June 29

Brian Razzaque Founder & CMO at SocialToaster


Brian Razzaque (@razzaque) is the founder and inventor of SocialToaster, an enterprise marketing and engagement platform that helps organizations drive word-of-mouth website traffic using the social networks of existing supporters. SocialToaster has evolved to become one of the leading solutions in the industry and is currently being used by some of the biggest names in sports, television, film, music, publishing, education and non-profit.

Podcast Highlights:

  • Flexibility and adaptability are key elements of success
  • Always stay true to your mission
  • Reality check your initiatives continually 

Contact Brian:

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone, this is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the no limit selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster. Get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:35
Hello, everyone. I'm privileged to have Brian Razak here, the president ceo of social toaster, did it get the title, right?

Brian Razzaque 0:43
It's actually former CEO, we just had a management transition. I'm the Chairman of the Board and the founder. But we were fortunate enough recently to bring on a new CEO with a really exciting background. And so now I'm day to day assisting in the position of cmo.

Umar Hameed 1:01
So in 90 seconds, tell us who you are and what you do.

Brian Razzaque 1:05
Again, my name is Brian rezac. I'm the founder of socialtoaster. And we are a company that provides a social marketing and advocacy platform, we help businesses to identify, engage and recruit individuals on social media to help promote their brand.

Umar Hameed 1:24
So we get a better sense of who you are Brian, who is your favorite superhero, and what attributes speaks to you?

Brian Razzaque 1:31
I'm gonna I'm gonna cheat this one a little bit, because we, we actually, as part of our marketing strategy, we came up with our own superheroes, we call Tony supers. And they're they're led by Mr. Social, who, you know, helps companies to, to be more effective on social media. But we've got a got a bunch of other great, great characters that we've created as well, including the influencer visibility girl, we got a bunch of them. So I, I'm gonna cheat, I'm gonna say we have our own superheroes here, way to

Umar Hameed 2:01
promote We know you're in marketing. Brian, you know, starting a company from idea to you know, making it real and stepping aside getting a new CEO, there has been probably good days and dark days. Brian, what motivates you? What keeps you going even in the tough days?

Brian Razzaque 2:17
That's a great question. You know, what motivates me is I'm the type of guy that likes to tackle problems, and come up with solutions. And, you know, the, the whole idea behind social toaster came about as a result of a belief that social media has value to businesses, but helping businesses to, to really determine what that value is, and then how to go about a process to achieve that value. That's a huge problem. It was a problem when, you know, we founded the company a decade ago, and it's still a problem today. So you know, the thing that motivates me is, as long as that, you know, problem exists, or problem that I've decided to tackle exists, I'm going to get up every day and try to figure out a way to make it, make it better and help solve it,

Umar Hameed 3:09
your communications have probably evolved, think back to you know, the early message in the early days versus what the message is now has it changed?

Brian Razzaque 3:17
The core message has never changed. The core message is how do you as a brand, as an organization? How do you engage people that know you like you love you want to help you? How do you actually get them to do that? How do you get them to share content and be active on social so that message of helping to address that problem has never changed. But the implementation has evolved radically, you know, brands that we talked to, in the early days that have seen our platform really recently, can't even recognize what you know that we're the same company. So certainly, the implementation is fundamentally different.

Umar Hameed 3:56
So it sounds like you know, human beings that we have a purpose and that's a direction that never changes. But the tactics along the way do so we evolve as executioner's. But the mission remains constant.

Brian Razzaque 4:09
Absolutely. I mean, I think in business in life, flexibility, adaptability are key. This is absolutely an industry that has no clear roadmap, you know, in order to to move forward and stay relevant and provide value to customers, you know, that that Northstar? so to speak, you know, really has to be something that's ingrained in everybody in the organization, you know, that allows them to make decisions in the absence of a map to help you know, guide the process and make sure they're moving in the right direction.

Umar Hameed 4:45
Brian, who's your mentor?

Brian Razzaque 4:46
There's a question he gets off the lot. You know, who who mentors and role models are can break that up? You know, I think you're the person who inspires me is probably my dad, which is a common answer. I know but I use it anyway. He's a Physician but he came over here with literally $8 to his name and you know, build something for himself. So that always kind of inspires me and motivates me when I think about, you know where I am and what I'm doing. But then I have other professional mentors and people that I work with, you know, there's a gentleman I worked with for quite some time again, and Bill Clark, who I know, and well, he

Umar Hameed 5:23
actually recorded to interview a couple episodes ago,

Brian Razzaque 5:26
I saw that so you know, Bill, and so you know, he's a personal friend and another mentor, and he's, you've been through a lot. And, you know, I look to some of his example, try to learn and improve. So,

Umar Hameed 5:38
you know, one of the frustrating things about this interview, doing podcasts is the podcast with Bill is a good example, we finished the podcast, it's a great recording, the recorder comes off. And then bill says, You know, I should have told you about this company I built in had a revenue of 100 and $50 million a year, a giant company came calling, and I was kind of full of ego. And he tell us this amazing story that should have been on the podcast, but only happened after we stopped recording. It's like, darn it, Bill.

Brian Razzaque 6:07
It is an amazing story. It's his story to tell, though, but I'm aware of it. And, and you definitely should get him back for round two, but 100%. That's, and that's the type of experience that you know, I think it's when we talk about mentors, to me, a mentor, someone that's active in your life and is able to help guide you, right, versus a role model, or I know a lot of people throw role models out, like Steve Jobs or something like that. But being able to have a relationship with somebody that has been through a lot and to then try to be receptive and learn from their experience. So you don't repeat it, I think is important for any business leader.

Umar Hameed 6:42
So my favorite Steve Jobs story is one where he is in the master, you're imparting wisdom. He was the student, the marketing agency, they were trying to help him sell one of his products. And he was adamant that you know, it's got these five amazing features that we have to tell people in the ads about. That's, you know, I'm Steve. And that's what I want. So they're frustrated. So one of the guys gets his legal pad rips off a sheet of paper makes the ball. So Steve catch, he throws it to Steven Steve catches it and tosses it back. Then he gets another four balls of paper. So he's got five in total. He goes Steve catch, and Steve can't catch any of them. Right. And Steve goes, alright, I get it. Yeah, and promote it.

Brian Razzaque 7:22
Now, you know, that's, I think that's key with any sort of communication, right? Have one message, make sure it comes through. And I think that also translates even into your business. Right? Do I have another guy that I worked with a long time ago? who always used to tell me do one thing do a well, and, you know, that's something that tried to take to heart, you know, so for us today, and socialtoaster? Do one thing do well,

Umar Hameed 7:51
and I like that Jim Collins and is good to great book, it was like, you know, what, something you could be best in the world at? And oftentimes, but I can do many things is this, the answer is like no, pick one and become great at it. Yep. Brian, tell me about your first sales job.

Brian Razzaque 8:07
I think I might be a bit unique in that I've never actually worked for anybody else. I started my first company out of action while I was a student at jobs, Johns Hopkins, I've run my own businesses ever since so my first sales job was that first company it was a web development company, you know, startup by myself with and with a couple friends and the sort of stereotypical indoor me right in the in the dorm room. By the time I graduated, had four full time people and kind of grew the business from there. So that was my first experience was, was as a student slash founder of a web development company,

Umar Hameed 8:40
what's the best deal you've ever done? I

Brian Razzaque 8:42
think some people might confuse that with the largest deal you've ever done the most notable deal, right? The the biggest name recognition, and it's tempting to, you know, throw out some great names of really amazing companies we've worked with, but in order for it to be the best deal, I think it's got to be a relationship where everyone really, you know, benefits where both parties are growing and, and evolving. Let me come back to that.

Umar Hameed 9:15
But I think there's something valuable. You said there, because there's many ways to do business. But if you're doing business in a way that you add value to all the participants, and that's the lens, you look at deals through, then that's where you kind of build that network of allies across the landscape.

Brian Razzaque 9:33
Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, I would say today, probably we work with the Shubert organization out of New York. They have a number of Broadway shows, and we worked with them for many years. You know, they're a good example. I'm going to say that the best Yeah, we have a lot of really great deals. It's hard for me to pick just one but you know that that's an organization that we're, you know, we're involved with, we have good dialogues, we're able to help come up with new tools. And solutions for them that expand even on what we're doing. And so, you know, that would be, for me a good example of a company,

Umar Hameed 10:06
Brian, tell me in your career, tell me about a come to Jesus moment where you had to do a pivot, or overcome a major obstacle.

Brian Razzaque 10:14
I mean, when you're the founder of a startup in a volatile world, like social media, it seems like almost every week, there's some sort of a, you know, evolution or crisis or something comes up. But I'd say, as a company, we had kind of a defining year in 2016, where, you know, we were doing with, we still do quite a lot of work with major ad agencies, one of the things that we had emphasized fairly heavily, heavily was the media side of social buying media advertising on Facebook and some of the other networks. As we were growing that business, it became clear that while there is a tremendous amount of value to be had in media, and we still do it today that, that for our vision, you get focusing on this idea of really helping brands to truly engage authentic organic customers, supporters that buying ads, as the primary business for us was not the right direction, we had a really defining year where we made a decision to dial that business back, and we provide it but now we provide it in support of the core mission, which is really, you know, being a platform that is interesting and exciting and helps to helps actually get real, authentic fans to help promote the brand or be part of that brand messaging. And so, you know, that was a very big year for us, you know, in terms of why it was a pivot critical, because we had invested so much in moving in this direction around media. And you know, we'd extend a lot of resources, we brought on a large number of people to support that initiative. And we just realized that it was not the best direction for us, and so refocusing on the course, as well, the right thing to do had a lot of repercussions associated with it.

Umar Hameed 12:19
Tell me about internal discussions, was there a proponent within your company saying, No, we got to stay the course like what was what were those discussions? Like? Oftentimes people get locked into we've made this decision we've invested, we got to stay the course. So how do you have the courage to say no, wait a minute, we need to change. So what were those discussions like

Brian Razzaque 12:38
every organization has these times where you look at your sunk costs, it's daunting to consider that moving away from that investment, you know, abandoning so to speak, you know, when you have so much invested it, that's always a that's always an intimidating or, or daunting sort of a decision. So, you know, it's, it's not unusual for organizations to do what you're saying, stay the course, and just keep digging the hole that you're digging, right? I think, you know, for us, it came evidence that moving in that direction was not going to be sustainable. And when you when you realize that, then it may be a difficult conversation to have, it's absolutely unnecessary one, and it's one that you then can make, and to me, it's it's all about really looking at it as an opportunity. Right. You know, as a, as a high growth company. I think the most important takeaway, overall is that the environment is going to change. And the landscape is constantly evolving. And it's not that we tried something, and we failed, because that's not at all what I'm saying. It's more of that we experimented, we tried some things out. And some of what we were trying was working better than some of the other things. And when you look at it, like that then changes the lens. Yeah. And you look at it as as an evolution, then, you know, you're able to take those decisions and treat them as opportunities, as opposed to looking at them as failures.

Umar Hameed 14:11
I was reading Andy gross book, and he was talking about, you know, when Intel was the dominant chip maker for memory chips, and they were experimenting with microprocessors. And the question is, where do we invest? We invest in where we have dominance, but do we invest in this new microprocessors side of things? Sure. And so discussions for like six months, eight months, going around around in circles, and then he had this epiphany one day with Gordon Moore of the famed, you know, double processing power every 18 months. He says, if the previous leadership got fired, and the board brought us in as a new leaders, what would we do? And instantly, both them simultaneously say, microprocessors, right, but when you're in the thick of things, sometimes it's hard to see and just getting that different perspective really gives you insights quickly as opposed to struggling with the past.

Brian Razzaque 14:58
I would absolutely agree with

Umar Hameed 15:00
We live in turbulent times. Okay, what do you think is the biggest challenge in sales right now today, the biggest

Brian Razzaque 15:06
challenge in sales, I think, is one of noise. We are working with a lot of companies, you know, and I think one of the reason that we are appealing as a platform is, because they are dealing with this issue of digital noise, we have noise overall, right? I mean, we're inundated with advertising visually as we move throughout our day. But when we start to focus on digital, right, the volume of emails we receive is ever increasing. You know, every time we log into, you know, social media, our feed is overwhelmed with all kinds of discussions from friends, things we care about, but also many things we don't care about. You know, one of the things I think that is interesting about the human brain is we we really are the best spam filters, you know, in spite of things that may get through our automatic, mechanical, electronic filters, right? You know, we we've gotten very good at glancing at something and saying this is relevant, or this is not relevant for me. And so as the volume of digital information were assaulted with increases, our brains are getting better and better at just deciding whether we want them to or not that this is or is not something that we care about. And so, cutting through the noise is is a huge challenge in sales. What I think we are all discovering is that the only way to really cut through that noise, is if you are able to hit your pony, so to speak to a cart that is known. Right, right. Meaning, you know, if you are able to piggyback off of a trusted friend, you know, if you we've seen the stats recommendations from friends, or trust, a lot of Yeah, right above all else, right. So that I think persists today that that's, you know, one of the few ways that we can cut through the noise. Otherwise, we have to create more noise, right. So if we're hoping that brand recognition alone is going to carry us to kind of get through that mental filter to say this is something I want to look at, then the only other real meaningful way to do that is to just over assault the person and have your brand everywhere. So not all businesses can afford to have their brand be ubiquitous, and kind of every single channel. So the rest of the companies, it's really comes down to you know, being creative, being smart, and you know, trying to get in the door through so that trusted relationship.

Umar Hameed 17:37
Brian, you've got salespeople that work for you. Mm hmm. What do you do with a salesperson that's performing well, but goes into a slump? How do you get them to come out of that slump and kind of get back on track?

Brian Razzaque 17:47
I think we've certainly had that. I think salespeople go through slumps for a number of reasons, like you know, most many of which has nothing to do the company. You know, a lot of times dealing with relationship breakups, moving all kinds of things can be distracting. But also sometimes they get into slumps, just like sports players, right? They have a couple couple bad games, the mindset becomes effective, they start to think they get in their own head.

Umar Hameed 18:13
Don't make a mistake, don't make a mistake.

Brian Razzaque 18:15
Sure, sure. And then they know that they're in Islam, so then they work harder, but the attitude, you know, kind of carries through. So you know, for us, when that happens, it's it is I think about really looking at the mindset of the person and recognizing that beating them up isn't going to motivate them, throwing more money at them, isn't gonna motivate them, if anything that frustrates them that you've maybe even this opportunity, but they still got the bad mindset. So I think that's how you treat that symptom as you really need to, you know, have conversations, get the individual open up about what's going on, get them to recognize and understand that they're dealing with a mindset issue. You know, try to create an environment where they can get some of the positive feedback necessary to change that mindset and get them out of that slump.

Umar Hameed 19:06
Before we kind of wind this thing up. Brian, what's something you know, now that you wish you knew 10 years ago, the number

Brian Razzaque 19:11
one thing I wish I had known how long the evolution of this whole social media roller coaster would kind of turn out to be. And what I mean by that is, you know, I think back in the sort of late 2000 2000 678, kind of was social media was really gaining momentum. There was so much hype around it, and everybody knew it was going to be compelling and interesting and amazing. And it has been it has changed society, right. I mean, look at the political landscape like things that no one would have thought it could have happened, you know, have happened as a direct result, I think right social media right as a tool. We are not that much further along today in 2018. Then we were in 2010 algorithms change. You know, we're dealing with concerns right now around privacy, but privacy has always been a concern. And so, you know, I think that as a technologist, and as an optimist, I thought I thought society would be much further along, saying to me, I'm looking at that as an opportunity. I mean, I know that so much more that we can be doing. And, you know, we just need to continue to innovate and, and, you know, be be creative. And I think we'll be, I think everyone will be amazed and surprised that, you know, what's around the corner?

Umar Hameed 20:38
So Brian, you're a dad, right?

Brian Razzaque 20:39
I am, yes, how many children I have two girls, I have an eight year old and one soon to be six year old,

Umar Hameed 20:45
as they grow up, if they decided to go into business, would be three pieces of advice you'd give them to give them a leg up on making better decisions, building stronger companies, I think,

Brian Razzaque 20:58
number one, really ensuring that you have a clear kind of mission and vision in mind at the onset. I think that many businesses start because people have a skill set and they see an opportunity. Before they know it, they suddenly have a business. They're executing on that skill, but they're doing so without direction without direction, right without that clear mission without that clear vision that the mindset, but that Northstar had mentioned before they can guide you when you don't know where you're going. Right. And so the result is that the majority of businesses sort of fumble along, sometimes they're making money, sometimes they're losing money, but they never really growing at the, you know, scale or rate that they potentially could with a clear vision. So number one would be have that in mind, number two would be treat the business itself as a math problem, I think having an understanding of your sort of underlying business model, how the financials work, I think that that that is critical, and that's something I learned, I'm gonna say the hard way. But, you know, my first business I started because as as I just said, I had a skill set. I enjoyed doing it. But it was only through kind of years of evolution, that it came to appreciate what was necessary at a found mathematical level to really ensure that you can be successful. The third element would be to really just make sure you enjoy and you love what you're doing. There's, you know, definitely it's definitely possible in life to go down a path and enjoy what you're doing, love it every day, and still be successful, still make money, still be providing value to society or delivering on something but, you know, I do think it's easy to get trapped or fall down into a hole where you're maybe doing all the right things, but you wake up one day and you're like, This isn't how did

Umar Hameed 22:48
I get here? Yeah, it's not making me happy. So Brian, thanks so much for sitting down with me. I really appreciate it.

Brian Razzaque 22:54
Thank you very much.

Umar Hameed 22:59
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at no limit selling calm. I've got a free mind training course there that's going to teach you some insights from the world of neuro linguistic programming, and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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