your fans. There’s an algorithm there about how engaging is that news feed, how many people actually engaged with it, then that’ll determine how many people see it, how long it stays in the news feed. So you’ve actually got to be thoughtful of that, how you get people to like your feed story that you send out, how you get them to comment about it.

One great piece of advice that I’ve seen and that works extremely well is just ask them to like it. So for example, if you’re announcing a new product feature, you could send out a status update and say hey, we’ve got this new product feature; click here to learn more. Or, you could say hey, we’ve got this new product feature, if you like this, click the like button. Or, if you want to see more features like this, click the like button. And when we do this we see about three times more people engaging with it than if you don’t do it. Simple thing, but it will help to make sure your post will be seen by more people.

Those are I guess that come to mind a few of the things that companies have done really well to continually build up and engage their fan base and their followers.

Andrew: Those are great. I got one question coming in from the audience. Mose has asked this question now twice, so let me come back to something we talked…actually, we didn’t even get to this. I’ll just ask this question. He’s saying that he signed up and he got an email from you directly instead of welcome at Wildfire, or from someone else. Why do you do that? How effective is it?

Interviewee: Very effective. When someone signs up, so a little secret is it didn’t personally come from me. I didn’t draft it and send it out. I drafted it initially, but then it does get automatically sent out to our new clients. There’s a — don’t know if Mose received it yet — but there’s some other emails he’ll receive along the way if we don’t hear from him or… But you know, we’ve written that kind of welcome email in a very personal way instead of making it seem like it’s come from the Wildfire team and not giving it a personality.

We’ve made it come from me and I wrote it myself and it’s in my voice. And frankly, a lot of people often reply to it and say thanks so much Victoria, it’s great to hear from you. And so I’d say…

Interviewee: So I’d say that’s a highly effective way of engaging with people…

Andrew: How do you know? How do you know that it’s effective?

Interviewee: Well, first of all because we get so many people responding to it. So people read it, and liked it, and I guess were moved enough to actually respond. We’ll get people who respond and say sorry I haven’t used the product yet, but I’m going to soon…or, plus we’re able to measure with those emails. How many actually subsequently click on the link and create a campaign or log back into their account. So we can measure the success of those emails as well.

Andrew: I saw that from you and I thought wow, she probably just saw that I signed up. She knows that she’s about to come on to Mixergy. Great, she sent me an email. Then afterwards when I looked at it more carefully just to be sure I realized it wasn’t. I liked it. I still liked it. I didn’t feel cheated by it. I just thought it was a nice touch.

Interviewee: Okay, good. Yeah, I mean the intention is not to trick anyone, it’s just this is an automatic email written by me welcoming you to using our product.

Andrew: It does feel like a much better contact than as you say the Wildfire Team or from some faceless person at the company. It’s the founder, the person you see on the website, perfect.

Interviewee: Yeah, you know, and when the company started, it was me that you’re dealing with if you called up or emailed or did anything, it was me. And we did those emails, I mean, we were just a team of two plus a couple of developers. And now if you reach the company you might talk to me or you might talk to Myah, or Shannon, or Christian or any of the other people. But really, it was genuine that I was the person that was supporting you when you first signed up, so.

Andrew: Looks like Mose is gonna do the same thing on his website, have an email go directly from him.

Interviewee: All right, cool, good.

Andrew: Great. What’s a good place, what’s a good way for people to connect with you?

Interviewee: So, they can reach out to me…like my contact information or?

Andrew: You know, how about a…do you have your name on Facebook? Do they go to Facebook.com/VictoriaRansom?

Interviewee: Yes, or you can find me on Twitter, it’s Victoria_Ransom or there’s LinkedIn.

Andrew: You got an underscore?

Interviewee: Yeah.

Andrew: Wow. Did somebody else get Victoria Ransom?

Interviewee: I guess they must’ve, I’m trying to think. But yeah, that must be why it did it.

Andrew: Add Victoria Ransom. Give it back to the rightful owner, to this Victoria Ransom. Sorry. And how about the website?

Interviewee: So you can contact us, there’s…we have live chat on the product so you can contact anyone that way. You can reach anyone at info@wildfireapp.com, and if you need to reach me, I’m at victoria@wildfireapp.com.

Andrew: Great. Thanks for doing the interview. Guys, thanks for watching.

Interviewee: Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks.

Interviewee: It was a pleasure to meet you. Bye-bye.

Andrew: It’s great to meet you too. Thanks guys, looking forward to your comments. Bye.

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[Alain Chuard, thanks for introducing me to Victoria!]

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.