Today, we’re lucky enough to welcome the Founder of Crowdfire, Nischal Shetty. Nischal was named in Forbes India’s 30 under 30 list after founding Crowdfire – a globally recognised Marketing sidekick with over 16 million users that is going from strength to strength.
SlideBot Founder and CEO, Ned Jamieson had the pleasure of asking Nischal Shetty a few questions about building an incredibly successful startup. Included below are some Q&A’s from that conversation.
Ned: Thank you for talking with me today, Nischal. I don’t know if you know much about SlideBot; we are an automated presentation tool that uses artificial intelligence to build engaging presentations in seconds. The success you’ve had with Crowdfire has been mind-boggling! Tell us a little bit about your personal journey from quitting your job as a software engineer in 2011, to founding Crowdfire – an app with 16 million registered users.
Nischal: During 2009, I was looking for new ways to make money online. I was passionate about writing, so I decided to start a tech blog. While I was publishing new posts consistently, I noticed that nobody was actually reading it! So I started spending a lot of time reading about different ways to promote a blog. Then I thought to myself that instead of this, I could just develop an app that would help me with Twitter marketing, and that’s how I started Crowdfire. Slowly, a lot of people – probably in the same boat as me – found Crowdfire as a solution to their problem and started using it. Eventually, with so many new feature requests, and growing product demand, I decided to pursue Crowdfire as a full-time project. Today, we’re a team of 65!
Ned: A team of 65?! Wow. That is some huge growth… So, let’s talk about pivoting. Crowdfire started as JustUnfollow, which was designed just to unfollow users from your twitter accounts, how did you end up becoming Crowdfire – the marketing sidekick that covers all the major social platforms out there? Was it a gradual evolution or did you pivot at a certain point?
Nischal: I started Crowdfire as a Twitter marketing product, but soon, realised that there were over 100 million people – WordPress bloggers, Shopify & Etsy store owners, musicians, authors, freelancers and more – who are unable to attract audience to their online properties. For these people, Twitter marketing wasn’t sufficient, and they needed help with content marketing, SEO, email marketing, and paid marketing to go big online. We wanted to help them with all of these.
We decided to rebrand ourselves to Crowdfire because “JustUnfollow” as a name was limiting and forced people to see us in a certain light. In 2015, we decided to build the app from scratch and started working on a pivot. Now we have released an open beta version of our marketing sidekick whose sole purpose is to help all these 100 million people succeed online.
Ned: You mention in your talk (above) that you received some negative publicity early on from TechCrunch, however this article actually brought in a whole lot of users? Give us an insight into how you’ve experienced such phenomenal growth at Crowdfire.
Nischal: When we launched Crowdfire, we pulled all our PR strings. TechCrunch’s writing about us (even though negatively) came as a big break and fetched us our first 5-10K users. I believe that all the media coverage and publicity can only help you for so long. Post that, you have two options: You either spend a bomb on marketing, or take the organic marketing route.
Back in 2012, we were bootstrapped, so spending money on marketing wasn’t an option. So, we came up with a strategy that has got us over 16 million users (and still counting). A strategy that I like to call “ETC”. It stands for Ego, Temptation, and Curiosity.
Ego: Ego gratification comes in different ways – by making you feel elite or exclusive. For example, when Gmail started, it was “invite only”, and it became a rage because everyone wanted to be a part of the exclusive club.
Temptation: It’s when you incentivise the product and tempt users with benefits. For example, Dropbox started their claim-to-fame referral program where if one person who has Dropbox refers another, they both get a 500MB increase, pending signup.
Curiosity: You need to build curiosity and keep the users coming back. For example, LinkedIn’s notifications like “10 people viewed your profile” make you curious enough to log on to the app and find out.
I’d also like to add that we’ve found a lot of new users through the existing ones, ie, word of mouth. All this has helped us grow – all with $0 marketing spend.
Ned: It really is an amazing story! Founding a company like Crowdfire, you would have had to have done your fair share of public speaking, so tell us about your experience of public speaking – did you always feel comfortable on stage? You seem like a very confident speaker, do you have any tips or rituals you do to prepare yourself for a big speech?
Nischal: I don’t know if I’m a good speaker or not. But what I know for sure is that I’m extremely passionate about Crowdfire and our vision. I know the pain of being self-employed and not being able to reach the right audience, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to help the self employed people win! So when I go out there to speak, I tell myself that this is probably one of the most important ways in which I can make the world aware of the problem we’re solving and get more people involved in helping us solve this problem.
You should talk about something you’re truly passionate about. I’d also suggest you to watch this video on public speaking – it’s really helpful.
Ned: Pitching an idea involves a lot of storytelling – we’ve all had to do it at some point. So, how important do you think storytelling is in business? And how did you go about pitching to Venture Capitalists?
Nischal: Storytelling is the most critical aspect of running a business. If your stories are genuine, people connect with it. In my case, Crowdfire originated from my own need to succeed online.
As for the fundraising part, I believe that it’s more about finding the right partners and someone who shares the same vision as you. Vani (our investor) and I met via a mutual connection, and we both realised that our thoughts were pretty much aligned. And that was it.
Ned: A really basic question, but one that we like to ask all of our interviewees, what do you believe is the hardest part about creating a presentation?
Nischal: I hate making presentations. I can always tell when a presentation looks good or not, but I can’t make them. Luckily for me, ever since my college days, I’ve always managed to find someone to help me with making presentations.
Ned: That’s exactly why we built SlideBot! We were chatting prior to this and you mentioned that you’ve created your first presentation with SlideBot, that’s awesome! The first of many, I hope! So, tell me, what’s next for you and Crowdfire?
Nischal: As of now, we’re helping 16 million self employed professionals and small businesses attract more audience to their online property. We want to reach 100 million in the next 3 years.
Ned: Amazing! Well, I just want to say thank you so much for joining me today and we wish you all the best in the next growth stage of CrowdFire!
Nischal: Thanks a lot for having me.