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“With Social Q&A, hand raising and microphone passing are a thing of the past.”

John Pytel is co-founder and CEO of Social Q&A, a mobile audience response tool designed for meetings and events. John holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and entrepreneurship from Michigan State University. Social Q&A is based out of the 1871 incubator in Chicago.

Social Q&A is an event organizer’s best friend, changing how audience question-and-answer is conducted in almost any environment. Accessible from any Internet-enabled device, Social Q&A allows participants to submit questions, which can then be up-voted by other audience members, giving the event host or moderator insight into which questions are most important to the entire group.

Social Q&A is intended for meetings, events and panel discussions, as well as corporate town halls and sales presentations. With Social Q&A, hand raising and microphone passing are a thing of the past. The presenter or moderator no longer needs to field off-topic or duplicate question because they now have real-time insight into what questions are most important to the entire audience.

Social Q&A

BusinessInterviews.com: How did you come up with the concept behind Social Q&A?

John: My co-founder, Dave Mulder, came up with the original idea of an app that would allow students to ask and up-vote questions during class. We initially launched the product for the education market but along the way discovered that it was actually a better fit in the events / meetings industry.

BusinessInterviews.com: Startups typically need to pivot and evolve their business model over time, especially as customers start to use the product. Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?

John: Social Q&A is actually a great pivot story, and I think other startups can learn from our mistakes. When we first launched the product in the education market the immediate feedback we received from teachers was that Social Q&A was neat but that it would be great if had other functionalities like polling and quizzes, so we quickly added those. Within a few months the product had five different features and while we were having some success in education, it complicated the product and made it much harder to develop a clear marketing message since we were now solving multiple problems. It wasn’t until we pivoted from education to events / meetings and removed a number of features that we really started to be successful.

The lesson here is to not force a product into a specific market. The advice I always give new entrepreneurs is to look for that one problem that is so painful for customers that they would buy your product if it did nothing else but solve that single problem. You’re always going to hear feedback requests for additional bells and whistles, but be slow to add new features. Stay focused on solving that one big problem and only add new functionalities that will supplement your solution for that single problem. The more things you add, the more complex your product becomes to manage, learn and market.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk about how you plan to use the reviews you’ve been getting from early adopters to help grow your user base and take Social Q&A to the next level?

John: We are big believers in the lean startup methodology, so receiving user feedback is very important to us. We are very assertive with our users in asking for feedback and suggestions at every touchpoint. The key is to balance using feedback to improve the product without complicating the learning curve for users.

When we pivoted from education to meetings / events, we re-branded the product as Conferences i/o (www.conferences.io). Social Q&A is one of three features within Conferences i/o, which also offers polling and feedback surveys. The reason we decided to launch Social Q&A as a stand-alone product is that we received enough demand from customers who were only interested in the Q&A feature and didn’t want to pay the price for the full product. The beauty is that we’ve already validated that Social Q&A effectively solves that one big problem for customers (poor Q&A sessions). At this point, we’re primarily focused on using feedback to improve the product user-experience wise: small, incremental improvements that make the product even easier to use, rather than brand new features.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some ways that Social Q&A can be used as a pre-event planning tool?

John: For anyone who’s ever planned a content-driven event, going off-topic is the enemy. We can all relate to the event where, once you arrive, it’s not quite what was advertised or what you expected. Social Q&A lets you tap into the audience before the event even starts, learning what they care about or what they want to learn. So if you’re a moderator organizing a topical panel discussion, you can better prepare your panelists and target your questions based on preliminary audience feedback.

The same logic applies to a corporate town hall. An executive can use Social Q&A to determine which areas his or her employees would like to focus on in a quarterly meeting, ultimately making it more productive.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you elaborate on how Social Q&A allows and encourages audience engagement before, during and after an event?

John: We’ve already covered how Social Q&A works prior to the event. Once that event gets started, Social Q&A replaces microphone passing during an audience question-and-answer session. Audience members can add a question from their device, or vote up the best questions to bring them to the top of the list. Duplicate questions are out. One of my favorite features is the Q&A Snapshots feature, which lets you append answers to audience questions if you run out of time, sending them out as a follow-up after the event.

BusinessInterviews.com: Who is Social Q&A intended for? Where have you seen the most traction so far?

John: One specific use-case that we are starting to focus our marketing on is corporate town hall meetings. We have a number of corporate customers already using the product for town halls and we know that the product is a great fit. Our customers have been blown away by the amount of participation from employees that they receive when using Social Q&A compared to the standard hand-raising method. What many executives don’t realize is that nearly every employee has a burning question in their head but very few are actually willing to voice them. Raising your hand and speaking in front of a high-level executive can be intimidating, no matter how “open” the culture is, so unfortunately many of those important questions never get addressed. Social Q&A helps break down those participation barriers, and we’re hoping to solve this dilemma for many companies by introducing them to Social Q&A.

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