The era of traditional marketing agencies is slowly coming to a stop. The digitization of media presents new challenges, which need new digital solutions. From social media tools, to marketing automation, there is a whole world of marketing challenges to solve. It is no wonder, then, why many former agency owners are now creating startups. Startups became the cool kids in town.
Such is the case with EmbedSocial, a Skopje-located startup aiming to be one of North Macedonia’s first unicorns. The co-founders of this former digital marketing agency realised that the process of uploading photos from Facebook to websites was time consuming and could be automated. This idea soon took off as a platform, which was picked up by a popular news website with millions of visitors. Now, it helps a growing number of companies integrate their social media feeds into their website without any programming.
We had the chance to talk to Nikola Bojkov, co-founder and CEO of EmbedSocial. As an ex-marketing agency owner now running a startup, he walked us through his story and shared his tips on overcoming entrepreneurial challenges, why he believes customer trust is key, his perspective on how the coronavirus is affecting social media startups, his predictions for upcoming trends, and finally what it’s like to build a great international product from a small country.
Hi Nikola, thank you for joining us. To begin with, can you tell us how you came up with the idea to start EmbedSocial?
Hi all, thanks for this opportunity to share our story.
So, we used to run a Digital Marketing Agency, and one day Kate came into the room and said she was tired of uploading photos on the client’s website and then on their Facebook page. She asked if we can automatically take the photos from the Facebook page and display them on the website. We looked into it and developed a simple solution where you enter your album link and it creates an iframe you can embed on your website. No registration required, no entry barriers and totally free.
Since we were recognized as a Facebook Marketing Partner Agency, we sent an email to two blogs related to Facebook Marketing news and they published a blog post about this widget called EmbedSocial. After that, a lot of other bloggers from all around the world wrote about it organically.
One day our servers crashed, and we were wondering why that happened. Later we found out that a popular news website used our widget on their homepage that had millions of visits which caused our servers to crash.
This incident made us think more about EmbedSocial, and what can happen if we develop it as a platform. Not long ago, we decided to close the agency and focus 100% on EmbedSocial.
There are a lot of startups out there right now creating tools for social media management. What is it that you offer which sets EmbedSocial apart?
We’ve been developing on top of Social Media API’s for 10+ years now, and this gives us a unique insight into how to handle constant changes, many of them unannounced or even not documented.
What makes EmbedSocial standout is the quality of the platform, great customer success team, and the mix of products we have available. We always try to think of new options that add additional value to our customers and be among the first to implement new trends like re-using Stories for example.
What are some of the challenges you faced throughout your entrepreneurial journey and how have you overcome them?
We started our digital agency in 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis. Everyone was telling me that I was crazy to start a business at that time. But as marketing budgets were first to be cut, businesses were looking for cheaper and more effective channels for marketing and it was the perfect timing for digital marketing.
I always try to look from a long-term perspective and see challenges as opportunities to adapt and grow. As Darwin said ”It is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment”. I believe this applies for startups as well.
We faced many challenges on our journey and one thing that always helped us overcome them was to ask for help. So, don’t be afraid or ashamed to share your challenges or problems with your team, your mentors and your community. Just ask and you’ll be surprised by all the help you’ll get.
How important is customer trust in the industry you are operating in? What strategies do you use to build trust with your customers?
Trust is everything. We always point out that EmbedSocial is in the trust business. And we describe EmbedSocial as a platform that helps businesses build trust by using social proof. We use our own platform to build trust with our customers and our customer success team is also very important.
In the past 6 months, we had a 97.7% satisfaction rate among customers who interacted with our customer success team, proving our dedication to exceed their expectations.
How has the coronavirus crisis affected your business? What new trends are emerging in the social media landscape and what is your response?
So far it has affected some of our customers and we’ve offered them a few options like pausing the subscription or discounts in order to help them get through it.
We understand this is an unprecedented thing that is happening, and we want to be there for our customers and help as much as we can.
As more businesses are switching online and to e-commerce, we continue to grow even in the middle of this pandemic.
How do you see social media management evolving in the next 5-10 years? To what extent will the process be automated and what tools should we expect to emerge?
I think that a lot of the things that can be automated – will be. I see AI as a personal assistant to your social media manager. Appealing visualisation and storytelling are key, and they can’t be still replaced with AI or automation. Automation can help you scale some things you discover are working well for your brand, but again you have to test and learn as a human what makes the DNA of your business, essential for your communication on any channel.
What is, according to you, the future of work? Is your company going back to the office after the pandemic or you are planning to stay remote?
We are taking the hybrid approach here. We want to stay flexible and have as many options available as possible. If you want to work for a day or two per week in the office you can and if you want to continue remote you also can. If you feel more productive and focused in the office you can work from there.
For me, I’ve always envisioned working anywhere as long as you have a laptop and an internet connection. Today it really doesn’t matter if you are in a city, by the beach or in the mountains, as long as you have Wi-Fi.
What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs coming from small or developing countries?
Don’t be afraid to dream big. You can build a great product from anywhere and compete with anybody in the world. And as long as you deliver a great product and value to your customers, they really don’t care where you are located.
What is it like to startup in Skopje? How do you see the city’s startup scene evolving in the upcoming years?
The startup ecosystem is growing every day and more smart people are trying to build a product instead of doing outsourcing. The support infrastructure is getting better and better with organizations like Startup Macedonia, the Fund for Innovation, and Technological Development, accelerators and co-working spaces.
What we are missing is a big success story, a big exit that will create a lot of wealthy and talented people. They will then kickstart our ecosystem by offering capital as small angel investors and also by providing mentorship and guidance for startup founders.
Our experience showed us 3 things you need to scale your startup: Mentors, Mentors, and Mentors.
I think Skopje will see a Unicorn startup emerge in the upcoming years! EmbedSocial is surely moving in that direction.