One of our favorite tools we use at Socialistics is Planable, and we were thrilled to get the opportunity to chat with Xenia Muntean, CEO of Planable. Planable is a laser focused social media management tool designed to help agencies more efficiently manage their social media content planning and approvals. We discuss all things Planable as well as Xenia’s experiences with agency life and building a successful SaaS startup.
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Jason: [00:10] Welcome. This is Jason Yomark for the Socialistics podcast. I am really excited about our guest today. I have Xenia Muntean from Planable and I just wanted to share a little bit about our experience with Planable before we kind of dive into our discussion. As an agency, we kind of flipped through a lot of different social media platforms. Obviously, that’s a big part of what we do, and I’m not going to name names and talk about the ones that didn’t work out for us but just know that we flipped around between three or four platforms over the course of a couple of years. And really what it came down to was none of them got it right. Whether it was the reporting element, the publishing, the content management, something was amiss and it just never worked for us. So we just constantly were looking for the right technology stack formula that would help our agency do the best work that we can do, not only from an efficiency standpoint but to do right by our clients. And I think the biggest glaring weakness that we saw across a lot of the platforms that we were using is that they just weren’t client-friendly, that it made it difficult to manage content for clients in a way that was easy for them, easily accessible, easy to manage. And to us, that was the most important thing.
[01:33] Look, if we had to make the choice between efficiencies gained on the client’s side versus internally, we’re going to take the client’s side every time. We want them to have the best experience possible, and then we can suffer internally and figure that out. And nobody just seemed to get that right and then I can’t quite remember, but luckily, we stumbled across Planable and I was really intrigued by the fact that they really focused on one thing and it was that content management piece, especially from the client perspective. I was so drawn into that. I was so excited about being able to provide that for our clients. And then literally within – I think we started the trial and we knew within a week that this was what we wanted and immediately exited our all in one platform and moved towards an environment where we started to pick technology that focuses on a singular thing. So we did that with Planable, we did that with the other technology stacks, and it has been the best decision as an agency that we ever made because now we have the best of everything when it comes to each element of what we do from a social media management standpoint. So I wanted to share that story just because it’s so relevant to today’s guest. Xenia, so excited to have you, she’s the CEO of Planable, and welcome to the show.
Xenia: [02:58] Thank you so much, Jason, for having me on the show and for such kind words. This is probably the best intro I’ve ever had, at least sits well with me, the best one for my pride.
Jason: [03:13] Well, it’s authentic. I’m not just saying that. We’ve had so much success with it. So enough about that, but tell me, I want to learn about you. I want to learn a little bit more about your Planable journey, but let’s start with, tell me about yourself and your path to Planable. How did you get there? Where did your career start? Take me through that journey.
Xenia: [03:31] So long story, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible, but it all starts probably in high school. I was passionate. I was really obsessed with advertising since I was a teenager, probably. So my dream was to work in this creative, mad agency type of thing, mad world agency. I always wanted to, at some time in my future, build an agency. That was the dream and it actually happened. [It] was just a lucky event that happened but I started my own social media marketing agency during my second year of university. I had a couple of clients that I was doing social media content production and management for their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram pages, all of that. And during that time, I learned what it actually means to build content in terms of the operations and the processes and all the back and forth and I just didn’t enjoy it. I felt like there was something broken with the process. We were using spreadsheets and too many emails back then and I felt like there must be a tool out there to just help with how I presented work to clients so that I can get [inaudible 04:58] and feedback from them, and something to also help me align myself internally with my team. So looking for tools, I tried all the tools on the market, not going to name them as well. So I tried a bunch of them and I felt like they were really, really helping me with a bunch of things around social media management, like analytics, listening and the publishing side of it, they were doing a pretty good job there. But in terms of the client relationship, in terms of the entire workflow, in terms of what happens before you actually schedule something, all of that, all of that behind the scenes, I didn’t feel like they were covering it or at least I didn’t feel like they were covering it as I imagined it.
[05:47] Ideally I was envisioning this very collaborative space, very neat, very, very visual as well because I remember back in my agency days, I had this unpublished Facebook page where my team was going and they were like mocking up posts and taking screenshots and sending it to our clients. Because sometimes clients were asking, “How is this going to look like in the end?” So they didn’t have any visibility. And sometimes with formats that clients were not familiar like carousel posts, for example, it was really hard for them to imagine how that stuff is going to look like in the end. So I remember my team was going on that unpublished Facebook page and taking screenshots and as you can imagine, that was a big waste of time. So I was trying to optimize it as much as possible. And together with my two co-founders – they also worked in agencies back then – we decided that we need to build something like that. We hoped that we’re not the only ones that were in this situation. So we did a bit of customer development. We talked with some agencies in the US and in Western Europe and we tried to figure out if this is a problem that is just across the globe. And when we realized that many others need something like that, we decided to go full in.
Jason: [07:10] Awesome. I love that. I love how you talked about that singular approach. I can’t stress enough to anybody that’s listening that’s either an agency owner considering that path, that there’s so much to be gained by working with a technology partner that is so laser-focused on a particular area like what you guys do. I just think as a generalist, you can’t possibly do as good of a job as a specialist. The depth of thought and planning that goes into delivering a technology solution when you’re laser-focused on one thing, it’s such a huge, huge difference. Our clients absolutely have loved the experience since we’ve transitioned to this model, just because it makes it easier for them. Time is money and people want to be more efficient in how they manage what they do and it has certainly done that for us. So I’m kind of curious, you know, before we kind of dive into Planable a little bit more, I want to dig in a little bit into your agency life. I mean, the title is Social Media Agency Stories, and I know you were more of a digital marketing agency, but tell me a little bit, like what are your biggest takeaways or memories from those experiences as an agency owner?
Xenia: [08:35] So in terms of struggles and challenges, because that’s what you remember the most, right, negativity, but I’m biased. From a challenges perspective, I remember that it was really hard, especially with social media, it was really hard to educate clients. I remember that was one of the biggest challenges that I had. It felt like everyone with a Facebook account could do social media and so much time has passed since then and I can still see that in the market with social media specifically. It’s not like the other, more technical things like design or maybe branding or paid, just because it feels like everyone can create a post on social media and everyone can do social media marketing, which is so far from the truth. And that was one of the biggest challenges, especially because the market of social media services was fairly new back home. So it was really hard to educate and it was really hard to put a price on it as well. Like the ROI was probably not, you know, it was really hard to make a margin out of that. That was one of the biggest challenges. Talent as well, I feel like finding– Because social media is such a versatile job, you need to have an eye for design. You also need copywriting, you also need to think a bit strategically. There are so many things in it. It’s a very complex position that you need to have and I think that was one of the other challenges – the talent and also educating the clients and really selling the services. I mean, not getting new clients, but really conveying the importance of social media to them.
Jason: [10:26] Yeah. When you think about what you experienced and where we live today in terms of the landscape of agencies, if you had to pick one, two, three things, however many things come to mind, giving advice to someone that’s looking to start an agency, what are the things that come to mind that you would advise somebody to be thinking about as they go down that path?
Xenia: [10:51] So one of the other challenges that I had, and that’s actually going to take me to my answer to your question, one of the other challenges was that it was harder, so much harder to do social media for clients in industries that I had absolutely no clue about. And I had clients in those industries and we did good work, but it was so much harder. And that means more time invested in that. So I guess pick your tribe is a good advice, just pick a niche. And I see lots of our customers that are okay in the social media marketing space, but at the same time, they do focus on specific industries. Or find some kind of other way of focusing on something, maybe not industries, maybe just a particular type of service within social media marketing. But I think that the more as an agency you spread, the less you can do with your time.
Jason: [11:59] Awesome. I love that. I agree. I definitely think that the agency landscape is changing quite a bit in that grad. I think new ones that are popping up are very niche-focused. I think there’s a lot of consolidation – a lot of agencies are buying other agencies. So it’s interesting times for sure. So, thank you for that. Let’s dive back in Planable. I want to learn a little bit more about the history. So I’m a huge Shark Tank watcher. I’m enamored with people that stumble across ideas in their personal or professional lives, like a need isn’t being met and that’s how things are invented and born. That certainly sounds like that was the case here. So touch on a little bit about how that came to be and the birth of Planable and a little bit about the history and where you guys are at today.
Xenia: [12:52] Yeah. So we’re three co-founders and we started the company about four years ago and all of us were working in the industry. I had my own agency, my technical co-founder worked for an agency, so we were very familiar with the industry. And when we started talking about Planable, we realized that we have common pain points in our day to day work. I definitely had pain points just by observing how my team works and my technical co-founder, Nick, he worked in an agency, and as a developer, he was looking at his colleagues just wasting so much time on inefficiencies and his mind just couldn’t understand it. How can it be so hard? Why is there no tool out there? So that’s how we got together and we started working on Planable. Like a typical startup, we went through a couple of accelerators. We got a seed investment and the first couple of months were so much in customer development. And that means just interviewing potential users in the future of Planable and talking to them about their day to day pain points, you know, what does it look like? What are they doing? How are you trying to solve it? Would they pay for a solution? How much would they pay for a solution and so on? That’s extremely, extremely crucial to do in the beginning. You just need to figure out if you’re going to build something that people will need, or if that’s just a problem that you’re the only one that has it – an edge case. So that’s a big chunk that we did and then for about a year and a half, we were in beta. We were testing the product a lot. We had about a thousand beta users that were using the product for free, just giving us lots and lots and lots of feedback. That seems a long time to do it but we were a small, small team and we needed to figure out if we were doing the right thing so that when we launch, clients like you could really benefit [from] it and have a delightful experience. And yeah, we launched a product about two years ago and it’s been a roller coaster since then.
Jason: [15:14] Awesome. So when you think about your life as an agency owner versus a software as a service company, what are the biggest differences that come to mind between the two for you?
Xenia: [15:26] Oh, man, I’m going to think about the differences, but first of all, I’m going to tell you one thing that is very common and you touched upon it a bit off the record. The customer care, it’s still there, like the relationships, building, taking care of customers, that seems like the same thing. Though in self-service, you have so much software as a service, you have so much more clients to take care of. So it’s just the scale of it is a bit bigger. But the difference is I think just the delight of working on one single thing. It’s just one product and you’re constantly, constantly building it and improving it and that might not work for everyone. I know some people will enjoy the agency life quite a lot because of its diversity, because you can be so creative and work on so many different projects and that’s what excites others. It excited me as well, but in time I realized that I really, really love really focusing in and zooming in on one particular thing and improving it to perfection. That is what I love most and I felt that back in my agency days when the kind of sadness when I ended projects and I couldn’t follow up and see what happened with the business, with the company, the campaign in long term, what did it do to the company, its business and so on but with Planable I feel like I’m more present, that’s the idea.
Jason: [17:13] Yeah, I love that. I know that there’s a lot of, I think, that and I think most agency owners always have an exit in mind, you know, they’re not going to do that forever. It’s pretty rare because it’s hard, it’s challenging. You’re managing pretty deep relationships. There’s a lot of client churn, you’re constantly having to– And that exists in what you do as well.
Xenia: [17:34] Yes, that’s normal.
Jason: [17:35] But I can totally relate to that. Like having a single product that you can build and nurture and kind of build over time, so very cool stuff. So right now when you think about where Planable is at, what is the biggest challenge that you have that you’re dealing with right now with Planable?
Xenia: [17:57] Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the biggest challenge is just really, really, really figuring out where to take the product next. We definitely have a vision and we’ve been working for the past year on making this vision more detailed and more specific and actually including it in the product roadmap. But at some point in time, you have to decide what you want to do with the product. And for social media, what we’ve built so far, it was all from our experience, from what we knew so far, but if we want to expand the product, we’re kind of going into uncharted territory. If we want to do something else that I haven’t had experience with, that’s where it’s really challenging and that’s what we’re struggling with the most. And also saying no is becoming harder and harder. Saying no to feature requests from customers is getting harder and harder.
Jason: [19:02] Yeah. Well, I love that you do that. So I know that you have a really cool feature built into the platform where people can add feature requests and vote on them. I always kind of check in on that and because I love–
Xenia: [19:15] Well that’s so nice, I’m happy to hear that’s being used actually.
Jason: [19:19] Oh yeah. Well, I love seeing that. I think anytime you give your customers a voice in how you shape the product, I think that’s a fantastic thing to do and you’ve kind of integrated it into the technology, which I love. So I mean there’s some stuff in there that I’m like, “Yes, definitely! I hope that you guys put that in.”
Xenia: [19:35] One day.
Jason: [19:37] But there are also things in there that I’m like, “No, don’t do that.” Like there’s one in there like ad analytics and reporting and I’m like, “No, don’t do that. Don’t become another all-in-one” because then I think you’re moving away from what makes what you do so great. So yeah, I love that. I love the fact that the voice of the customer is integrated in what you do. It just kind of lends itself to why we’ve loved working with you guys. So, what about surprises? When you think about your Planable your journey, what have been some of the biggest things you didn’t see coming or surprises along the way that you’ve encountered?
Xenia: [20:17] That’s a good one. That’s a really good one. Let me think a bit. Surprises. I think there were definitely very surprising use cases of Planable, like funny ones as well, and really enjoyable ones to look at. We’ve seen folks using Planable to showcase their work, like a portfolio thing, which is a totally unexpected use case of Planable, but just the creativity of people using Planable in different ways and in ways that we didn’t design the product for. Like, for example, agency influencer use case. We didn’t really design the product for influencers, brands and agencies triangle but some agencies are using it. So just the ways people are adapting Planable to work for themselves because that’s surprising and heartwarming in a way, I guess.
Jason: [21:24] Yeah. Awesome. I love that. Okay, I’ve got my handy dandy time machine here. You can go back in time, do something differently, whether it’s Planable related or anything in your career. What’s something that stands out that if you can go back and do anything differently, what might that be?
Xenia: [21:46] It’s hard to answer this question because I’m really happy with where we got with Planable and where we are right now. So I wouldn’t change anything from that perspective because I would be just too afraid to ruin where we are at this point in time, but we could have definitely done more. Like I wish we have invested in SEO and content earlier, like started building it from day one maybe. We started building our blog way too late in our journey. So I wish we did that and also I wish we took a bit more risks maybe, especially later in this period of time, maybe in the past two years, I wish we were a bit more maybe adventurous. I feel like my Eastern European roots are making me be very cautious, overly cautious with things that sometimes, and even my investors have told me that. So maybe being a bit more bold, that’s something, and building the brand as well. Those three things – boldness, building the brand and investing in SEO early on.
Jason: [23:04] Yeah. Love that. What are some things that you do to continue to learn, stay on top of the curve as a CEO, as a marketer, as a product developer? What are the things that you do to keep yourself ahead of those things?
Xenia: [23:20] So besides the usual, like reading a bunch of articles and I’m subscribed to a few newsletters, I’m trying to dial down on the newsletters. I feel like I’m not really reading them, I have too many. So at the moment, I’m only subscribed to The Hustle and that’s the only one that I actually read. But besides that usual thing, I talk to people, that’s what I love doing quite a lot. So, because I’m part of the Techstars family – we went through this accelerator called Techstars. They have a forum. So every time you have an issue or a problem, or you need a connection or advice or anything, I just write a post there and I talk to someone and I learned from them and I try and do that as often as I can because I feel like I grew the most in my mentorship relationships, especially early on. I feel like I made very, very big leaps because I had people that I could learn from. And I’m trying to do that right now as well. It’s harder and harder because there’s no time but I’m trying to do that consistently.
Jason: [24:33] Got it. Awesome. When you think about – and we touched on this a little bit, but I kind of want to circle back on it because I can’t stress enough the importance of, I think, agencies being laser-focused on what technology solutions they have. But even in addition to that, in your opinion, what’s the real advantage to using a platform like Planable versus an all-in-one? What are some things that really stand out? Or what are maybe some examples of numbers or efficiencies, or just if you can talk through a little bit about how customers of yours have really leveraged the platform in ways that have been measurably meaningful for them?
Xenia: [25:21] Yeah. So you have two options, you either go with an all-in-one, and the advantage of that is that you don’t need to switch tabs and you have everything in one single place. And that’s definitely a huge advantage in the age of productivity and focus but at the same time, you just can’t expect to get the best out of every single thing, every single module and every single product out of that. With Planable, you just get the best in collaboration, and we laser, laser focus on that. It was designed with collaboration in mind, and it’s not an afterthought that a social media platform added because they realized that, okay, teams have grown and there’s this huge need for collaboration. They haven’t just slapped it on the existing product. It was really designed intentionally with teams in mind and that makes it very well thought in terms of every touchpoint where you might need collaboration, where you might work together with someone and we try to keep the team in the platform as much as possible and avoid use cases where they need to go on email or on Slack. The entire work needs to happen in Planable when it comes to planning the content. And in terms of numbers, we’ve asked our customers, “Hey, how much time do you think you’re saving on content planning? Before, you were using spreadsheets and now you’re using Planable, what’s the difference? And we’ve asked a bunch of customers and the answers have come up from like 20 to 30%, specifically on content planning. That’s how much time they’re saying they [saved]. It’s hard to quantify all this, and it’s like really clocking their time specifically on content planning, but that’s what the feeling they had was. So it’s really about time, in the end, productivity and time.
Jason: [27:16] Yeah, no, I mean, I can speak firsthand that at minimum it’s got to be 20 to 30% in time savings. I mean, we don’t do time tracking per se, but there’s a level of significance in the amount of time that is not needed when it comes to doing that back and forth and leveraging a variety of different tools. So I can definitely be a case study in that regard. It’s definitely done that for us. So what’s the future hold for Planable? What are some things that you can talk about or share with the audience in terms of what’s next, not only for Planable, but your vision of software as a service platforms and where things are trending? But definitely, I’m kind of curious about where Planable is headed and what we have to look forward to.
Xenia: [28:10] Yeah. So I see this new wave of productivity tools more and more and more that are unbundling spreadsheets basically for different use cases. So you can see collaboration for video, for example, a bunch of tools that are doing that. Frame.io is one of them. I’m following the company quite closely, they’re doing a great job. And then on the design space, lots of collaboration tools – Figma, Envision. Now you have like generic collaboration tools – Notion, Airtable. So it’s like a huge wave of collaboration for verticals for different formats of content. And I think that’s where the future is for collaboration software and workflow software. And that’s what we’re always trying to do and we’re trying to do this for content specifically, for everything that needs content marketing. We’re already doing that for social but the future is to potentially expand into everything content – newsletters, ads, text, a bunch of other things. Everything that marketing marketers are producing for branded content, we want to be at the center of that creative collaboration. That’s our vision.
Jason: [29:29] Awesome. I’m kind of curious, I mean, I’ve kind of been asking these questions to folks have been talking to based on the current landscape of our world and dealing with the pandemic, how that impacted your business if at all? And just to give a little context, obviously, it’s impacted us as an agency in terms of whether clients have to pause something, but I think the biggest thing is just, we were already kind of a virtual based agency and I think even when we get back to whatever our new normal is, I think so many more people are going to be thrust into a remote environment. So I’m just kind of curious, how has the current pandemic impacted your business either negatively or positively?
Xenia: [30:18] Yeah, it has definitely made an impact. There are two angles to analyze this from. First of all, the team internally, we had some kind of experience with remote work because we have two offices. So we have teams working from two different locations and that means that we have lots of experience with Zoom calls and had the struggle of Zoom calls and working collaboratively online, Slack, and all of that. We had experience so it was easier to transition to fully work from home, everyone remote. It was not that big of a leap. We definitely missed the social part because still two teams, but we still have that social, water cooler chats type of thing, so we definitely missed it. And from a customer perspective, we work with agencies and marketers and this industry has been impacted. And obviously, we had to take a lot of care of, you know, be very focused on our clients and be there for them. We’ve definitely seen quite some impact there, not as bad as we expected, so that’s good, but we’ve seen a slow down in the entire growth in the industry. We’ve seen agencies that were just skyrocketing in terms of growth and others, not so much. So we’re really dependent on how our customers grow. So yeah, definitely an impact, good and bad at the same time. But at the end, I don’t think it was as bad as we were bracing ourselves for this entire pandemic to be.
Jason: [33:02] Okay. Awesome. Well, the last question is, is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think might be helpful that you’d want to share with the audience at all?
Xenia: [32:15] That’s a good question. I think I just want to highlight a bit – I loved the entire focus of this episode on focus and doing something niche, and I want to highlight that it’s amazing if you can do it, but I also want to highlight how hard that is to do it. It’s really great to do it, but at the same time, it’s so difficult to be so focused and be so intentional about what you’re building and just resist the requests that you’re getting from outside, the pressure that you’re getting from outside, the pressure that you’re getting from customers, the pressure you’re getting from investors, markets and so on, but I think that it is a hundred percent worth it. I think that’s the future and we can see it not only in software but also in agencies, we can see it in the job industry, we can see it in almost everything. It’s getting more and more focused and specialists are more and more in need and in demand.
Jason: [33:23] Yeah, you actually bring up a great point. This could be its own episode that I always talk about is, as an individual, professionally understanding are you a breadth person or are you a depth person, right? Throughout my career, I always shied away and was afraid to admit what I knew, which was I’m a breadth guy. I like to do a lot of different things and I don’t like to do a singular thing and go really deep with it.
Xenia: [33:52] Me too.
Jason: [33:58] But I always felt like that was an admission of not failure, but I felt like that might hold me back until I realized that there is an equal amount of value in the world to be a breadth person as a depth person. So usually, if you’re a leader, if you’re the CEO type or a manager of people, usually you’re that breadth person, or if that’s not how you’re wired, you’re probably more likely to be a depth person. You want to go deeper, you want to do that singular thing and just get really, really, really good at that. I always shied away from that. And once I started to embrace who I was in that regard, that’s when things started to work for me.
Xenia: [34:39] I love this. I really love this. Yes. I can’t agree more with you.
Jason: [34:43] Yeah. I think the biggest takeaway is, as a person, just realize who you are, embrace that and follow a path that allows you to take advantage of that.
Xenia: [34:55] Yeah. Just that self-awareness about yourself. Yeah.
Jason: [34:59] Yeah, for sure. Well, I really enjoyed this. I love learning more about Planable, getting this insight. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for letting me butcher your name, which probably will take me a while to get right.
Xenia: [35:12] With pleasure.
Jason: [35:14] But thank you so much for joining the show. We really look forward to continuing to work with you and seeing the platform evolve. And for those of you that are listening, definitely go and check out Planable, it’s Planable.io. They’ve been gracious to put together a little offer, 20% off your first two months if you mention the promo code “Socialistics20”. But again, thank you so much, Xenia, for joining us, and wish you all of the best in luck with continuing to evolve the platform.
Xenia: [35:48] Thank you so much, Jason. I really enjoyed this conversation. We should do that more.
Jason: [35:52] Absolutely. Thank you so much. And thank you for listening. This is the Socialistics podcast. We will catch you at the next episode. Take care.
I’m a 20 year veteran of digital marketing & the owner and founder of Socialistics, a social media agency based in Seattle. My spare time is filled with writing, baseball, my boys and everything Seattle has to offer.