I am Ovi Negrean, co-founder and CEO at SocialBee, a company where we help businesses get more leads with less effort. SocialBee is a social media management platform that helps coaches, entrepreneurs and small businesses schedule their social media posts across all of their social networks in a time-saving way.
The company has been around for more than five years now, a period in which we've, more or less, doubled our growth each year since we started. Now, of course, it's easier to get 2X growth when you are just starting, but we've managed to keep doubling throughout these five years, and we hope that we will be able to keep growing at a similar pace in the next few years as well.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I had the entrepreneurial spirit while growing up, even though I didn't have any entrepreneurs in my family or immediate friends, so I am not sure where I got that from. Throughout high school and university, I was always building products, software especially, and then I was trying to sell them. I had a few products that I managed to find customers for, but they were not good enough to turn into an extremely profitable business.
Looking at my professional background, I worked for various companies, both small and big corporations like Sony or McKinsey, where I learned how to create great products and how to run big teams in a healthy working environment. This working experience has determined Vlad (my current co-founder) & myself to launch our first start-up, Nugget, an app that brought quotes from business and personal development books.
In the process of building Nugget, we developed internal tools and processes to grow our audience on social media, which led to an increase in the number of app downloads. People started asking us “What’s our secret?” for such growth, so we saw an opportunity there, and we decided to start SocialBee, our current company, and help people with social media management.
The reason I was able to quit my corporate job and really focus on Nugget, the SocialBee, was because throughout my corporate years I managed to save some money that I used in launching and supporting the company.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
The first version of SocialBee was a very “hacked" version, a duct-taped solution of Google Sheets integration with Zapier. Our Google Sheets had very complex formulas that were always on the verge of breaking, but even though it was a rudimentary solution we did manage to get customers.
Whenever we got a new customer we had to manually set things up for them or if they wanted to make some specific changes they had to email us. There was some friction with that, however, our customers showed us there is a real need for proper social media management.
Seeing a real demand from our customers, we started working more and more on SocialBee, taking the very rudimentary version of our tool to what it is right now: a powerful social media management tool competing with companies like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, or MeetEdgar.
We ditched Google Sheets or any other intermediary solution we were using to get the posting going, all of this in five years - an amount of time during which we took our customers’ feedback as serious as we could, we aimed to bring the latest, best features in our app and lastly, to #BeeBetter as humans and professionals.
As a learned lesson and by looking back at our first business, Nugget, the main obstacle with it was that even though we did validate it to some extent through a very simple MVP, that was a Slideshare with quotes from one particular book. That business turned out to be hard to monetize because it was more of a “vitamin” (nice-to-have) than a “painkiller” (much-needed).
Build a business that operates like a “painkiller” people are willing to pay for.
When it comes to building smart solutions based on our customers’ needs, we also launched SocialBee Concierge, once our tool was already in a steady position. Once we got more and more users for our platform, lots of them were asking us if we’re not able to create and share the content for them. This is how we launched our first Concierge service, the Social Media Specialist. From there on, we went ahead and launched more services for article writing, guide creation, copywriting, graphic design, community management, and ads.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are mostly a bootstrapped company. We did have one small investment that we got in our first year, but since then we relied on our customers to keep paying the bills and to keep growing. In terms of profitability, it depends, and let me give you an example of that.
We recently just launched a new product and a brand called ACE. It all started once we realized our current SocialBee audience has lots of needs in terms of affordable tools to help them grow their businesses. Hence, we decided to launch ACE, which will be a suite of products to help our customers scale their SMBs.
The first new product within the ACE brand is ACE Meetings, which is a Calendly-like solution, customized for what we knew our audience needed. We funded this new venture with revenue from SocialBee, which allowed us to hire a stand-alone team that works beside SocialBee on this new project.
Today we are a team of about 20 core people both on the SocialBee part and on ACE’s part, and we work with about 60 freelancers on SocialBee Concierge, our range of digital services.
The plans are, as of now, to keep working on ACE Meetings. Hence, in the long term, we want to have this integrated suite of products (ACE) that will be able to compete with bigger players, in a very well-integrated way, and at a fair price.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As mentioned, trying to sell a “painkiller” and not a “vitamin”, has been the first lesson and most important lesson I’ve learned. One thing we did well with SocialBee was that we didn’t start by building the product, but rather use a model called “Sell, Service, Scale”.
You first sell the results, then you serve the customer and deliver what you promised, and lastly, you scale. This model will help you build a product that’s needed, get feedback, and hopefully, you’ll even get paying customers to support your growth.
Even if you start on the “wrong” path, just by being on that path and keeping your eyes open to new paths, you increase your chances of getting to the place where you want to end up being.
Another thing that we learned, especially with SocialBee, is that since posting on all major platforms depends on the API of those networks, we are always “building on “somebody else’s land” to say so. We saw it the hard way when the whole Cambridge Analytica Scandal broke and a lot of the tool providers like ours had their API access removed. This taught us how important it is to be a reliable partner, to earn the trust of those allies and (in our case) to not allow spammy behaviors happening through our app.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I would say the number one tool that we use for SocialBee is Zapier. As I said, SocialBee was built initially on Zapier, but now we’re using Zapier internally for all sorts of integrations on the Concierge part, making sure the whole freelancing team has the right organizational structure and procedures. We’re also using Zapier for our marketing and sales to automate lots of repetitive tasks.
Another tool we’re using is MeetGeek.ai, a great tool for recording meetings, getting transcripts, taking notes, and sharing it all whenever someone can’t join a meeting. We’re also using Slack, Ahrefs, Pipedrive, and many more.
Other than that, SocialBee and ACE Meetings are on my list of favorite tools we use, and hopefully, in a few years, we’ll be able to replace lots of external tools we’re using with our internal tools.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One book that I liked a lot is “The E Myth Revisited”, a book written by Michael E. Gerber. What the book is teaching its readers is to create a business as a franchise or create it as if you’d want it to sell it (even though you might never sell it). One way to do that is by having SOPs (standard operating procedures) and processes so that the business does not depend on you or any specific person, but rather on internal knowledge that can be transferred.
Another book that I would recommend is “The Brain Audit: Why Customers Buy (And Why They Don't)” by Sean D'Souza, an amazing book that helps you put yourself in the shoes of your audience and understand what are the mental processes they go through when buying your product or services.
When it comes to podcasts, what I’ve been enjoying nowadays is the “All-In” podcast, a series for entrepreneurs or investors that touches upon entrepreneurship, general politics, or events that are important throughout the world nowadays.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I prefer giving classic advice, as it’s usually underrated. Hence, my first piece of advice is “Just start!”. SocialBee is now a successful and growing business, but we wouldn’t have gotten to it without working on Nugget.
Without having started and without going “out there”, getting our hands dirty, and understanding the problems people had, we wouldn’t have gotten to start SocialBee.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always growing our team on the product side, but also for operations and marketing. Anyone looking to apply for a job at SocialBee can go to our jobs page: socialbee.io/jobs to see the openings we have available right now.
Or, if there’s an opportunity for collaboration, one way or another, sending an email is always appreciated. You can email us at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
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