Squirrly business products digital assistants inside SaaS
Please introduce yourself and your startup Squirrly to our readers!
My name is Florin Muresan and I used to travel a lot from London, United Kingdom to Cluj-Napoca, Romania before the pandemic. I’ve started Squirrly in London in 2012. I am a co-host on the StartupEspresso podcast and also I’ve been mentoring and acting as an advisor for startup teams across Europe since 2014 (different accelerator programs, Startup Weekends, etc.)
Validated 17 products to date with real money paid by customers. However, my number 1 passion product was always Squirrly SEO, and now in 2020 I’ve finally managed (together with my talented teams of course) to turn my dream from 2010 to reality. Yes, ten years of work spanning two startups founded to finally reach the point when we can deliver this Consultant who is Not a human being.
How did you get the idea of Squirrly?
The idea of Squirrly (as a Private Consultant for Marketing, that is Not a Human Being, but an A.I.) actually came to me way back in 2010. Even though we started the Squirrly Company years ago, we weren’t able to get to where we are today, because we needed more feedback from the market and more tech built, that we could use to make this Squirrly 2020 product viable (meaning: to both WORK, and to also be Adopted by customers; we were afraid it would look too alien and no one would adopt it [back then; in those days]).
Back in 2010 when I wrote about the evolution of the Web to Web 3.0 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pioneering-chat-bots-intelligent-agents-ai-web-florin-muresan/ and I said that the machine has enough data to “become able” to offer its human user guidance… it all seemed too much for people at the time, because A.I. and the possibilities of machine learning weren’t understood at the time.
I know because even the teachers at the Technical University in Cluj-Napoca said it was too much.
Being a believer of the Lean Startup movement, I started building what was possible, while also keeping this vision alive and knowing that one day I will get to this point. (that is a whole rollercoaster ride type of story with many hardships along the way).
I knew that one day, with enough understanding of the market and enough tech, I would indeed be able to make technology that understands and learns from the way a website is marketed online and become able to make informed decisions as to what the next promotional steps should be. Just like a human consultant would, but with deeper understanding of the website and the metrics involved.
Why did you decide to start with Squirrly?
Back when I was 19, I started working at a web development agency and I loved the work that I did there. I was super proud of it, especially because once a project was delivered to the customer, they were incredibly excited about what we delivered.
However, after about 3 to 4 weeks they got back with us on the phone and they were asking us why there’s no one … literally no one who starts visiting their sites, or calling their phone number.
What we told them was:
“well, you only ordered a website, with coding and UI”. It was very hard for them to understand that once you have the site, you need to market it. You need to write copy, promote it, send it to people, ask others to publish about your site, etc.
And sadly, in 2020 the case is still the same. Web development agencies who partnered with us keep telling us that the same thing keeps happening even now. They [the customers who get websites from our partners] don’t bring traffic to their sites, they don’t do SEO, don’t do content marketing, don’t do social media.
Squirrly 2020 changes all that. Through the Daily SEO Goals, we get these new website owners to work on all these aspects, in a very clever way, based on actual studies of their site, their competitive landscape and more. And we get them to engage in all these activities as it makes sense for their private case. In an orderly fashion, not to leave them confused by too many tasks in too many directions.
We couldn’t do this before 2020, because we would have risked giving generic advice… by which I mean: we would have repeated the same advice to everyone in our community. Which is not a smart way to go about it, because people need personalized help, not random ideas thrown out at them.
I started Squirrly to make sure that once a business owner gets online, they know exactly what to do with their new website, their new social media accounts, etc. So that they won’t have a costly problem (an over-paid site that does nothing for them), but a real chance of becoming visible in the digital world and making a name for themselves.
What is the vision behind Squirrly?
To make the tech side of a business, the machine itself (even though it is composed of many services), to uses all the data it gathers and support the human user (usually a small business owner or a marketing professional) by telling them exactly what they need to do to bring more marketing wins to the table.
That is why we embed so many Digital Assistants in the various products we create: https://www.squirrly.co/digital-assistants/
However, all of that is for the tech teams and the product side.
Our vision for our customers and the reason why we built the Squirrly Company is this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__PPtpPIcCI
Empower Business Owners to Own Their Digital Presence.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
It was incredibly difficult and I’m happy we made it this far, to the point where we can actually launch this. Even though we’ve had more than 6,455 customers paying subscriptions for our solutions, it was not a smooth ride, as we invest too much of the profit we’d normally make into developing these solutions.
We started with a small angel investment (in a few years we had made 25x that money in terms of sales and revenue) from two amazing angel investors from Germany. Both of them appreciated leaders in tech. Great people.
In 9 months we’d reached ramen-profitability, but that was not going to last too long, because our costs with creating and delivering the Squirrly SEO software and plugin were way too high. And becoming much higher as time went by. The cloud services side of our business has always put a huge strain on our finances.
We had to start an agency at one point (2014 to 2018) to be able to generate enough cash to survive. Luckily that was lucrative and really helped us push forward with our vision for Squirrly SEO. Otherwise, we would’ve had to close down and we would never have gotten to where we are today.
Also: the biggest problem for us to overcome is all the lies and half-truths regarding SEO.
Most solutions that our customers are aware of (we focus 100% on what customers think and feel, not on what competitors are doing) tell them that the only thing they need to do to reach the first page of Google search for any keyword (which is already obviously a lie for someone who knows content marketing or SEO even in the slightest) is to install their plugins and that’s it. They’ll be ranked higher via …. magic I suppose.
It’s hard for us to break through all that noise, but luckily we do and we managed to reach many paying subscribers which made us close the agency, because we no longer needed to rely on the cash it was generating.
Who is your target audience?
Small business owners (about an estimated 60 to 70% of our audience), agencies, freelancers, content marketers, affiliate marketers and personal brand.
What is the USP of your startup?
Private SEO Consultant. In a Plugin. Powered by Machine Learning and Cloud Services. Giving users a private SEO consultant who is not a human being; and who is more accurate and charges MUCH less than its human counter-part.
Can you describe your typical workday ?
Going to the office, drinking tons of coffee (all of the tons. all the coffee. Checking our support channels (even now after all these years, me and my co-founder handle most of the support requests, because it helps us identify what users actually expect and want out of the UX for each product). Discussing new plans and ideas that my teammates have and then lots of creative work to get things done.
Where do you see yourself and your startup Squirrly in five years?
I see myself as still CEO of Squirrly, and it will be one of the biggest publishers of software in the world. We’ve started (secretly) working towards this goal already. We’re now actually the publishers for some of our best selling products, even though we still get involved in some of the development (but only parts related to delivering the best user experience, due to our know-how).
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
1) Never give up if you really love what you’re doing and you think that what you’re doing needs to be done.
There is no pleasure in seeing few years later that someone else managed to do what you were trying to do, but didn’t because you gave up.
There are many resources to use, many mentors, people, partners you can team up with. We live in a connected work. You can get out there and find what you need to succeed.
2) Give up if you find out that you wouldn’t spend the next 7 to 10 years on doing what you’re doing (given that you feel like giving up right now).
3) Learn from everyone around you. Again: we live in a connected world. Even if you are shy, or you have a hard time establishing new relationships: join a Toastmasters club, or read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Learn how to network. Then use social media and everything that’s available today to forge connections with mentors, speakers at conferences, people who can give you solid advice, people you might have something to learn from.
More information you will find here
Thank you Florin Muresan for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.