Pittsburgh’s Company Spotlight: Community Elf
Today’s Startup Spotlight is on Community Elf, a company that makes content discovery and creation better with technology and human intelligence.
Here we talk with CEO, Scott Rogerson.
IC: What is Community Elf all about?
Scott: It’s really about engagement. It’s helping to power conversations between our customers and who they want to be talking to – we do it in two ways. We started by being a content marketing managed services organization. This means we’re not an agency, and we’re not a consulting firm. Our goal is to help support the actual execution of our customers’ strategy. They come to us and say, “Here’s who I want to talk to, here’s how I want to say it, and here’s what I want to say,” and we take that and execute across blog creation, social media, digital advertising, and email marketing – covering the entire customer journey. Most importantly, our focus is on connecting all those things on a daily basis – moving the customer from awareness and activation to engagement, conversion, and retention. The other piece of the business actually came out of that, and that is our technology, UpContent. It’s goal is to find relevant, engaging content anywhere on the web, it looks at conversations you want to be a part of, and we filter it in many ways.
IC: How did you come up with the idea for Community Elf and then further along for UpContent?
Scott: I joined the organization this past November, so it wasn’t my idea, but it actually started from a customer problem identified by the founder, Jon Pastor, of another business called Rent Jungle. They were doing apartment listing aggregation work and their conversations with property managers were, “We as a property manager and as a facility need to differentiate ourselves beyond physical, tangible items. One of the ways we want to do that is by creating a sense of community and a sense of culture for our properties. In order for us to do that we need to be active with an online presence. Do you do that?” At first it was, ”No”. Then after a few more customers asked, it became, “Yes, absolutely”. That’s where Community Elf came from.
IC: What were you doing before you started working at Community Elf?
Scott: The last position I had was at a private equity firm that I started with an individual I met at Carnegie Mellon[University]. Our goal was to find and acquire one business. The model we used was called the search-fund model. I ended up doing that for two years, but didn’t end up acquiring anything. Luckily this opportunity presented itself. Joining the team at Community Elf afforded the possibility to roll-up my sleeves and get some dirt under my fingernails. Before that it was management consulting and IT audit consulting.
IC: How many people did Community Elf start with when they broke off from Rent Jungle and how many people are on the team now?
Scott: When it first started, as part of Rent Jungle, there were no more than a handful of individuals who were responsible for providing social media management services. We now have about 25 total team members; four on the development side focusing on the UpContent technology and the remainder focusing on providing services to our over 100 clients across 35 industries.
Scott: We’re currently looking into getting more individuals interested in helping us grow and expand the UpContent tool as far as features and functionality. The big focus for us is finding individuals who have that agency mindset, or have gone through that type of a training in the past, and know how to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s,” but are looking for something a little bit greater that they can really sink their teeth into and continue to do and grow. We are looking for strong individuals on the business development side and on our marketing team. Opportunities abound for the right people with the right skills. We are focusing on the proper personality and drive more than specific items articulated on a resume. Our belief is that if you have drive and desire and you’re passionate about our vision, culture, and products, then we can find a great spot for you at Community Elf.
IC: What are the biggest challenges that you face working at Community Elf?
Scott: I think the biggest thing is that the environment we’re working in is constantly changing. What works for one customer may not work for another and what worked for one customer three weeks ago may no longer be effective. That dynamism of being able to continually look at the metrics that are coming off of the work that we’re doing and being able to bob, weave, and pivot makes it a very challenging environment – but ultimately one that is also exciting. The other big piece is the marketing automation and marketing technology landscape is blossoming very, very quickly. There are organizations creating new technologies almost daily, and UpContent is one of those emerging technologies. We’re focusing on building effective partnerships with organizations, rather than trying to take over the world of “marketing automation”. Our focus is to be the best content curation that ever existed, and fit into the workflow of some of these larger technologies that are out there, keeping in mind that is difficult proposition as well.
IC: UpContent is available through HootSuite, is that how it works?
Scott: Correct. We originally launched in HootSuite in March, so it’s still available there if anyone is a HootSuite user. They can find it as part of that stream. We also, in June, launched it on its own at myupcontent.com. It’s really the same features and functionality, but a very different user interface. While HootSuite provides you a very small amount of real estate to any work in, myupcontent is more for the individual who places consumption first, and sharing second. If you just want to read about things to empower their own conversations with people; and then may also want to share them on their social networks, myupcontent is for you.
IC: When you’re adding people to your team, what challenges do you face finding the right fit?
Scott: I think we’re at an interesting stage, where we’re at this 25 person or so level, so a culture has begun to form. It’s no longer where you have four people and you add one, and now you’ve added 20% of your culture. We’re at 25, and you add one, and that individual only represents 1/26 of the culture. I say this to mean that being able to fit inside of that culture is an important piece for us in making sure that the team is able to adopt that person and accept them into the role. However, we aren’t four thousand people where this is THE culture and it’s going to stay that way, so our culture continues to evolve. Bringing in new people who have those different perspectives is important. We don’t just see new employees then disappear into the sunset of people who are already out there, and we don’t see their impact. We want to see their impact right away, and we’re happy to see that impact in the way of culture and the way we do things.
IC: How would you describe your culture currently?
Scott: It’s a demanding and challenging environment for sure, but it’s also one that’s very accepting and adopting of other people’s ideas and ways of doing things. It’s not one where we have checklists or processes that are hard and fast in the way we execute our work. We are open and creative and take time to focus on improvement. That’s the way we want things to move, but it is results-oriented and very demanding for the people who come in.
IC: Where are your offices at and what do you like most about your space?
Scott: We are right on the North Shore, about 15 minutes away from PNC Park if you’re walking, at the Riverside Center for Innovation. We really enjoy it for a couple of reasons. Tangibly – free parking and close proximity to just about every highway, so the commute is very easy for all of our team. There are many other exciting organizations in the same space as well. Having that excitement also helps create ideas and foster some camaraderie between organizations.
IC: What networks or organizations have helped you with guidance as you’ve grown?
Scott: So that’s changed and evolved a lot as well. We are currently working heavily with the Pittsburgh Technology Council to see if there are ways for us to become even more engaged in some new things that they’re doing. I think Pittsburgh itself has this informal network. There are a lot of great agencies in town who we work closely with and strive to complement. We aren’t a competitor of theirs, we’re a supplemental partner. Having that ability to hear their strategic prowess and our tactical execution experience creates some very interesting conversations.
IC: What do you enjoy most about working at Community Elf?
Scott: My background, as we talked about, is in the consulting side and one of the things. In those roles, I most enjoyed that everyday was different and you were always stepping into some new challenge. Even though we’re doing the same activities on a recurring basis for many of our customers, every day remains different. You never know what challenges you’re going to face that day. One day Facebook changes its algorithm or a new model for effectively moving customers through the buyer’s journey is identified. Many times, those things just pop out of nowhere. Our ability to confront those challenges, rely on our experience and our team, and move around those barriers is always very exciting.
IC: Where do your best ideas come from?
Scott: I would say the group. We rely heavily on the team. By executing for all those different industries, but still using the same ingredients, creates opportunities to come together and bring new ideas to the table that we can share among our customers, feed the development team, and vice versa. All of our team members are very passionate about the content marketing landscape and what’s going on in that space. We do a lot of research and reading on our own, just because we enjoy it. That always brings great ideas into the organization.
IC: I heard a rumor that you have daily dance parties at Community Elf.
Scott: We do, we do, three o’clock. You’re sitting in front of the computer all the time, staring at that screen writing blogs. It can become a little bit monotonous to keep doing that. At three o’clock everyday there is a dance, it started as just a stretching thing, so it’s interesting to hear that dance is now coming into it, but the dance happens at three o’clock everyday on both the development side and the team side. Not a requirement that you have to be a great dancer, but it happens, and everyone tends to take part in it
IC: Any last comments or information that you want people to know about Community Elf?
Scott: I think the biggest thing for us is it’s about the person, what they want to do, and how they see themselves growing. My first question to everyone is what’s their three year plan? Where do they see themselves going? We don’t screen on whether or not a potential candidate meets set requirements or experiences. Like I said before, if you’re passionate about our vision, our products and services, and our culture, we can likely find a very good opportunity for you at Community Elf.
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