I’m an introvert by nature. I prefer spending a lot of time with a few close friends and associates, rather than spreading that time over too many people but without doing enough justice to any of them.
However if you start a company that aims to serve a particular community, there is no way you will be successful if you don’t engage with people from this community. You need to understand them, you need to build relationships with them and you need to get feedback on your service or product. And you need to keep working on this cycle till they love your product and are willing to spread the word about it.
All this means getting to know new people.
At makkajai, we build Educational technology. More specifically, our first iPad app, Monster Math, is an Arithmetic app that combines tons of fun with really smart feedback loop. While we built the Math Game with kids as the center of our universe, and did a pretty good job with that, we had very little access to teachers who used iPads in their classrooms, especially from markets where iPad had deep penetration. This was especially important because educators would be the key influencers for us.
Sure, I personally knew tons of teachers in India, but they very few had access to iPads or other tablets in their classrooms.
Around this time, one of our advisors and close friends recommended we started focussing on Community Engagement.
We wanted early-adopter schools and teachers to try out Monster Math so we thought this was a good way to combine both the things. However, some questions bothered us.
How do we do find people?
Enter Twitter. Most tech-early adopters already are active on Twitter, so it seemed like a no-brainer to us that this is the place we should be looking. We did experiment with other social networks and even forums like Reddit, but Twitter seemed natural right from start.
Will people talk to us?
Again – Twitter!
Unlike Facebook or Whatsapp, which are about keeping in touch with your existing friends, or LinkedIn, which is about your professional network, Twitter is built around interests and engaging with people of similar interests. This is especially useful, because people expect to make new friends on Twitter purely based on mutual shared interests.
I already had an active twitter account for few years now, so it seemed logical for me to continue using that account.
Will we seem salesy?
While I’ve used twitter before, it was only on a personal level to engage with people I found interesting – with absolutely no other agenda. Doing this, with more effort, especially to try and push a product seemed very unnatural.
We did not want to spam people – no one likes a person whose first message to you is “try out my product”. On the other hand, faking interest in people and trying to engage with people just to ask them to try out our product just seemed wrong.
Trying to disguise a sales pitch as genuine personal interest seemed shallow at so many levels.
And so we promised never to do that. Instead, although I started spending more time on Twitter, I used it like I would as an individual and not as a business.
Instead of sales, we decided to treat this as a customer development exercise, with following goals -
- To become a part of thriving EdTech community already existing on Twitter.
- Engage with the community in general; speak to them about the things that are important to them, understand what makes them tick, learn their pain-points.
- Add value in general – help whenever possible, without expecting anything back. Share interesting things which may be totally unrelated to what we do, but are interesting to our community.
- Avoid a sales pitch at any cost. The most we would do to bring attention to what we do is use our bio.
- Don’t look to sell. Even when people were interested in trying out our Product, instead of trying to be sneaky and extract extra dollars, we gave away promo codes. After all they were helping us out by giving us valuable feedback, it just felt wrong to ask them to pay for it too.
Any trials or downloads we get out of this would be secondary in nature; the primary goal would be to learn more about the people we want to serve and engage with them on a personal level.
I was astonished to see the results!
- I started forming so many real friends on Twitter. I met several teachers that have done such interesting things in their classrooms that their passion for teaching is infectious.
Every interesting story we come across, every motivational video, even a thought provoking quote, just keeps igniting our passion for Education further, pushing us to continue doing our best in this domain.
- I met so many interesting people with similar interests even outside EdTech and ended up having varied and interesting conversations. I found other Game Designers and Haskell Developers for example. I had conversations with them on topics from intricacies of functional development, to philosophy of time and it’s essence.
We learnt about new things. For instance, I learnt new resources, such as TeachersPayTeachers which we could use to cut time creating supplementary material for our app.
It was easy. Because connecting with someone is the most human thing you can do. And Twitter makes it easy to do so.
People wanted to help us. Whether you call it good karma or just law of averages, on one hand we strived to help without expecting anything, but we also got help from totally unexpected quarters.
We did manage to get early trials and feedback. In fact some of our new friends even helped us promote Monster Math!
— Ms. Jonesy’s Bears (@FrostJonesy)
— daily STEM (@dailystem)
And we got these with no sales pitches. Teachers who tried out Monster Math were genuinely interested in what we do. They were also extreme early-adopters – teachers who’ve done 1:1 iPad classrooms before the mainstream, for example. Or teachers who do podcasts. And those are the best people to user our product early on, because their feedback will help us build a really valuable offering.
In short – Twitter is an amazing place to find people with the particular set of interests. You can really get to know the community your business wants to serve. Treat people with respect, add value and you will be amazed at how much you can get out of this community, not only on a professional but also on a personal front. Just make sure you don’t add to the spam.