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Avangate Acquires 2Checkout to Expand Payment Flexibility and Broaden Market Reach

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Combined company will bring a unique combination of eCommerce and subscription management solutions to market through various payment models across the globe.
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Avangate Acquires 2Checkout

Interviewing Software & IT Leaders

"SaaS, in theory, gives you this option of constantly adding to the bottom line and creating recurrent revenue streams. The SaaS distribution model is great", Vladimir Oane, uberVU.

vladimir Oane
Vladimir Oane
Chief Product Officer
and co-founder
uberVU

Vladimir Oane is Chief Product Officer and co-founder of uberVU (read uberVIEW), a hot start-up in the social media monitoring space. For 3 years before becoming CPO, Vladimir was also the CEO of the company. He is a serial entrepreneur who likes to get involved with early stage startups, as proven by his advisory role in many international startups and by his numerous startup conference speaking engagements.

Michael Ni: Congratulations first of all on uberVU. It's only a success story and I'm sure more exciting things are coming from you and your team in the future. Just a kick-off, would love for you to give a one-minute introduction to yourself, uberVU, to those who are listening.

Vladimir Oane: Thanks for having me. uberVU is a marketing social media platform. We help companies understand what's going on in the social media space - that means monitoring analytics and of course, engagement with their fans, their customers, or people who are having issues with their products all over the web - on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and of course other platforms. So we're mostly used by medium and big companies, we have clients like PayPal, World Bank, NBC etc. But we also work closely with agencies and distribution partners like Nielsen to get as many medium and big companies all over the world. About myself, this is probably the most important company that I've started. I had other projects in the past, but this is the first international Software as a Service company, and yes, I think we're in the early days and the best is yet to come.

MNI: Cool! I know one of the things I love about my job is that we literally get to work with thousands of companies like yourself and just hearing some of the great stuff you guys are working on. That said, we are talking about SaaS and I know a lot of the questions that we're getting these days is around the model, the delivery approach and just the impact it has. I'd like to start the session with a very brief question for you guys: Why did you go to the SaaS delivery model? What was most attractive about it? Was it around operations, the finance, the customers? What was it that was most attractive to you guys?

SaaS, in theory, gives you this option of constantly adding to the bottom line and creating recurrent revenue streams.
[…]
The [SaaS] distribution model is great.

VO: We liked Saas from the first day because SaaS allows you to make money while you sleep. It's just awesome! You go to bed one day, wake up the next morning, and you have more money into your bank account. That was awesome to me. I come from an agency background, we used to do work for clients that meant every month we had to go prospecting and close sales. You kind of need to start over again every month and for me that was brain wracking. I wanted something that you can build on top of, and SaaS, in theory, gives you this option of constantly adding to the bottom line and creating recurrent revenue streams. So that was very cool. Another thing, I think SaaS constrains you to always innovate and always refine the product, make it better with each new iteration. The distribution model is great. I don't have any experience in selling software like downloads, digital downloads, CDs or DVDs. So, for me, this was easier or as good as any other delivery method out there. So that's why we decided to start with SaaS.

SaaS obliges you to always innovate and always refine the product.

But another thing, for a company doing what we're doing, SaaS makes a lot of sense because we're dealing with data aggregation, large amounts of data. We're aggregating tens of millions of mentions per day, we're running databases in terabytes, and these are recurring costs. Our software is just an interface, but you need the access to the data and you need to aggregate all the data and provide customers with all these insights. Our engines are getting new data every second and are doing all the cool things that we're doing, so subscriptions make a lot of sense in a business like ours. It's not like you're selling some sort of drawing app on Windows where you use it to draw some pixels and that's it. Our software works while you sleep and marketers come to work each morning, they open uberVU and boom! They have all their mentions, their analytics, all their activity and reports, and that's why SaaS works for us.

MNI: Very cool. I think some of our drawing program customers may have a couple of things to say about that, but I certainly hear that a lot as well. Which is, when you look at the data aggregation and really needing to deliver as a cloud service, when you plug into that insight, it absolutely makes sense from an operational model as well. Just moving on to a little bit different question, what do you see has really changed in your market, compared to 2008 when uberVU first started. Is it around customer expectations, ability to provide customer service at the right level, distribution? Just want to see how you viewed the change in your corner of the world.

To be able to move to more predictable and often lower cost [applications] with a subscription license and without all the pain and the headache of having to deal with the infrastructure and the upgrade cycles, that was an eye-opener for a lot of organizations.

VO: When we started, there was almost no market. I'm not saying that just to be perceived as innovators or something like that, but there were very few clients for the stuff that we were doing. And as social media gained the respect of the marketers, as Twitter grew to the size that it is right now, and Facebook and some of these other social networks, agencies started to pay attention to social media and make it part of their portfolio. Probably the first clients of our tools were agencies and not just our tools, all the social media management tools were [used by] agencies. And as we progressed in 2010 and 2011 and today, we noticed that more and more companies are moving the social media management and analytics back in-house. While the PR use case, PR crisis use case, is still something that PR agencies are doing, businesses started to find new use cases like customer support, or marketing outreach, or all these new use cases that made our tool and tools like ours very interesting for medium and big businesses, wanting to use social media in the marketing department, or the customer support department, or even the sales department. So we started with almost no market, then agencies became the early adopters, and now we see more and more direct customers starting to use and make use of social media. So I think that's the trend that we are seeing from a customer point of view.

As social media gained the respect of the marketers, agencies started to pay attention to social media and make it part of their portfolio. […] agencies became the early adopters, and now we see more and more direct customers starting to use and make use of social media […] and find new use cases like customer support, or marketing outreach.

And of course there were other things that happened in these three and a half years of our existence. In the early days, when we started in 2008 and 2009, blogs were the social networks of choice. Facebook was still more of a "hippie" thing, people were not so much into Facebook, Twitter was an anomaly, but there was a lot of diversity, so we had Digg and Delicious, there were like 20-30 equally important social networks. Today you could say Twitter and Facebook, are the most important social networks, the other ones are nice-to-have's. But we are now in a point in time where out of the 30+ social networks out there you have two that lead, pretty much, the space. So that changed the dynamics of the game a lot because all of a sudden you had to deal with massive data, you have to do partnerships with these players and things like that. So, a lot's changed, but the good thing about uberVU is that in the early days had great engineers and pretty stupid business and product people. So, we were pretty tech oriented in the early days. We had to change a lot and adapt our technology and our go to market strategy, so we changed and that's how we survived and that's why we're thriving now.

MNI: Well, no doubt SaaS helped you guys be also pretty quick to just roll out changes to your customers. Since 2008 we've seen a very large shift toward SaaS and I'm wondering, in fact, 8 out of 10 was a number I've just heard from an IDC analyst, of new start-ups are SaaS based. That question raises a question in my mind. For competitors of yours, do you see a big difference between those who are SaaS based versus non SaaS based?

VO: All our competitors are SaaS based. It's funny now because you have a lot of the typical enterprise companies like Oracle, or SAP, or IBM, who are starting to be interested in social media and are starting to acquire or develop in-house social media programs, but they as a whole are not really SaaS. I'm curious to see what will change once the big players that are not yet SaaS will join the fight. But so far I would say all - 100% of our competitors are SaaS based and I don't see how we can do it any other way. But again, never say never, who knows. Maybe Oracle will come up with a server that does everything and they will sell you a box. Who knows?

MNI: Who knows, like you said. I think as the use cases expand, there may be more use cases for some level of privacy or some type of hybrid cloud of some sort. But, to your point, I think your industry is going to be driven by the SaaS side. That's said, there definitely seems to be more than a couple of similarities between what you guys are and Avangate actually. One that strikes me is our focus on bringing together a whole solution for our target audience; our target customers, I should say - an integrated platform. I think we both see it as a differentiator, as you bring in together many components for the different people in the company. Now, tell me more about this. What benefits does sort of the total solution bring to your customers? And how you view that as a competitive differentiator?

We […] make everything available in just one interface, one dashboard […] we see that as a major differentiator.

VO: Well, we see that as a major differentiator. If you look at most of our competitors, they have multiple products to give you the complete solution. And for us, that solution means uberVU. We like to make a comparison between the Mac OS operating system and Windows. There is just one Mac OS and there are ten flavors of Windows. So, we want to make everything available in just one interface, one dashboard, "to rule them all" if I can quote Lord of the Rings. I think this is very important because social media is something that's in flow, so you may look at some metrics in a panel, then click on the most intriguing of them and dive into mentions from Twitter and then you might assign a task to one of your colleagues and that guy might decide to reply to someone on Twitter and you want to track that and make that number back into your analytics. And this type of workflow and social media flow and management flow, it's very hard to do if you have 5 products. So it's very hard to achieve this if you have a product for engagement, another one for analytics, and another one for monitoring. I don't think this works and it certainly doesn't scale if your marketing team is bigger than three people. So this is something that I think is very important, as social media becomes important in these marketing departments and we're very happy that we've built it this way from day one and this is how we will continue to evolve our tool.

MNI: And first of all, "one ring" and other Tolkien-like references are always good, but that said, when we look at the sort of the one solution or the total solution, part of it is that people are, like you said, tying together a lot of data and making even their older transactional systems more effective by layering this on top. Do you see this as more of a performance management system, reflective of some level of consolidation going on in your industry?

VO: Some analysts may say that consolidation started. If you look at the acquisitions that are happening this year and I think there are more to come, clearly there is something there. I'm a product guy more than a business guy and for me it's very hard to see how consolidation will happen at a product level. So far I see a lot of companies being bought and nothing more than switching management and having other elements, more owners, etc.

From a product point of view, I don't think there is this integration happening. People are still using five different tools for five different things, and if you have a consistent social media marketing strategy, then you can't do it with five tools. It's impossible. That's why I'm always in touch with our customers and we care about our customers more than the market or the trends and what the analysts are saying. So from our customers, having access to a tool that does all these pieces is very, very important.

MNI: Well yes, and it is clear. I mean if you go on your site, the way you guys pull together the pieces and the synergies between the sites - you have to think of that. And you are clearly ahead in that area. One thing that does come up a lot though, for us as well, I would assume, is the question of integration. How do you guys handle the SaaS integration to maybe more on-premise pieces, as you get into some of the social media workflow?

VO: It's something that we haven't done so far and it's something that we're interested in and we're looking at some integrations. It's pretty early to say how we will do it, it depends a lot on the dynamic of the market. We see some clear use cases in social media, CRM being one of them, customer support being one of them, marketing being one of them, just pure trend analysis being one of them. So, it really depends on what the major player in each of these market segments will do and then we will decide. So far we're just looking at the market and focusing on improving our product rather than integrating uberVU with other players. But it's something that will probably happen early next year.

MNI: Perfect. And, you know, switching a little bit from the product, pricing has been a question that comes up a lot when I speak with SaaS players and especially to those who are transitioning to SaaS, how do you actually balance out price? You split your packages by users, streams, mentions. What was driving your decision on pricing? How did you frame up the thinking around how you priced your product?

There is no science that we used [for pricing], it was just trial and error and trying to figure out who the customers are […] once you have that ideal customer profile, the rest will follow in terms of pricing and features.

VO: It evolved. We had no idea how to do it in the early days, and I remember we started with a freemium approach. That didn't quite work out. Then we switched to a trial-based premium approach, that worked so and so. And now we are premium only, SaaS model, you have to have a subscription to use the product. We do offer free trials, but it's not something that you can get just by clicking on a button from the website. And we changed pricing, we changed everything, and we experimented with ten or so combinations, maybe more, for two years, and we decided to use what worked best. So I don't think I have the right answer, there is no science that we used, it was just trial and error and trying to figure out who the customers are, what are the key things that they are interested in, and once you have that ideal customer profile, the rest will follow in terms of pricing and features.

In SaaS, NEVER penalize your early adopters. Grandfather in all your early adopters and this will help you. […] It's a matter of respecting your early adopters.

Are we there yet? Do we think this is the perfect pricing? No, I think it will probably change in the next year or so. It's constantly evolving based on the findings that we get access to every month. But one thing that we did, and this is something that I encourage all the people who start SaaS, is never to penalize your early adopters. So whenever you change pricing, which in our case meant we increased prices, we started with a $29 subscription and two years after [that] you can't get access to it unless you pay $499 a month. So clearly it was a 20 fold increase which happened over two-plus years. But we never went back to the early customers and say "Hey, you're paying $29, now you should pay $500". So we always grandfathered in all our customers and this will help you. And I think it's a matter of respecting your early adopters and not penalizing them because you had no idea what you're doing.

MNI: : I've certainly heard that lesson learned and learned the hard way with many companies as well, that you certainly want to grandfather. The gain you get is not nearly the rewards you have for grandfathering your early adopters who really helped make your company.

But it sounds like two things I hear from you: one is, how did you sell it in terms of creating the early adopters, in terms of getting early monetization, and to a certain extent, what I hear you implying is that the freemium and the trial-based approach could be interesting but given the early adopter nature of this, actually having a premium type solution that you sold to the early adopters was the more appropriate approach, with some type of trial that allowed people to use it knowing that there was more of a direct, more of a sale that had to happen here.

And then the second thing I heard you say was the price point itself. There was a little bit of trial and error, what would the market bear, and then you moved to a premium level of pricing as you got more and more into the enterprise side, and to enterprises who, now you're dealing directly with marketing budgets, who were able to bring these to the marketing [department]. And would that sum it up a little bit?

VO: Yes, and if you want to go into details with any of these [examples], if you want to talk freemium, I can gladly do it, but you summed it up perfectly.

MNI: Well, it sounds like, people have to try. You have to see who your real customers are as markets evolve, because they're changing very quickly. So try trial.

Freemium is a very cool concept […] but you need to really master the product experience and hit a chord with big, massive users.

VO: Yes, when we started we had no idea who the customers are. I remember [an] early business plan and customers were anyone from a blogger to a CMO of Coca-Cola. We didn't have any clear ideas about our customer. But of course as we evolved and as we [had] new experience and started to engage with our customers and potential users, things were pretty obvious. And freemium is a very cool concept and idea if you can pull it off. I don't think there is anything wrong with freemium but you need to really master the product experience and you really need to hit a chord with big, massive users.

It was very important for us to realize that our customers are enterprise users and they are the ones who really appreciate the complex stuff that we show in their dashboards.

And in the early days, uberVU wasn't that useful for junior guys who had a blog and had no idea about social media and it was a fairly complicated product, and still is, it has a lot of options, it's not Facebook where you post a picture and people are commenting and that's it. Not that Facebook is easier now, but you know what I'm saying. It wasn't consumerish in the approach. And I think that's very important for freemium to work. We may give freemium another go sometime in the future, but it was very important for us to realize that our customers are enterprise users and they are the ones who really appreciate the complex stuff that we show in their dashboards, and they're the ones who are really impressed by reliability and similar things.

MNI: And I think some of it comes back to how do you monetize? With freemium, it gets back to can you get to the level of usage to get the add-on and move to a level of premium package and maybe it's more a broader base in terms of number of people.

With freemium you just have to draw the funnel on a napkin, and go with the 1% rule, that is you convert 1% from the user base. In our case, we'd have to reach millions and millions of free users for the whole thing to work.

VO: And it's easy, you just have to draw the funnel on a napkin, and if you go with the 1% rule, that is you convert 1% from the user base, and in our case we had to reach millions and millions of free users for the whole thing to work and the reality was in 2009 or 2010 there weren't millions and millions of users of an enterprise social media dashboard or platform. It's not something that millions of people in the world needed.

MNI:And I think that's a great lesson for anyone listening around that. That said, are you actually considering going to a postpaid model as the business models adapt, and what would be the drivers to move to a usage-based model?

VO: We haven't considered that, so I can't really comment on that right now.

MNI: Cool. I see you selling direct, I also notice that you use agencies as well, to a certain extent, to resell your solution. How important is the channel in this case, the agencies, as a reselling agent, or do you use other resellers to get you to market as well?

Agencies transform from being someone that you call whenever there's a PR crisis to being someone that you reach out to help you refine and offer some value on top of the data that you're collecting through a platform.

VO: Agencies are very important for us because they are the early adopters of social media tools. But of course, they evolve as well. All agencies wanted in the early days was reports. Their customers were asking, "What's going on in social media? I'm watching NBC and they said something on Twitter, what's this Twitter thing, are you taking care of it?" And they needed to provide some sort of reporting so that their customers felt safe about their expertise. But that evolved in some time and now I think a lot of agencies provide their clients access to the tool so their clients actually log in into a dashboard that's powered by uberVU and they can look over metrics themselves and engage with their followers and interacting with their customers on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

So the agencies transform from being someone that you call whenever there's a PR crisis going on to being someone that you reach out to help you refine and offer some value on top of the data that you're collecting through a platform. And I think, like most of their clients, who are doing social media through an agency, expect that the agency has some sort of a software solution in place and they want access to that. So I think we were one of the early social media companies out there who went to agencies and said we can help you with that, we can set up a co-branded solution, you can still retain control of the platform in a way, and you can interact with your customer from this single platform. That meant that they had branding, custom URLs , but it also meant that their users were part of some groups that they have access to so they can engage and interact and work together with their customers to achieve their objectives.

We want to focus our time, energy, efforts, money, everything into building better products, better tools and not to dilute ourselves into services […] We see agencies as partners because they can provide that level of services and strategy and expertise.

So agencies were very important for us in the early days, because around three years ago they were the only customers and now, because they have transformed and they become more as consultants for our direct customers, we are more than happy to provide the software solution for their work. And also it comes back to something that we decided from the early days, we decided to be a purely software and tech company. We didn't want to do any services whatsoever. And that was only because I had an agency before doing uberVU and it wasn't something that I liked so we decided technology's what we know and building products is what we want to do so let's just focus on building a product and not go into the services business altogether. We see agencies as partners because they can provide that level of services and strategy and expertise that we can't do and, the most important thing, we don't want to do, we want to focus our time, energy, efforts, money, everything into building better products, better tools and not to dilute ourselves into services.

MNI: Got it, got it. In addition to different sales models, you also do a fair amount of customization, white labeling, for your customers. What are the challenges and benefits of these customized deployments for you and your customers? And how do you manage that, especially given that you're a SaaS solution, where to a certain extent part of the promise was a shared platform?

VO: Yes, it is a shared platform, we don't do any sort of customization, or custom installs. Everything is run from our servers. It's a platform that you have access to. There's nothing custom for a specific client. Our cobranded deals are about changing the colors and having CNAME redirects. It's not about changing the technology or installing our platform on a different cloud. So that's something that we are really happy with and we don't intend to change it in the future. So from that point of view, we are pure SaaS, in the cloud service. You can't get uberVU to run on a server and none of our customers have access to something like that today.

MNI: And I think we see the world in the same way, as a platform, the white labeling, the ability to make sure that, especially when you deal with agencies, who are then helping to bring more folks in, the white labeling, giving them certain tools to manage on their behalf, are important. But-there are controlled domains, but the core of the product is still the same. We see the world in the same way.

VO: OK, cool.

MNI: How does uberVU engage with its own customers, both on a product/transactional level and in terms of how often do you communicate directly with your customers?

We have a very close relationship with our customers. We talk to them, reach out to them.

VO: All the time. Because uberVU is a very complex tool and requires a level of understanding of social media and metrics, we require all our prospects and leads to go to a 15-minute, 30-minute demo of the capabilities of uberVU before even giving them a trial. Then we give them a trial where they can apply everything they learned during the demo and then they can make an informed decision if they want to use uberVU or not. Because of that, we have a very close relationship with our customers. We talk to them, reach out to them.

MNI: How much do you engage them throughout the course of usage?

VO: Once they become customers?

MNI: Yes.

Now we're moving to a point where we are driving our customers to get more out of the tool, rather than expecting them to reach out. This is, I guess, the next phase of customer support […].

VO: Well, it's something that we're doing more and more right now, so we started with very few customer support people but now we are increasing the customer support team as we speak. We added a new person today. So far, until this year, we were pretty reactive. Whenever customers had issues or problems or questions, we were answering their questions and having them go back, but now we're moving to a point where we are driving our customers to get more out of the tool, rather than expecting them to reach out. This is, I guess, the next phase of customer support, where we're looking over the accounts, we see things that they could do better, and we reach out to them suggesting them to do things a different way or you might use uberVU this way because you're missing out on this great new feature that we introduced this month.

Especially with older customers who are using your tool for two, three years, the habit kicks in and they start to use the product the same way.[…]. And they miss a lot of the new features that we introduce […] Reaching out to them and showing them cool new ways to get the same or better results, it's something that we're doing more and more.

So it's very important that our customers understand and use all the powerful tools that we have into the platform and in most cases you have to reach out directly for them to notice them and make the most out of them. Especially with older customers who are using your tool for two, three years, the habit kicks in and they start to use the product the same way. Click on that button, do that action, and boom-success. And they miss a lot of the new features that we introduce because they are not part of their habit. So reaching out to them and showing them cool new ways to get the same or better results, it's something that we're doing more and more.

MNI: We certainly see that as a best practice as well. Whether it's investing in customer success managers to help educate or even in broader-based education, whether it's some type of articles or community help centers and development communities, these have all been ways to increase retention, which as we all know in a subscription-type environment becomes the lifeblood of your company. Can you increase their usage, maintain your retention, all part of that model. So we certainly see a lot of focus, whether it's marketing now more and more owning that retention piece, or whole teams dedicated to that retention side of the business. Good stuff.

We talked before about data management and the importance of really plugging into this cloud service of data that is core to your value proposition-especially, like you said, for a SaaS-based solution who aggregates data. But the ability to mine that data, the types of information that people want, is a constantly shifting target. What are trends you're seeing in your customers starting to pick up steam in terms of what they're asking for in data management and reporting? Is there a key theme that you're starting to see more and more now?

VO: Customers will ask for a lot of things that you probably don't have. And there are a couple of things that you can do on the metrics side of things. You can definitely add those features and say, okay, we'll add this cool new metric that you have and make it available, but of course that doesn't scale and usually different customers are working with different metrics, so that can really transform your product into a bloated SaaS offering. So the way we tackle that issue is in two ways. The first one is we created a feature inside our product that we call custom reporting where we allow our customers, using drag-and-drop functionality, to correct and remix different metrics that we have. Most of the requirements are about combining metrics in a cool new way, combining data from different sources, having them available in a unified report. And this reporting feature that we built allows our customers to do just that. They can drag and drop features and apply filters and create their "click it and forget it" report.

We have an API and you can get all the data and the analytics and the metrics from our system and you can import them into your system and then you can mix it in any way you like.

But of course there are customers who require an even more advanced data remixing capabilities. They want, for example, to get the data from our system and mix it with their sales data or their customer data or some sort of internal metric that they have. And for that, we provide an API, and I think this should be the full answer to those questions. We have an API and you can get all the data and the analytics and the metrics from our system and you can import them into your system and then you can mix it in any way you like. So we had an API before actually having the dashboard and actually our dashboard is built on top of the API. We kind of eat our own dog food in terms of product and we tell our users everything you see on the dashboard is built in terms of these APIs that we have access to and if you want to do something else with the data you can just get the metrics to the API and do whatever you want with that.

MNI: And I think the term we like to use internally, rather than dog food, is drink our own champagne. But we see reporting absolutely fundamental as well and I think it's a constant battle for aggregating new types of data, broader sets of information, internal and external, and how you mix that. Certainly we see a lot of partnerships forming up around different types of external analytics tools that can help aggregate data from across folks like ourselves for companies to be able to mix and match internal, external, and other sources as well. Did you have something else to say on analytics?

We encourage our customers to […] mix and match all the data they want [with the help of the API]. It's something that we are more than happy to support.

VO: No, it's something that we encourage our customers to do, actually. They can mix and match all the data they want. It's something that we are more than happy to support.

MNI: As a globally sold SaaS product, can you just talk about some of the localization challenges you faced, whether it's in terms of tracking social media across the different languages and cultural subtleties, sentiment of course being one of those things that people talk a lot about?

VO: I think we look at localizing our tool more from the data collection point of view, although uberVU is now translated in a couple of languages other than English. The challenge is to filter the social media data that you are collecting in terms of different languages and it's something that we worked on from day one. Right now I think we're supporting 55 languages plus all the Chinese dialects, so we can filter and get the stream of data that you're interested in on all the languages. With sentiment, it's something that it's still English-only. We're adding new languages this year, but clearly we will not get to the same level of language detection, which I don't think we'll get to a point where we have 55 detection algorithms (MNI: never say never), but right now I think we need to cover the most important languages. We are working hard on Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German, for this year, beginning of the next year.

MNI: So as a global company, how did you focus your go-to-market in this case? Was it through the agencies? How did you focus, how did you grow internationally, globally? Can you talk just a little bit about that as well?

VO: Yes, but it's not as hard as you probably imagine. It was as easy as 99% of the customers who were interested in a tool like ours were in the U.S. or U.K. and it wasn't even just U.S., it was East Coast, West Coast, you can restrain it better to several cities. It's something that we actually do today, look at our main market, in terms of geography [it] is the U.S. and now we have extended it to Western Europe and South America. But that was because we saw interest from other areas. So our focus was U.S., but then we started to get so many leads from Brazil that we decided to look closer at Brazil and had a local partnership there, there is now an uberVU Brazil. We started to get interest form Germany, so we decided to sell to Germany, make sure that uberVU works well for the German market and so on and so forth. But I think our focus is still on the U.S., I think that's where 95% of the market is. When it comes to social media and marketing in general, social media marketing being a subset of that, I think the rest of the world is actually copying the U.S., so if we have the traction that we want in the U.S., I think the rest of the world will follow, and we'll get into these other countries in the future. But we're still international, although we're not actively marketing ourselves in France or Germany or Malaysia or Japan, we do have a lot of customers from these countries. And that's because we support all these languages. It's definitely a new selling point that makes us look good.

MNI: Well, you're certainly in the middle of a rapidly expanding market, as marketers around the world see the need to better manage the social presence and understand what's going on out there, and there are just so many use cases, so I see a massive broadening of who touches you, even beyond a marketing side. Just the last question then. You know, finally, social media and monitoring is becoming incredibly hot as an end to itself, there's a lot of experimentation. I've been working with large telcos even, who had just a group on the side just doing social media work completely disconnected, and hence I saw over the last years the need for everyone bringing these experiments back to the fold and needing a total solution. So obviously I think your message really plays very well. At the same time, these experiments are starting to be brought back in to being measured by their impact. Can you talk a little bit about how uberVU connects the influence of social media with actual sales-the ROI, the top line of the business?

[Social media] may be used for providing customer support and making sure that your customers are happy and […] that's pretty valuable, too.
[…] You have to look at your extended business goals and see how social media can help you.

VO: I think sales is just one way of looking at the ROI. What's the ROI of social media is a kind of mythical question that everyone is asking but there is no clear answer. People measure the value of social media in different ways. If you want to measure it by sales, that's great, but it doesn't work in many cases. It does work pretty well in a lot of cases so for example, it depends on what market, what industry you're in, if one's selling insurance, or cars, or software, then yes, generally leads to social media may work for your end. We're actually doing that ourselves, we're drinking the Kool-aid and we're selling using uberVU. But it doesn't work for other companies or organizations out there. Would that mean that there is no value in social media for them? No, I mean in most cases it may be used for providing customer support and making sure that your customers are happy and whenever people are posting on your Facebook page they have this feeling that someone is listening to them, that the company cares about what they have to say. That's pretty valuable too.

To paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, whenever people are asking me "What's the ROI of social media?" I reply […], "What's the ROI of your mom?" It's a joke, but I think it kind of frames the question.

In some cases we've seen examples where people are, although they're not engaging, they're looking at social media and they're using it as a competitive analysis tool to shape their product road map to see the stuff that people are actually interested in. We've seen cases where people used uberVU to create TV ads and come up with catchy phrases. That's pretty valuable too so while the ROI of social media is very easily measured with sales, how many leads do we generate with social media - this doesn't always work, and you have to look at your extended business goals and see how social media can help you there. And to paraphrase, Gary Vaynerchuk, whenever people are asking me "What's the ROI of social media?" I reply with a question, "What's the ROI of your mom?" It's a joke, but I think it kind of frames the question.

MNI: Vladimir, thank you so much. I think those were the questions we had, obviously we appreciate you sharing your insights, understanding how social and the importance of social to the many marketers who are part of our audience, but also how to think about SaaS and how your strategy to market leveraged this delivery model and the tradeoffs associated with it as you moved quickly across many revenue business models as well as agents and resellers. With that, just wanted to thank you again for your time and best of wishes in what seems like an incredibly exciting market you have.

VO: Thank you so much for the interview and I'm looking forward to chatting in the future.

MNI: We're certainly going to keep up with your story. Thank you very much for you those who listened and we'll hear you on the next interview.

VO: Bye.

Published date: November 27, 2012

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