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“Study your audience.” With Douglas Brown & Randi Zucker

Study your audience. You need to know everything about your target audience to ensure you’re building a great product to solve their needs. For example, with my Homeschool Roomies social network, I studied and spoke with homeschooling families some who have been doing it for years and others who are new to this to see what challenges they’re […]

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Study your audience. You need to know everything about your target audience to ensure you’re building a great product to solve their needs. For example, with my Homeschool Roomies social network, I studied and spoke with homeschooling families some who have been doing it for years and others who are new to this to see what challenges they’re going through. That way I knew what features to have on my platform to help address those concerns.

Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randi Zucker, a consultant for high-profile individuals and businesses in establishing their online presence. She is an expert in internet startups, online marketing, and the extreme work-life balance. Thrust into becoming a homeschool mom due to Covid, Randi launched HomeschoolRoomies.com (https://homeschoolroomies.com/) — a social network specifically for homeschooling needs.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ionce dreamed of being the next Anna Wintour. I graduated with a degree in journalism and landed in a major publishing company in New York City. I was moved from their print department to online, and at first, I wasn’t thrilled. But that experience made me attractive to an emerging online magazine called wowOwow. When you’re working at an online startup versus a large established company, you are given more responsibilities. A start-up environment can be a perfect fit for a young woman who is energetic and eager to learn and grow in her career. Working at that Internet startup, planted that entrepreneurial seed in me, and led me to my career path today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

I have an interesting career story. In my early 20s I had interns who were double my age. When I was working at wowOwow (now PureWow), the company started a cross-generational mentoring program. I was teaching veterans in their careers about the web, the art of writing online and using search engine optimization. As a result of working with seasoned professionals, I gained invaluable skills such as how to conduct myself in business and write more effectively. My story was similar to the movie “The Intern” with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro. The experience taught me to always be open to learning new skills. It was the most humbling career experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? In one of my college journalism classes, if your article had a person’s name misspelled, you received an automatic F — despite how well reported the piece may have been! It instilled in me a very important lesson to fact check, spell check, and to be detail oriented in all facets of your career and life. This really does apply to careers in technology, where missing an end tag </> can destroy your entire site.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I’ve been working as an independent consultant for several years now. You hit hard times as your income fluctuates. You can’t measure your success in terms of the amount of money you make or the number of clients you take. Some years I hit home runs financially and other years are slow. I’ve learned to qualify success, not quantify it. I’ve achieved that elusive “work-life balance”, I love what I do, and I am most grateful for that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There isn’t one person in particular who I can pinpoint as greatly contributing to my success. I take away nuggets of life lessons from people every day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When one door closes, another door opens. You experience setbacks and make mistakes. You need to learn from them and move on. You become stronger and wiser with every door that shuts in your face.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

In March 2020, when schools nationwide closed due to the Pandemic, parents everywhere embraced an extreme work-life balance. Juggling your child’s academics at home while keeping up with your own career, challenged parents in new ways. Given my background in launching online businesses and social networks, I built HomeschoolRoomies.com, a social network specifically for homeschooling needs. A parent can create an account for free. You’re able to search for other homeschooling families that live in your area and share your homeschooling journey. For example, a parent could do a search for other parents who live in Brooklyn, NY with a First Grader doing Virtual Public School. You can connect with that member over our site, form groups, blog and much more. The intent of the platform is to help parents make meaningful connections and find resources to feel more supported in their homeschooling needs.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I consult with a number of businesses in helping them launch their product or service online, and I help give them the tools to grow. What sets my company apart is our ability to research target markets’ pain points and work with businesses to communicate how they solve their audiences needs. We try to communicate a product or service simply and significantly. Communication is key.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Homeschool Roomies is my most exciting and new project. If, God forbid, there is a second wave of Covid cases that causes the country to shut down again, parents can use my platform to feel supported in their education decisions. Parents can connect, swap advice and even form a learning pod through the platform. I know through my platform of one family who was taking social distancing very seriously and found the perfect tutor for their children, and this tutor for medical reasons can not return to school.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I wish one day we don’t even have to ask questions like these because there will be no gender inequality to speak of. Through my own eyes, I’ve noticed a rise of women working in technology. However, there is still a lack of women in high-level leadership positions and founding roles. A 2020 report by Silicon Valley Bank lays out the gender parity gap for women in US tech leadership positions. As far as ways to change this status quo, I think it’s great to continue to engage in conversations like the one we’re having. I would love to see more venture capitalist firms that back women-run startups. I also think the innovations we continue to see in telecommunication and productivity applications will help women in the technology field thrive in their careers as it gives them the tools to better balance childcare and work life.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

In my opinion, when you work in technology, it’s a 24/7 job. It’s typically very demanding with long hours. An app can suddenly crash and it may be your job to wake up in the middle of the night to fix it. It can be a struggle to balance work and home life. I do think one silver lining with this Pandemic, is the rise of remote work. Companies may now be realizing that they can be just as productive having their employees work from home. I do believe for women this can help address the struggles they face in achieving more balance.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

This is a bit of a broad question to answer as I would want to know the industry their technology deals in. Let’s use a virtual yoga app as an example. Here are the steps I would take: (1) Research competitors who are dominating, (2) Examine their branding and language they’re using to communicate their products/services, (3) See their prices, and (4) Study how they’re marketing themselves. Then make those changes to be competitive and “restart your engines”.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Create guidebooks, training videos and have processes in place when applicable. I also believe in leaders encouraging a strong moral. Host fun sale competitions, benchmarks and reward systems. For example, the first person who closes 10 accounts in November receives a trip to the spa.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Address the customer’s problems and how your product/service offers the solutions. For example, I have a client called The Classic Manhattan. They sell a beard softener cream to solve the problem men face when their beards begin to irritate their skin and grow in wiry. I advise that company to constantly communicate beard concerns and how their products address them.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  1. Keep it simple. Simple navigation, easy to understand language, readable fonts and big buttons.
  2. Allow customers to reach you through live chat features, contact forms and click-to-call actions.
  3. Fast checkout experiences. Mitigate the steps to check out to close a sale as quickly as possible.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

I have built for myself and for other companies, subscription-based websites, which is when users pay every month for a product or service. Lowering churn rate becomes the company’s number one priority. Churn rate is important because you want to keep building up your customer numbers and with a high churn rate it can feel like every month your business is starting from scratch rather than building from where they left off. One way to limit churn rate is to offer discounts for repeat or frequent purchases. Amazon offers “Subscribe & Save” incentives where you save money by setting a delivery quantity and frequency. Develop a customer onboarding and loyalty building process. Create a plan that goes through the steps you are taking to welcome new customers, check in on them, invite them to all the features your business has to offer, and how you continuously make them feel special.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. See the trees and the forest. Most great leaders are visionaries. However I feel when being in the technology industry in particular, you need a leader who understands the nuances involved in creating the final product. Hence, see the trees as well as the forest.
  2. Build a team. What I love about the technology field is that you might have to tap people from a variety of industries from graphic artists and behavioural psychologists to engineers and salespeople.
  3. Study your audience. You need to know everything about your target audience to ensure you’re building a great product to solve their needs. For example, with my Homeschool Roomies social network, I studied and spoke with homeschooling families some who have been doing it for years and others who are new to this to see what challenges they’re going through. That way I knew what features to have on my platform to help address those concerns.
  4. Don’t pull your hair out. Technology can be glitchy. A string of code, a plugin conflict, a software update, even a typo can cause your technology-driven product to break. It can be extremely frustrating. After a while you learn that this is the nature of the industry and you can’t have a nervous breakdown every time something doesn’t run smoothly. You do however learn how to handle these situations.
  5. Create backups. This piggy backs off my previous tip. Take daily backups of your product and especially before making any updates to it. I even suggest having two separate servers so if one server is down you can get your product up and running on another one.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Meaty indeed… I would love to see more big corporations supporting remote work, flexible schedules and a work-life balance. That’s how you breed a dedicated employer.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Oprah. She is proof of the American Dream. She does so much for women inequality globally. Oprah was also a really great interviewer on her talk show. I would pay close attention to the way she communicated with people to connect with them. She taught me how to engage in meaningful conversations.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Thank you for having me!

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