With $1M in the bank and a cool name, Social Pandas is bringing sophisticated social CRM to sales teams

SocialPandas_logoA Q&A with SocialPandas co-founder and CEO Mark Trang. The San Francisco–based company was founded in late 2011 and raised $1.5 million in Seed funding in mid-August led by True Ventures.

SUB: Please describe SocialPandas, and the value proposition you offer to sales people and B2B companies.

Trang: SocialPandas is a social selling platform that converts relationships and activities on social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn into actionable leads and revenue for B2B companies. The user-friendly platform discovers and ranks new leads by surfacing relevant activities and contact profiles across social networks. Unlike traditional tools like email that automate one-way mass messaging, SocialPandas enables authentic 1-to-1 dialogues between companies and their prospects that are integrated with existing CRM systems, including Salesforce.com.

SUB: Who are your target users?

Trang: Our target users are B2B sales teams that perform a variety of functions including lead qualification, prospecting, operations and field sales. Some customers in our early preview program also have their marketing and social media teams using our product to generate leads from social networks including Twitter and LinkedIn.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Trang: Since SocialPandas is pioneering the new category of social selling, we’re finding that our main competition is ‘ad-hoc’ social selling which includes a combination of social tools like TweetDeck or LinkedIn.com and manual integration of sales data and activities into a CRM system such as Salesforce.com.

SUB: What differentiates SocialPandas from the competition?

Trang: SocialPandas is built from ground-up for sales teams looking to compete in the social era. Our customers have told us that while their marketing, customer service, and HR departments all have social tools, their salespeople have been left behind. SocialPandas give sales teams an effortless way to generate relevant data from social networks to help them close more deals faster while still being integrated with their existing CRM tools. Unlike most enterprise software which is bulky and complex, SocialPandas is committed to providing a simple and intuitive user experience as well as value.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Trang: SocialPandas was founded in December 2011. We spent a lot of our early days talking to customers before writing a single line of code to uncover behavioral patterns, pain points, and process opportunities in B2B sales and marketing organizations. This helped drive a number of early product prototypes as well as an ethos of creating an enterprise-grade solution with a consumer-inspired user experience.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for SocialPandas? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Trang: The vision for SocialPandas has always been driven by the overarching goal to deliver social media ROI for B2B companies. As the popularity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn has exploded over the past two years, so has the urgency for enterprises to measure the effectiveness of their social strategies and investments. A major ‘aha’ moment was during Dreamforce 2011 when Salesforce.com’s vision for the Social Enterprise was unveiled. No area of business is more social than sales and we recognized a massive opportunity to help companies harness and extend the power of the social across every department and function.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Trang: We ended up naming the company SocialPandas for a variety of reasons. The practical answer that it’s easy to spell and pronounce and we own the domain name without the awkward modifications that you see startups resort to in their branding these days. The real answer is that pandas are awesome. Who doesn’t like pandas? We loved how easily they can be personified in our marketing and the positive emotional association. We also thought the name was slightly comical since real pandas aren’t especially social and thereby an endangered species. We believe that if all pandas—including our users—were more social, the world would be a better place.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Trang: Building a new product for a new category is challenging because there aren’t existing customers or competitors can you can quickly learn from or model yourself after. Product-market fit becomes even more elusive and critical. We’ve also taken on the additional challenge of breaking out of the standard enterprise utility over experience mindset and are committed to building a solution our customers truly love. Of course, this is on top of all the typical operational challenges of launching and growing a new company, including hiring, fundraising, sales, marketing, support, etc. I guess that makes us overachieving pandas.

SUB: You recently raised $1.5 million in Seed funding. Why was this a good time to raise this round, and how do you plan to use the new funds?

Trang: The fundraising for our Seed round was timed with the rollout of an early version of our product to several customers this past spring. While we weren’t initially looking to raise more than $1 million from anyone other than individual angels, we ended up meeting a number of seed funds who were interested in our space and decided to raise more to allow us build faster without trading off runway. True Ventures led our seed round and we couldn’t have been happier with the level of support from their team and their founder-friendly approach. Our seed round will allow us to fuel product development in preparation for a launch in 2013.

SUB: Do you plan to raise additional funding in the near future?

Trang: We aren’t planning on raising additional investor funding in the near future.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Trang: SocialPandas is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. We plan to generate revenue through a recurring, subscription revenue model not unlike industry leaders including Salesforce.com, Box, and Yammer.

SUB: What are your goals for SocialPandas over the next year or so?

Trang: SocialPandas is a focused on delivering an awesome social selling tool that salespeople love to use. To do this, we’re growing our product team and looking to partner with top B2B companies to help us build addictive, valuable products to launch in 2013.

Social Pandas – www.socialpandas.com

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