Ada Chen Rekhi, entrepreneur and marketer: “Every startup has to get close to the customer”

by | Mar 6, 2017

In this interview, we introduce Ada Chen Rekhi, who is not only an entrepreneur and marketer, but  also one of the speakers who will talk on the main stage at Blast 2017. So let’s find out more about this woman, who has so much experience to share and who will be one of the stars of the event.

Let’s start from you, the very first woman that joined our adventure: who is Ada Chen Rekhi?

I’m really excited to be part of the Blast Project’s session this year. I’m an entrepreneur and marketer based in Silicon Valley with over a decade of experience in technology companies including SurveyMonkey, LinkedIn and Microsoft. Most recently, I was the Senior Vice President of Marketing at SurveyMonkey, where I led global marketing efforts to grow the customer base as well as launch new products to both consumers and businesses. Prior to that, I was an entrepreneur who founded Connected, which provided contact management without the work. Connected was acquired by LinkedIn in 2011 where I also had the opportunity to work across a variety of areas including Growth and Sales Solutions teams.

I’m super passionate about technology and its intersection with productivity and helping people do great work. These days I am working on a new startup called Notejoy, which is a workplace collaboration product currently in private beta.

You were a co-founder of Connected, an example of successful startup. How this experience started?

Connected was really inspired by my own experiences. In the course of my career I’ve had many opportunities to work with people who have the rare gift of being natural networkers and relationship builders. When you observe these people, it is effortless for them to invest in their most important relationships and nurture those connections to others. We discovered after a lot of these conversations that many people have systems for maintaining their relationships, whether it’s building lists, writing down birthdays on their calendars, leveraging social media — and for many of us, this can feel like a lot of work!

Building Connected was really a natural result of these conversations. We took the best practices from these expert networkers and made it into a product that helped people build, maintain and leverage their relationships with others. It was the first company I had started based on several ideas that we considered. I wanted to build a company in a space with personal meaningfulness for me as well as a big market opportunity.

There was a moment in which you thought: “Ok, it’s working really” or a moment in which you doubted about that project? If there were doubts, how you managed them?

I have a favorite line by Marc Andreessen to describe the startup experience: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

Building a startup is unlike working as an employee because the highs are higher and the lows are lower.

All of the moments that come to mind for me from Connected are related to our customers. We had a really robust beta program at Connected where we had over a hundred people trying the product before the launch and regularly giving us feedback. I remember vividly the time we got an unexpected email from one of our customers telling us that our product was pure gold, and really we were charging way too little for it. What an exciting moment! However, the hardest moments were like that too. One day, we woke up and one of our earliest and most enthusiastic customers had churned and canceled his subscription. He sent us a message saying that while he was trying to use it he simply couldn’t keep it up as a regular habit. We were crushed. This was one of our best customers who really understood our mission and passion, and he’d just turned the product off.

These types of moments are something that every founder will have to deal with. Personally I have found it helpful to have trusted and supportive friends and also point out if I’m overreacting to one bad situation. Another tactic is really to look at the data and other startup stories. When you can see other startups who took a really long time getting off the ground or gain traction, you start to realizes it’s pretty normal to have these tough times and you’re not alone in going through them.

Let’s move on to your former job for SurveyMonkey: do you want to talk about it? How it started this new chapter of your career and how it’s going?

SurveyMonkey is a fantastic company doing really exciting things. I’m really glad I had the recent experience of working with the team there. As far as my entrepreneurial journey goes after my time at LinkedIn, I always knew that I wanted to start a new company. However, along the way I had the opportunity to meet some folks at SurveyMonkey and was deeply inspired by their mission to help people make better decisions. It really spoke to my passion area. In addition, they had an amazing caliber of people and presented a great opportunity to deepen my experience with SaaS (software-as-a-service) business so I knew very early that it was the right decision to go work there and I would start a company afterward.

As far as my new startup Notejoy, the story is really similar to Connected in that the idea is inspired by the experiences that I’ve had to date which is in part influenced by my time at SurveyMonkey. We’re focused on building a product that helps teams collaborate in the workplace better, and a lot of the product innovation and inspiration is from reflecting on my own experiences collaborating in teams and thinking about ways to do it better.

Have you any advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs that believe in their ideas and skills?

Focus on learning and be intentional about how you spend your time. Whether you’re working on a startup or thinking about starting one, there are so many things you could do every day to get better as a professional. All the small things from connecting with people, reading articles, attending events, over time they will add up to a lot over time.

Trying to simplify, what is the first and most important thing that a startup has to take in account in order to promote its brand and its product?

The most important thing for every startup to do is to get close to the customer.

When is the last time you talked to someone who is loving your product? If you can build a really strong connection with your customer base, naturally you will develop a strong understanding of what tools they use, what topics they care about, and where they spend their time. All of your marketing promotion and branding efforts should be focused on serving their needs.

To make it a little more concrete with an example, when I led marketing at a startup called Mochi Media, we were building a product that helped Flash game developers track and monetize their games. I spent a lot of time getting to know them through blogs, forums and 1:1 conversations. It became clear from these conversations that these independent developers didn’t have the budget to attend the big game conferences, didn’t read a lot of the more traditional news outlets, and weren’t a great fit for ads. Instead, the best way to reach them was community building: contests, forums, and eventually a conference geared to just them. It wouldn’t have been the obvious way to reach them without customer understanding. With efforts like these, Mochi Media grew to a point where it was the #1 online games property worldwide according to comScore before it was acquired.

I’ve read some of your latest articles: as well as giving great advice on the management of the work from a strictly technical point of view it seems to me that there is always a strong link to the ​more general ​networking idea. I think it’s natural for a professional that works in your field, but I think that it shows also your inclination to human relationships and listening. Blast is an event absolutely based on networking: how important is this aspect in the business world?

Networking is so important in both the business and personal world. It’s not a transaction or about getting immediate help on something you’re working on, but far more about a long-term investment in people. It’s about building relationships and connecting with people to discuss ideas or simply enjoy time with each other. Blast is an exciting project because it’s bringing together not just content but a lot of smart people!

What about your future goals?

I’m currently focused on my new startup Notejoy. We are just getting started on a private beta, with the goal of getting some teams on it for feedback on what’s working and what’s not. The immediate future goal is to launch it to the public sometime this year and continue to learn from these experiences and the community every day.

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