Founder Coffee episode 026
I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.
Every two weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.
For this twenty-sixth episode, I talked to Laura Roeder, co-founder of MeetEdgar, a social media tool that automatically keeps your content in front of your customers.
Before MeetEdgar, Laura was a junior designer at an agency, a freelance web designer and then a social media marketing consultant. She built a spreadsheet system to organize the resharing of existing content and figured “why is this a spreadsheet and not an actual tool?”. That’s when MeetEdgar was conceived.
Recently, Laura appointed a President for MeetEdgar and left the daily operations in her capable hands. We talk about why she did that, the challenges of building on top of social networks, how she keeps the pressure off her team, and how “people don’t fail, but systems do”.
Welcome to Founder Coffee.
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Jeroen: Hi Laura, it's great to have you on Founder Coffee.
Laura: Thank you for having me.
Jeroen: You're the Founder of MeetEdgar. For those who don't know MeetEdgar yet, what do you guys do?
Laura: We are a social media automation tool. We're really designed for small businesses who focus on content marketing. So if you're a podcaster or someone who blogs, creates a lot of content and you really need a system for making sure that content is always in front of people - your old stuff and new stuff, Edgar will do that for you automatically.
Jeroen: So what do I need to imagine with 'automatically'? Like, does it automatically take my previous posts and reschedule them?
Laura: Yeah. So you can plug in an RSS feed or add your posts manually, whatever you want to do. But Edgar has a system of continuous scheduling.
Jeroen: Okay. So basically, I can keep my social media accounts alive without me. I don't have to go into Buffer all the time and fill it up over and over again.
Laura: Yes, send out that post over and over again or variations of that post. Twitter doesn't allow you to send the same post. So you can send variations - different status updates pointing to the same content, and Edgar actually writes those for you automatically, which is pretty cool. And one of the big problems that we solve is a lot of people spend a lot of time creating content. They send it out that first week when they created it and then they never ever promote it again, which is really not a great practice, right? You want to make sure people are seeing the whole library of content that you've created.
Jeroen: Right. That's a problem we actually have. So I'm going to look into MeetEdgar. How did you get to this idea exactly? Was it a problem you had in a previous company?
Laura: Yeah, it is a problem that I had. Edgar is one of those tools that was very much created for myself where I'm like, why isn't there a tool that does this? Like, I'm going to create what I want.
Laura: Before I started Edgar, I was teaching small businesses how to do social media marketing. So basically when I was teaching them, I came up with a system for myself to do what Edgar does now, but manually. Before Edgar, I would create a big spreadsheet because like Edgar's category-based feature, you put your content into different categories and then tell Edgar how often to pull from the different categories. So, I was doing that in a spreadsheet where I had all my content divided up into categories and I would copy and paste stuff from the spreadsheet into the tool. And it was just like, "Huh? Why am I storing this in a spreadsheet? Why would my social media tool not store an organized library of all my content?" So yeah, I really built Edgar to do or what I was doing manually.
Jeroen: Yeah, that totally makes sense. How was the switch from being a consultant to starting a software as a service business?
Laura: It was a big change because I'm not a developer. You know? I didn't build Edgar myself. I can't fix it when it breaks. So I had never run a software business before and there was certainly a big learning curve there; continues to be a learning curve there. But my core audience was the same in both businesses. That gave me a huge leg up in starting Edgar. It continues to be an important theme in our success. I had already spent years being one of the types of businesses that we serve and really understood the problems that they wanted to solve.
Jeroen: Sounds like a huge advantage indeed. Was that the first thing you did, being a social media consultant, or were there things before that?
Laura: So I've been working for myself for how long now? Like, I don't know, 11 or 12 years now? So I had one job out of college and then I quit that job to be a freelance web designer and designer, graphic designer. I would make websites for small businesses in 2008 when social media started to become a thing. My clients would ask me about social media, so I made the transition into doing some consulting. Yeah, the business that I had before I grew actually wasn't a consulting business. It was like productized training. Like, I'd create training courses and sell them online.
Jeroen: Oh. Was that business all by yourself or were there other people?
Laura: I had a small team. Yeah.
Jeroen: Cool. So you've always kind of like been into starting companies and leading them?
Laura: Yeah, I have. I haven't really had much experience outside of entrepreneurship. You know, I was a junior designer at an agency for about a year. And then, I've worked for myself ever since.
Jeroen: Why did you leave that agency?
Laura: There were a lot of reasons. One was definitely the freedom, which I think is something that motivates almost every entrepreneur, who wants to be in charge of their own schedule and wants to be a little bit in charge of their own destiny. I also found that I was sort of the opposite of a lot of freelancers. So, I find that there's a lot of people who maybe are graphic designers and they're a freelancer and then they get very disappointed that they have to do the business staff. They're like, "I just want to be able to design all day," you know, "I don't want to have to get clients and do all that."
Laura: Where I was sort of the opposite, you know? In my role as designer, I thought it was kind of boring that I just designed all day. I wanted to be more involved in like the marketing strategy and all the client stuff. So, I looked at different career changes and then I realized, well if I freelance, I'll get to do a lot more. I'll do the design, but I also will have to learn about sales and prospecting and running a business and closing clients. And that was actually really appealing to me.
Jeroen: Yeah. That's funny. I know exactly how you feel. I studied engineering and then they offered me engineering jobs and I was like, "No, I want to do something like talking with customers," and not just the engineering. I mean, that's interesting, but that's just not enough or just doesn't feel as fulfilling as being able to also talk to the people, figure things out. Right?
Laura: And it's just a good reminder that, you know, it takes all kinds. You know, once you're in a company, you're so grateful that there are people that absolutely love customer service and solving problems for our customers because that is not my talent. I would not be good at doing that all day. I'm so happy that there are humans out there who absolutely love to do that and are just incredibly talented at it.
Jeroen: What is it that lately has been keeping you busy working on MeetEdgar? What parts of the business are you currently developing?
Laura: I changed my role recently. We recently promoted someone to a president role and that's a big change because that means that my role now is just founder and it's really largely taken me out of the business. So our president is my only direct report now. I only have one direct report. I really just need to talk to her once a week. If it doesn't happen every week, it's not a huge deal.
So I mean, part of this is I'm kind of figuring out what I want to do now. One thing that I do is promote the company. Things like being a spokesperson for the company are really fun for me. My background is in marketing, so I'm also now starting to dive back into some marketing tasks that I haven't done in years. Like, recently I was working on rewriting our emails that you get after you opt in. And that's always something that someone on our team would have done while I was busy with other things. But now I have some time and I'm like, oh, maybe it'd be fun to write some emails again.
Jeroen: Yeah. How come you took the step of putting someone as a president between you and the operations?
Laura: It was kind of half personal reasons and half business reasons. So, our team is all in the US and Canada, but about a year ago I relocated to the UK. And even though we're a remote team, we don't have people worldwide. We do a lot of work at the same time, during American business hours, so it really doesn't work for me to be on such a different schedule than the rest of the team - especially in a leadership role, because once your company is a certain size, you just sort of talk to people. That's a big part of any kind of manager's jobs. So I found that with this decision to move to the UK, I couldn't really do my old role in the same way. And I also saw that it was really time for the person who's now our president who had headed up operations for the company and has been with the company since day one, it was really time for her to move to that next level. I really was seeing more and more ways that she was able to run the company more successfully than I had done.
Laura: And so far so good. I mean it's been really, really fun seeing the changes that she's made in the company and yeah, she just has a lot of talents that I don't have. That has really helped the company succeed.
Jeroen: That's really nice and that's really brave of you to give the company, like basically out of your hands into someone else's hands.
Laura: Yes. Very capable hands.
Jeroen: That's really nice. Do you feel that you're going to spend more time on the strategy now or more of operational stuff? Like, what is it that exactly drives you?
Laura: I mean, the big picture strategy is definitely interesting. But I'm not at a place where I'm working full time now and I'm not trying to figure out how to make Edgar a full time job. You know, it's okay if it's only taking up a few hours. Maybe at some point in the future, it won't even be that. And you know, I'll probably start another business at some point and maybe it'll just make space for that.
Jeroen: Yup. Are you guys profitable?
Laura: We are, yeah. We're bootstrapped. We haven't raised any money, so if we're not profitable, then we're out of business. So we're definitely profitable.
Jeroen: It sounds like the position to be in. So you basically have a company running, it makes money and you can slowly look at what you'd like to do, right?
Laura: Yeah. And my journey has always been a little bit different. You know, I actually took a three month maternity leave in the first year of our business. I was pregnant when we launched the business. So I've never been the type of founder who is, you know, working 80 to 100 hour a week. I've always had a system in place where obviously a team is doing the majority of the work. And then I worked part time for a long time. So, it's not like I've gone from doing everything myself to suddenly being out of it. It's definitely been a gradual transition since the business launch.
Jeroen: What kind of businesses do you think you would work on if you start something else, because you mentioned this just now or is that just still a very vague idea?
Laura: I'm totally overwhelmed by the possibilities. You know, I'm American and I'm here in the UK and business is done very differently in the US than it is in Europe. Like there are some businesses that we have in the US that don't exist here; there are products that we have in the US that don't exist here, so there's definitely a lot of things I'm looking at that are just like, you know, maybe selling one of those products or taking one of those business models over. But probably I should just stick with what I know and do like more software, but I don't know. I'm not making any decisions yet.
Jeroen: So you're taking some time to think about it?
Jeroen: Is there anything that in the business that you are like, currently very involved in? Something that keeps you up at night lately?
Laura: We are going through changes. Like, 2018 was the hardest year that we've ever had. We got hit really hard with some changes by the social networks. Twitter dramatically changed their terms. Facebook stopped allowing tools to post to profiles. We lost access to Facebook groups for a while and that was really stressful. There was a lot of upsetting things in the social media space in 2018 and that change did upset our business and our team.
Laura: And now 2019, we're only mid-March as I record this, but it's been really great. We've seen really great growth and so it's kind of like, I don't know, like getting out of this bad time that we had and being like, okay, we feel like we're on a good track. But then you always feel like, okay, can we rely on this? Are things going to get really hard again?
Jeroen: Yeah, I read some stories. For instance, ManageFlitter I think practically had to close down, and Quuu - I don't know whether you know them - they had a lot of issues as well. Lots of different changes. In the next business, I mean, would you still want to build again around social networks?
Laura: It's an interesting question because I think it's very much like the 'grass is greener' there, right? Because we look at our business and we're so dependent on what the platforms decide to do and it's like, oh, it'd be nice to be in a business that wasn't dependent. But every business has a supply chain, right? For software businesses that might be AWS, right? It's like every business relies on infrastructure.
Laura: Obviously, if you're selling physical products, you have your manufacturing, right? You have materials that might change in price. It's just a factor for any business. And you know, we're in the position where we're not just dependent on one social network, which is nice. But yeah, it's a big risk in our business. I don't think I would do another startup in the social media space because I feel like I've kind of done what I want to do there.
Laura: But despite the downsides of being so dependent, I wouldn't totally rule out like doing another business that had those kinds of dependencies because there are huge upsides as well.
Jeroen: Like for instance?
Laura: Well, the upsides are that we're building on Facebook, you know what I mean? Like, Facebook has done a lot of work getting a lot of people to market their businesses on Facebook and so we get to take a little piece of that, right? Like we wouldn't have a business if Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin weren't such huge, successful companies. So, we get to kind of ride their draft, right? Like, be successful on all the work that they've done.
Jeroen: You're right. You mentioned a bit already about work/life balance, that you're not like the person who works 100 hour weeks. You always took it, I wouldn't say slower, but you kept focus on a bit more life and a bit less work. Why is this and how do you manage these kind of things?
Laura: So I don't know if it's just my nature. I've never been a workaholic. Like I mentioned, you know, I've worked for myself a really long time and I always kept really regular hours. I wasn't working on the weekend. I wasn't working all night. Work is something I enjoy, but it's never been my entire life.
Laura: I always have been really interested in using leverage to grow a business. And I saw early on the limitations of doing everything yourself in a business. I saw it in my very first business as a freelance designer. Every freelancer hits this problem where you're like, oh, I can't really make any more money. I'm already booked up. This is kind of it. And then often you move into a different business models from there. So, I saw that early on.
Laura: Like, well, I want to be successful in a way that doesn't require just my own personal output, right? I want to do something besides just trading hours for dollars. So I think it's something that's kind of built into my nature and it's something that we've extended to the culture of our team.
Laura: So our team, not just me, doesn't work any evenings, doesn't work on the weekends, which in America at least, like that's really rare, which I think is a really terrible state. With phones and laptops, people are often expected to be kind of connected to work every evening, which I think is really crazy. And the way we see it at our company is like work is something that you should really enjoy. It should be really fulfilling, but it's certainly not your whole life and you need to have time to enjoy the rest of your life as well.
Jeroen: Yeah, I totally agree with you. The question then for instance is like, if you have big things at work that you want to solve, do you keep your brains busy outside of work hours thinking about this or is it something you will focus on very much during work hours?
Laura: Yeah, I mean I think you can't help but think of ideas. When your team is full time, which ours is, it's not like freelancers and contractors, it's full time employees. You hope that people are contemplating some of the problems that they're working on. And I think that's okay. There's a big difference between having that mind space and people actually logging in and doing work. It's something that we actually enforce, because it can creep over the limits we want, especially because a lot of people are coming to us from companies with a very different culture. A lot of people are coming from another job where they were expected to be on all the time.
Laura: So you know, we're remote. We expect people to be signed on to Slack when they're working and we expect them not to be signed on to Slack when they're not working. You should not have Slack on your phone. You know, if we see you signed in after hours, this is where the east coast/west coast thing comes in, you know, somebody on the west coast, will see someone on the east coast still signed in and I'm like, okay, it's 8:00 your time. Like, why are you still here? Did you just leave Slack open? You need to shut this down. Or if we see people communicating after hours, we really reach out to say, hey, that's not how we work here.
Jeroen: Yeah. So it's really about creating that space outside of work, too. Like mental space, physical. What other things do you do when you're not working? Do you have kids?
Laura: Yeah, so I have a four year old and a nine month old. I have plenty to keep me busy when I'm not working.
Jeroen: Must otherwise not be easy to combine the two, I suppose. I don't have kids yet.
Laura: Yeah, and we find that we attract a lot of, you know, not everyone on our team has children, but a lot of people do. And I think a lot of people do come to us wanting a culture. I mean, everyone comes to us wanting a culture where they can still live their lives. So whether that's children or whether that's just like you love skiing and you want to make sure that you can spend your whole weekend skiing and doing nothing else, people come to us because they are attracted to this culture. I think it's rare to have a company that only works 40 hours a week. I mean, I'm saying this, I'm in the UK right now. This is different in the UK and Europe, I think. Well one like, you know, you guys actually have vacation time, which is great.
Laura: But you know, in America, it's hard to find a job that's only 40 hours and is still a company that's growing, that's exploring exciting things. Often if you're working 40 hours, it's in a sort of dead end job that isn't really challenging you.
Jeroen: Yeah, I totally understand. Well, I think in Europe it's a bit similar but it's not as extreme as in the US I suppose, where you really don't have all these vacations and people don't understand work/life balance so well.
Jeroen: If you'd sell MeetEdgar for a lot of money, you could spend your life the way you want. What would you do?
Laura: I would do what I'm doing now. You know, I always think you should try to design your life to be exactly how you want it today. You should not wait for that big exit or that 'someday' when you get there. You know, I feel like I have a really good balance of how much time I work and how much time I spend with my family and travel. So yeah, I think my life would be pretty similar.
Jeroen: All right. Well, why is it that you moved to the UK?
Laura: My husband is from here, so it was just driven by spending time with family.
Jeroen: Where is it exactly that you're based now?
Laura: In Brighton.
Jeroen: In Brighton. My very first guest on Founder Coffee was also from Brighton. You happen to know Adam of Better Proposals?
Laura: I don't, but you know, I actually haven't met that many Brighton people because I've been mostly off work. I mentioned I have a baby who's nine months old, so we were moving and then I was on leave. So I haven't like gotten into the Brighton start-up scene yet.
Jeroen: Oh. How are you enjoying Brighton apart from the startup scene then?
Laura: It's really fun, yeah. We have so much family here and cousins for my kids to play with. You know, as an American it's really fun to be in Europe. Recently we decided last minute to go to Copenhagen for the week and so you just get the super cheap and easy flight, explore a fun new city. So yeah. And we're right outside of London being in Brighton, so I'm really enjoying it.
Jeroen: Yup. That's definitely one of the advantages of being in Europe that you can always travel really easily to other countries. Wrapping up slowly, what's the latest good book you've read and why did you choose to read it?
Laura: See, I'm trying to decide if I should pick a business book or not. What do you think?
Jeroen: Yeah, go for a business book.
Laura: Business book. Wait, I'm going to open my kindle highlights right now cause I forget what I've read. I don't know if this happens to other people. Sorry, you can edit this out. I don't know if you read on Kindle, like sometimes you don't remember the name of what you're reading.
Jeroen: No, I still read paper books. I somehow cannot let them go. I like to have them, store and keep them and read them like, physically. Otherwise I don't feel like I ever let the screen go and I know that the kindle has a different kind of screen, but still.
Laura: Yeah. Okay, so a business book that I read recently, which was like a game changer to me and is not very well known. It's called The Road Less Stupid, which is such a funny name. It's by Keith Cunningham and the book is so good. I'm like, how did I not read this 10 years ago?
Laura: First of all, it just has all these really juicy stories about all the mistakes he's made, which is so much fun to read. He had this real estate empire that fell apart and he really details exactly what he did wrong. It's just one of those books that's just super rock solid advice from someone who has actually been there and is super experienced. And his whole thing is that you should make sure to have a lot of, he just calls it 'thinking time'. And there's a lot of great prompts and the book has questions for thinking time, and he's just like set aside time every day and just write out or even just think about what these questions mean for your business.
Jeroen: Yeah. So, it's like a sort of experienced person who kind of shares all the learnings. Are they very concrete learnings?
Laura: It is, yeah. It's really specific, especially when he's sharing from his own journey. So, a lot of the question prompts of course are more broad. You know, a question might be like, what would happen if your business relied only on referrals? And then it's interesting to think, oh, what would that mean for our business? How would that look? But then it's also mixed in with stories of 'I got too ahead of myself', 'I got over leveraged' and 'I had this much debt and then I thought everything was going to go great and then I couldn't pay it and then everything fell apart'. And like, those are the ones that are pretty fun to read.
Jeroen: Cool. I just added it to my Goodreads want-to-read list. Thank you. Is there, talking about journey, anything you wish you would have known when you started out?
Laura: I think one of the biggest lessons that I've learned is just that there's no formula. You can read books like these and you can get ideas and you can learn things and be inspired from what other people have done. But I think often in our business we're searching for the answer, you know, we want to know like, okay, how do you attract customers? How do you convert customers, how do you make sure that people use your tool, if you're in SaaS and it's great to read all the resources out there and read different people's stories. But there's no one answer and what works for another company won't necessarily work for you.
Laura: And I think the sooner you can accept that it's different for everybody and there's no one right way to do it, it's actually really freeing. Because I think at first it's really frustrating because you're like, "Just tell me. Just tell me what to do." But then when you figure out that you can really do anything, it's kind of cool because you're like, okay, well I can do it my way. I don't have to do it the way anybody else does it.
Jeroen: Yeah. That's really solid advice. I mean you often see on these kind of Facebook groups where people ask for advice and then other people just give them advice without even asking about the specific situation or they ask like, "Does freemium work?" And then people say, no it doesn't without any background on what is it that you do? Is the business fit for freemium? I don't know.
Laura: Yeah, that's such a great example because yeah, you read things like that: does freemium work? Yes or no? And it's obviously a ridiculous question. You know, there have been companies for whom freemium has been a huge part of their success. There've been companies that have shut down because of it. And then there's more often, like everything in between, there's like, it sort of worked for us. We've got a few customers from it. It's not our main thing, which is so common and no one wants to hear that. We all want like, the yes or the no. But yeah, anything can work, anything can cannot work. And like I mentioned, I'm from the marketing world, so marketers are horrible about this, because marketers always promise you that one magic formula, like yeah, do freemium. Start a podcast. Blog five times a week. Do super long blog posts. Do super short blog posts. You always see all this stuff as though, oh, this is the magic bullet that once you start doing this, everything will be different. And the reality is any of those tactics could work or not work for your business.
Jeroen: Yeah. That's maybe partly what's to blame, all the content marketing out there that is just like, generalized prescriptions.
Laura: Well, I really liked this idea from a group called EO - Entrepreneurs Organization, that's kind of like a mastermind that pairs you with other entrepreneurs. And in EO, they have a rule that you can't give advice. You can only share your personal experiences. And personal experiences means not like I read it in a book, but this actually happened to me.
Laura: So if someone's like, I'm having this conflict with my co-founder, what do you think? The people who share all they're allowed to share is, well, this is what happened with me and my co-founder. You know, you find this so often once you're farther along, you realize that a lot of it's stuff, like you said, a lot of the blog posts and content marketing you read isn't even things that people have personal experience about. They just read it somewhere and it's another rewriting it for you. Or it's written in a way that's like, this is the answer for everyone. So, I love this idea of just sharing your personal experience and then people can take from it what they want.
Jeroen: Yeah. That sounds like the best way to go about it. Final question. What's the best piece of business advice you ever got? Something you can share with other people on the podcast?
Laura: One piece of advice that I always remember is: people don't fail, systems do. And that means whenever you have a human failure in your business, which happens to all of us, right? Instead of jumping to, which we often do, why did that person mess up? Do they not care? Are they not focused? Do they not have the skills? You first should always, always look at what was the system that failed behind this.
Laura: So it's like, did we not have someone else checking that, that should have been? Did we not use the correct tool that would have worked better for us? It's almost never the case of like, oh, well, they just did it wrong just to spite you. People usually think they're making the right move at the time. So looking into what were the systems, either implicit or explicit, that were in place to allow this mistake to happen, is what you should be doing.
Jeroen: Cool, that's a really good advice. Thank you again, Laura, for being on Founder Coffee. It was really great to have you.
Laura: Yeah. Thank you.
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