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Meet Jeff Ragovin of Social Native

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Ragovin.

Jeff, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story begins on east coast – in Manhattan, where I was born and raised. Most people don’t know this, but I actually always dreamed of being a weatherman (there’s video proof). I went to State University of New York at Oswego and graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and Mass Media. Needless to say, I never made it onto the Weather Channel. So, how did I transition from meteorology into the tech space? Well, I didn’t end up landing a TV gig after college, which was a very good thing for my career. Instead, I got my first real job at an email marketing platform during the late ‘90s dot-com boom. That was the first wave of mar-tech for brands. I then rode the second digital wave in the search engine marketing space. This was a major advancement for brands as it allowed them to drive direct path to purchase for their customers. Then it all changed in 2007 when Facebook launched beyond the university and into the world. It was at that moment that the third mar-tech wave emerged. Social Marketing, the third mar-tech wave, led to the creation of Buddy Media, a SaaS platform for brands and agencies to organize and control their social media marketing programs. I was co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer until eventually, Buddy Media grew from a startup into the largest enterprise social marketing suite in the world. In 2012, Buddy Media was acquired by Salesforce for $750 million. I stayed on with Salesforce for three years before leaving to launch Ragovin Ventures, a strategic advisory group for brands and startups. My goal was to work with companies that were turning age-old industries (health, fitness, tech, marketing, etc.) upside down. Social Native was one of those companies. Throughout my career, I had noticed that brands have a particular struggle when it comes to creating and delivering integrated, personalized content. By connecting brands with consumer content creators, Social Native is addressing a gaping hole in the demand for fast, affordable, quality content. Shortly after investing in Social Native, I decided to take my involvement to a whole new level by going in-house as the company’s Chief Growth Officer. This was a testament to the business opportunity at hand, as well as the persistence of the CEO, David Shadpour. All of the cards for signing on just sort of fell into place, and I must say — it feels a lot like the early days of Buddy Media.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it definitely has not been a smooth road. For example, when we founded Buddy Media, we didn’t come up with the right idea in the beginning. We pivoted many times to figure out the optimal product offering. Right out of the gates we launched with a loyalty program called AceBucks. Essentially, we created Facebook games that allowed people to buy or trade virtual goods using so-called AceBucks. Unfortunately, AceBucks didn’t really catch on the way we had hoped. However, instead of accepting defeat, we learned from our mistakes and pivoted accordingly. This was the key to our success. By transitioning from a virtual gaming company to a service business, helping companies recognize the power of Facebook, we were able to stay afloat. The only problem? This was in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, making it harder than ever for companies to raise money. To ensure we survived, we were once again forced to switch directions. So, we standardized Buddy Media’s offerings and created a platform of tools. This software-as-a-service approach made our business that much more valuable. In the end, I would describe building a business like throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. As a company, you have to figure out what the most important business model is and make changes based on what’s working (even if that means losing revenue).

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Social Native – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Social Native is a technology company reinventing how brands conceptualize and create content. Our content engine connects brands with millions of amazing content creators, globally, to generate high-performing, cost-effective branded content on demand. As Chief Growth Officer, I’m responsible for helping achieve Social Native’s aggressive growth plans, whether that be through the adoption of big brand clients or hiring epic talent to join our team. I also try to ensure everyone loves their job. I like to make every day fun and exciting for employees — from office pranks to practical jokes, there’s never a dull moment when I’m in the office. I’d say what I’m most proud of as a company is also what sets us apart from others — our people. Since our inception, we’ve already grown to 40 and tripled our revenue; yet we’ve never lost our focus on building and maintaining a strong culture.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Integrity. When you’re scaling a company, there are always going to be times of insecurity, fear, and anxiety. Of course, your ability to effectively adapt and evolve comes down to character. To me, this means confronting every challenge head-on and never compromising your values and ideals. I spent years of my life living in a blur of one business trip after another (we’re talking thousands of air miles and hundreds of trips around the world). There was even a point where I would schedule so many meetings each day that I didn’t have time to eat. While this level of commitment is neither healthy nor sustainable, it is important to always work hard — even when no one is watching. As an entrepreneur, my reputation for honesty, perseverance, and discipline helped me foster deep, meaningful relationships, which served as the backbone of my career. Remember: there is no room for cheating or shortcuts in life or business. While taking the easy way out might result in a temporary ‘win,’ true, lasting success and happiness is the result of one simple, but powerful word: integrity. As Confucius once said, “I used to take a man at his word and trusted that he would act accordingly. But now I listen to his words and note his actions.”

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