When it comes to getting products and services in front of as many eyes, and inside as many households as possible, marketing as usual doesn’t cut it anymore. Smart companies know that it’s not just about campaigns and tactics but rather it’s about a way of doing business that honors the “who.”
Leveraging social media, in particular social media influencers, is where it’s at for businesses and brands that want to reach more clients and customers. I recently caught up with Holly Hamann, CMO and co-founder of the Boulder startup TapInfluence to talk about her work in this space. TapInfluence, formerly known as BlogFrog, is an influencer marketing platform that drives the influencer economy online.
In other words, big brands like Coke, Kraft, Lego, P&G, Microsoft and Horizon Organic use the TapInfluence platform to connect with influencers who then spread the word about their products and overall greatness all around the Internets. And they invest some seriously
big smart money to do so, which makes me wish my Klout score was 100 instead of 10.
I wanted to talk to Holly about how TapInfluence started, what it’s like doing business in the startup community in Boulder, and what advice she has for others who have an idea they want to float into the entrepreneurial waters of our great town.
What’s your story? You’ve worked in, started, or co-founded six startups in Boulder. Were you an entrepreneurial kid growing up?
I wouldn’t say I was necessarily entrepreneurial but I was always into a thousand things at once. There were seven people in my family so our lives were always very busy.
In college, I double majored in math and computer science, served as president of my sorority, edited our campus philosophical newsletter, and played 3 varsity sports. It was just in my nature to put a lot on my plate.
After college I took a job at Bell Atlantic on the tech side of things. However, I soon realized that all of the colorful and interesting people were in marketing. So, I switched over and fell madly in love with it.
I worked at Bell Atlantic for six years and for the last few of those years I was selling telecom contracts to aerospace companies, which was the perfect fit for me because I was also working on getting my pilot’s license and taking graduate courses in telecom at John’s Hopkins.
However, my life took a dramatic turn when my boyfriend (and my pilot instructor) died in a plane crash. As often happens when you are faced with a death that comes way too soon, you begin to examine your own life. And when I began to examine mine, it became clear that I needed a change.
So change I did. I quit my job, quit school, traded in my BMW for a truck, packed my life in the back, and headed to Boulder. The plan was to take a six month break and breathe for a bit.
But taking a break in this town isn’t easy. In between all of the hiking and biking and loving life I was doing, I kept meeting all of these entrepreneurs who would talk about ideas one day and then start implementing them the next. The energy was contagious and pretty soon I was back in the thick of things as a consultant for Service Metrics, the first of six startups I would eventually be a part of.
How did TapInfluence get started?
Before TapInfluence started, I had been working in the music sharing space and I became interested in how Gen Y was communicating and interacting online with each other. Our company hired Gen Y music bloggers all over the country and they would write about the music scene and we would post their content to our home page. We noticed that their content was getting picked up by huge news outlets. This experience made me see the power of content marketing.
As luck would have it, around that time I was introduced to Rustin Banks and in March of 2009 we launched BlogFrog, which we later named TapInfluence.
Rustin and I saw an opening to harness the power of social content and connect brands to influencers that mattered on any and all of the social media platforms that came along. We knew that we could bring great value to brands by automating their workflow, but we also knew that finding the influencers and making it easy for brands to connect with them was going to be our competitive advantage.
The initial days were pretty lean. We ran our business out of local libraries, Panera, and anywhere else that had good Wi-fi. I remember plenty of times sitting on the benches outside of the Boulder Public Library when it was closed and stealing their Wi-fi. It was thrilling to be building something from nothing, risky, stressful, and exhilarating all at the same time.
In 2009 we raised our first $300,000 and then continued to raise money year after year. By 2013 we had raised a total of $9.1 million in funding.
What are your big goals for the company?
We want to be the place that brands and agencies come to find their influencers regardless of demographics and platforms. We want to drive the influencer economy online.
Can you really measure the impact of social content?
Absolutely. That’s what’s so exciting about this space. You can read about how we do that here.
What are some ways that you give back to the entrepreneurial community in town?
We have such a vibrant entrepreneurial community that it’s easy to get involved and give back. I serve as a mentor to MBA students at Leeds, we host classes for the StartUp summer students at CU, we both speak at local events, and I serve on several boards.
What do you like best about doing business in Boulder?
The quality of life. Active and happy people make for great co-workers.
The entrepreneurs, VCs, and angel investors in town give of their time so generously.
There are so many local entrepreneurs who have had successful exits and they could go anywhere and do anything but instead they choose to stay here, start new ventures, provide more jobs, and invest in other businesses. Everyone in this entrepreneurial and investment community understands the power of networks and the importance of keeping businesses and talent here. It’s remarkable actually.
Boulder’s quickly becoming a tech hub. What do you think it is about Boulder that makes some of the fastest growing startups call it home?
We have entrepreneurs and investors here. You need both and we’re lucky to have them.
It’s an open community in that even its most seasoned entrepreneurs give back in a multitude of ways.
We have a highly educated talent pool.
It’s filled with people you want to hang out with. Most people come to Boulder because the lifestyle, being active, and developing professionally and personally are important to them. In that way, we all share a common bond and that helps when you come together to solve problems every day.
To what do you attribute all of your success?
These are the most valuable lessons I have learned along the way:
Do a really good job. It sounds simple but it surprises me how many people think that only the big jobs are worth doing their best for. No job or role is a throw away. Everything counts, especially in this town when it’s never your last startup. My motto is, no matter what work you’re doing, leave everyone you come in contact with wanting to work with you again. There are people I worked with 15 years ago who are investors in TapInfluence today.
Do something you really like because if you don’t, the person who does will eat your lunch. Those who love something so much that they get steeped into every aspect of it will be the ones who go the furthest.
What is your favorite part about living in Boulder?
Lifestyle, health and a general feeling of engagement with life. I also love being able to take my work outside every chance I get. At Tap Influence we do walking meetings, I conduct job interviews on the Boulder Creek Path, and we do everything we can to create the best working environment we can for our employees.
If someone is new to Boulder, what are a few must-see or must-dos in town?
Pearl Street, top of Flagstaff, tubing down the creek, and hiking the Mesa Trail from Chautauqua to Eldorado Canyon.
When you need to huddle-up with your clients, partners, or friends, where do you go?
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
Coltera. Okay, technically not Boulder but it’s too good not to mention.
Best brunch spot?
Your favorite “inside tip” to share with an aspiring Boulder entrepreneur who wants to start something?
Make sure you’re passionate about it. Life is short and if you’re going to start something on your own, you’re going to be working more than you ever imagined. You need to love it. And you also have to be willing to spend the time necessary to build connections and give back, no matter what stage you’re in. Finally, be honest about what you’re good at and what you’re not. Play to your strengths and then hire others who can fill in the gaps with their own special flavor of expertise. Nobody is good at everything.
Want to keep track of Holly and Tap Influence? Here’s how:
Follow Holly’s Blog Love & Math
Follow Holly on Twitter
Follow Holly on LinkedIn
Follow the Tap Influence Blog
Follow Tap Influence on Twitter
Follow Tap Influence on Facebook
And, if you haven’t follow enough, you should most definitely check out Holly’s Pinterest Board: “Things My Kids Have Spray Painted Gold”.