Laura Roeder on Growing Edgar toward $2.7M in Revenue
While on Maternity Leave
If you’re like me, then perhaps you can’t imagine running your business without a little thing known as social media marketing. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and all the others have made it possible for so many entrepreneurs and brands at every level to connect with their audiences like never before.
However as much as social media is empowering, it can sometimes feel like three full time jobs. Keeping up with the platforms and the posts and the people can be a LOT to manage—especially for a solopreneur or a small startup. Which is exactly why Laura Roeder founded Edgar, a social media automation tool like no other.
Becoming an entrepreneur at age 22, Laura’s journey has taken her from web design, to social media marketing, to selling educational products, to now running a rapidly growing software startup. In less than two years, she and her team have grown Edgar to $2.7 million in annual revenue—and this is only the beginning.
You may be pleased to hear (as we were) that Laura built Edgar while pregnant with her first baby and even took three months leave during a period of especially high growth. We caught up with Laura to learn the full story to her success and find out how she set up her company to scale without her. Read on for our fascinating conversation on everything from branding to team building to what platform we all need to be on next.
Let’s start with your story. What were you doing before you launched Edgar?
I had been working for myself for nine years before I launched Edgar, so it’s definitely a nine-year overnight success. I started out doing freelance web and print design. That parlayed into the world of social media marketing and online marketing. I worked on information products and training courses and with social media marketing from 2009 onwards and then launched Edgar in 2014. This is the first software business that I’ve ever built!
So before building this social media automation software, you were already known as a social media expert. How did you develop that expertise? Have you always been passionate about social media?
When I was making websites for clients—at the time, it was small businesses in Chicago—I would talk to them about how people were going to find their site, how they would turn into a visitor and then into an actual customer for them. So I would help them with what was really their online marketing plan. At the time I thought that’s what you did when you made a website for someone—I didn’t know any better. So I was doing free online marketing consulting as a bonus. Then in 2007, social media became a topic my clients would ask me about, “I’m hearing about Twitter. People are using it for business. What’s going on there?” I was just using it for fun but I thought, “Sure, I’ll tell you about it and what it is.” It became interesting enough that people kept telling me, “You could get paid just to talk about social media.” I thought, “That sounds a lot easier than building someone a website.” I’ve always been excited about marketing and online marketing in particular and that’s
where my passion for social media lies.
Very cool. How did you come up with the idea for Edgar?
Edgar very directly came out of the social media training I was doing. I was teaching people the workflow that Edgar now does for you. I did a lot of social media marketing for my own company, so I had put together a really clear process. I had this giant spreadsheet with all the social media updates divided into categories and then I would put all the updates in and color code them. Then I would copy and paste them to a social media scheduling tool. I would just cycle through them. I’d have a column with 50 inspirational quotes and I’d just go down the column, copy and pasting them one by one. When I was done with the column, I’d go back to the top and copy and paste them again. So this was my workflow that I was teaching in the training program, but there was a lot of manual labor involved. I had to copy and paste every update. If there was an image, that didn’t really work in the spreadsheet. I just thought, “Why is there so much manual labor? Why am I paying for a social media tool that doesn’t store my social media updates? Why do I still have to have a spreadsheet?” It seemed really odd that the updates couldn’t be stored in the tool. So Edgar was built to manage that workflow I was teaching. You load all of your updates into a categorized library and then Edgar sends based on the category instead of having to schedule every update individually the way a lot of tools do—and it keeps cycling through your content automatically. You just know Edgar is sending out your content everyday without having to go in and decide what’s being sent.
So it’s basically your social media manager without having to hire someone!
Exactly. Actually we get a lot of guilty emails from people being like, “Um, I feel bad, but I actually fired my virtual assistant since I got Edgar,” because that’s the whole idea—you shouldn’t need a human to do this manual labor of scheduling social media because software can do it for you. That’s what Edgar does.
That’s amazing. So what is your take on being actively involved in your own social media vs. hiring someone (or something) to do it for you? How does that effect quality, do you think?
Our philosophy is to let software do what software can do so that you can spend your time doing the human parts, because that’s really important as well. So many people get bogged down in social media because they’re just spending so much time trying to come up with content everyday, and then doing the scheduling or getting online every time they want to post. The idea is let Edgar send it out so that you can actually spend your time doing the social part. If you don’t have to panic to source your content every single day because you’ve already sat down and put some dedicated time into creating a library, you can go in everyday and form relationships and comment and share and actually have the time and the breathing room to enjoy all of those social parts of social media.
We love that. Tell us more about the startup process. Did you raise money to start Edgar?
It was actually self-funded. I had been running my social media business and I also cofounded Marie Forleo’s B-School program with her, so I had made some money there. I funded Edgar to the tune of about $250,000 before it became profitable and started paying for itself every month.
Amazing! And of course we know profitability happened very quickly for you. Beyond hard work, what element do you credit for the rapid success at Edgar?
I think focus is a huge one. Making those hard choices to do a few things and do them really well. I’m a big believer in that. I’ve watched your career Gina and I’ve seen you have that focus as well—making the Academy the one big program, moving on from the weekly radio show to do the magazine instead. At Edgar we’ve put together a marketing strategy that leaves out a lot of things most people do. For example we don’t have an affiliate program, which our customers constantly complain about because they’re like, “We love you, we want to make money promoting it.” But an affiliate program is a whole strategy that requires a lot of time and overhead to maintain, so we don’t have one. There are a lot of things we’ve consciously left out so that we have time to do a few things really well.
How big of a team have you needed to grow the business so quickly?
We did start with the existing team from my social media company, so we had people creating the visual brand and writing copy, etc. There were about six of us when we started in July of 2014 and we now have 16. We have grown quickly, but it’s been a bootstrapped kind of growth. It’s not like we were given this cash infusion of a million dollars to hire executives. Basically—we get more customers, we hire more team, we get more customers, we hire more team. But we definitely have been aggressive in trying to hire in front of our need. That’s actually one of the biggest challenges in mapping out the rest of the year. We have to look at the levels of growth that we’re expecting and ask, how many developers do we need to make sure that the product is up to date and changing with the times? How many customer service people do we need to make sure we can handle the load? Because it takes a few months to find someone great—and then there’s training time. So that’s definitely been a challenge as we’ve grown to make sure that we’re ahead of that.
How important has branding been to growing Edgar’s user base?
So important. Software is a commodity and you need to stand out. Anyone can come and build what we’ve built, right? It takes some time and money, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing unique in building software. To stand out, it’s not just about having a better product. The thing people forget is you don’t see the product until you buy it. We know that our tool is great, but you can only know that once you pay us and start using it. So it’s really important to have something interesting to draw people in. With Edgar, we’ve had a lot of fun with personification. We came up with this octopus who is Edgar and we make up all these insane facts about him. We recently put together a document so we can reference everything we’ve ever said— like, “He loves to make 80s’ mix-tapes in his underwater castle.” It makes the marketing a lot more fun. I love that in the software space. We don’t need to take any of this too seriously, right? We’re social media software. It’s something that we want to make more fun in your business instead of a chore. We’ve seen that our customers have really related with the idea of the software being fun and personable. Actually, we noticed when our customers were writing reviews they were always calling Edgar “he,” which is something we do in our copy. We don’t call him “it.” We call him “he.” We think it sounds nicer. There were so many reviews where people said, “Edgar is my boyfriend,” and “Meet my new man who’s handling my social media for me.” So we actually made stickers that say, “Edgar is my boyfriend” and we send them out to customers.
Nice! So we know you launched the company while you were pregnant and that you went on maternity leave during a period of high growth. How did you set things up to grow without you? Did you really go completely offline?
It ended up being a huge blessing that I was forced to build the company to be able to grow without me. This isn’t my first company, so I was very aware of building something where I could be more hands off. This was however, my first baby, so I knew that I had no idea what I was in for. There are so many different situations that you just can’t anticipate, so after talking to a lot of moms who run businesses, I knew that I wanted to have the space set aside to take off three months entirely with no commitments at all. Being pregnant when we launched forced me to build a business knowing that six months later I was going to be taking three months 100% off. There could be nothing in the business that hinged on me, which allowed it to scale really quickly because I wasn’t bottlenecking anything. So I did take off three months. I got to cheat a little because my husband works in the business and he went back sooner than I did, so he would kind of tell me what was going on. But we didn’t have anything where I was like, “Whoa. I have to step in. It’s gone off the rails.” It went really well while I was away.
That’s awesome. You must be a great macro-manager.
I am really good at giving people ownership. I think that’s what it’s all about for a company to grow without you—you have to give people ownership of their domain. For example I don’t make any choices related to customer service. Our customer service lead decides everything about our policies. She doesn’t need to talk to me about that. And the writer who writes our blog—he decides the strategy. My team can talk to me about these things and I can give input, but I don’t need to approve anything at the company. I approve people’s salaries—but pretty much everything else is handled by someone at the company with me guiding them. Again, it’s what’s allowed us to grow really quickly.
You mentioned this is your first software startup, what were you surprised to learn?
I think what I learned is that a business is a business. Running a business in a new industry has given me confidence that I could go into any industry and I might have a lot to learn, but I would be able to do the basics of what a business needs to survive. You certainly have to learn the intricacies of different industries, which you learn trial by fire, but at the end of the day, you have to have a team. You have to sell something that people want to buy. You have to have more money coming in than you have going out if you want to be profitable. I mean these are all the basics of running a business. I think if you’re not technical you’ll certainly have a huge learning curve in software, but you don’t want to let that stop you from going into a new field if that’s what you’re interested in, because I always say you have to remember that none of us were born knowing any of this. None of the developers on my team were born knowing how to code Ruby on Rails. They all learned at some point or another. Anyone who takes interest can learn.
How can women entrepreneurs benefit from signing up with Edgar?
The biggest benefit of Edgar is the time savings are just enormous, because while you’re doing some front-end work loading your content into the software and gradually growing your library of content over the time, Edgar just handles it beyond that. If you’re sending out updates every day or every week, you’re taking the time to write and send those updates anyway. Might as well send them through a tool where we’re storing them and we’re saving them so that they can get sent out again. The other thing we hear so frequently is that website traffic goes up dramatically from social media once people put Edgar in place. People will come to us a lot and say, “Wow! I started using you and my traffic from social doubled. It’s amazing!” I know the reason is because they’re now sending out double the links. When you’re doing it manually, it’s just really hard to keep up that pace and send out as many updates as you want to everyday. Almost every customer sees an increase in their traffic after they put Edgar to work.
Awesome. So being a social media expert, what’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs looking to build a web presence?
I would say start in just one network, whichever is the most fun for you. If you’re a Facebook lover, Pinterest lover, Instagram lover, it doesn’t really matter so much. If there’s one that you find fun and are comfortable with, you’ll actually be more motivated to do it. It’s hard in the beginning because everyone starts from zero. It’s very frustrating to keep going when you’re like, “No one is listening. No one is reading this. Why am I bothering?” I understand that frustration, but you have to start somewhere. I find it’s a really great strategy to start with one channel, build up a presence there and then when you move to another channel, you’ll have people to take with you. If you start on Instagram and you get to a thousand followers and then you add on Twitter, a certain amount of those thousand followers are going to follow you over to your Twitter account, so it won’t be quite so lonely when you start.
Great advice! Here’s our last question and one that everyone’s always wondering about—what’s the next social channel we all need to be on?
What I love about this question is that you do not have to stress about the next big social channel. We’re talking about social media in regards to marketing your business. The good news is you don’t need to be too cutting edge because there’s no point in you being there before everyone else is right? You want to be where the audience is. You want to be where your customers are. Facebook is still far and away the biggest platform that people are spending most of their time on. It’s always a great one to start. These newer networks just don’t have the numbers yet. A lot of people are jumping on to Snapchat now. Snapchat is still primarily the younger market, the teen and pre-teen market. If those are your customers, it makes a lot of sense, but if those aren’t your customers, you just don’t have huge numbers there yet. For me, if I’m spending my time marketing, I would just much rather spend time on the channels where I know I can get that larger audience share.