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Interview with Mike Smalls, Founder and CEO of Hoopla

Emily Sue Tomac
November 3, 2015

Interview with Mike Smalls, Founder and CEO of Hoopla

Performance Metrics Feed Visibility and Engagement:

Hoopla is a visual communication platform that specializes in intra-company engagement through shareable content broadcast across mobile, web and TV , including company updates and sales competitions. The company is a Silicon Valley startup, founded in 2010. They take a unique, complex approach to visibility and gamification, which Mike Smalls, Founder and CEO, says can help engage the millenial workforce and create a small company feel at large companies. Hoopla recently launched a new release to open up the platform to other data sources, improving customization options and the ability for more employees and departments to contribute content (such as selfies when they’ve achieved a goal). Hoopla is highly rated by users on TrustRadius.

Introduction to Hoopla

Who are you as a company, and what is the grand vision behind Hoopla?

I founded Hoopla in 2010, and we’ve seen some pretty impressive growth since then. At the time, we were trying to solve a key problem: the challenge of motivating, engaging and driving the right behaviors from salespeople. We were focused on the metrics and dynamics that drive performance.

Our team built a platform to bring visibility to key metrics and progress, and create challenges fueled by friendly competition. Most importantly, we wanted companies to be able to give recognition to salespeople. Hoopla is designed to visually communicate this information, to send it out via TV, mobile and the web.

Our value proposition is that Hoopla helps companies drive the right kind of employee behavior by engaging your entire company around the platform, and amplifying and aligning the culture throughout the company.

What does Hoopla look like from an end-user perspective?

The end user experience is two-fold. First, there are large screen TVs throughout the office. With the falling cost of monitors, companies are starting to hang 60-80 inch monitors all over the place. Our software runs on that, and becomes the content for that. It’s almost like watching sports or breaking news across the company; we’re ESPN for the whole organization. Individuals are highlighted—there are leaderboards, score tracking, KPIs, project updates, virtual sales gongs, etc. We can also create breaking news events around individuals, with a person’s face highlighted next to a description of what they’ve accomplished, and a custom walk-up song or a video they’ve recorded for everyone to see. That’s the primary, visual communication piece of the user experience.

The other piece is through mobile. All of our customers have access to the mobile app, which sends out push notifications. It’s also interactive, so, for example, a sales rep in the field who closes a deal can create a custom message and take a selfie with the customer to broadcast all over the company. That creates a lot of personalized interaction among everyone.

What’s the internal time investment, in terms of running the system and feeding it content?

The setup process, and really everything about the Hoopla system, is designed to be as self-service as possible. You can get the platform up and running in minutes. In terms of keeping it maintained because the data is fed in automatically from Salesforce (and/or other data sources), a company could set it and forget it, although we don’t recommend that. Our most successful customers have fun with it; they maintain the platform with new videos and other content to keep it fresh and interesting. But it isn’t a huge time commitment. It doesn’t take a week to do that.

Customer Base & Customer Feedback

Who is your target customer, and what does your customer base look like?

We have been targeting the meaty, larger end of the middle market. Our customers include LinkedIn, GM Financial, Marketo, Sungard, Trulia, and others. From an industry perspective, we have been very successful with SaaS software and technology, online marketing companies that serve consumer areas, financial services and healthcare, with companies like Trinet that provide the HR piece.

Are there any other signals that indicate a company would be a good fit for Hoopla?

The sales arena has been our bread and butter, our entry point into a company. We’ve found that Hoopla works really well for sales organizations that do a lot of transactions. We are geared more towards the Zillow sales rep, who deals with faster sales cycles, than the Boeing rep, who might sell one plane every 5 years. Hoopla is a good fit for sales processes that are activity-laced versus a very highly complex sales process. If a company has a big inside sales force or a distributed workforce with multiple offices, Hoopla is perfect.

With the commitment levels coming down for purchases (with SaaS replacing on-premise software, for example), and more remote sales teams, the whole sales process is changing. As this continues, more and more companies are transforming to fit our sweet spot.

One of the areas for improvement that surfaces in reviews of Hoopla on TrustRadius is customization: some users would like to see more options. How are you addressing this issue?

Yes, we are actively making improvements around customization. A few key points:

1. The system is highly customizable as far as content goes, meaning users can put any video or image or data they want into the system.

2. A couple of reviews said it would be great if there were more integrations out of the box, so that users didn’t need to input as much content themselves. One of the things we’re working on is integrations for video and image feeds from other places, so that content can be automatically imported.

3. We are working to make the system administration very easy by distributing the content load. We want to make sure individual employees in the company can contribute data, to make the platform more interesting and engaging (both for the viewers and contributors).

A few reviewers said that Hoopla’s ESPN-like presentation wasn’t their favorite. Is this integral to the product’s design, or is it something that’s becoming more flexible?

It’s definitely part of what attracts a lot of customers and employees to the product. But it’s highly customizable, in that a company doesn’t have to use flashy images in the background. We have customers like banks, for example, that use a plain background and don’t use the sports transitions and features like that. Hoopla can be customized to any culture. In terms of the video display and the graphics, we have big plans next year to continue to update that area, and bring out more exciting graphics.

Hoopla’s Positioning: Competitors, & Differentiators

How do you see yourselves within the space? Is Hoopla gamification software, an analytics tool, a community platform, or something else?

It’s a new category in a lot of ways. We’re automating announcements and activities that were typically done through traditional means like whiteboards, sales gongs, company announcements, and email blasts. So we don’t see any direct 1-1 competitors. But we are upending the digital signage world, as well as the world of analytics. We are not an analytics company, but we are helping to bring that information to life. Hoopla is pioneering a new category, with a fresh way of visually communicating and engaging through performance analytics.

You mentioned that because this is a new space, Hoopla doesn’t face much direct competition. Who do you consider to be your closest competitors?

We see a series of competitors. In the past Hoopla has been labeled as gamification software, so we see vendors like Bunchball, LevelEleven, Ambition, and others in the mix. But our focus is very different from theirs, and so that’s why we run into more competition on the digital signage side, along with the smaller gamification companies.

How do you differentiate from other gamification vendors?

We differentiate by designing our roadmap around customer feedback. We have almost 500 companies worldwide using Hoopla. They’ve asked us to double down and focus on our core strength, which is the TV experience: our visual aspects and interactivity. Our customers love how that drives performance and engages the entire workforce. They can set up channels to run in every major office, and even employees in remote offices can connect into the corporate culture. That’s where they really push us.

They’ve also asked us to work on tying in more data sources because Hoopla is becoming a primary communication and signal strength tool for the entire company. They want to keep the entire company informed and aligned around goals, so they need to incorporate multiple data sources.

How do you differentiate from the digital signage competitors?

The digital signage world is typically just image-based. Those tools allow users to display digitized posters. The differentiator for us is around data and interactivity. We think of the mobile app as a remote control for the TV. Hoopla allows users to put pictures and videos up on the TV through the mobile app, and engage in things like voting, commenting. Other digital signage products are relatively static.

Engaging Sales & Beyond

Beyond sales engagement, does Hoopla include other areas/teams in a company? How do other people in the company engage with the platform?

Everyone in the company cares about sales success. We want to know when we’re winning as a company. Are we closing deals? I need to stay clued in on that. With a Salesforce implementation, only the sales team has logins to the system, so no one else has access to that information. Hoopla brings all of that to light, so there is visibility into sales across the entire company.

That visibility caused other departments to say, hey, we want to get our information on top of that as well. Before we had the features to support these kinds of things, we saw some customers doing hacks to put up birthday and anniversary announcements, customer success metrics, survey results, etc. The platform is well suited for anything the entire company needs to know, and now we have capabilities for other types of content beyond sales.

How do you encourage competition and engagement? Can you give us some specific detail around Hoopla’s approach to gamification?

Typically when people think of gamification, they think of points, badges and levels. We take a different tack. Yes, we have leaderboards and stack ranking, and we show progress against goals—that’s a core gamification element, one piece of sales game mechanics. But we also designed other features to boost engagement and encourage people to challenge each other.

For example, we have a feature called Faceoff for head-to-head competition. A user can challenge another user to a competition lasting between one and seven days, based on any given metric in the system. That challenge is announced throughout the TV system, and it can be accepted or rejected. If they reject it, a video comes up to announce the rejection. If they accept it, Hoopla tracks that competition throughout the time frame. Position changes throughout the course of the competition are announced. At the end, the winner is announced (this is mostly about bragging rights rather than incentives). This creates two-way engagement throughout the company, and teams have a lot of fun with it.

Ongoing Release Sets Tone for Future Development

Can you tell us about your ongoing release, and where you’re headed in the near future?

This release is significant because we’ve made some significant changes to the technology platform to really open things up. Based on the feedback we discussed earlier, we did a whole re-architecture design to allow people to port in data from other sources. Hoopla used to only focus just on Salesforce, but now we have an open architecture. This allows other departments to be involved. It’s a major change to the system, and it enables users to incorporate Excel spreadsheets or any CSV file. Also, we are now opening up a REST API so that users can input data that way. That’s the first major change.

The second big improvement has to do with interactivity and engagement. Our new mobile app is just the beginning. We are enabling features like being able to take a selfie when you do something great and project it onto the screen, as well as other features around multi-way interaction. This release laid the groundwork for future developments in this direction.

For those folks who have experienced Hoopla in the past, I’d like to highlight that this new release makes working with the system easier and much more pleasurable. We’ve reduced the load on admins—if you’ve been waiting for that, it’s here! We heard your feedback loud and clear and we wanted to address it. Our goal is to reduce any friction that might stand in the way of installing, implementing, and maintaining the system on an ongoing basis, so that it’s a no-brainer for every organization.

What trends are driving your product roadmap?

The generation that is taking over the workforce in the next five years has grown up on social applications, mobile, and the internet—in a way that no generation has before. Their expectations are extremely high. For companies to attract, retain, motivate and engage this talent, they need to use technology in smart ways. Hoopla taps into the best of the social apps and consumer world and borrows those capabilities to enable the corporation to thrive. We’re inspired by popular, attention-grabbing platforms like Vine, SnapChat and Instagram.

Additionally, the cost of technology and video display has dropped dramatically. Meanwhile, the quality of the technology has improved. Five years ago, installing a big screen TV might have been way too expensive or simply unavailable, but today it’s within reach of every company. Companies are attempting to communicate more broadly, and they are trying to figure out how to create a small company feel at a large company. Hoopla is tapping into those trends as well.

To share your own user insights about Hoopla, write a review on TrustRadius. For more information about use cases, pros, cons and ROI, find and filter Hoopla user reviews here.


About the Author

Emily Sue Tomac
Emily Sue Tomac is Senior Research Manager at TrustRadius, where she studies reviews, the technology buying and selling process, and buyers and vendors themselves. Her research aims to arm people with the tools and information they need to work better, smarter, and easier. She's on a mission to tell their stories, and drive change in how business technology is bought and sold. Prior to joining TrustRadius, Emily Sue worked on research in linguistics and the digital humanities.

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