April 13, 2024
All Together Now

Photo: Spontivly

Marissa Huggins and Anthony Nagendraraj moved their tech company from Edmonton to the Tampa Bay region in 2022. It caught the attention of Shark Tank star and billionaire investor Mark Cuban.

NextGen

All Together Now

A St. Pete startup is helping companies track and measure the impact of their community engagement efforts.

Nancy Dahlberg | 9/19/2023

The Entrepreneurs

Marissa Huggins, 26

Anthony Nagendraraj, 42
Co-founders

Spontivly, St. Petersburg

You may know a community manager, a head of community or even a chief community officer. The job titles are popping up with more frequency at organizations of all sizes, from big brands like Peloton, Lululemon and Tesla to local small businesses and non-profits. They engage with customers, solve problems and learn from their feedback. They may recruit brand ambassadors, host events and share on social media, among other duties.

But how much return on investment does community management generate? A Tampa Bay tech startup connects the dots with data.

Anthony Nagendraraj and Marissa Huggins co-founded Spontivly, which furnishes community managers with real-time analytics so they can see what’s working, what’s not and make any needed changes to impact the bottom line.

“Every company is building some sort of community, whether it’s a customer community or an employee community. We want to be the data company they hire,” says Nagendraraj, Spontivly’s CEO, who worked as a business analyst at IBM, Microsoft and other companies before founding Spontivly in 2019. “We want to empower everybody to be able to create simple data dashboards without the need for an engineer. Whether you’re an intern or a CFO, you can drag and drop and build a report within five minutes.”

A report like that might have helped Huggins keep one of her previous jobs as a non-profit community manager. Even though she had grown programming that helped people start businesses, she had a hard time documenting the value of what they were building, and her position was cut.

“We truly believe that every organization, regardless of size, should have access to their data and for some reason, there doesn't seem to be a tool on the market that empowers you to do that,” says Huggins, Spontivly’s COO. She estimates that a company would have to spend roughly $500,000 a year on a team to pull together the same data that Spontivly aggregates. “To me that's just too high a barrier of entry for a role that genuinely is so important,” she says.

To create its dashboards and reports for businesses, Spontivly’s software integrates with more than 120 tech tools and apps — including Slack, Zoom, Telegram and various social media platforms. The company makes money through subscriptions. Its 32 customers range from small non-profits and community organizations such as Tampa Bay Wave and Atlanta Tech Village to big companies including Airbnb, SalesLoft and Brex.

Spontivly has raised about $2 million in venture capital, including investments by Mark Cuban Companies, the founders of Hootsuite, and Florida-based firms Tampa Bay Ventures and DeepWork Capital. Their fundraising achievements are notable, especially considering that female founders and founders of color receive less than 5% of the venture dollars deployed nationally.

Still, Huggins says she and Nagendraraj did encounter hurdles. “Oftentimes the barriers of entry are just higher. So, the questions that you get sometimes will feel more intense and the diligence is definitely a lot harsher," she says. “That most certainly impacted us in the early stages.”

Huggins and Nagendraraj emigrated from Canada, first participating in Tampa Bay Wave’s startup accelerator in 2021 and then making St. Petersburg Spontivly’s home. While they considered Silicon Valley, Austin and other tech-focused cities, they chose Tampa Bay because it has a welcoming startup community still taking shape. “We fell in love with the community. We want to be at the grassroots of an ecosystem being built,” Nagendraraj says.

You’ll find the duo at tech and startup events because they lead by example, Huggins adds. “If you want to have a community in your region, you have to then be a good community member and being part of a community means showing up, helping people out, providing introductions as much as you can, because that's how authentic ecosystems are built.”

Spontivly plans to quadruple its team of 15 employees over the next two years to support what’s coming. Says Huggins: “Two or three years from now, every company genuinely will have a community manager and we will be there to help provide data analytics about their community and advice on how to build and grow and sustain one.”

Community Building 101

The Spontivly team realized that many organizations didn't necessarily know how to start and build a community — or even something as basic as setting up community guidelines or a Slack channel to collaborate. To help, they launched a free Everything Community channel (everythingcommunity.com), with a blog, templates and other resources.

To manage a community, look for someone who is very organized but also outgoing, advises Huggins. A great community manager knows when to display professionalism and when to lighten the mood. They must be able to read the room (or chat room) well.

She doesn't believe AI will replace human community managers. “I always like to say that technology can automate a lot of things, but it can't automate relationships.”

Brand Ambassador

It’s not uncommon for customers to encounter different experiences as they interact with different departments at a company, such as when they move from sales to customer support. Huggins says it’s the community manager’s job to “smooth all of that out” and ensure consistency. “Oftentimes, when companies implement a community manager, they don't realize it, but that community manager really becomes the face of the company, the face of the brand.”

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