Startup of the month: EmbedSocial – when love meets business

The following article is part of the ".mk startup of the month" initiative of IT.MK, IT Logs and Startup Macedonia. Every month we profile one .mk startup on the way to success.

.mk Startup of the Month [February, 2024]:

What is EmbedSocial?

EmbedSocial is a complete UGC platform that helps brands to increase engagement, build trust, and sell more with the help of their customers.

For the married couple behind the EmbedSocial platform, Nikola and Katerina Boјkov, love and business have always been intertwined, to a point that they cannot function in any other way. As a result, EmbedSocial is both their startup and digital love child, growing and developing since 2016.

Today, EmbedSocial has a team of about 40 employees, more than 300 thousand users worldwide, including major clients such as former Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, and companies such as Motorola, Samsonite, Sony and Yamaha. The company has offices in Skopje, Sofia, Tokyo and Lisbon. However, their ambition doesn’t stop there, as they aim for an even greater global presence.

The initial idea, however, came to fruition in Skopje, many years before the official launch of EmbedSocial on the startup scene.

The team behind EmbedSocial

“The story begins a long time ago, when we were still a digital marketing agency. 2008 was a time of a great financial crisis and brands were looking for new marketing channels that would be cheaper and more efficient. Twitter and Facebook popped up, encouraging us to get out of the comfort zone and create our company,” explains Nikola.

As he goes on to say, that was also the period when they managed to connect to a lot of customers and to thrive as Facebook marketing partners. But towards the year 2012, they were experiencing dissatisfaction and felt a desire for a new challenge.

Even though it went great with the agency part, we still felt like something was missing and was making us unhappy. We had to make something that we could call our own, and not depend only on projects. We’ve dabbed and tried our hand in making several products, resulting in quite a few failed attempts. For example, we also had a failed attempt with a Facebook post scheduling manager,” reminisces Nicola.

The miracle of Malaysia as a turning point

The turning point came when they were working for a client who organized events. The client wanted the pictures from the events to be posted on both their Facebook page and their website. Thus, the best option for the client was something that could automatically place images on several pages at the same time.

We already had experience with Facebook and their API, and we made a plugin that we named EmbedSocial. The plugin allowed users to have fresh pictures from their Facebook albums to also appear on their web pages,” says Nikola.

After a while though, they would leave the plugin and completely put it out of their minds. One day however, their servers would crash, leaving them puzzled by the outcome.

Nikola Bojkov

We wondered why our servers went down. Customers for apps, games and websites called to ask what was going on. The reason was that an online portal from Malaysia had put our widget on their site, and it crashed the server. At that moment we realized that there is something more then it meets the eye,” says Nikola.

Katerina claims that this is what led to the creation of the product.

Without being fully aware, we were systemically optimizing things and working on the product 24/7. At that moment in time, we actually had a product, even though we couldn’t put a finger to it; it often happened that we gave very good ideas for dedicated campaigns for our clients – with integrations, bases, more sophisticated solutions, and we had that mindset, to optimize and to save time, Katerina explains.

EmbedSocial has done just that and helped customers save valuable time. After a while, they started receiving various requests regarding how the product should look. During that period, the third co-founder, Dejan Dimitrovski, joined the team as CTO.

Dejan is the brother of one of our friends. When we decided to quit the jobs we had and start a company, it was clear to us that we are not developers. We needed a person with technical knowledge and with whom we would work. Previously we had some common experience of making web pages, so it came naturally to work together and try to do something serious,” Nikola recalls.

Developing EmbedSocial as a platform

FITR also played a role into the story, by having EmbedSocial apply for a financing call.

We were thinking that this is a great opportunity to do our homework and make the product. Even if we don’t get the grant, we would still have at least a business plan and have the know-how in terms of investments. Seem like a win-win situation where grant or no grant, we would still be able to start and finance the product through the agency work,” says Nikola.

Them, they did manage to get the grant and use it to transition from providing services to creating products.

We hired project managers, and the three of us decided to focus on building EmbedSocial as a platform. Thus, we built the platform in a year. We got the grant in 2015, and we closed the agency in 2017,” says Nikola.
Katerina and Nikola

Studio Moderna was their first local client, followed by the first international clients in 2017.

We already had a lot of users that were using the widget for free. All we had to do was email those same users and let them know that we also have a $5 paid version. Thus, we started to attract paid customers on a daily level,” adds Nikola.

In order to solve billing issues that may arise from the usage of services such as PayPal or Stripe, they decided to open a company in neighboring Bulgaria. As a member of the EU, Bulgaria was the perfect option to enable the use of such services.

Then, there’s the global expansion to markets such as Japan as well. According to Katerina and Nikola, the moment with Tokyo was purely down to luck and circumstances.

One of our first employees had returned from Japan, having earned a master’s degree there. Chatting with his Japanese friends, he explained the product, managing to color them intrigued, to a point that they wanted a demonstration. We were skeptical, but he was persistent and we decided to try our luck.  While we were cooperating with local partners, we also registered a company there” says Nikola.

Their first Japanese employee, Yuko, helped them overcome the challenges that come with threading on unknown grounds.

It was clear to us that we must have a team member who knows Japanese and to be able to cooperate with our managers and developers, as well as to share the unique knowledge that comes from that specific market,” says Katerina.

The next destination turned out to be Lisbon. Why exactly this destination? Well, according to Nicola, the choice fell on Portugal because the Portuguese language is one of the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.

Katerina and Nikola

The idea was to have an office there as well, and hire marketing and customer support people to help us translate the platform into Portuguese, Spanish – and even French and Italian, since they all belong to the same language group,” both Nikola and Katerina explain.

The team in Macedonia and working with relatives and close associates

Last year EmbedSocial also introduced four new tools based on the ChatGPT chatbot: AI Reviews Summarizer, AI Replies Generator, AI Reviews Assistant and AI CSS Generator.

The main goal of these tools is to help businesses manage the content they receive on social networks and reduce the time required to manage them. Also, the development of these tools is done by the team located in Macedonia.

“It is already very easy with ChatGPT to translate the message from the client from English to the user’s language and we realized that the team that we have should remain centralized here in Macedonia. Thanks to all those tools they can successfully manage all the users. So, this part of the team remains in Skopje, while the other offices serve us for the development of sales, partnerships and new channels for obtaining users,” says Nikola.

What is it like to work with relatives and close associates? According to both of them, all this comes so naturally and it would be strange if they had to work with people who they are not close with.

We enjoy what we do, and we don’t know of any other way of getting the job done. All three of us (co-founders) are very different, there are often a lot of debates, some of them are heated, but at the end of the day we all set our ego aside and do what we think will get the best results. We simply don’t know of any other way, we have always worked together, we have talked both privately and professionally about technology, new things, tools, products and that whole world has become interesting to us, we have a common goal and that leads us forward,” explains Katerina.

Go global from day one

As a bootstrapped company, EmbedSocial participates in mentorship programs, but doesn’t go asking for investments. What is much more beneficial for them is to get the right advice from the right people.

During their early development, they got it from the French organization TheFamily, which aims to increase the growth and development of European startups through direct mentoring programs.

We needed product experience from someone who has been through all this and is knowledgeable both in the concept and the model. We applied to their office in Berlin and offered us acceptable terms. We didn’t get any funding from them but what we got was equally important – the first tip was to double the price, as well as some tricks and interesting tips on how to increase the profit,” says Katerina.

Nikola and Katerina use all that practical experience to grow the company and its current market positioning. To reach profitability, they needed a period of half a year after the launch of the product.

The couple behind EmbedSocial

We were in a pub for a New Year and we were overjoyed to become profitable. Although we had minimum wages, we were in the clear. After that, everything else was a bonus for us,” says Nikola.

Their advice on how to succeed from Macedonia? According to Katerina, one needs to go global from day one.

From day one, we were focused on going global. If you are from a small country like Macedonia, you should still understand that you are global from the beginning. You will have home users who will help you in the part to understand the market, the different metrics, what you would pay for as users – these are the first steps meant to help you get to the actual product. All of this has helped us take the first step and validate our idea to become a global SaaS,” says Katerina.

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