During the late ‘90s, Meli was a student one of the world’s first Multimedia programmes at Vancouver Film School and became fascinated with the ever-evolving Internet. Working his way up through a series of companies post college, he eventually got together with a few friends to create a digital agency that would become Invoke. They quickly realised the need for a product like Hootsuite and promptly went about building it. Hootsuite enjoyed huge success and is still going strong but Dario’s now concentrating on new challenges.
I called him to get his perspective on how content is changing, on the challenges facing Canadian entrepreneurs and what success really means.
Hootsuite was created because you recognised an internal need for something like it at Invoke. Do the best ideas come from creating a solution to your own problem?
Building products to address an internal need is smart because you know what you need and you’re living within the product.
That’s something we’re doing right now with Quietly: building an excellent set of tools and services to help brands develop amazing content marketing strategies. We use the tools ourselves so that philosophy of building exactly what you need ends up resulting in a better product. They call it eating your own dog food, or ‘dogfooding’. So we’re eating a hell of a lot of our own dog food right now and the product is getting stronger and stronger and our customers are getting excellent results.
In the age of content marketing and click-bait, how is content creation changing?
What most people are consuming [is, e.g.], ‘8 reasons for X’, ‘9 tools to increase your productivity’. People want to consume that way. It’s how our brains are wired. There’s a lot of psychology around that and that’s fine. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of long form but it’s certainly harder to produce long form given the financial restraints. It’s also a little more difficult to drive significant revenue because people are clicking on these list-based headlines, on these super clever headlines.
At Quietly we’re creating massive amounts of content for brands of all types: lists, interactive maps, long form and we’re also allowing brands and publishers to insert an embedded synopsis of the articles to supplement longer pieces.
People keep saying ‘Buzzfeed’s won’, but Buzzfeed has actually used that medium to create massive amounts of traffic, to create tonnes of revenue, and now they have an investigative journalism wing. They’re doing long form as well so they understand that is important. I say, props to them. They’ve done a good job.
What’s the startup ecosystem like in Vancouver?
The scene here is growing fast. There’s a lot of great talent here. We’ve got great schools – they’re not pumping out enough engineers right now but I don’t think any place in the world has been pumping out enough.
We’ve got great immigration laws around bringing in foreign workers which a lot of American companies are taking advantage of, as they should. It’s good for the startup scene here.
Access to capital is just OK in Vancouver. Any of the big raises that Hootsuite’s done, almost none of it has been local. Some of it has come from back east in Toronto so still Canadian but largely it’s been American dollars. This is an issue that I’ve noticed in all the other markets in the world that I’ve travelled through: if there’s not a broad base of people who’ve made their money in technology, then the active investment into technology companies is going to seem foreign.
A lot of the Canadian economy is resource-based. Tonnes of mining and resource investment bankers here and that’s a thriving sector in Vancouver but not a lot around technology so people are a little more risk-averse. Once there’s a large-scale liquidity event with a company like Hootsuite or Shopify, once a number of millionaires are minted that made their money through technology and who are interested in starting something new, financing their friends, that kind of stuff, that will be the real big birth of a tech-focused ecosystem which will be very helpful and very exciting.
How do you define success?
Success to me is really all about freedom. Financial rewards are great and those can be important, and they’re important to a lot of aspects of freedom. Without the freedom to move around, to take the time to help others or act as a mentor, or advise companies that I’m friendly with, and without the ability to explore the things that get me super excited, money doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s really all about the freedom and I love working with great teams and helping build them up and that’s really the most important thing to me.
When I first left the corporate world to start my own thing I went from being paid well to barely being paid at all but the thought of going back to that job was very unappealing. In fact it made me feel really awful to think that I would have to go back to any type of employment that didn’t have that freedom and that fulfilment; of creating something which also fulfils that thirst to be creative and to build something, and to converse with people all over the world and to figure things out globally and to see what people are doing, so yeah, that’s the number one thing for me.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
One major piece of advice would be to make sure that you do have a mentor to help you avoid mistakes. There are resources out there like clarity.fm, which are great for asking advice from experts but not necessarily great for long-term guidance. You’ve got to be surrounded by people who are really great, who have made the mistakes that you want to avoid making and can help guide you through it.
I consider it an entrepreneur’s duty to help others to avoid mistakes, simply because you’ve been there yourself and if you don’t acknowledge that other people need help like you needed help then it’s not very cool. So I think that’s probably the main thing: surrounding yourself with excellent people who can help you and who want to see you succeed.
About Quietly: Quietly creates amazing content for brands and publishers at scale. Highly strategic and data driven, Quietly helps to fulfil the ever-growing need for great content creation and distribution.