Customer Portrait: Social Strata on what makes a thriving online community

May 3, 2012

Ever wonder how other FreshBooks customers run a business and do what they love? Customer portraits connect you with your fellow FreshBooks peers to share guidance and inspiration.

Social Strata is a social content technology company, powering big brands like Mattel, The Discovery Channel and thousands of other sites.  Their online community software aims to bring that great energy from social media home to your website and add life to it!

Today, the co-founder and president, Rosemary O’Neill, along with the Chief Operating Officer, Lori Hope, share their thoughts on how a successful tech company still prides itself on taking care of its customers.

What’s a typical day at your company?

Rosemary:  I focus heavily on marketing and social media on a day to day basis.  If you peeked in on Social Strata on a typical day, you’d find our development team discussing the latest upgrades to the application and several of us diving into the support forums helping customers.  Our operations team makes sure the data center is humming along, and several others mixing it up in the social whirl (on Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc.).

Lori: I’m the Chief Operating Officer, which means that I handle the financial and day to day operations.  Adding onto what Rosemary has said, you can also find us participating in video chats between the West Coast office and the East Coast office. We still like to hang out together, and video chats are often more efficient and rewarding than email.

What do you love about your job?

Rosemary:  I absolutely love meeting new people every day, talking to our customers and helping them make the most of our technology. I pinch myself that I get to represent our mission out there on the web, evangelizing the online community everywhere.

Lori: I enjoy talking to customers, but I LOVE helping someone realize the potential of community, and helping them to solve a problem or improve something on their site.  And, I just got back from a vacation where I happened to meet someone who uses our product! (I’ll also confess that I love crunching numbers!)

Did you do something similar before this?

Rosemary:  My background is corporate marketing, so I made a huge leap joining my husband, the other co-founder and CEO, in building a software company.  However, I think the love of learning and connecting with people definitely translates, particularly since we are in the “connection” business.

Lori:  I actually came from a background of shopping center management, so nothing could be more different from me. But, I came because I wanted to learn new stuff, and that’s what I get to do here, every day!

Were there big surprises in running your own business?

Rosemary:  Yes, I would compare it to the reality check you get when you first move out of your parents’ house—toilet paper doesn’t magically appear, and you have to kill your own spiders. There are so many aspects to running a business that it can be a big culture shock to realize that you are now responsible for all of them. (Which is one reason we hired Lori Hope very early on.)

Lori:  Yes…I remember specifically the office space where I found myself on the roof, changing the HVAC filter….

What the positives and negatives of being your own boss?

Rosemary: On the positive side, I get to do amazing things like surprise everyone with policy changes like unlimited paid leave. I love having the freedom to create a great working environment. On the negative side, when things fall short, the buck stops here. That sometimes means dealing with customers who are unhappy, or having to let staff go.  That’s never easy, regardless of the reason.

What advice do you have for small biz owners just starting out?

Rosemary:  I’d say try to keep room for your friends and family; they are the ones who will still be there if things don’t work out with your business, and they’ll be there to celebrate when you do succeed. Also, treat your customers the same way you’d want to be treated.  One happy customer can be the equivalent of a huge marketing and sales team, if you give them the tools to spread the word!

Lori: Remember the importance of your customers and do your very best for them everyday. Also, make sure that your business methods reflect your principles: we value integrity, innovation and persistence, and we strive to have that shine through.

What is the one thing you’d love to do or happen with your business?

Rosemary:  We’ve had so many adventures over the last 14 years! However, I’d love to someday see a WSJ (Wall Street Journal) profile…if only to see what my husband’s head would look like in black and white pixels!

Lori:  I’d also like to see the WSJ profile…but I’d also like to see WSJ using our software!

about the author

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