Two Is Better Than One: An Interview with Shala Burroughs
This interview is part of our Entrepreneur Interview series.
Isn't it funny how life can change in a matter of minutes? One minute, Shala Burroughs was going for a casual walk with a new friend and the next, she was talking about starting a business. She and her co-founder, Kate Kendall, didn't exactly expect to be going into business together after an afternoon in Central Park. Shala is a prime example of how things happen for a reason, and her reason was CloudPeeps. We had the chance to dig into her story and dig up the why behind her product.
Becoming “Accountability Partners”
1. Every entrepreneur needs a great origin story. Why did you first start CloudPeeps?
CloudPeeps has been organic from day one. It was the right idea at the right time with the right co-founder. Kate (my co-founder) and I met in March of 2013 and quickly became what you would call “accountability partners”—a natural professional sounding board for one another.
At the end of the fall, my time working with Women Innovate Mobile on their programming had come to a close. I had a few job offers lined up but none of them felt right. I was talking through them with Kate on one of our usual walks through central park and she brought up her idea of CloudPeeps, which she had thought of while building her first company, The Fetch. We had both seen Founders come across this pain point of finding someone to help manage their online communities for a reasonable price—me from the accelerator side and her from the Founder’s perspective.
The walk turned into a four hour meeting. When I got home I mapped out a few thoughts in a deck and when I turned on my e-mail to send it to Kate she had already created a CloudPeeps gmail account! We have been off to the races since then.
Anxiety Comes with the Territory
2. What’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?
Managing the anxiety that comes with the territory. I feel really lucky to be a co-founder with a repeat entrepreneur and to have valuable networks to lean on. The Startup Leadership Fellow program has been very helpful, as I have learned from other founders about how they manage their anxiety.
The greatest help thus far came at the suggestion of one of our CloudPeeps, Brendan, who pointed me in the direction of Head Space. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is feeling the stress of founder-hood!
3. Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
My Dad. He started his consulting business at the age of 40 with two young children and a wife to take care of. Knowing what I know now about how stressful starting a business can be even without children, I admire his guts. There is a word that Italians use called sprezzatura, which essentially means “to work really hard on something and make it look easy.” He has sprezzatura down to a science.
Two Is Better Than One
4. You’re collaborating with Kate Kendall to bring CloudPeeps to life. How did the two of you meet and decide to team up? Do you think co-founders are at an advantage or disadvantage to solo founders?
We were introduced over dim sum in March of 2013 by a mutual friend of ours, Regina Chien. At the time it wasn’t even on my radar that she was the Founder of the Fetch--I just remember getting along with her instantly. We started taking walks in the park together regularly and that led to being what you would call “accountability partners.”
Over the months we leaned on each other more and more regarding career and business decisions and one day as we were walking around Central Park in December she mentioned CloudPeeps. We ended up talking for hours and when I arrived home that night she had already set up our e-mail accounts. The rest is history.
I don’t want to comment on whether or not it is better or worse, I think it very much depends on one’s personal style. I will say that I could absolutely never do this without Kate and I believe she feels the same way as we bring different strengths to the table. I am really lucky and grateful to have a partner that pushes me to be better and that brings out the best in me. So, in this case, two is better than one!
Use Your In-House Resources
5. You’re the former Executive Director of Women Innovate Mobile and you have a reputation for being a strong advocate for entrepreneurial women. Is this your first startup? What advice would you give to other women looking to startup?
Yes, this is my first time properly starting a company, and I would say that I have been able to work quickly and efficiently thanks in large part to the help of my peers. My advice would be to link in with groups like Startup Leadership Program or Athena Management Masterminds (or whatever is available in your area.) It doesn’t have to be a group that is all women necessarily—there are a tremendous number of men who have been helpful to me.
No one is more helpful in the early lifecycle of your business than your peers--they really are your best resources. For example, I could have spent eight hours researching payment systems for contractors, but instead I e-mailed out to my SLP cohort and within two hours I had four responses--everyone had already tested everything out and could offer their viewpoints on the pros and cons. In a space where every minute matters, that is incredibly valuable.
Everyone Will Need This
6. Community management is still a relatively new concept. How do you think the need for community managers will grow? Do you expect to see more competitors in the space in the next 5 years? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t say it is a new concept, necessarily. I’d say how it is being executed online is somewhat newer in the grand scheme of things (considering how long social media has been around in general.) I was just reading a report on Business Insider about how e-commerce will change and how every store is migrating online—even mom-and-pop shops.
So to put it in that context, every one of those stores will need an online presence. They will need someone “greeting people and welcoming them at their virtual door.” Everyone will need a CloudPeep! I definitely think we will see competitors. There will be competitors in any industry that is growing—just look at Birchbox, Ipsy, etc. The same thing will happen to the freelance market as well.
Freelancing Is Here to Stay
7. It seems like the workforce is going rogue (freelance). Marketplaces like CloudPeeps are popping up in dozens of industries. Is this trend here to stay? Why or why not?
It is a huge part of the future certainly and we are thrilled to be the only ones doing this in the community space.
Before we launched CloudPeeps we took a hard look into the trend of freelancing and the trajectory is astounding. While it is by no means a new concept, there is no question that it is going to skyrocket over the next 10 years.
Projections are currently stating that over 50% of the U.S. population will be freelancing (across industries) in some way, shape, or form by 2020. Those stats are accompanied by other research which states that, of those who choose to freelance; only 3% ever return to the traditional economy—likely due to the high productivity and happiness rates that accompany being a freelancer. One simply can’t ignore stats like that I am excited to see them play out over the next 10 years.
Customers Are #1, #2 and #3
8. CloudPeeps is brand new. In understanding what Onboardly does and what our readers are interested in (PR and content marketing), how are you planning to use either (or both) to grow CloudPeeps?
We will be engaging from a content perspective, but right now our focus is on our customers and our CloudPeeps—understanding their experience and how to make it even better. I think a lot of what we find there will inform the way we go about content and marketing. We will definitely want to feature the incredible work of our Peeps and how they are working with customers. For example, one customer tweeted about throwing her CloudPeep a birthday brunch—it totally made my week.
Shala Burroughs is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of CloudPeeps—a company that connects busy businesses with authentic, experienced, remote community managers. She is a Startup Leadership Program Fellow in New York City and an Athena Management Mastermind. She has previously worked with Women Innovate Mobile, Quartz, and Lerer Ventures. Prior to her foray into the startup community, Shala was an Intelligence Officer with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where she coordinated the activities of 76 Intelligence Officers across the US. Don’t worry about her getting to know you—she’s been reading your e-mails for years.