“It was 2010 & eCommerce looked very easy , especially drop shipping. So we thought of selling neck ties. But soon we had 1000 neck ties piled up in my living room and we were struggling to sell them. It was the moment of shame for me.” – said Vivien Garnes.
From Moment of Shame to Moment of Reckoning, Vivien along with his friends turned around this failure in to Success. He cracked the code to the new trending I in Marketing : The Influencer.
The Co – founder and Co – CEO of NYC based startup Upfluence, one of the leading influencer marketing platforms, Vivien Garnes shared details about his journey – from sleepless nights selling neck ties to becoming the founder of a company which is helping Brands to market their products. Upfluence is pioneering quite a lot: from AI-assisted influencer suggestions and fake follower detection to language recognition technology.
VJCV: What was the trigger to start Upfluence ?
VG: In 2010, my friend Kevin and I started an eCommerce company. The product we chose to sell was Neck Ties and assumed that it will be easy. But we struggled to sell those neck ties even after using adwords / adsense, etc. So we tried shipping products to bloggers, getting them to write reviews. These review would generate traffic and conversions. That’s when we realized that Influencer Marketing was a thing, but that it was a tedious process with little to no transparency. So that’s how the idea behind Upfluence sprouted.
VJCV: What is Influencer Marketing (from a layman’s perspective) ?
VG: Marketing is all about putting your product into the market. Most Marketing channels market products directly to their Consumer / Target Audience. Influencer Marketing help the brands to market their product via a proxy. This proxy is a Social Media user with some followers / influence. The key differentiator is that usually brands control large amount of their communication / their copy. Here Brands surrender that control to the Influencers & that has been very good. The influencers know their audience & they reshape the message to engage with the audience. The result of that is incredible engagement created by Influencer Marketing.
VJCV: How did the Upfluence platform look like in the initial years and how has it changed over the years?
VG: We started off as a Market place for bloggers. Like an Uber platform. It worked well for us from the influencer side. On the advertiser side , the market was not ready. There was liquidity problem at both the sides. After the initial one year, we focused on the becoming the technology based ‘agency’. From 2014 to 2016, we worked on the technology and in the meanwhile got directly in contact with influencers as well as clients. It helped us understand the market needs from both perspectives. Eventually we changed our platform to SaaS (Software as a Service) based model & have been doing that ever since for the last 3 years. The platform includes tools for influencer identification, recruitment, campaign management, reporting, and payment.
VJCV: How did you sustain from 2012 to 2016 (RoI) ?
VG: It is one of our key DNAs to keep ourselves capital efficient. We were very conscious about our spends. We ensured that every investment made by us is scalable and profitable. We did not want to burn money to accelerate the growth. Our focus was to reach profitability at the earliest.
VJCV: MarTech space is changing drastically. Do you think this is just the start of things to come ?
VG: Unlike most industries which are centuries old (or even millennium old for beer for examples) the MarTech/AdTech industry is just 20 year olds. It went through so many revolutions already (search, display, cloud, retargeting, programmatic, automation, etc.). At the end of the day, marketing is about standing out from the crowd. Technology helps you do that at scale. That’s not going anywhere in my humble opinion.
VJCV: There is lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and particularly Chat Bots. Does that help the Influencer Marketing space ?
VG: All three of them help in automation. This help in streamlining lot of things. AI & ML enable in batch processing. ML is more organic as well. The more data fed to the system, it gives more conclusions and you can expect the consequences. With Chat bots, in Influencer Marketing, some attempts made have not been successful. We do not buy media space, banners, etc. It is a creative collaboration with people. So brands have to talk to people & there is always a human to human conversation to connect with people as part of Influencer Marketing.
VJCV: How do you use technology to discover the influencers ?
VG: The challenge/pain for brands is to identify the influencers. Text data is searchable but that is only a fraction about the Influencer . Technologies like AI & ML help us in analyzing each Influencer in detail. For example, just with imagery information we can infer several parameters like gender, ethnicity, and lot more. So this combined with other available information gives a great level of understanding and actionable points for the clients to pick Influencers as per the required domain / demographics, etc.. So they spend less time in finding influencers and focus on creativity & the human interaction.
VJCV: As highlighted by you , Chatbots have their limitations. Do you foresee a future where Influencers with Chatbots as their replicas will be accepted by Brands ?
VG: For any sort of marketing activity, two points are key – 1. Trust and 2. Scale. Influencer Marketing is a combination of Scale and Trust. Bots does have potential and hope to see brands using them. But that being said, for any sort of successful campaign there needs to be creativity and I do not believe that it can be completely automated.
VJCV: How does Upfluence make sure that the Influencer is trustworthy ?
VG: There are millions of influencers out there in the market. Even if it is a niche segment or geography, we still have sufficient amount of Influencers. With great power comes great responsibility. It is our responsibility to safeguard our clients. In addition to that it is critical for us to provide them with the right tools to analyze and do fraud detection and protection. At the end of the day it is all about Conversions. So you cannot fake and industry is moving towards a better transparent space.
VJCV: The whole market place has changed drastically. Do you feel that Social Media has helped the Influencer Marketing community ?
VG: Yes, inarguably. This space is a cyclical. 10 years back it was bloggers, now it is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc. It has definitely helped to scale the influencer marketing model. It is super easy to open an account in Facebook or Instagram compared to starting a blog page. It is good to have new Social networks come up year after year as some of them have huge traction. It is also good that some of them do not belong to Facebook 😉 & that keeps the market place competitive.
VJCV: How do you recommend Influencers to your clients from newer platforms like say TikTok?
VG: If the client is active and has Influencers in any of the existing networks like Instagram then I recommend them to continue using them to test the water in newer platforms like TikTok (provided they have presence in this network). The reason being they know the brand and TikTok as well. It will be a good way to test. Once the test is done and client understands the platform, engagement rates, etc. then they can try using this engagement to use Influencers who are active only on TikTok.
VJCV: How has been the journey so far ?
VG: It’s been exhilarating, challenging, exhausting, rewarding. Much like most entrepreneurial journeys I’d imagine. It has been 8 years now and we are one of the leading influencer marketing platforms. The landscape is moving really fast. We had hardships but there was enough success to keep going & we cherish them.
Upfluence has VC funding backed by the French web entrepreneurs’ fund ISAI.
Vivien added “We want to keep investing in the product/technology, keep growing our people (and our headcount), move upmarket.”
The Influencers are changing the marketing landscape. This is the era of Short Stories. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok – it is all about sharing the stories.
Right from having the morning coffee at Starbucks to the evening party at the club, it has all become part of the ‘Connected’ community. The competition among brands across genres is to be part of these moments and the stories. The more a brand manages to be part of this storyboard, higher is the brand recall value, reach and ultimately the Conversion. To Crack this Code : Brands (and nowadays even politicians) are looking up to Influencer Marketing and Influencers for Success.
Vivien Garnes believes in the quote “Success is moving from one failure to another without losing the enthusiasm” and I completely agree with him. It is a journey and the key here is to not lose the zeal. Focus on the Passion, Attitude and Curiosity & keep yourself motivated to achieve higher goals.
This interview is part of the PAC Talks with VJCV series.
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