ZURBsoapbox Podcast and Highlights

Mrinal Desai, Co-founder and VP of sales at Crossloop

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Last Friday Mrinal Desai (pronounced *meer*-NAL), co-founder of CrossLoop.com and early social networking veteran from LinkedIn, came over to ZURB for an informal talk called, "The Cat, The Dog, and Web 2.0."

Mrinal's perspective is shaped by the opportunity he was given by his parents nine years ago when he first came to the United States. He was welcomed with open arms, but found he had to unlearn everything he knew in India to participate. The way he (un)learned quickly was to surround himself with a 'social network' of 'experts' who could share their experiences and their mistakes, helping Mrinal "cut down on the curve" and learn faster.

He did this all offline, most often at coffee shops like the one where we met him here in Campbell.

Cats, Dogs, and Social Media?

What are the qualities of owning a cat versus owning a dog?

Mrinal went online during the last economic downturn and started discovering new social networks to learn from. While there was a certain thrill to them, he found that these social interactions online were "becoming like a cat person" and asked, "Are you genuinely connected? Are you making friends or adding friends?"

How cat and dog qualities relate to social media online.

From his social life in coffee shops he knew he couldn't have just one kind of interaction without the other. His goal was to make new friends, people he wouldn't have reached otherwise, and to take those online interactions offline:

That's really critical at least in the way I use offline and online. To me all of the online stuff is basically nothing but a way to reach out to people and take that offline."

Body Language Online

When making friends offline, body language is important. But what constitutes body language online? Mrinal's approach is clever in that he listens and he looks for clues using services like Twitter. These online services become a way to fill in the gaps and piece together a person's motivation through their body language online:

If you look at offline communication, about 7% is words, about 30-35% is the tone of your voice, and about 55% is body language. So how do you translate that online?"

"A lot of it is just listening on tools like Twitter or Facebook, they update their status messages. To me that's a little bit of good hint of what they're trying to say. They way they write it, the way they say it, etc."

He values Twitter in particular because of the way it lowers the bar to engaging with other people:

So on Twitter they just made it really easy and said, 'You know, it's not so hard to come up to me in a bar and speak to me. It's OK. You can come on.' Whereas at a bar if you actually have to go meet someone you're gonna hesitate, you're not sure. They're meeting in a group and just talking away, well, you're gonna feel very uncomfortable just going and introducing yourself.

Twitter said, 'You don't need to be in one closed group like that. It's all open. Come on in into a conversation.' And you can start doing that.

I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man.

Borrowing a line from Jay-Z ("I'm a business, man"), Mrinal made an important point about the way social media blurs the distinction between business and personal goals and methods for creating relationships:

That's really, really powerful, especially in the social space--every individual is a product. Because why should I engage with you? Why should I buy what you're selling?

This whole aspect of social media is really, really becoming relevant, especially with a certain group of people if you want to tap into them. Whether they're very influential people. They are a product, you are a product, and why should you two engage together?"

Social Distribution Channels

Mrinal uses services like Twitterfeed to "stitch together" his various other services creating distribution channels for content something like this sketch demonstrates. He gets his word out in several places cheaply without having to repeat himself.

Thanks again to Mrinal for being our first presenter at the ZURBsoapbox. If you'd like to learn more or to participate in a future lectures, check out our original soapbox post and sign up for the mailing list.


Soapbox transcript

Mrinal: You know as [inaudible@00:06] just said we met at Starbucks and sort of I almost feel my life in the US took off at a coffee shop. I came to the US about nine year ago and I had never been out of India before. I came to school and I used to do a lot of my homework and everything at a coffee shop. This was in Monterrey down south. I started meeting a whole bunch of people at the coffee shop. I really enjoyed it because I found that as a way to unlearn everything that I had grown to know in India and come to the United States where everything was different. You drive on the right-hand side. In India, you drive on the left-hand side. You turn on the light here by going upwards, not downwards. I didn't know what a latte was for example.

Moderator : I still don't know.

Mrinal: Trying to figure it out. The only way for me to unlearn all the cultural stuff that I had grown up with and learn everything new in the United States. I found the best route was to just have a lot of people around me and embrace the system and the people around me. That's how my coffee shop life took off and I really enjoyed it.

After I finished school, I was what I officially say I was CEO of Vocationally Challenged, Inc. employed for almost three years during the last downturn. That is a long three years, but also in hindsight and during the time, the best thing that ever happened to me, because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about myself and also of course then I bumped into the whole social networking space where I really dug my teeth.

I started using LinkedIn in 2003, went and work there in 2004 when there were about 20 people approximately and 1.5 million users, and eventually I left in 2006. But when I was unemployed too, I used to hang out a lot at a Starbucks. This is up in Portland, Oregon. I met a whole bunch of people there. It's just pretty amazing how much I learned through other people and part of it was just to cut down the curve.

If you made so many mistakes, why do I want to repeat it? If you can tell me not to do that, that makes it very, very effective. The reason why I'm telling you the coffee shop story is because it was the social element of who I was, but it was all offline. Then of course I went online with LinkedIn and now Twitter and all kinds of tools and Facebook, et cetera, but I still haven't given up the coffee shop socializing, if you will.

Let me tie that in into the title, "The Cat, The Dog, and Web 2.0." These are just some thoughts and I love to hear if you guys experience the same. Do you see the same kind of transition that's happening or not, but for me what I kept seen was there - well let me first start how many people have a cat here? Okay. How many people have a dog? Okay.

To me it was - we have two cats right here. It's a [inaudible 03:15] not to go for a dog right now, because it's a lot of commitment. There are the cat people or if you have a cat, it's very low maintenance. You don't have to do much. You put a little bowl of water and some food. The cat goes and eats and sometimes they'll come to you and sometimes they'll not. If you want to go out, you can easily go out for a day or two and they'll be fine if you just leave a whole lot of food and water in a little box.

For dog, you can't do that. You have to be committed. You have to be involved. You actually need to go, take them out for a walk. What I started seeing was the whole Web 2.0 thing. I felt it was almost becoming like a cat person where you just add friends. It was all synchronize for me. You add a friend and that's it. You maybe leave a comment here and there on the wall. You send a Tweet, which is 140 characters. That's about it, very low touch, low commitment relationship.

But if you're a dog person, you want to embrace and meet people, which means synchronize stuff, which means you actually schedule time, you go out and meet people, you actually need to go physically meet them, you need to actually schedule something in your calendar, you got to go back and forth on that and then maintain that relationship offline, which is pretty high-touch involvement, if you will.

The way I see it is I just merge both of them together, so I do not at all give up on what happens in my life offline, but I love the way the social media and social networks allow me to reach people and find people who I couldn't have found before. I will engage with them extensively on social networks virtually first, because that's an easier way and you have more mindshare.

Then once you do engage with them, you get to know what they're doing and what they're not. You can say, "Hey! Do you think it's possible to now have a face-to-face?" I really try hard to try and meet one or two people at least a month in terms of whom I met online, if you will. Those are the kind of thoughts that a lot of people say, "Well, this is leading to isolation." I don't know if you guys recently saw the pope saying it out, be careful, it can lead to isolation.

It may be relevant for some people if you're just sitting in behind your computer and sort of feeling you're connected with people, but are you genuinely connected? Are you making friends or you adding friends? I'm definitely in a camp of making friends. But I started off by adding friends initially and engaged with them there to eventually lead to making a friend for long-term purpose.

If I look at all the notion of social behavior, for me part of it is cultural. I think I come from a culture, which is very family-oriented. Parents are very important, your friends, your brothers, et cetera, and you grow up in a nuclear family. For me, people have always been the number one thing. I attribute everything I'm doing right now to my parents. I would have been able to come to the US if they hadn't taken up a loan, et cetera, et cetera, and took me to school here.

For me, nothing comes more than right people around you and the way I learned when I came to the US was having "social networks, if you will." I adopted a mom here at America who did teach me about the politics. I didn't know how the house was set up, I didn't know how the senate was set up, what it meant, how did a bill pass through. I had an 80- year-old mom, if you will, who I actually informally adopted as my American mom.

Anytime I had a political question, I'd go and ask her something. Then I had a 13 or 14-year-old mentor if you will again, a teenager who did teach me what phat meant and what sick meant. Coming from India, I have no idea of someone saying that's so phat dude. I'm like oh guy. You know I'm trying to figure it out.

Now imagine I'm on the street and I've no idea to go - I want to get a cup of coffee, that's all I want. But I go into a coffee shop and there's a huge menu of stuff that I have never been exposed to. There were all these new things that were hitting me all the time and made it extremely exciting. To do that, I had all these "social networks of experts if you will" who I said, "Okay, you know this stuff really well. Can you teach me?"

I still do that all the time. Even today and I can't imagine ever stop doing that. One of the fundamental quotes that I live by is by Bob Dylan who says, "If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying. I strongly believe in that. I'm almost obsessed with that. That's one of the reasons why I sit and read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover. Because when I came to America, one of the professors in school said, "Well, if you want to learn about business in America, you should read the Wall Street Journal." I said, "Okay, now I'm going to try that."

I started reading it and I really loved what I read, because it is written in a language that anyone even grandma could pick up and article and understand how affiliate marketing was done or how the [spiffs 08:21] were done for marketing. I had no idea. I had no exposure to all that stuff.

The Wall Street Journal is one avenue of learning, but then I started also tapping into people and growing my network of people who could teach me and finances people who could teach me and private equity people who could teach me on venture financing, et cetera, et cetera. I had all these people that I can always go to, but I built that relationship over time.

The other thing is in terms of just the fundamentals of social behavior if you will and I think it's applicable online and offline. It's what I call collateral success. I never focus on my success. The focus is completely on the success of the person who you're trying to engage with. Your success might happen and may be incidental, but that's not your goal.

The goal is to make Brian successful, Jeremy successful or that VC successful or that engineer successful. Because at the end of the day, there is a single motivation that all of us have. It's what makes you successful. That doesn't have to always be money at all. Someone could be happier because they engage with someone who is down to earth or they want to meet someone who they haven't had exposure to about a specific field.

That aspect of collateral success is what I embrace all the time on social media is tell me what makes you successful. What do you do everyday that will just make you go back home and say wow, that was a phenomenal day? Once I have that answer and you may not necessarily ask, you may not necessarily had the chance to ask directly, but tools like Twitter for example, a great way to learn that, because all you're doing is listening.

And that is why I love Twitter is because you watch and you listen, that's all you do, you don't necessarily have to engage with them, but they are telling you a lot in their body language in terms of what they want. They're not explicitly stating that I want to be the most popular guy. I want to be this blogger or I want to raise money, et cetera. But you know what they're engaging and what excites them.

All you do is listening. You follow them really closely. Then over time, you start getting a good grasp of what is it that you want to engage with on with that person. If you can't provide some certain value - so identifying who are those people that you want to engage with is important.

Everyone has a different motivation I think of engaging with people. Maybe you're at start up. You want to raise capitals. You want to engage with VCs. Maybe you're seeking engineers. Maybe you're seeking designers. Maybe you're seeking marketing partnerships, et cetera, and then you would have to though identify who are the right people to get to that aspect where you start understanding what they do.

That's really, really critical at least in the way I use offline and online. To me, all of the online stuff is basically nothing, but a way to reach out to people and then take them offline. This is just a way to continuously sort of be in a periphery.

I don't know if you guys have heard this quote from Jay Z, but he says, "I'm not a businessman. I'm a business man." I'll write it. Maybe it'll help. That's really, really powerful because especially in the social space, every individual is becoming a product, because why should I engage with you, why should I buy what you're selling and you're basically pretty much selling yourself at that time when you're initially trying to engage with these guys.

To me, this whole aspect of social media is really, really becoming relevant at least specially with the certain group of people if you want to tap into them whether they are very influential people, et cetera, they're a product, you're a product, and why should you two engaged together, so trying to almost understand the anatomy of social behavior offline, how do people communicate.

If you look at offline communication, about 7% is words and about probably like 30% or 35% is the tone of your voice and about 55% is body language. How do you transfer that online where a lot of the body language is hard to decipher. A lot of it is just by listening and tools like Twitter or Facebook, et cetera when they update the status messages. To me, that's a little bit of a good hint of the body language that they're trying to say the way the write it, the way they say it, et cetera.

To try and do that from an interactivity perspective, I was thinking about coming here if you're building something that's interaction for me at least socially offline, the interaction is a lot about body language. How much does this person actually make eye contact with me? How is he sitting? I mean these are things that I know that oh, your elbow is pointing that way that means you're not engage or anything, but this is the gut feeling that I have.

In a web design tool perspective or web experience to me a lot of it is about that body language that you feel as soon as you come on that site. On Twitter, they just made it really easy and said, you know what, it's not so hard to come up to me at a bar and speak to me. It's okay. You can come on. Whereas at a bar, if you have to actually go, meet someone, you're going to hesitate, you're not sure they're meeting in a group and they're just talking away. They're going to feel very uncomfortable just going and introducing yourself.

But Twitter said, "Well, you don't need to be in one close group like that. It's all open. Come on in into a conversation. You could start doing that. There are various forms of looking at what I like to see it as it's just observance of social behavior offline and online. It's some kind of takeaways in terms of I don't know if it's valuable and maybe you're already using it, but I want to just tell you what are the tools I use, so really hands on sort of takeaways if you will, the social convergence and philosophical talk we can have at Starbucks or anytime, anywhere. It's I think the matter of time. But the tools I use, which have been very powerful for me and what we've done for CrossLoop and how I do it. I'll talk about those two. If someone has no questions, then I could just jump into that.

Okay, so tools wise, I don't think anything is going to be like whoa, I never heard of it. In Twitter, I use TweetDeck and I'll tell you how and why I use all these. I use better feed, the Facebook App, and FriendFeed. These are the key core things if you will. I use TweetDeck, because it's really powerful in terms of filtering. I follow about 350 people or so. Now not all of them I want to completely be focused on.

I have a filter of my favorites if you will. I want to make sure that I'm learning from them what they're posting, what they've written, because I can learn from them. They're spending a lot more time on these things and learning all of it. Can I again cut that curve and jump ahead by just learning from what they've spent hours and hours trying to figure out. TweetDeck is great, because it allows you to create a group.

You can create your filter and you say, "This is my favorite group and I want to follow just these 10 people, no matter what they Tweet, I want to watch what's going on. I want to hear what they say." I use that extensively. It also has Twitscoop, which is basically a trending thing and you want to watch what people are talking about. That is also really relevant especially if you want to see what's going on and how is it all working like.

For example there is an article and AdEdge about Super Bowl ads. The bloggers are not that excited about it seems, but they're also expecting it to take, have a good attraction because now Twitter's growth and then I went and looked at the Twitter trends and yes Super Bowl is being talked about a lot. TweetDeck really helps you kind of do it all and one kind of console in one spot.

Twitterfeed.com is more of a tool to stitch your other services that you use into Twitter. If you have a blog, if you have anything that has an RSS feed. Delicious is another tool that I use a lot, so I'll just put it here, because it ties in. That has an RSS feed. We have our own blog, which right now we're just using Six Apart TypePad. What happens is TwitterFeed allows you to tie any RSS feed into your Twitter account automatically.

If I blog on our corporate blog anything product update, growth, press mention, as soon as I hit submit and post or publish, it goes immediately to my Twitter account and goes out as a Tweet, so it's not manually tying in the link there. The same thing with Delicious, what I do with Delicious is I find Delicious extremely powerful. I have a Delicious badge on CrossLoop on the blog and anything that is relevant to CrossLoop whether it's a blog review, press mention, et cetera, I want to bookmark it for myself. I will bookmark it to a CrossLoop account and as soon as I bookmark it because it's an RSS feed and it's tied to TwitterFeed, it goes to my Twitter account, it goes to my blog, and it goes to FriendFeed, so think of it is a distribution channel pretty much.

Audience Member: [inaudible @18:41] each other, you don't have it showing up once because you bookmarked it and then on the blog. Then on the TwitterFeed twice, once because you bookmarked it, once because it's on the blog.

Mrinal: Yes, I keep those separate. Delicious the way I do it is that it's primarily - yeah, you got a good point, so I mean if you're not watching in and so let's say on FriendFeed, you can easily do something that goes back to Twitter, so then you could go into this ridiculous cycle and actually went through and I learned that's not the way to do it.

Audience Member: [inaudible @19:11]

Mrinal: No people actually - one guy called me. He's like can you turn that off, because I have had that like 15 times already. That's what it is all about. You keep doing everything. You try new tools, new services and you see how it all works out or not and I changed my username on Twitter, yesterday and it broke a lot of other services that I've got and tied in. I'm like oh, okay. That's how it works. You learn all those things.

But what's really powerful is that now any user comes to CrossLoop sees these reviews that third party people have written about. They see it there. Obviously anyone is following me in Twitter will get that and on FriendFeed too. But what I do at Delicious is also how you organize your stuff is really cool. Even on Twitter if someone says, "CrossLoop rocks," for example, I'll obviously favorite it there, but I'll also bookmark that link on Delicious. Then I will tag it, your account, and then I have Twitter here.

Now why do I need to even put it on Delicious, because it's really powerful to collect third party testimonials if you will. They're Tweets there not by people who I know, they're just random people who either recommending CrossLoop, etc., they're testimonials, live testimonials. It's not a quote that I'm putting on my website. You don't know. You see quotes on websites all the time, but you're like okay whatever that's worth.

Now I have a really nice easy URL to aggregate everything that people are saying on Twitter and sent to anyone I want to. Let's say PR people want to know. Then you got this really nice thing and say - you know just in case you want to know what people are telling, talking about CrossLoop, check this out. If you find anything that's bad, let me know, but I'm going to find anything bad. Aggregating this is really important.

Then you do the same thing whether if it's mainstream media, I'll tag it with MSN. I have a really nice aggregated place of collecting all my stuff whether it's international reviews, I'll use international. At any time, I will know how to get to whatever I've collected. Six Apart of course is the blogging tool I've personally used Vox and TypePad is what we use on our corporate blog today.

Facebook is also another cool thing in the sense that I push my status updates to twitter using this tool. Everything you do on Facebook can easily be stitched to Twitter by just again using the RSS feeds. Your status update is an RSS feed, your posted items is an RSS feed, so you use TwitterFeed and you stick it into Twitter, so every time I share something on Facebook whether it's a blog post, a photo or video, what have you automatically goes to Twitter itself.

Now you can choose how you want to do it. If you want to let people on Twitter now, this was something you push from Facebook, TwitterFeed allows you to say this is a blog post, this is a Facebook post or et cetera, so you can choose how you want to do it. Then they're Facebook Apps of course, so I use the FriendFeed App on Facebook to get all my Tweets into Facebook. On Facebook I have 900 plus friends. On Twitter, I have 850 or so followers.

What I'm trying to do is make sure that I'm not repeating stuff with everyone and at the same time, keeping it very personal too. They all know of course I'm going to be telling you about CrossLoop and how cool it is and it's the best thing in the world. But at the same time, I'm making sure that I'm adding value to them not just by talking about CrossLoop all the time. I'll share anything that's really cool and that interests me whether it's philosophy, whether it's psychology, whether it's Economist article or the Wall Street Journal article and I'll ask questions and trying to get a feel of what people feel about it.

Basically figuring out how you want to use these tools together is really, really powerful. To me, one big thing is how that I just told you about if you scramble these words, it's basically who? So at the end of the day, how you use all these things is really tied into who you want to really engage with. What's there?

Audience Member: [inaudible @23:39] someone [inaudible 23:40]

Mrinal: What's that?

Audience Member: When you came to the US, did you have someone [inaudible 23:46] friend that helped you?

Mrinal: Actually here is another really cool one which...

Audience Member: [inaudible @23:50]

Mrinal: So that's my last name.

Audience Member: [inaudible @23:57]

Mrinal: That's a very common last name in India. You can imagine like they're hundreds and millions who probably have that name. I got here and my wife now and I was . . . we met in school and we dated for a few years and she is American. She is white, if you will. She had to tell me you know what our last name actually stands for ideas. I'm like wow. This is such an old Indian name, but it took you to kind of look at it. Yeah this is cool.

Anyway I love using words and tag lines and trying to figure out what actually communicates powerful things.

Audience Member: [inaudible @24:41]

Mrinal: What's that? I don't actually play with those as much. Maybe I should. As I was thinking about coming here, so one big part for me - one thing I play around is what I call a little bit of a pun is you media instead of new media. It's all becoming social you are the media today. You're the one who is going to tell people what's the coolest thing and how is it going to be viral, using Facebook, et cetera, understanding the anatomy of how Facebook works, how feeds work, how does that all transfer over, so I call that new media.

If you look at everything, it's you, I, and then that basically becomes equal to we, so I said today is you, I needs to be all about we, so the user interface that you have about web services today needs to be consolidated in such a way that as soon as you come in, you feel your part of this community where you can engage with anyone you want, you feel comfortable, you don't feel bizarre like oh no one's really talking to me, how do you make that first experience the absolute best.

Let me draw an analogy here real quick. When I came to the US, '99 boom time, I have been having phenomenal experiences, everyone welcome me. I never felt I was from India. I was just absolutely stunning and I never felt I was Indian. I never looked at someone else and said oh you're American, oh you're African, et cetera. So my wife who does a lot of cross-cultural stuff, she sends interns abroad for education said traveling abroad is a lot like raising a child.

When you have a child, the first few experiences that parents try and bring around the child dictates how you look at life. To me that was an eye opener for a second, because if I had come to the US and someone said, "You're brown. Can you step aside in the security line, I want to check you and I'm not sure if you're really a good guy?" I would have probably said oh you know this is country is looking at me differently and I would have probably stereotype everyone in America saying oh you know they're discriminating, but it didn't happen that way.

So the same way it's with the child, I have a 3-year-old now and how and watch his experience again, how you're raising her is really important at the end of the day to lay that foundation where she perceives life in a different way. Web experience is similar like that especially when it's so noisy and cluttered today.

I come in, I need to understand right away how it works, don't make me spend too much time learning it and that's one of the reasons I think Twitter is pretty amazing, you just get in, you sign up, you can just post something and you're done. You've experienced Twitter. That's pretty much it at the end of the day.

That first experience and that interface if you will and the interaction that you have - the interaction I had coming to America was absolutely phenomenal and I think that led me to - now someone discriminates and pulls me aside. I'm like that's fine. It's not going to bother me at all.

So you're more forgiving once you've had really great first few experiences, so to me that's really, really important and with CrossLoop, we do the same thing, the first thing that usually typically people do is come and download our software and that's really small. It takes less than a minute to download it and you're boom, up and running and you can start using it with anyone you know. You don't even have to engage with our expert helpers initially.

So that's probably a good time to wrap up for now and if you guys have more questions and probably it seems I'm getting some signs I should shut up.

Audience Member: [inaudible@ 28:28]

Mrinal: Yeah.

Audience Member: [inaudible @28:31]

Mrinal: Yeah.

Audience Member: Go get a bite.

Mrinal: All right.

Moderator : Awesome.

Mrinal: Cool.

Moderator : [inaudible @28:38] that I haven't done enough rearranging of leaders.

Audience Member: You've got a few others.

Moderator : Keep working on my letter rearranging [inaudible @28:47]

Mrinal: Yeah, your last name, right?

Moderator : Yeah. [inaudible @28:49]

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