"If you have no budget, start by picking ten people in your network to invite to your service or ask who they know that may be interested."
Interview with Mandy Menaker, for Shapr App
An inspiring story of how Mandy got started as the first US hire for Shapr, a free networking app that has raised $16.5 million in funding for the business.
1) Hello Mandy, welcome to Introvert Thoughts. We'd love to learn a little about your background. How did you get involved with Shapr?
Shapr is a completely free app for professional networking. Our community includes 600,000 professionals, we grow by 2,500 people a day, and we have been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. and BBC News.
Prior to Shapr, I spent five years building a small local business into a bustling startup. I was hired as the third employee at a Brooklyn-based foreign language school called Fluent City. When I first started, we had no budget for marketing but an ambition to bring together culturally minded adults after work. We got scrappy in those early years, and relied on blogging and community partnerships to grow our customer base. A large part of our success was thanks to the network of advocates, partners and fans we built. When I left the company, we had taught 23,000 students and we had 23 full time employees and over 200 part-time teachers.
I wanted to find an exciting adventure and had already started using Shapr to network and discover opportunities in my city. Shapr’s mission was incredibly simple - to make networking an everyday habit and to encourage people to meet someone new each week. The mission was in line with my values and the team was phenomenal - a group of humble, intuitive, successful entrepreneurs who wanted to make a difference. It took one lunch with the CEO before I signed my contract. I started working three weeks before my official start date, during a vacation, because I couldn’t wait to dive in.
2) What was it like in the first week or two of starting your own business
While I was not an original founder of Shapr (which has five founders based in Paris), I was the first hire for the US office. The first few months I worked from my apartment, since I preferred to allocate our budget to growth over office space. My team got very comfortable with me taking calls in my Harry Potter Hufflepuff sweatshirts on cold mornings, and both the CEO and CMO worked from my living room during trips to New York. Almost every day, I tried to meet a new Shapr user for lunch or coffee, so I could understand who was using the app and why, as well as involving our users in the direction of the company.
I think the most important thing you can do when you start at a new company is to listen and learn. It’s great to come in with ideas, but you should also spend as much time discovering why your company works a certain way and what ideas have previously been launched. For this reason, I also spent a lot of time working from our office in Paris, sitting down with every member of our team including engineers and interns to ask them what they loved about the company and what they hoped we would try.
3) How did you come by funding for Shapr?
To date, Shapr has raised $16.5 million in funding all through private investors. Our app is fully funded, which is how we are able to keep the product free while focusing on product development and growing our community. While our CEO Ludovic Huraux has led all fundraising efforts, the success of the fundraising is a team effort. We have investors because of the success metrics we were able to share while fundraising. The engineering team has built a brilliant product, the marketing team has helped to scale our customer base exponentially (we are up to 600,000 users) and our team working on the algorithm has created a meaningful new way to network.
4) Who helped you the most with this business venture?
I have to shout out our graphic designer Meghan O’Connell a close friend who was essential to the branding of Shapr.
We ran our first major print ads in January 2017, a subway brand train campaign that covered 10% of NYC subway cars. Our team was confident that no agency would be able to know our voice better, so I wrote all copy for the ads along with our CMO Vincent Bobin. We needed a designer who could bring our ideas to life.
Meghan started with the text I gave her and created incredibly detailed, beautiful designs that inspired the look and feel of the new versions of the app we will release this Fall. She was also an incredible person to work with, as she was constantly going above and beyond to deliver quality work. As we are a networking app, we have always tried to hire people within our networks or within the Shapr community when we have opportunities for freelancers. Half of our team were users on the app first!
5) How you got your first few clients (tips on attaining new business)
We started by contacting our own professional networks, and asking friends and former colleagues to test out the app. Your existing network is always a great place to find early advocates and more importantly honest people who will give you constructive advice. If you have no budget, start by picking ten people in your network to invite to your service or ask who they know that may be interested.
We now market the app through a combination of Facebook and Instagram ads, branded content and PR. However, 50% of our traffic is through word of mouth.
6) Have you got any tips for our readers on how to make it past the 12 months mark?
The scariest part of every week is Monday, when I sit down and look at what I hope to accomplish. Instead of making Monday so daunting, I have made Friday a celebration. Every Friday I make a list of three things I am proud of accomplishing and one thing I could have done better that week. It ends your week in a good place, and also gives you a specific attainable goal for the following week rather than an overwhelming number of tasks to focus on.