Clay McDaniel
Ripl COO Clay McDaniel says scaling up doesn't necessarily mean hiring more. — Clay McDaniel

In today's digital world, every business needs a social media presence. Consumers expect engaging, exciting visual content from the brands they follow, but not every small business has the time, resources or skill set to create it. That's where Ripl comes in.

Ripl is a social media marketing platform that provides designer templates so brands easily can create videos, animated posts, customized slideshows and more for their social media accounts. According to COO Clay McDaniel, the company was founded to help small businesses affordably tell their own story in a visual format.

"The software was designed ... to put the power of beautiful visual video storytelling in the hands of entrepreneurs," McDaniel said in a recent interview with CO—.

Overcoming the challenges of awareness and scale

Like many software companies, Ripl's biggest obstacles in getting off the ground were consumer awareness and visibility, as well as the ability for the product to be used at scale, said McDaniel.

"Your first 100 users … are pretty easy to keep up with," he noted. "Once you hit 10,000 or 100,000, it becomes a little more challenging to make sure that the service is up and dependable and working hour-in and hour-out for everyone."

Surprisingly, "scaling up" didn't necessarily mean hiring a ton of new staff – at least not at first. McDaniel explained that in today's software-as-a-service (SaaS) era, it's relatively easy to build a sizable software solution without having to grow your team at the same rate. However, when Ripl did need to start hiring to keep up with its growth, it adhered to one core principle: building goodwill in its home region of the Pacific Northwest.

"We invest in the experience and the efforts of our employees that go well beyond just compensation," said McDaniel. "They tell that story about the cultural experience they're having working with us, and that radiates out into the Seattle … community."

To encourage employee referrals of this nature, Ripl recently implemented a cash compensation program that rewards team members who bring other successful employees into the organization.

We invest in the experience and the efforts of our employees that go well beyond just compensation.

Clay McDaniel, COO, Ripl

A radical approach to management

To avoid the common trap of micromanagement that many rapidly growing startups experience, Ripl takes a "radical" approach to its organizational structure that started with its founder, Paul Ingalls. His approach, said McDaniel, was to have no direct reporting lines or managerial overhead.

Being a completely flat company allows Ripl to truly put all the opportunity and responsibility to succeed into the hands of each of its team members.

"At the end of each quarter, we do a big retrospective and talk about whether the company has succeeded or not, and leave it to the individual to … identify the connection points to our success or failure that they've contributed to," McDaniel added.

Hitting the one million mark

Ripl's software helps other brands create social media content that helps them grow and spread the word. The company takes advantage of the solution it has built to generate awareness for its own brand, too.

"We walk our own talk," said McDaniel. "We use our own tool [to] tell our own stories, both individual employee stories and the story of our founder and the company's experience overall. We publish it out through social media and invite people to share it onwards."

Thanks to its brand awareness efforts, Ripl has grown tremendously in the two and a half years it's been in business. It's currently the third-largest social media storytelling tool on the market and has about 300,000 active users. McDaniel hopes to continue on that path and see the company achieve its first million users by expanding to the international market.

"We have competitive pressure," McDaniel said. "But I think with such an interesting, radical approach to how we … look to growth, we will be able to continue to push ahead of those that come in behind us.

Watch our full interview with Clay McDaniel for more on his experiences with Ripl. This interview was conducted on behalf of CO— by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg.

Clay McDaniel, Ripl's COO interviewed by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg. 

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Published February 25, 2019