They are the first company out of the Czech Republic that well known U.S.-based Plug & Play TechCenter have invested in. They have attracted talent from global technology companies to develop and iterate their product alongside them, and within one year Talkbase managed to go from an idea to product with global ambitions. The founders of Talkbase, Klára Losert and Roman Nguyen, describe how they’re creating the first comprehensive community building tool.
Talkbase is moving forward ambitiously. Where did you get your entrepreneurial experience from?
K: I’ve worked in several Czech and American start-ups, two of which went through the Y Combinator. I was usually the first person the founders hired, responsible for nearly everything except for the technical part. I dealt with operations, HR, finance, law, sales, product, marketing, and community. I have also provided consultations for many start-ups, but in my last five companies I worked directly under the CEO and a lot of the operational issues were delegated to me. I was in charge of everything from pitch decks to investor reports.
R: I followed a similar path as Klara. In fact, I gained my experience from start-ups and I was also usually one of the first employees hired. I havea technical background, but I’ve always been interested in product insight and the business and commerce side. There’s a lot going on in start-ups and there’s a lot to learn. I understand the dynamics, I know what’s useful and what to avoid, since I’ve been through scaling from three people to one hundred people. Klara and I both wanted to capitalize on our experience, not to always be the first employees, but to be the founders. One day she shared her idea with meand since then, we’ve been building Talkbase.
Why community management? Howdid you find the opportunity in this area?
K: When I joined my first start-up a few years ago, I wanted to connect with people like me and learn from them. I decided to start a community which was eventually acquired by CzechCrunch. Later, I was also in charge of community at Deepnote and Gather. I realized how terribly inefficient that work was. There were lots of manual activities, no scalability, and a combination of maybe ten different tools not compatible to function together. Last year I complained to Roman about how annoying it was and asked him to help me code some improvements to make it automated. I remember it vividly, because it was late at night, in the middle of my birthday party, that’s how frustrated I was. Next, we spent the whole summer figuring out what the biggest problems were that community managers faced, and we started with interviews. We talked toover 400 community managers around the world. We found out their biggest pain points and we plan to solve them with our platform.
R: I worked on communities from the other side. I was very active in open source blockchain projects. However, what helped us the most in developing Talkbase was talking with top community managers around the world from the very beginning. They were professionals who had built communities for Sephora, Pinterest, Salesforce and Google. Our future customers became our advisors, we gathered feedback from them, and developed the product together.
Recently, you have received an investment of tens of millions of Czech crowns while you are launching the product Beta now. How did you manage to convince funds such as J&T Ventures and Credo Ventures so early, considering the fact that they usually prefer later stage startups with running businesses?
K: I believe we have a great team. All of us went through a number of successful start-ups; we are used to chaos, new challenges, and big problems to solve. This allowed us to start quickly and move at a fast pace.
R: I think our investors not only trust us, but they also trust the market we are targeting. Communities influence the development of many companies today, and largely determine how successful those companies will be. It’s a new go-to-market channel which is developing. Despite that, the tools to manage communities and the related operations can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Talkbase platform is unique and we have a great chance to become the first-mover and create new standards for the whole community market.
Last September you secured investment from angel investors to help you get started. Was it clear from the beginning that you were going to take the Venture Capital route?
R: In the summer we were both still employed in the US, with great salaries and convenient jobs. We could have started building Talkbase as a side job, but it would have been too lengthy and someone else with more resources would have come in and build the product faster. We committed to Talkbase from the very beginning, quit our jobs, and dove in head first. Still today we are pioneers in our area, but there is no time to waste.
K: Thanks to our own start-up community we were able to invite a lot of interesting people for a cup of coffee and managed to raise around $200k USD from amazing angel investors. These were primarily local founders like Jakub Jurových from Deepnote, Božena Řežáb from Gamee, and Tom Krcha from Around. They were joined by other angel investors, such as Ben Lang who runs one of the fastest growing communities in the world for Notion, and Juraj Masár, Co-founder of Better Stack.
Why did you choose J&T Ventures and Credo Ventures?
K: We were looking for investors with experience in scaling abroad. We don’t want to stay in the Czech or European backyard, our main market is the United States. Talkbase is incorporated in the U.S. and since the beginning we’ve set up our operations and culture accordingly. Credo Ventures has joined our angel round and naturally they did a follow up in our pre-seed. We’re excited to be a part of their portfolio of community-driven companies, such as UiPath, Productboard, Deepnote, and Around. With J&T Ventures we wanted an investor who guides founders to scale globally. Another thing that brought us together was seeing the huge opportunity in the community tooling market.
R: At the same time we also have two US investors participating in this round. The first is Plug and Play Tech Center, one of the oldest VCs in the US. They were the first investors in PayPal, later on in Dropbox and Google. We became their first investment in the Czech Republic. The second is mxv Capital, the fund of the amazing Mark Ghermezian, co-founder of Braze, which went public last year. To sum up, we have two Czech and two US investors, which nicely reflects the way we operate.
Who is typically your partneron the client side? Do companies already have dedicated community managers?
K: A few years ago, you would see a community manager in the first 100 hires, but now it might be within the first ten. At the last company I worked for I was the number one hire as Head of Community, and more recently, we have seen even big corporations joining the community management trend.
Are communities a really powerful business tool?
K: Over the last 20 years, the relationship between companies and their customers has undergone a significant evolution. We have moved from door-to-door sales solicitation and TV advertising to online marketing and the social media boom. Today, people are overwhelmed by advertising and companies are looking for new ways to build relationships with customers. Community managers are building bilateral relationships with people, often even before they become their customers.
Which clients do you primarily target?
R: Looking at Forbes’ ranking of the Top 100 Cloud companies in the world, you will find that the vast majority of them have huge communities behind them. Naturally, our focus is on working with technology companies: they are seen as major innovators in community-building methods – they are well-funded and need to grow dynamically. That’s also why we onboarded advisors from companies such as Salesforce, Google, and MongoDB at the start of our journey. We wanted to be close to folks that are shaping our industry.
What exactly does Talkbase offer them?
K: The world of community management can be divided into three areas. The first represents hundreds of tools where communities come together, like Slack, Facebook, Twitter and so on. However, we didn’t want to do another community forum or chat channel. That’s not the biggest pain point. Then, there is a small group of analytic tools connected to the community space that provide data. That is often the first specialized tool community managers have at their disposal; though they’ve been unable to solve the majority of their operational and scaling problems with analytics tools. That’s where our platform comes in, community builders can actually execute their work and build communities. In Talkbase, community managers plan projects, manage members, organize events, and coordinate their ambassadors. Now, instead of running their community with many spreadsheets, forms, emails and manual tasks, community teams can use Talkbase to scale.
The first public version of Talkbase just launched in September. What are the core featured of Talkbase and what’s on your product roadmap?
K: The core features of the Talkbase platform are all centered around simplifying day-to-day operational tasks for community professionals. The first key area we can affect positive change is with events. We found that at least 80% of communities are hosting digital or in-person events. We also found that the time to produce and publish an event and registration landing page wastaking too long. So the first iteration of Talkbase has events at the forefront; reducing time to publish by 75%. Another common pain point in community operations has been the ability to manage community members with acommunity-led CRM. Talkbase has a CRM capability that makes segmenting members and tracking important stats a much simpler task. In addition to creating custom groups, the CRM in Talkbase easily shows which events members have attended or spoken at, making recruiting speakers and inviting attendees very easy.
R: Another feature we made available in our release was the ability to easily manage Ambassador programs and their contributions. One of the most simple and useful tools in our product is boards for Tasks. Community teams caneasily track the status and contributions toward any program they may berunning. There are a lot of exciting things on the roadmap, but we are most excited about rolling out an Onboarding feature that will streamline th eprocess of welcoming and nurturing new community members.