SocialToaster Has Come A Long Way From A College Dorm
As a teenager, Brian Razzaque moved to Baltimore from Detroit to matriculate at Johns Hopkins University. Initially, he envisioned a pre-med path toward a career as a doctor, like his father. However, Razzaque harbored an undeniable bent for computers.
Medicine’s loss is technology’s gain.
Today, he’s known as the founder/CEO of SocialToaster (www.socialtoaster.com), a Baltimore-based tech start-up software company for social media marketing. It was named Best Technology Company at the 2015 Maryland Incubator Company of the Year Awards. Plus, in winning support from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), SocialToaster has been helped to secure investor capital – in total approximately $6 million from combined sources to date.
“Getting funding is very competitive,” says Robert Rosenbaum, president and executive director of TEDCO. “We fund less than 20 percent of those who apply. Capital is a scarce resource. But SocialToaster is one of those companies that is a great local success. SocialToaster has demonstrated that it can deliver.
“Brian Razzaque understands social media very well. He’s the architect behind the company’s vision and product. They deliver a value to their customers. The best feedback is that their customers keep coming back over and over again.”
Among them: Baltimore Ravens. “They were our first big break and it was really exciting,” says Razzaque. “It was an honor and a privilege to work
with them.” Other SocialToaster clients also impress.
Johns Hopkins University, Perdue Chicken, AARP, United Nations and Avocados from Mexico have hired SocialToaster. Columbia Pictures film “Goosebumps,” A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” and Universal Music have tapped the power of SocialToaster. In fact, its client base runs the gamut across categories including sports, news, entertainment, non-profits, musicians, movie studios and more.
Why do they go to SocialToaster?
This innovative company provides a
way to extend reach through increased visibility on social media. “At the end of the day, social media is just digital word of mouth – we have made that easier,” says Razzaque. “We like to help streamline content going viral.
Razzaque refers to it as the “Holy Grail” of social media. “’How can I make something go viral?’ That’s the core problem we set out to solve,” he says.
“In the beginning [of social media], anything could go viral. Originally, it was serendipity. But now successful companies, advertising agencies and digital marketers use ways and solutions to ensure things go viral. We want to influence and help the probability that it will,” he says.
SocialToaster provides a simple tool to spread, resonate, amplify and market a “brand” using that brand’s existing customers’ social networks. “We have a patent on a single button, one-push approach,” says Razzaque.
SocialToaster offers a fan engagement and loyalty rewards program using “gamification” to provide rewards to people for sharing content. For a business needing to create a social loyalty program, SocialToaster can fit the bill.
“Businesses that are trying to solve this issue – getting their existing supporters to be more productive in spreading the word to their friends – will find that there are very few solutions out there for them. This is one of the key things that makes SocialToaster unique,” says Razzaque.
New Emphasis on Small Businesses
Historically, SocialToaster attracted primarily larger organizations. But now, small businesses can partner with SocialToaster, too. Currently in beta testing, SocialToaster is poised to launch a new product for smaller clients, including “Mom & Pop shops, bloggers, solo businesses, and individuals,” says Razzaque.
“The self-service option, currently in beta testing, is expected to launch by this spring,” he says. “It is a scaled-down version of our enterprise platform designed for small business. Customers will be able to sign up online for a free 30-day trial that they can setup and configure themselves to test the platform out. Pricing is expected to start at $99 a month,” says Razzaque.
“It’s more affordable and accessible to any size company. And extremely impactful,” he says. “Part of my vision is democratizing social media.”
New Tech Trends
According to Razzaque, one thing reigns supreme in a constant and overarching trend: mobile. “The mobile experience is inexplicably linked to social,” he says. “And there’s a lot of innovation around mobile commerce.”
How does it impact SocialToaster?
“We help brands mobilize their fans, so we are looking for ways to keep people engaged in mobile. We are always looking for a way to make the social media experience more ubiquitous – mobile is part of that,” he says.
SocialToaster stands at the ready. “There’s always more that you can be doing. Ways to improve and be better. Give me a challenge and I want to come up with a solution,” says Razzaque, a self-described “confident optimist. You can’t be an entrepreneur without an abundance of optimism.”
For Razzaque, it seems to be paying off.
Lindsay Crone, online marketing manager for the Y of Central Maryland, wants to work with SocialToaster – again.
“SocialToaster served as our social media support team for the Y Turkey Trot Charity 5-K. We worked with them for three to four months in 2015,” she says. Now, we are considering using them for everyday marketing to increase Y membership.”
Crone describes working with SocialToaster as “great. It’s very user friendly. You recruit people to be your online ambassadors. They quickly share your message. SocialToaster lets you touch more people than you could on your own. It’s absolutely worthwhile. Your brand does not even have to be well known.
“SocialToaster is a platform to push out your message. SocialToaster gives people an actionable item. SocialToaster helps you do the heavy lifting,” she says.
“SocialToaster gave us reports as we went along to see how many impression or clicks we got. They share a lot of data. They do a great end-of-campaign report to show the impact it had. We reached a substantial amount through SocialToaster. I was happily surprised that our message reached so many people. It created buzz,” she says.
Other companies might claim to offer similar products. Yet for Crone, SocialToaster stood out from the rest due to its “customer service and transparency. It’s a local company, too. They are go-getters. They are really passionate about what they do. And they are very smart.”
Another satisfied client: Hunt Valley-based PSA Financial Services, an insurance broker and consulting agency. It uses SocialToaster with its employees. Established in 1929, well before the advent of social media, the firm today employs approximately 150 people.
PSA has been working with SocialToaster for approximately five years, according to Justin Hoffman, senior vice president of businesses development and chief marketing officer. “It’s absolutely worth it,” he says. “The amount of sharing from our employees has gone up dramatically. We’ve seen a 75 percent increase. Using a partner like SocialToaster makes all the sense in the world.”
PSA remains committed to inbound marketing and thought-leadership marketing, says Hoffman. “We do a lot of blogs, webinars, check lists and videos that showcase our knowledge to clients and potential clients. SocialToaster is a means of helping us get the message in front of more people.”
What’s In A Name?
Razzaque knows a thing or two about naming a company. Prior to SocialToaster, he ran another self-made company that he named Vision Multimedia Technologies, which he now bemoans was “a huge name to spell.“
He’s learned some lessons since then, and shares pointers for naming a business. “The name of a company should be memorable, globally unique, allude to what you do and have a corresponding domain name,” says Razzaque.
SocialToaster meets the criteria. Still, why that particular name? The “social,” of course, comes from social media, he says. The word “toaster” being used here means an appliance. Put in the bread, and with one push of a button, out pops toast. It’s simple – in and out. Using SocialToaster, people put content in and out comes social media.
However, that name was not always so well defined. “I bought like 28 domain names – like social sparkler, social dazzler, social rabbit, etc. I took all those names to our employees at the time,” says Razzaque. After several voting rounds to narrow it down, the name SocialToaster won the final vote.
Additionally, Razzaque holds a personal association with the “toaster” part of the name. He took inspiration from a favorite old technology. Fondly, he waxes nostalgic about the Amiga Video Toaster from the early ’90s, which he praises as “the easiest video editor at the time.”
In the Beginning
And to think it all began in a college dorm.
Admittedly, Razzaque always loved computers. As a techie, nerdy, geeky kid, he battled hard to beat the typical introversion that often comes with that profile. “If you administered the Meyers Briggs [personality] test, it would show my innate tendencies to be more introverted. By nature, I am introverted, but no one knows that now,” says Razzaque.
During college, he took computer science classes and aced them. In 2000, he graduated from Hopkins with a double major in biology and computer science. Yet even before college graduation, he was running a computer company. During sophomore year, at age 19, Razzaque started an enterprise out of his dorm room – all while studying for school and holding down a student job working as a web master for the university.
“I ran three websites by the time I graduated, so I was pretty visible on campus,” says Razzaque. “Everyone was always asking me to solve their personal computer problems. People were asking me to help them. I was making money, and enjoying working. I enjoyed working more than school,” admits Razzaque. So out went plans for medical school and in entered entrepreneurship.
For approximately 12 years before SocialToaster officially launched, Razzaque ran Vision Multimedia Technologies (VMT), a web application development company he founded in 1998, “Back then social media was just getting hot. So I came up with a new goal: to streamline social media sharing and develop a way to encourage participation.” That was the seed that sowed SocialToaster.
Initially, SocialToaster benefited by being under the umbrella of VMT, a larger company. But when Razzaque sold VMT, SocialToaster broke away with eight employees to stand on its own.
Today, SocialToaster employs 32 people. The majority of them work in Baltimore, although other offices exist in New York City, California, Charlotte and Nashville. Razzaque travels several days out of the month. Now, with investors in London, he’s considering expanding into Europe.
In his earlier days – harnessing his inner geek – Razzaque enjoyed writing code. He remains technically savvy and keeps up with understanding trends and technology. But today, as CEO of a venture capital backed start up, his duties require time spent on investor relations and fundraising. Also, he works on business development with the sales team, especially on larger deals. Plus, “we are still small enough that if there’s a gap and I know how to fill it, I do,” says Razzaque.
“We have been very fortunate. We’ve grown sales and revenues over 200 percent every single year. Doubled it. Our goal is to triple our revenue and sales in 2016.” No doubt that will take some work.
But it’s not all work and no play for Razzaque. He enjoys ice hockey and broomball. He’s a self-described foodie, who likes cooking and eating as well as wine and spirits. You may see him around town at restaurants like Woodberry Kitchen or Petit Louis with his wife, Sarah McNew, a lawyer by training, who prefers technology. She works as chief product officer on the management team at SocialToaster.
Part-time, Razzaque teaches and guest lectures about entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, among other locations.
“Successful entrepreneurs give back and mentor. Brian’s demonstrated he’ll share his time and experience,” praises Rosenbaum. I95