Wed, May 18, 2011
What is it that differentiates and defines an innovator in business? There are those who continue to take risks, offer unique product features and allow for a culture of idea creation. For the myriad of start-ups and small businesses that survive, many will not. What makes a small business successful, particularly in the highly competitive social networking and mobile space?
This week marks National Small Business Week, a commemoration of the importance of small businesses in job creation and in innovation. We celebrate the work of change agents who continue to push the boundaries in business. Meet Andy Ellwood, Director of Business Development at Gowalla. Ellwood reveals, among other things, the challenges which CEO Josh Williams faces in growing a company, what differentiates Gowalla among other location-based services and lessons learned.
“The future for Gowalla is exceedingly exciting because the idea of telling a really great story about the places that people go is universally inspiring.”
Monster: Tell us a little bit about Gowalla. What exactly do you do?
Gowalla is a social network that inspires people to keep up with their friends by sharing the places they go and encouraging the discovery of the extraordinary in the world around them.
Monster: What’s the inspiration behind Gowalla? What did Josh Williams do to develop that idea into a product/business? Any lessons learned?
Josh Williams, CEO of Gowalla, came up with the idea of Gowalla when he asked the question, “What if I could use my mobile phone as a passport?” From there, he and Gowalla Co-Founder and CTO Scott Raymond began building the product and team to answer that question. What we’ve found is that the idea of sharing experiences around the places that people go is a really big idea that transcends age, gender and demographics. Everyone in the world is telling a story and the “where” of that story is a huge part of it.
Monster: How big is the company; how many employees does Gowalla have?
Gowalla has grown to over 30 people in the two years since it launched. Our headquarters are in Austin, TX, but we have a presence in New York and will be opening an office in London later this year.
Monster: What’s it like to work at Gowalla? Why should top talent want to work there versus a competitor?
The company culture at Gowalla is one of the most incredible parts about working for the company. As we have grown, we have been incredibly intentional about who comes on board with the team. We all work incredibly hard and bring our best to the table because we are a small team and everyone has to pull their weight. But from company bike rides to Friday afternoon beers, there is a true community here and the fact that we are building something incredible just cements the bonds that have been formed.
Monster: When Josh was starting Gowalla, how did he define success? Have those expectations been met?
Josh is one of the true visionaries in the social and mobile space. His background is in design and his understanding of how to use pixels to move people to do incredible things is second to none. The big vision that we have set out to achieve all goes back to finding the extraordinary in the world around us everyday. We can create a way for people to inspire and be inspired to live a better life because they go out with Gowalla.
Monster: How has Gowalla changed with its growth? What challenges have you faced in scaling up your workforce?
One of the things that I have appreciated about our team’s approach to growth has been to be very intentional about how and who we hire. Our HR team is incredible at finding the best of the best and bringing them on board in a way that allows them to hit the ground running at full speed. As we have grown, we have been able to work together as a team to free up people to pursue their passions within the company and raise the bar on what we expect from the team and ourselves.
Monster: Can a small business get too big? Did you witness any drawbacks to growth that were surprising or unforeseen?
We’ve been really fortunate, because of our intentional growth strategy, to keep the culture consistent even as we have tripled in size over the course of the past 12 months. Because of the on-boarding process that our HR team has put in place, each new team member very quickly understands that culture and brings their personality to it. The most surprising part about our growth has sometimes been how quickly they jump right in and bring their own brand of humor and snark to some of the internal banter!
Monster: What are some of the innovative ways you’re using technology to succeed?
Because our team is on the go, fast-paced and, for the scope of our company’s reach, on the smaller side of the industry, we have to be able to keep the lines of communication open and accessible at all times. We use 37Signals’ suite of products to manage a lot of the projects and initiatives that we are working on. Our internal chatroom is not only where some of the most fun ideas are conceived and vetted, but also it just might be the funniest running dialogue I’ve ever seen.
Monster: For every success story, there are several thousand #epic fails, particularly in the technology/social media space. What helped drive Gowalla’s success? What about yours, personally?
Across the entire team, we’ve committed to the vision of inspiring people to see the extraordinary in the world around them and inspire others to do the same. There is a real camaraderie around that vision and all of the different ways that we can bring it about. That, as a team, is the most important thing that I have seen across all of the companies that can be held up as success stories in this industry, or any industry for that matter. Having that big idea as the measuring stick of success, we all know that we have to bring out the very best in order to see it come to pass. Working with others who are the best at what they do brings out the best in me.
Monster: Looking back at your experience with Gowalla, what would you do differently? What’s Gowalla going to look like a year from now? 10 years from now?
Like all young companies, most everything we have done over the past two years has been the first time it has ever been done. With each new undertaking, we have learned and figured out how to be even better the next go-around. The processes that I have for all the BizDev and brand campaigns that we are working on have come about through a lot of trial and error, but we have gotten better with each attempt. As our team grows and more people are involved, we have and will continue to perfect the way we work with our partners and brands that are going out with Gowalla to inspire their fans and followers. The future for Gowalla is exceedingly exciting because the idea of telling a really great story about the places that people go is universally inspiring.
ABOUT GOWALLA: Gowalla is a location-based social network. Users ‘check in’ at Spots in their local vicinity, either through a dedicated mobile application or through the mobile website. Gowalla helps you keep up with friends, share your favorite places and discover the extraordinary around you. To learn more about this company, visit www.gowalla.com.
About Beverly Nevalga: Beverly works directly with the Monster team as a social media consultant at Voce Communications, a Porter Novelli Company, Monster’s social media agency of record. Beverly has several years of experience in media production and communications, now focusing on developing social media strategies for leading enterprise and consumer brands. She also currently serves as the SF chapter president for Project by Project, a national volunteer organization of social entrepreneurs focusing on issues relating to the Asian American community.