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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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An interview with Ryan Hertel of Socialocca

I’ve devoted a lot of my time and effort in trying to help local entrepreneurs through advising, attending meetups, and being an active part of the local tech and business communities. I haven’t, however, taken those insights and shared them here on my blog. Nor have I done much to help promote local businesses through my blog. So it is my goal, starting here in the beginning of 2019, to do so.

The series will be called #NEPATechInsights. It will include interviews with startups, investors, entrepreneurs. It will also include some insights I’ve both given and gotten

This interview is with Ryan Hertel from a local digital marketing and product company called Socialocca in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. We began this interview over email in December 2018.

I first met Ryan one year ago when he presented at the February 2018 NEPA Tech Meetup. He seems to have a lot of energy, has his fingers in a bunch of things, and is actively trying to build cool products and services. Energy and passion are two things that cannot be taught. Ryan has both and if he keeps them both everything else will fall into place.

Let’s get into the interview so that you can learn more about Ryan and what he is up to.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to do this interview Ryan. Perhaps first we should begin with Socialocca and the products and services it provides. Can you break that down for us a little? Who are the company? What are the products and services that it provides today?

RYAN: Socialocca is an ecosystem that is home to various offshoots of the company which provide Socialocca clients a well rounded and customizable service for branding, digital design, social media, public relations, visual media and more. Each branch was created out of necessity to make the lives of both the Socialocca team and their clients, easier and more efficient.

Socialocca was originally pioneered by myself, a DJ accidentally turned “9:00am-5:00pm businessman”. Backing me is a team of 15 creatives that help me keep the rain forest running including Matthias Claflin (visual media director), Greg Josuweit (sales/business development), Kelsey Mulhern (graphic designer), Michael Hartman (social media manager), Sarah Matarella (project manager), and other young creatives.

The agency offers clients a wide scope of digital solutions, but still individualizes the services and products through unique “offshoots” represented by rain forest animals. Social media management (Socialocca), Instagram growth (Tree Frog), digital design (Inkaloo), PR & marketing (Howler), social media software (Blu), and visual media production (Lux) are all specialized services that Socialocca is collectively able to offer its clients.

Can you provide an explanation as to how Tree Frog, your Instagram growth product, works? Also some stats?

Tree Frog Statistics

RYAN: Tree Frog is an organic growth service that will increase your Instagram engagement. We help manage hundreds of Instagram accounts, engaging with targeted users on their behalf to generate attention for the managed profile. Matt Topper, my business partner, and I started Tree Frog when Instagram started to reduce the organic engagement users would naturally get on their posts. Because of that, we’ve been able to grow Tree Frog quickly thanks to the demand for authentic Instagram growth.

We’ve been able to help our average subscriber grow anywhere from 100-200 new followers a week, and in some cases it’s even better!

What are the company’s goals for 2019?

RYAN: For 2019, we’re focusing on 3 main things:

  1. A new space – we grew a lot in 2018, and I think one of the primary reasons was because we finally had a physical address to visit. Now, it’s only a private office, but even that beats meeting clients at Dunkin’ every day. For 2019 though, we’re searching for an actual storefront with more space and easy access. There’s a lot of people involved who will heavily benefit from having a dedicated space to be creative.
  2. Better branding – Socialocca is obviously a made up word, but the pronunciation I’ve dictated is \ˈsō-shə-lō-kuh\. One of our biggest blockades right now is just brand awareness. Being in business for just a year and a half works against us sometimes, and many of our competitors have multiple years of development over us. We’re going to kick things up heavily these next 12 months, and by the end of the year, I’m at least hoping to hear even just a few less mispronunciations of “Socialocca” 😅
  3. Better team-building – 2018 presented a lot of opportunities that forced me to really come to terms with the truth that my skill level for many creative talents is mediocre at best, and I NEVER want Socialocca’s output to be mediocre. Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate to have met so many friends and business acquaintances that I’ve been able to tap into the talents of to make sure Socialocca’s output isn’t bottle-necked. Now, with all these people regularly working on Socialocca projects, I feel it’s time to start doing what any successful agency does: team-building. It’s time to order pizza parties, call meetings to discuss goals, and really try to develop an original ‘culture’ for working with Socialocca!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building Socialocca?

The biggest challenge I’ve been facing is scaling. We’re getting a lot better with project management and smoothness of service delivery as we naturally gain experience, but providing enough work to keep the team happy is ultimately my responsibility.

It’s difficult to keep constantly growing because that means the majority of the opportunities I find need to excel the business financially, and that’s hard to consistently keep up with.

Want more from Ryan? Be sure to listen to Ryan’s interview on Episode 68 of tecBRIDGE Radio.

Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer these questions.

Large companies aren’t good homes for beloved services

(I had no idea what to title this post.)

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode earlier this year, re: Verizon shuttering relatively large services they’ve purchased over the years rather than “bothering” to sell them off (like they did with Flickr):

So if Verizon thinks a property with 100 million users is better off dead than sold, think of all the other random properties it might have slated for the deadpool.

A revealing tidbit in this is K. Guru Gowrappan regretting the sale of Flickr because it took too long and was too expensive of a transaction. I’m glad they did. I want Flickr to continue to exist and I’m sure there are millions more that would too.

Large companies are not good homes for beloved services. We are living in an age of the internet where if a service isn’t at hundreds-of-millions of users and throwing off tons of profit they simply aren’t worth the time for companies the size of Verizon or Google. Both of these companies have enormous cemeteries in their backyards of things they’ve built or bought and shuttered regardless of their usage or loyal users.

Over the last year I’ve moved my use of platforms, services, or products to things I can control long term or are open source. Examples include my photo management process no longer being reliant on the cloud, my content all being on my own domain, and my site being on my own infrastructure. I still have more work to do but I want to future proof as much of the stuff I care about as I can.

Scranton Craftsmen – February 2017

A few years ago I was grateful to receive a guided tour of this interesting steel and concrete fabrication business. I learned a lot.

Microsoft buys GitHub

Satya Nadella:

More than 28 million developers already collaborate on GitHub, and it is home to more than 85 million code repositories used by people in nearly every country. From the largest corporations to the smallest startups, GitHub is the destination for developers to learn, share and work together to create software. It’s a destination for Microsoft too. We are the most active organization on GitHub, with more than 2 million “commits,” or updates, made to projects.

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few years you’ll know that I’m rather bullish on what Satya Nadella has been doing within Microsoft. Today’s Microsoft is one that embraces open source, contributes heavily to it, allows developers to use any language and platform, etc.

The news that they’ve agreed to acquire GitHub later this year is not surprising at all. I’ve tried to find public evidence where I’ve stated that Microsoft should buy GitHub but for the life of me I cannot find it. I would go so far as to say that Microsoft was the best possible exit for GitHub.

Given some of the negativity I’ve seen around this news, it is my guess that MSFT is going to go out of its way to make sure the community knows they will be good stewards of GitHub. So prepare to see them invest rather heavily on the platform, features, team, and community-related initiatives. Which are all very good things.

Keep watching, I think we’re going to be seeing a Microsoft that none of us would have ever thought possible just a few short years ago.

Elon Musk on meetings

Elon Musk, in a recent memo to Tesla employees:

Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

Not all advice is applicable to every situation. This is Elon’s advice for Tesla at this moment in time. However, in general, I’d recommend looking at these three tips and doing an honest evaluation of your company’s meeting policy.

/via Jalopnik who first obtained the memo.

Socialocca presents a Social Media Workshop at the February 2018 NEPA Tech meet up

Ryan K. Hertel, Socialocca

This month’s NEPA Tech meet up was yet another smashing success. If you live in northeastern Pennsylvania and are interested in the intersections of business, technology, the arts, etc. (and you want to see our area thrive in all of these things) please consider attending an upcoming event.

Ryan K. Hertel of Socialocca, a small social media advertising and management agency, gave a presentation on the current social media landscape as well as some tactics his company uses for his clients. His presentation was energetic, informative, and I’m certain everyone that attended found some value in it.

Social media and digital advertising is still on the rise in our area but it also continues to be a hard sell. Many longtime small business owners are not entrenched in social media enough to see its impact on their businesses. They do not invest heavily enough, either in time or money, to see the incredible network effects that can happen if they did. Ryan’s company, as well as Condron Media, are constantly trying to prove the value of these activities with limited budgets in our area.

The pendulum is swinging though. More and more companies are sick of feeling left out, their competition is beginning to invest in social media, and they don’t want to be left behind.

I look forward to seeing where Ryan’s company is in 5 years.

Microsoft for Startups

Microsoft:

We’re excited to announce Microsoft for Startups, a new program that delivers access to technology, go-to-market and community benefits that helps startups grow their customer and revenue base.  We are committing $500 million over the next two years to offer joint sales engagements with startups, along with access to our technology, and new community spaces that promote collaboration across local and global ecosystems. Startups are an indisputable innovation engine, and Microsoft is partnering with founders and investors to help propel their growth.

In addition to the $500M commitment MSFT is making, once a startup is in this program they’ll have access to numerous other benefits including a huge salesforce to leverage, Reactor, ScaleUp, and Ventures.

I’ll be watching this closely.

SPARK Talks at the NEPA Tech meet up in December 2017

SPARK Talks are, by definition, Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable talks that are loosely timed, on a specific topic (more or less), and allow many presentations to be given at an event. I had never heard of them prior to this month’s NEPA Tech meet up organized by John George.

SPARK Talks remind me of Lightning Talks or Ignite. I have been to a few Ignite events – some where very early like this one 10 years ago. The thing I appreciate most about this style of presentation is that many in attendance can be part of the program. In fact, at this particular meet up nearly every single attendee was able to take a few minutes and describe themselves, something they’re currently working on, or a topic of their choice.

Photo: Ted giving his presentation on Rust.

In all there were 15 presenters. I quickly jotted them down as they happened. I didn’t get full names or all of their web sites, but at least I captured something. Here are the presenters and their topics:

  1. John – spoke about becoming an independent developer
  2. Jared – discussed his ambitions of working in real estate
  3. George – described use IoT in industrial industries
  4. Ryan – talked of learning more about computers, the web, to better do his job
  5. Kevin – discussed some of the WhatNow! journey
  6. Beth – spoke of her passion for the environment
  7. Colin (me) – spoke about not getting hung up on decision making, just start
  8. Jason – discussed some of the projects Sho Technology Solutions is working on
  9. Ted – talked about the advantages of Rust
  10. Anthonyeducated us on the xAPI
  11. Chris – discussed some of the challenges and next-steps for NEPA Fiber
  12. Danny – showed us a video demo of Kraken Board Sports latest product
  13. Mark – rallied the attendees to contribute to NEPA Tech
  14. Den – discussed his self-taught history of becoming a front-end developer
  15. Gary – discussed eating odd things for his YouTube channel

As you can see the topics were all over the map which helped to keep the evening interesting and the shortness of the presentations moved the event along nicely. I believe NEPA Tech will do events like this again in the future. If so, be sure to contribute. Most of these were fairly unscripted talks so don’t be hesitant.

Thanks to John George for organizing this month’s event. Onto 2018.


The Giving Tree Wellness Center, Penn Avenue, Scranton, Pa – September 2017

In September Mark Keith and I poked our heads into this brand-new business in Downtown Scranton. They have a nice spot (and sensory deprivation chambers).

Presenting at the August 2017 Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup

The Lehigh Valley Tech Meetup is an excellent community in the Lehigh Valley that meets monthly at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners incubator within the Lehigh University Mountaintop campus. The community around the meetup is excellent and the building is amazing*.

While the tail-end of my presentation walked through my experience building my first iOS app Summit, the majority of my presentation was focused on helping early stage companies think about their go to market strategies.

I’m currently advising several companies, a few of which are businesses built around mobile apps, and have heard about 11 other start-up pitches this year so far. And during that time I’ve noticed a trend. Entrepreneurs that are attempting to build a business around an app sometimes underestimate the amount of thought that should go into the marketing and sales strategy for the app. It is as if some feel that apps are less thought and work than products that you can touch. So during my presentation at LVTech I hoped to convey that the same “boring” (yet, tried and true) business practices that apply to products also apply to software.

A few questions I urged those thinking about building a business around an app were:

  • Does your idea service a large enough segment of the market? We hear the “scratch your own itch” mantra a lot. However, it won’t always lead to finding hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of customers.
  • How will you reach those customers?
  • Are there ways to expand your idea into other products or services that can be sold to the same segment?
  • How will you sell or package your idea?
  • What will the price be? (free, one-time payment, subscription, service contracts)
  • What channels can you leverage to sell your idea? (App Store, retail, online, conferences, distributorships, via a sales force)

By considering these, and may other questions, you can determine if your idea has enough layers to support an entire business or if you just have an app idea**.

I also briefly discussed three misconceptions I’ve been seeing over the last year dealing with very early stage start-ups. These misconceptions were:

  • Press-based launch strategies: some thing that by being covered by press will be enough to get them to profitability. They have no other strategy. On the contrary, getting press coverage early on will give you very muddy analytics which will make decision marking very difficult. Very seldom are the tech audience your real customers.
  • How long until profitablilty: More and more entrepreneurs begin with the plan of losing money for 3 or more years. I believe this stems from press coverage of other companies getting large rounds of funding. Most businesses should strive for profitability within the first quarter or year of business.
  • ”I’m not technical, I need a technical co-founder”: Don’t be this person. Anyone can learn to code. Geeks are not smarter than you. They’re just interested and relentless. Be the same.

We then did about 10 minutes or so of questions and answers. The questions I got were really great and I appreciate all those in attendance helping me with the answers to the questions I didn’t have much experience in.

Thanks to Tim Lytle for the invitation to speak and to Ben Franklin Technology Partners for the continued support.

* I worked in this same building for years while at Viddler. But when I worked there the back half of the building didn’t exist. In fact, Viddler started in Jordan Hall – the building just beside the new building. And now, they are extending it even further. The building is an amazing place to work and have a meetup of this kind. I’m jealous that our incubator in Scranton feels so dated when compared to this building. Especially comparing the meeting spaces.

** It it totally fine to “just have an app idea”. I do. And I’m loving working on it. But it is also good to have the proper perspective about your app idea.