First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID19 Times?
Jan Zając: I’m pretty good. We’re staying healthy and after all I have some more time for my family and spend less time on commuting and business travels. We were lucky to spend a big chunk of the previous months in our summer house in the countryside. The business is growing now, and after all, I’m motivated by difficult situations.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Sotrender
Jan Zając: At heart, I’m a researcher, and my background is in academia. I met the other founders of Sotrender while working on IT and data projects related to our PhDs in sociology and social psychology. We wanted to work together in applied projects related to data, enabling people, society and businesses to make use of data and make sound informed decisions.
Sotrender was founded with a vision to explain and understand social media communication around social and marketing issues. Recently, our focus on machine learning has made it possible to automate advanced analytics and provide users with recommendations specifically tailored for their business or brand.
How does Sotrender Innovate?
Jan Zając: Our company consists of a diverse set of teams, specifically, those working in Research and Development (R&D), analytics, product and marketing. They work together to create a product and reports that our clients can use to improve their social media and marketing strategies to grow their business. For example, our R&D team has recently been involved in using their machine learning models for the purposes of natural language processing (NLP), image and emotion recognition, and sentiment analysis.
All of these analyses and models give our clients the ability to learn how their audience interacts with their brand, how they perceive their brand, as well as how their brand and brand ambassadors represent themselves publicly. The application, meanwhile, allows them to track performance metrics on their social media profiles easily.
Thanks to our product team, we’re continually innovating the design and functionality of the application. As of right now, we’re working on a design sprint for automated communication analysis. Our product update will be deployed rather soon!
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?
Jan Zając: We experienced some temporary problems in March and April: we had higher churn, some clients had to downgrade their subscriptions, and some of our bigger deals from Q1 were canceled at the very last moment or took longer than expected.
Still, since we are a SaaS company based on recurring revenue (MRR), most of our revenues were secure. On the other hand, even in the worst of times, we managed to acquire some new clients in March (at the worst of times). That definitely gave us some hope! We tried to be more flexible and find new sources of profitable revenue, e.g. from international clients.
Altogether as an analytics and communication tool we got into ”eCommerce”, and that is a growing area, even – or especially – during a pandemic.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Jan Zając: In March and April, we had quite a difficult time in terms of cash flow. We had the highest churn rate in a while, and more payments were delayed than usual. Some of the sales processes took much longer than expected. Some people were advising us to cut positions or at least salary cuts. However, we chose another option. We communicated openly to the team that we are not doing any position cuts, and we are all fighting not to be forced to temporary salary cuts. And so we all fought – and we did it 🙂 It was touch and go situation at the end of April. Since May, we are growing again, with many new deals. So I guess we got stronger.
We needed to transition from meeting in the office to becoming a remote-first company at the start of the pandemic. We’re lucky that in our line of work, such an endeavor was achievable. Our employees took what they needed from the office to set up their remote work environment. We found ways to shift our activities online, which meant lots of Google Hangouts calls, screen-sharing presentations, and team bonding through cyberspace (our annual Easter celebration was a hit, and all we really needed were some online games and a whiteboard).
Some employees started coming to the (mostly) empty office if they needed a better work environment. Although others seemed to be more productive at home. All in all, we learned that we could adapt to such a strange and unusual situation. Providing some level of normalcy and flexibility to our employees definitely helped them during this time.
How do you Deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you Project yourself and Sotrender in the Future?
Jan Zając: Keeping an optimal energy level is, in my opinion, crucial for a manager, especially a founder. Moreover, some stress has positive consequences – it’s mobilizing.
When it comes to coping with stress and anxiety, it’s always a good idea to take some time off, possibly also disconnect or have a digital detox. There’s so much you can do in real life, and it’s enough to switch off your devices and be active in your environment! Spending time with my family; going on long walks, playing outside, or sometimes just watching movies or having a meal together is great.
You can also do things that improve both your mental and physical health. I’m a big fan of outdoor exercise because all of those can help me a lot. Usually, this includes cycling (especially in different countries), running, hiking, swimming, or some general workout circuit. I try to exercise 4-5 times a week and have at least one longer session (2-3 hours or more). Every once in a while, I love to have a longer reading session (a novel or just magazines) and spend hours laying on a couch.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Jan Zając: We’re considered to be part of what’s called “martech”, but more specifically, we work in social media analytics. So as far as competition is concerned, we’re competing with built-in analytics on social media channels, as well as other analytics tools and companies. Everyone in this industry is trying to find a way to improve upon what companies like Facebook or Twitter have available for their business users. Why? Because companies that use social media platforms have to check their analytics and create reports manually with programs like Excel, PowerPoint, and other free stats generated on social media platforms.
We’ll be staying in the game since we have an advantage over our competition: we build our tool and create reports based on machine learning. Clients that use our Facebook social inbox have access to automatic comment sentiment analysis and Facebook comment statistics, which is extremely rare in this industry. We hope that the way we use NLP, emotion recognition, and object detection in our products will help our clients make better decisions about their marketing strategy.
Your Final Thoughts
Jan Zając: Stay safe. Stay healthy! Every crisis means many problems, but also new opportunities, especially for startups. The way we conduct business will likely change in many ways, and we all have to learn how to adjust and be flexible.