Dario Meli, CEO and founder of Quietly – a platform for sharing personal recommendations – is about creating an environment where his team can create fantastic, problem-solving experiences that other people can enjoy. While studying multimedia at Vancouver Film School in 1997, Meli, 38, realized he was more interested in doing things than learning about them. “I thought the Internet was going to be something really wild, exciting, and large. It sounds so obvious now,” said the Vancouver native who eventually left a high paying job to initially make virtually no money to do what makes him happy. Meli – who also co-founded digital agency Invoke Media, social media dashboard HootSuite, and user-generated contesting platform BrightKit – emphasized focus as the most critical lesson he has learned as a successful entrepreneur.
The Invoke Media that exists today began as a small agency and partnership between Meli and partners David Tedman – current CEO of sibling company and incubator Invoke Labs – and Ryan Holmes, current HootSuite CEO. The cash flow that came from Invoke and the growth of BrightKit funded endeavors such as HootSuite, which was first built as a solution for agencies to operate efficiently. “It just blew up,” said Dario. “We were getting tons of users, and it was becoming a real success.” Recognizing HootSuite’s potential, the partners raised enough funding and built a HootSuite team made up of Invoke’s best people – including Holmes – to move forward with a singular focus. “That team was tasked with building the most amazing product that existed in this realm that was brand new, creating a social media dashboard that was more capable than any other,” said Meli. “Once they had that focus, it was really awesome to see. We’ve applied that learning to other things.”
Other things include Quietly, a company that started with Meli’s and co-founder Sean Tyson’s experience working with some of the largest media organizations in the world. They saw an opportunity to aid the industry and consumers in the transfer of knowledge for great experiences. “We did a lot of research to figure out what, and how, and where this could happen successfully,” said Meli, who resigned from Invoke in January 2013 to take on his role as Quietly CEO.
Tyson, former director of strategy at Invoke, joined Meli in April 2013.“A lot of people who come from agency realms want to be doing lots of different things. That sounds alluring, but really that doesn’t allow you to do one thing particularly well. Focus is the most critical thing,” said Meli.
Along with focus comes the critical need for revenue management and an amazing team. “At Quietly, we’ve assembled the dream team. We’ve got experts in every field working in their respective disciplines at the company. Our hiring criteria is basically, you shouldn’t be attending conferences unless you’re speaking at that conference. That’s what we’re looking for – rock stars without rock star attitudes. We want this super elite atmosphere that aids retention and camaraderie. It’s really important both to our culture and inevitably the success of the product we’re building,” said Meli, who adds that he doesn’t expect his team to exceed 15 people in its first two years.
To equalize things, a peer mentorship network amongst Quietly team members allows them the opportunity to learn from each other’s respective disciplines. “I think it creates a culture of excellence, where everyone is learning from each other in the best possible way and creating the most amazing product possible. It helps to ensure that people are respectful of others as well. I feel like a lot of companies don’t do that,” said Meli.
Taking the global approach is another strategy that Meli says not many startups are doing. “We’ve pitched Quietly in probably 20 countries. It’ll be in 17 languages and 63 country-specific app stores around the world. Long gone are the days when America reigns supreme as the only market that matters when everyone has an iPhone or Android device all over the world. It has leveled the playing field. I think taking the global approach is absolutely necessary now. You’ll see more and more companies doing the same thing. Hopefully they’ll be looking to Quietly as an example. We’re going to make mistakes but hopefully they’ll avoid making some of them. We are open to sharing our learning,” said Meli.
Meli shared insight about focus, global approach, and top resources for startups:
Focus is about eliminating things that are a distraction.
It’s super hard to do with all these shiny objects and the speed in which we receive information. At the end of the day you’ve got to just hunker down. That’s why a lot of people say don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Just know what you need to do. Write down the five things you need to do that day and power through them. There are a lot of tricks, but it’s difficult.
Consider the global approach an option.
A lot of people simply don’t think about it. They’re thinking about their own geographical locations or they’re thinking about the United States, but there are a lot of people with smartphones all over the world doing cool stuff. The playing field is quickly being leveled as far as who you can reach as well as who’s important.
Recommended resources for startups
- Network – the best resource is just getting out and meeting people. Serendipity is important. 90 percent of life is just showing up. I think getting out there, making relationships is key. You need high quality relationships with people that are doing cool stuff, are positive, who want to see you succeed.
- I’m part of a lot of different groups on Facebook and I’m part of Summit Series, which has been super valuable.