5 Minutes with Jai Rawat – ShopSocially CEO and Social Visionary

How on earth do you go from being a guy trying to do something different to being a serial entrepreneur? With over 22 years in Silicon Valley and selling his first start-up company to AOL after only 2 years. Jai has launched his 4th start-up, ShopSocially. Jai is a serial entrepreneur, investor , advisor and mentor to several start-ups.

jai rawat

I was lucky enough to have 5 minutes with Jai at the PeSA Internet Conference 2015. Talking with Jai, his vision is clear. He wants to help businesses, especially retailers think about and use social media differently. In this interview he talks about how most retailers need to change the way they approach social that should turn website visitors into brand advocates authentically.

Q: What was the driving force behind starting ShopSocially?

I am a serial entrepreneur and ShopSocially is my fourth startup. I’ve been in Silicon Valley for 22 years now. I am a technologist by background and have 19 patents to my name. My passion really is to identify new opportunities and come up with innovative ideas that I can bring to market.

When I started ShopSocially about four years ago, I looked at how people are using social media, how businesses are using social media; and what they did was treat social media as yet another B2C channel, they’re treating social media as yet another channel where they can throw ads. People are like, “Oh Facebook has got a billion users. Now let me show ads to them.”

The real power of social is not B2C. It’s people talking to other people. When I go to Facebook, I’m not there to say, “Hey let me go check out what other businesses are doing.” I’m there to see what my friends are doing. So I feel like these people are totally missing the boat.

The right way to leverage social media is to create social media reference. That is really the biggest paradigm shift that social media is bringing about because now you can leverage the word of mouth at scale. You can do it so it will in fact start moving the needle for your business.

So that is the key focus when we started out. I said, “Okay. How can we create a marketing platform that is very easy to use? It shouldn’t take months or years to implement; be something that’s innovative, and be something that creates a new marketing channel for them. The third philosophy is that it should be able to deliver meaningful and measurable results. They should be able to see what exactly what they’re getting for.”

So with that philosophy we started out and now we have eight different solutions that are part of our platform. That’s the story behind ShopSocially.

Q: How many businesses have started using ShopSocially in the past 4 years?

We have five hundred customers now, mostly in the online retail space. We do have some customers in other verticals such as B2B, financial, real estate, travel, etc. as well because word of mouth or referrals is something that pretty much any business that has happy customers can benefit from.

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Q: What advice would you give to retailers today to help them think differently about social?

My biggest advice is to think about not just what you’re doing on social channels.

Is your site socially enabled?

A good analogy would be… if you think about SEO, you think about both offsite and onsite. You think about how can I get backlinks, etc for my site. You’re thinking about how can I make my site more SEO-friendly.

Same thing goes for Social. Don’t just think about “What I can do in Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter?”. Think about “Is your site socially enabled?”

When people are visiting my site (these are the visitors who know my brand, they’re interested in our products), how can I get them to become brand ambassadors? How can I get them to interact with me socially while they’re on my site… when in they’re buying mood? Not when they’re in Facebook and they want to be entertained and talk to their friend.

What businesses are doing are they’re pushing ads in their face when they’re not looking for ads… when they’re not in the buying mood at all. So when they’re in their buying mood, when they’re in your website, that’s the right time to interact with them socially.

Q: How old were you when you started your first business? What is it called? What were the lessons you learnt along the way?

I was 29 years old when I started my first business, that was in 1999. It was a company called Obango and was for Online Identity Management. I noticed that with the proliferation of internet, for every site you went to, you have to create a new account, username, and passwords (and you can’t use the same password for all the sites). Soon I had too many passwords I couldn’t manage them all.

So we created an online cloud-based password management system where you can store all your passwords in the cloud and we will automatically fill them out. It was fairly new at that time. The company was then acquired by AOL in 2001.

We were going various single sign on initiatives at that point as part of AOL, but that initiatives never really went anywhere. And now, after all these years, when you look at Social Sign On, I finally see that that password problem has been solved because now with Social Sign On you can use Facebook, Google, Yahoo password to register for a site.

It’s been 16 years since I tackled that problem, and looks like the problem is finally getting so solved. So I’m happy about that!

Q: There certainly is a trend and race to win the digital passport, who do you think is going to win that, Facebook or Google?

That’s a hard one, I would say. If I would place my bet, I would place it with Google still, because they just have too much muscle and they know too much about you. If you look at Google’s strategy, their entire strategy is trying to own everything that they can know about you. So they Acquired Nest for the thermostats. They want to know when you’re at home and what temperature you like. and so on. They got Google shopping express thing, so you can buy things and they will deliver it to your doorstep. They do it for a very reasonable price but the real intent about it is they want to know what you’re buying. What you’re searching, they already know that.

All of their acquisitions, if you look at how they’re building this entire thing, they want to know… with the Google phones and all that, they know exactly where you are at a given point of time, what stores you are visiting. With Google glasses, they want to know what you’re seeing.

They are on a mission to own all the data about me. It’s totally hard to compete with that.

Q: As a serial entrepreneur, what are the top three pieces of advice that you could give to anybody who is on that same journey?

I got too many mistakes that I’ve made that I can talk about. The first one that I can say is… when you start a business as an entrepreneur, you have to ask yourself the question, “Is it worth failing at?” People are always very surprised to hear that lesson.

When you’re starting a business, statistics say that 90% of the businesses will fail. You’re gonna spend 2 – 3 years of your life trying to make that business work and there’s a 90% chance that it may not work. If it doesn’t work, are you going to look back and say, “What a waste of time!”, or are you gonna be able to look back and say, “It was worth the ride! I loved it! It didn’t matter that I didn’t succeed. The fact that I did it, I’m happy about that.”

When you start a business, think about that. Think about 3 years down the road if you have not succeeded, what will you think when you look back.

If you’re gonna say what a waste of time, don’t even start cause you’re doing it for the wrong reason. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to enjoy doing what you’re doing. If it works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you still learn something.

The second piece of advice I would say is that a lot of people when they start a business, especially in the Silicon Valley, when they start their business… what’s their exit strategy? How are you gonna sell the business? Get acquired, IPO’d or what have you?

Again, my point is, the only strategy you should have is the growth strategy. You just figure out how to grow the business. It’s like when you get married, people don’t ask you what’s your divorce strategy.

When you start a business, you have to think about “how can I grow the business?” You shouldn’t be thinking about, “how can I sell this business?”. You’re going into the business for the wrong reasons. That is another mistake that I commonly see people making.

The third thing is there will be a lot of moments when you will doubt yourself. You’ll say, “why the hell am I doing this? What I am doing?” People will question and doubt you and say you shouldn’t be doing this. It’s gonna be hard.

You need to make sure that you maintain self-confidence. You’re gonna have to be able to ignore all the negatives that will be associated with the business. What I tell myself is that when the whole world is doubting you, you have to keep your head high, and your middle finger higher.

That’s the only way to do it. Otherwise, it’s too hard.

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