The Power of Listening to Your Customers with the CEO of Flodesk Martha Bitar

Written by Maura

On August 27, 2020

Welcome to Social Post, a podcast brought to you by MeetEdgar. Each week we bring you a guest to inspire your creativity, breathe new life into your marketing strategy and get you motivated to take action in your business. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned entrepreneur, you’ll walk away feeling like you took your social media marketing multivitamin. This week, we interviewed FloDesk CEO Martha Bitar about staying sane while building a startup and creating a customer-focused marketing strategy. 

Martha Bitar: Hi everyone! I’m Martha and I’m the CEO at Flodesk. Flodesk is an email marketing tool that makes it super easy for you to design emails that people love.

MeetEdgar: I love that perfect little 3-second elevator pitch. It’s important to give people an easy way to remember your product and tell other people about it.

MB: So that’s what we struggled with. At the beginning of Flodesk, people would ask us what it was and we explained that we were patenting this new technology and people just didn’t care about that. Eventually, a friend said I had to figure out how I’d explain it to my grandmother and it became a lot simpler.

ME: That makes so much sense for sure so kind of going along that track what types of things did you guys think about with your brand voice as you were developing a whole entire brand?

MB: Full disclosure right now because the company has grown so quickly it, it seems maybe in retrospect that we had a plan for everything and that was not the case. We actually developed our website in one day and we were like “this is just a placeholder we’ll come back and we’ll make it cooler later on.” And we just never had the time because it just started growing right and we started
needing to focus on something else. So we asked ourselves “How would we want to learn it and how do we say this in a way that doesn’t sound like marketing jargon?” It needed to sound like just two friends talking about a product.

A more strategic piece that we decided on pretty early on when we were building the product was let’s make sure that when it comes to our brand we’re trying to remove ourselves as much as possible and let our members brand shine because at the end of the day, this is about them and this is about the creative work that they’ll be able to create with the platform.

So we were very intentional when building that brand in making sure that we’re showcasing current templates that we already had existing in the platform or existing members or friends that were using it because it was mostly friends at the time. We didn’t have anyone really like outside of that using it. So it was a combination of those two things that ended up being becoming the brand

ME: That’s really cool. I think the way you describe just talking to a friend is where business copy is going these days. Could you dive into a little bit of behind your marketing strategy and creating communities and how you got your brand to your audience through social media marketing tactics.

MB: Yes, so very early on we decided that we did not want to have a sales team or a marketing team. We wanted to focus 100% on the customer and this is a decision that turned out to be a really good one because it gave us what we call our “customers members.”

We gave our members a lot of power to really own our growth and what ended up happening is that our very customers were the ones that started spreading the word and creating tutorials and helping people find FloDesk and get onboarded and learn how to use the product. So we focused on giving each member a fantastic experience and the theory was if we just focus on building a product that just works and we focus on giving each and every member of our audience an ideal experience then the growth will be customer-led.

We intentionally didn’t have influencer campaigns as part of our marketing strategy because it goes against this idea. What ended up happening is that members would just start creating their own content. We’d never ask for anything but we would just see someone come in and use FloDesk and the next day, they’d have a full YouTube playlist with tutorials end to end on how to use our product.

These things started organically happening then we would feature the content. It didn’t make any sense for us to recreate the wheel because we didn’t have a marketing team or sales team.

So people just naturally ended up finding us on social media, sharing how they were using FloDesk and asking questions. So we had to ask ourselves how to support our members through social media so we started doing the same thing like reposting their content, sharing their hacks, and what they were doing to be successful on the platform with the rest of our community. It’s weird but we’ve seen friendships start between members and there’s just this unifying passion to like passion teach others how to run their business more successfully

So we really did not have a marketing strategy at first but we just followed where the customer-led and then we optimized those channels.

ME: I really think that is the best marketing strategy! If you’re not following these breadcrumbs then you could be creating something in a vacuum that people don’t love to use. And this community aspect of sharing user-generated content is definitely an underutilized strategy because if you see that social proof of someone else telling you the results they got you’re going to be much more likely to believe it than if it’s coming right out of the founder’s mouth. I think that this community aspect is really interesting for marketing but I have another question. So as a subscription-based company, do you see any of this community help at all in your churn rates or help at all in retaining people month over month?

MB: So we haven’t actually had much churn. We saw a slight dip when the pandemic started as many SaaS companies and that recovered pretty quickly. We have lower churn than industry churn. We haven’t done a lot of testing with churn because it hasn’t been a huge problem to fix but I think the community does play a part in that.

We do have a help center full of articles and content that we created. It’s not quite dynamic so we’re continuing to work on that and we’re also featuring member content in the help center. We also have a Facebook group where members often post questions. But most of the time, it’s not even a product-related question, it’s more of a business or marketing strategy question. So we realized that people are probably churning not just because they can’t learn the tool because they can’t figure out the strategy so having that access to a pool of people who already did it or are also trying to figure it out is so important. I’m always surprised at how willing people are to share their secrets. They’ll answer each other’s questions and share what worked for them.

That’s key to me and it’s one of those things that makes it worth it for us to spend time in that group. There are days that someone will post something that’s negative and it’s frustrating because we can’t build things overnight. But that’s the feedback that’s taking us where we need to go. So again it’s not what we did, it’s what our members took charge of and we followed.

ME: That’s a really lucky thing to be targeting the right people who want to see the success of a community. So we have a lot of solopreneurs and small business owners who listen and I would love to know from you, how did you stay sane controlling it all and having a personal life and a business life and keeping that balance? Do you have any good tips that we could take away from that

MB: Yeah, so I didn’t stay sane. I’m going to be super, super honest there. I started FloDesk when I had a full-time job and that job was very intense. I remember working all night, all weekend and there were times when I’d come and just start crying because I couldn’t help it. And I wasn’t eating right or working out and it was really out of balance and I do not recommend that to anyone.

But I remember having a conversation with my mom and she said, “You really have to stop doing this because you’re not signing up for a startup of one year, you’re trying to build something generational and it’s going to take probably 5-10 years, maybe more. If you burn out today then how is that really responsible towards the people that you’re promising to serve for the long term? People are trusting you and giving you their money, buying your tool and you’re not taking care of yourself in a way that you’re going to show up the next day the next month.” That was a really hard thing to hear. You never want to hear those truths.

She wasn’t telling me I had to take care of myself but it was more like this is not right and you’re not being responsible for others as well. That led to me creating a plan and I said when I hit this milestone at FloDesk, I’ll leave my full-time job and go full-time into FloDesk. Then I made a plan to start eating healthier and working from home some days and having those hard conversations and coming to the realization that in my full-time job, I was doing a lot not because I needed to just because I always have had that mindset that you have to go above and beyond.

I think a lot of people that started a business have to have that kind of personality and it took to having a conversation with my former boss and saying that I couldn’t do this any long so I have to quit or do my job and that’s it. It was so funny because I went into that meeting with some much fear and he told me I needed to do my job and that I needed to stop stressing myself so much and I was still going to have a lot of impact. So I recommend that you don’t get yourself to that level and if you already did then stop and take action right away so that you can be there for the people that you’re promising to be there for.

ME: It’s so good to have those people in your life who will reflect back when things are not going the way they should. I agree that business is a long-term game. You have to play that long game. Remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint as cliche as that sounds. So what has been one of the most fulfilling things about starting your own business though and about this whole process for you?

MB: Oh my gosh, like everything every single day! I’ve always been very driven by freedom. My former job was at a startup so I had the freedom to experiment but to really have the freedom to say “I really believe that we should do these things” and have the full support of your team because you’re probably starting to build it on your own or you and your co-founders and saying “Yes, let’s give it a try and being able to move fast and if something works great, let’s double down on it and if it doesn’t work that’s fine, let’s move on.”

Having that freedom to create whatever you feel you really need to create. I don’t think I’ll ever like I’ll be able to do it another way. And the freedom to be able to live anywhere. I’m in Mexico right now and I’ll probably be here in Tulum for another few months. And I was never able to do that before and it’s almost like it makes you think like “Have I been living the life that I want or have I believed the life that society has shaped for us?”

ME: Speaking of traveling and working remotely, do you have anything that you found really effective for working with your team while you guys are apart?

MB: Slack, I could not imagine doing this without Slack. Having the right tools is big and over-communicating is big. I am a big over-communicator. I definitely err on the side of aggressively oversharing and even then, information can get missed. The team, even though we’re small, is very tight and we talk all the time. And this isn’t something that gets said a lot. You have to remind people and encourage people and having those one-on-ones to make sure that you’re creating space for people to speak up is so important.

Also sharing your values and giving your team permission to speak up about inclusion and making sure that everyone feels like they’re welcome and can show up as who they are. We are already naturally organically a very diverse team as we have two women and two minorities on our founding team of three. We’ve been over communicative from the very start and I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to make it work so far.

ME: I think being over communicative is never a bad thing when you’re doing business apart for sure. So are there any business books that have really influenced the way that you guys work or the way you market the product that you would recommend to our community?

MB: You know, not really, I probably should be reading more. Actually, there is one book, it’s not a business book. It’s called The Art of Game Design and it teaches you how to design a game. I love games, like board games and scavenger hunts and riddles and this book teaches you how to focus on the experience that you’re creating. That’s one of the biggest lessons that I got is how to create an experience that people will go through and they’ll make their own experience. You cannot control what they experience because that’s internal so the power of letting go of what people will think of the experience that you created was very strong. It’s getting in that mindset that it’s not about you, it’s about your audience. You want to hear what they’re experiencing and then iterate from them.

But the reason I say no to reading business books is because I have read a lot of them and at the end of the day, what really helped us was not following a specific framework and being very customer-obsessed. What really helped us was not following a specific framework but being very, very, very customer-obsessed.

customer led marketing strategy

So the one thing that I really recommend that I think is non-negotiable and much better than anything you’ll learn in any book is to talk to your customers all the time.

ME: That’s one of the best answers I’ve ever heard to a question about books! Put down the book and start reading customer emails, start reading customer complaints and testimonials and that’ll give you way more information about the product you’re building. You have been amazing and I have so many great takeaways here and I know our community does too if you could leave us with one last marketing tip or business tip that we could take action on, what would that be?

MB: Every time that you’re starting a new marketing strategy whether it’s automating your social media or starting creating your social media content or email marketing, it’s very scary. One thing that I’ve learned from listening to our members is that as soon as they dive in, they realized it was a lot easier than they thought. So my advice is to just jump in, do it, and then when you do it, share it with someone, become somebody else’s mentor. Because there are a lot of people trying to start and they’re struggling so you can become that person that can help

ME: Oh that’s so beautiful not only focusing on your own success but focusing on pulling other people up to their own success also. What a great way to end this. Martha, thank you so much for sharing your story.

If you haven’t checked out FloDesk, you can learn more about them here!


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