Interview with Sanne Stricker from Roamler
Sanne Stricker (26) graduated cum laude from the Master of Business Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her master thesis focused on the influence of negative tweets on consumer attitude towards brands and received a lot of media attention from the Dutch press. Sanne is currently working at Roamler, the company behind the successful iPhone app on crowdsourcing. Her advice? Go work at a startup!
Q: Your master thesis received a lot of media attention. What can you tell us about the process of writing it and the coverage it received?
A: I graduated from the Master of Business Studies in June 2011. I’ve always been very interested in social media and marketing. I always wanted to write a thesis that I could refer to during job interviews later on. The subject for me had to be about something I could find a job around. We are the generation that grew up with the internet and these new forms of media, we’re the digital natives. To me that feels like having a huge advantage over people who were already working at big companies and have had to adapt to these changes. When I started with my thesis, there was a huge hype around social media and Twitter in particular. Everybody thought that if your company was mentioned in a bad way on Twitter through negative tweets, your reputation would be instantly ruined. I was really interested in what exactly the impact of negative tweets was on brand reputations. At the moment of writing, there was very little research done on the subject. It was very hard to find scientific articles, but my professor was very enthusiastic and said that the fact that I was one of the first ones to conduct this kind of research was great. I recently heard that in last year’s class 9 out of 10 theses was on social media. But at this time, it was still a quite new research field. For my research I developed a questionnaire about an imaginary negative tweet about Coffee Company.
I needed a lot of respondents so I posted some tweets about my research. At a certain moment, I received a message from SocialMedia.nl, a Dutch blog on social media, whether I wanted to post a message on their blog about my research. This was a great opportunity so I was very glad and quickly wrote a post for their blog. After that, I received a message from Marketing Facts and then I got contacted by Radio 1 and the Telegraaf. My research received a lot of attention and this resulted in over 500 respondents. When I finished my research I posted it online and it got retweeted a lot. It also received attention again from several blogs. But since it was a scientific master thesis, I think it may have been quite hard for readers who were not familiar with the material or with scientific articles to understand the research completely. I did write a short two page summary for my website, but I don’t think a lot of people have read it. But since at the time there was this huge hype around social media, my research still received a lot of attention. I don’t think it had anything to do with me personally, I just wrote about the right subject at the right moment in time.
Q: What was your strategy for finding a job after you graduated?
A: When I graduated in June, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be. I did a few interviews for traineeships at big companies. At a certain moment I realised that I was actually more interested in working at a startup. But how do you find a job at a startup? I had been using Roamler for quite some time, being an early adapter and I was liking it a lot. I really enjoyed taking on the assignments that were posted and I saw huge potential for further growth of the app and the company behind it. I was also following the founders of Roamler on Twitter. One Saturday night I received a message from one of the founders of Roamler, telling me that he saw I was looking for a job and that he wanted to know what kind of job I was looking for. Well basically I wanted a job at his company! We arranged to meet for coffee and we had a talk about the potential of the company and my view on opportunities for further growth. It was a great talk and in the end I was offered a job at Roamler. We actually hardly talked about me at all during the talk. I think he did look me up on Google beforehand and he must have seen my thesis because I posted the link on my Twitter account, but I never had to send a CV or anything. It was a sharp contrast to the weeks of doing interviews and role-plays for the huge companies I applied for before. Within the hour I was offered a dream job at a great startup and I was so happy! There are so many possibilities here at Roamler and because the company is still small you can do just about anything. Everybody is doing a lot of different tasks and if I feel like doing more marketing I just pick up more marketing tasks, or if I want to be more involved with the financial administration I can do that. You really have the chance to grow within the company and grow with the company. If you want to do something, you can just do it, without having to wait for permission from ten different superiors. I have been working on projects at Roamler for clients like Apple and PepsiCo. It’s really great.
Q: What is your daily business at Roamler like?
A: My main job is in Roamler Support. We review the pictures and answers that Roamlers (users of the app) submit through the app, we give support where needed and we manage the social media channels. For example, right now we have a new assignment for Apple which went live yesterday. Apple is currently selling iPads and iPhones at telecom stores throughout the Netherlands. These stores receive all sorts of promotion materials from Apple. Now Apple wants to know how these stores use these promotion materials and whether they follow all the guidelines. There are about 500 stores so the task of checking all the stores is impossible for Apple. That’s where Roamler comes in. We at Roamler Support receive the new assignments from Sales, and in this case I got to manage the project. I find out what exactly Apple wants to know and develop the questions and instructions for the assignment we send to the Roamlers. Once a Roamler opens the app, he or she will then see all the locations within a 10 kilometer radius that need to be reviewed. The Roamler also sees a list of questions that need to be answered, in this case they are about how the promotion materials are used in the store, whether an iPad is immediately visible upon entering the store, is there a store assistant available who is an expert on Apple products, is there a demo model of the iPad available and does it have a working internet connection and so on. This assignment went live yesterday and our Roamlers have covered already 80 percent of all the locations! That means we had a very busy day yesterday. All submitted pictures and answers are personally checked by one of us before we tick off the location. The users of our app are particular fond of Apple so there were a lot of submissions. Users also receive a 4 euro reward if their review gets accepted so that’s a great incentive as well. Some users review up to ten different stores in one day.
We really want the assignments to be completed as soon as possible. We can see which locations still need to be reviewed and we can send out a push notification to Roamlers who are located near these places. Our goal is to be able to cover 80 percent of all locations on the first day of an assignment. We nearly reached this goal with the Apple assignment, covering 70 percent in one day. One month ago it would take about three days to reach this number, so we’re certainly getting closer to meeting our goal.
At the moment we don’t have enough clients to send out a payed assignment everyday. Therefore we also regularly come up with assignments of our own. For example this weekend the clock jumps backward one hour and we will post an assignment asking Roamlers how they will spend the extra hour. It’s a lot of fun to design these projects. We’re currently also working on new badges that Roamlers can obtain by completing achievements. We noticed that a lot of our users are very fond of the badges so we decided to expand the system.
Q: When you come up with assignments of your own, is there a bigger agenda at play?
A: Well, a nice example is an assignment we thought of about Ikea. We asked Roamlers to send us pictures of them “making theirselves at home at the Ikea”. They had to pretend that the showrooms at Ikea where their homes. We received a lot of really great and ingenious photos! We placed these on our Facebook account and we even made two Roamlers Roamler of the month because of their awesome pictures. If at a certain moment we come into contact with Ikea about an actual payed assignment, we can bring these pictures to the talk and show what we have achieved before. In this way these assignments can help us to reach more clients.
On the other hand, there is a lot of data we have collected that is not being used at all at the moment. We don’t ask for any personal details from our Roamlers like age and so, that’s not something we want to know. But we do collect a lot of data about locations and products. We currently have two new interns who will focus on this data and come up with interesting researches, as part of their theses for their studies.
Q: Do you also receive assignments from government agencies?
A: We do indeed. Our clients include both commercial companies and government agencies. For example the city of Amsterdam came to us with an assignment about places for parking a bike. The idea was to find spots where parking lots for cars could be converted into parking spaces for bikes, since there are so many bikes in Amsterdam and not enough places to park them. Roamlers had to find these spots and send us a picture.
Q: What are the current developments within Roamler?
A: Everything is going really fast. We only started in June and even though the app is still invite only, we already have 4000 approved Roamlers. And this number is growing fast. If a Roamler completes a lot of assignments and reaches level 3 he or she gets a small number of invites to send out to friends as well. So it’s going very well in the Netherlands and we’re trying to expand to other countries. Our first step is the UK and if that works out well and things are still going great in the Netherlands, then we can go for our ambitious goal: 12 countries in 2012. Our plan is to start in the UK before the end of this year. We entered and won a contest over there from PepsiCo. Because of this we now have a contract with one of their brands, Walkers. This is a great opportunity for us and an important first client, but we want a lot more companies to find their way to us. We’re also releasing updates to the app every two months so our development team is constantly working hard as well.
Q: How do you see your role at Roamler in the future?
A: I really enjoy working at Roamler. The working hours are flexible, you can come and go whenever you want and everybody receives a laptop and phone of their own so we can really work from anywhere. If your team agrees you can take a holiday whenever you want, so working at Roamler clearly is different from a 9 to 5 job. But since the company is growing so fast at the moment the work actually never is finished, so we hardly take a day off at all. The team is still small and everybody has a lot of heart for Roamler. This way the current system works really well, since everybody is very motivated and wants to do their parts in achieving further growth of the company. Maybe later on when Roamler has expanded further and the number of employees has gone way up, the system may change a little. But for now it really feels a lot like living in the Social Network movie. We have pizza nights and stuff. I was only the tenth employee and I have only worked her for two months, but since then many new members have joined the team and I am considered an experienced employee. We just work really hard because we believe in Roamler. We know the potential of the company and we want to make it come true.
I really wouldn’t want to be working a 9 to 5 job at a big company right now. Roamler has a lot of potential for growth and I want to grow with the company. Whether I will specialize in Sales or Marketing I don’t know yet. At the moment I’m just trying to pick up a lot of different tasks. And you never know, maybe in one year Roamler will not exist anymore. I really like to think about ways in which Roamler can grow, so you could say that my main focus is on marketing and business development. But I also do a lot of financial and employee administration. When I find out what I really want to do, I’ll just start picking up more tasks from that department. Over time you just become the person for those kind of tasks. I can honestly advice everyone to start working at a startup. There’s just so much room for personal growth and it’s a lot of fun!
By the way, we’re still looking for Roamlers from quite a few different cities. There’s a list on our website so just send us an e-mail if you’re from any of the towns and we’ll send you an invite!