Co-Founder & CEO • SocialBee
1. Hello! Who are you, where are you located and what is your business?
I am Ovi Negrean, and I am currently located in Frankfurt, Germany. I am the co-founder & CEO of SocialBee (an all-in-one social media management tool for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers) and ACE (a Web3 suite of marketing, sales, and operations tools).
2. What is your back story and how did you come up with this idea?
SocialBee is my success story, but it wasn't my first business venture.
Being an accomplished entrepreneur has always been a goal of mine. So, I didn't wait to finish college to get some hands-on experience. In fact, I created a CRM for dental practices during my early years in college. Did I succeed? No, and maybe it wouldn’t have been a good back story if I had gotten it right on my first try. The problem? It was too early for such a product, and many dentists weren’t willing to pay for it at that point in time.
That experience taught me a lot and opened new doors for me. As a result, I started working in a corporate environment where I learned what it takes to run a business, more exactly how to interact with customers, how to manage teams as well as how to set goals and build budgets.
It was definitely a formative time in my career. However, I was getting too comfortable in that safe and secure environment. So I decided to leave my corporate job and get back to my original dream: starting a business.
Soon after that, I assembled a team and created Nugget—an app that provided bite-sized quotes from business and personal development books. The plan was to get a large group of people to download it and create profit through affiliates. We were also planning to create premium subscriptions, however, the content wasn’t enough, so users weren’t interested in paying for it.
Although Nugget didn’t work out as I planned, it lead to a much more important part of my professional journey: SocialBee. As we were promoting Nugget, we saw significant results coming from social media. We started using all sorts of tools to automate our workflow, but there was a link missing. The tools were built to be stand-alone, and they didn’t work well together. Plus, using multiple tools instead of an all-in-one solution was quite expensive, especially for a small start-up.
So once we noticed that there was a real need on the market, we took matters into our own hands and created an affordable social media tool that allows users to create, schedule, share, and monitor their content performance from the same dashboard.
It saves time and money, and most importantly, it makes maintaining a consistent social media presence easier.
3. How did you get your first customers?
The first SocialBee customer still uses our tool to this day. Funny enough, my second business venture (Nugget) hasn’t only triggered the idea for SocialBee, but it also brought on our first customer.
We had a fruitful launch on Product Hunt with Nugget. I wrote an extensive guide about the launch and urged anyone who was interested in our app to book a call with me. That’s what Zachary did.
During our call, we began chatting about our side-project (SocialBee) and the importance of social media marketing. He was using Buffer at that point and was interested in optimizing his social media management. So, he gave us a shot and the rest is history.
4. Describe the process of launching your agency. What lessons were learned along the way?
When we launched SocialBee, our entire system consisted of three elements: Google Sheets, Zapier, and posting through Buffer. As you can imagine, we had to work really hard on creating SocialBee as an independent social media tool.
Since coding was taking a while, we also started offering social media concierge services that allowed us to charge more and attract customers that needed to grow their platforms but didn’t have the time to do so. Getting people interested in our product was another part of launching and promoting our new business. Since we were very new to the industry, we took a different approach. On top of using content marketing and networking to gain more visibility, I started monitoring new launches on Product Hunt and BetaList and getting in touch with entrepreneurs that needed to use social media to promote their new start-ups.
So I kept booking calls with business owners and offering advice on how to market their products online. By doing so, I got people to try our tool and services which then helped us get referrals.
Eventually, the power of word-of-mouth pushed us towards the top. Plus the constant communication with customers helped us discover what we needed to change to improve our offerings.
The process of launching my agency taught me that the key to persevering is to:
1. Don’t be afraid to improvise and adapt to the challenges that come your way.
2. Invest time and effort into learning about your customers and their pain points.
3. Never look at your products/services as finished outcomes, but as a constant work in progress.
5. Since your early days, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Consistency is what made the difference for us.
We kept booking calls with prospects, and we really listened to what they had to say. As a result, we found out what they wanted and needed from our social media tool and concierge services, as well as the issues they had with our competitors.
All these interactions helped us customize our offerings which in the long run contributed to attracting and retaining customers. It also helped us frame things in a more appealing way by focusing on the features and benefits our customers wanted from a social media tool.
By constantly improving our products and services, we managed to provide a better customer experience which generated a new set of benefits—we reached a larger audience through word-of-mouth and customer referrals.
6. What were the challenges and obstacles of growing your agency?
One of the main challenges of growing our agency was expanding our team.
Firstly, we had to find people who believed in SocialBee and cared about building a stronger business. Secondly, we had to discover ways to develop their skills so we could provide better services and improve our social media tool.
Once we figured that out, the process got easier and faster because we got the right support.
7. What has been helpful to you to grow your agency?
It all comes down to the team.
From the moment we started recruiting the right people, we managed to build efficient processes and structures that not only made our job easier but helped us train new employees faster.
Also, the knowledge and experience our employees brought to the table helped us come up with new ideas and strategies that took our business to the next level.
8. What is your advice for anyone looking to start an agency?
My advice for starting an agency would be to enjoy the process and be receptive to what the experience teaches you.
Here is what my journey taught me:
- Make sure your product/service is fulfilling a real need within the market.
- Focus on what the customer needs/wants.
- Treat every failure as a learning curve.
- Be consistent and always search for ways to improve your offerings.
-Invest in growing and developing your team.
9. How are you doing today and what does your future look like?
As always, we are working on taking SocialBee to the next level and introducing features that keep up with the latest social media developments.
At the same time, we are focused on improving our concierge services since many freelancers, small businesses, and agencies are delivering services to their customers through the SocialBee concierge team.
The future bears exciting news. My team and I launched our first ACE product this year (ACE Meetings) and we are excited to grow this suite of marketing, sales, and operations tools further. It’s an ambitious project, but I’m sure we will accomplish our dream of building an extensive toolkit with a better ownership model (rewarding users with a stake in the app itself).
10. What are some of the platforms or tools you use and companies you partner with to save yourself time, money, and hassles?
From day one, we’ve been major Zapier customers and advocates. Not only did it help us build the initial model of our social media tool, but we still use it today to connect part of our system together—a true time-saver.
We also use Meetgeek to record and take notes during calls. This way, we make sure we get the most out of our meetings by documenting the essential information discussed during our calls.
11. What book or podcast recommendations do you have for agency owners?
Akimbo by Seth Godin is a mind-opening podcast that I regularly listen to. Even though is not specifically addressed to agency owners, it discusses general business and life subject matters, as well as more marketing-related topics that will certainly be helpful to any business owner.