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In episode #22, Anna Nadeina talks with Francesca, co-founder of Contribly, helping publishers and media brands increase revenue, trust, and relevance via smarter UGC engagement strategies.


Francesca Dumas, the co-founder of Contribly, has had an impressive and diverse career journey that has led her to the world of media and user-generated content (UGC) engagement. From her early days in stage management and secondary school teaching, to her time at The Guardian, Francesca has always been passionate about engaging with audiences and finding innovative ways to connect with them.


Identifying the Problem: The Challenges of UGC for Journalists

Francesca’s experience at The Guardian highlighted a common pain point for media brands – the struggle to effectively manage and leverage user-generated content. Journalists loved the idea of engaging directly with readers, but the process was often tedious and time-consuming. From receiving content via email, social media, and other channels, to verifying the authenticity and quality of the submissions, the manual effort required was a significant barrier.

Recognizing the untapped value of UGC, Francesca and her team set out to create a solution that would streamline the entire process for media brands. They wanted to empower journalists to easily collect, moderate, and publish user-generated content, while also helping these brands build deeper relationships with their audience and unlock the data-driven insights that could drive better engagement and revenue.


Contribly: Transforming the UGC Landscape for Media Brands

Contribly was born out of this need, initially serving as an internal tool for The Guardian. However, as the team at The Guardian faced budget cuts, Francesca and her co-founders saw an opportunity to take the product to the broader media market. They embarked on a management buyout, rewriting the platform to better serve a wider range of customers.

The key to Contribly’s success lies in its ability to address the unique challenges faced by different media brands, from local news outlets to large international publications. By understanding the specific goals and pain points of each customer, Contribly has been able to tailor its solution to deliver maximum value.


Understanding Customer Goals: The Foundation for Success

Francesca emphasizes the importance of truly understanding customers’ goals as the foundation for a successful product. Rather than simply demonstrating the features of Contribly, the team focuses on uncovering the underlying objectives that each media brand is trying to achieve through user engagement.

For some customers, it might be increasing app downloads or reaching a younger demographic. For others, it could be better understanding and connecting with a diaspora audience. By aligning Contribly’s capabilities with these specific goals, the team is able to create a tailored solution that delivers tangible results.


Streamlining Content Collection and Engagement at Events

Francesca also sees significant potential for Contribly to revolutionize the way media brands and event organizers manage user-generated content and audience engagement at conferences and events. By automating the process of collecting speaker bios, photos, and other event-related content, Contribly can save event managers valuable time and resources, while also enhancing the overall attendee experience.


The Challenges and Benefits of Bootstrapping

Contribly’s journey has been one of steady growth, fueled by a bootstrapped approach. Francesca and her co-founders made the conscious decision to avoid external investment for as long as possible, wanting to maintain control over the company’s direction and minimize the risk for potential investors. This strategy has allowed Contribly to focus on building a strong, scalable product and establishing a diverse customer base before seeking investment to accelerate their growth.


Building a Remote Team and Company Culture

Contribly’s remote-first approach has been a key part of their success. Francesca emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, regardless of their physical location. By fostering a culture of openness, authenticity, and shared purpose, the Contribly team has been able to thrive in a distributed environment, with team members spread across different countries.


The Pitfalls of Outsourcing Sales and the Power of Founder-Led Relationships

One of the challenges Francesca and her team faced was the temptation to outsource their sales efforts. While this seemed like a quick way to accelerate customer acquisition, Francesca learned that the personal touch and deep understanding of the customer that the founders bring is essential to closing deals and building lasting relationships. She cautions others against relying too heavily on external sales teams, emphasizing the value of the founder’s role in the sales process.


Surrounding Yourself with the Right People for Success

Francesca’s final piece of advice is to surround yourself with the right people – both within your team and in your broader network. Whether it’s finding co-founders and employees who share your values and vision, or connecting with other founders who can offer support and guidance, the people you choose to work with can make or break your success.

Contribly’s journey is a testament to the power of user-generated content, the importance of understanding your customers’ goals, and the benefits of building a strong, authentic team. As Francesca and her team continue to grow and expand their reach, they serve as an inspiring example for media brands and entrepreneurs alike.

Head of Growth,