Roger Wu is the co-founder of the sponsored content marketplace, Cooperatize. Prior to Cooperatize, he started Giftfinder.com and Klickable.TV and was an “intra-preneur” at Bloomberg’s BLAW group. He started on Wall Street at investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. He’s been published in a variety of outlets including Forbes, Quartz, and Mediapost. He holds three degrees from the Management and Technology Program of the University of Pennsylvania.
I was at a WeWork space working on another business when I noticed all of the other small businesses there. Curious as to how they attracted customers, I asked a number of them and consistently received three answers: Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and “reach out to bloggers.” I wanted to figure out how best to automate the “reach out to bloggers” process that would be as easy as Google and Facebook are. We landed an upscale resort as a test customer and decided to fall down the travel rabbit hole as a focus. Today, we help close to 50,000 bloggers find sponsored content opportunities while working with destinations, hotels, airlines, and tour operators on five continents attract travelers and tourists.
Influencer marketing is growing by leaps and bounds as more brands find value in having true voices discuss the experiences with their goods or services. Brands desire to know more of an influencer’s reputation and history, since the trend is moving toward more micro-influencers (those with less than 100K followers), but with some type of domain expertise. In addition, brands are looking for more concrete metrics than just followers, likes, or shares.
The EU’s GDPR (Global Data Protection Regulation) has made it much harder to track and cookie readers for measurement purposes. Since influencer marketing is a top of funnel touch point, finding true conversion metrics and signals are challenging. Our partnerships with a few data providers helps us understand how a reader reacts to a product after they read a story, but typically the sales cycle is long and immediate sales are not achieved.
The other challenge is the fragmentation of the market: Some influencers work with agencies, platforms (like ours), independent managers, or sometimes all of the above. Pricing is all over the place and because there are no standard IAB units it is difficult to compare apples to apples or to execute a buy across multiple influencers. We try to remedy this by having a standard offering that can translate into what media buyers are used to.
Our inspiration is in helping small businesses execute an integral part of their marketing in a quick, inexpensive, and measurable manner. We have no minimums, which allows even start-ups to participate in having content created about them. While we are currently focused on the travel space, we believe that once we have cornered travel, we can expand into other adjacent verticals since the process is nearly identical (the subject matter is different, which is the domain expertise of the influencer).
We are continuing to focus on the travel market. We next set our sights on Asia, especially the growing Chinese outbound tourist market. We continue to integrate new existing technologies like artificial intelligence and natural language processing to make content creation and approval more efficient. In addition we are exploring more ways for influencers to drive the traffic they need in a more effective and efficient manner.
As the millennial continues to prioritize experiences over things, the cost of travel continues to drop, and transportation technologies improve, travel and tourism will continue to be a solid growth industry. A key driver of success has been our decision to stay focused on travel, as we have been able to build a critical mass of brands and influencers in the space.
Getting the business up and running was a challenge. When operating a two-sided marketplace, it’s hard to get one side without the other and vice versa. To overcome this initial hurdle, we manually cobbled the marketplace together in real time. We would get customers and then find relevant influencers for it. Over time we built a platform to replicate our manually efforts.
However, building the platform also was not trivial. Having a computer science degree is much different than being a web developer, where one (computer science) is much more theoretical versus web development which sometimes is just finding an answer that may or may not be the best one. We struggled to build the site but eventually did; building and debugging the website as people are using it feels like laying down track as the train is coming at full speed. That was very stressful and now we have multiple staging servers to pass through for the various aspects of bug testing and quality control.
My personal preference is to be able to go to a website and sell myself on the good or service being sold. I despise having to talk to a salesperson since there is typically a level of salesmanship, undocumented promises, and other inefficient means of communication. From what I’ve seen, customers either want to do it all themselves 100% or have you do it for them 100% of the time. Any hybrid solution is unacceptable because it forces the customer to spend time to learn something new which might detract from their already precious time. Thus, we built our solution with this in mind, whereas you can use our tools directly, have complete interaction with all of the bloggers, and be able to control your own timeline without anyone from our side interfering. Or we can do the whole thing for you; offering you the moments where your input is needed (influencer selection and draft approval) in our simple to use web interface.
I take a laissez faire approach to management. When you treat people like adults they either step up and do so or do not. At the same time, I think having them set their own goals to either meet or exceed is much more important than you setting goals for them. Finally, I believe that if you have people that are properly self motivated (carrots) that is much more powerful than management by fear (sticks).
No one really knows anything. I just gave you my thoughts and predictions but in no way are those set in stone. We are all just making it up as we go along. Don’t be intimidated because your thoughts and ideas with a fresh set of eyes are as valuable as the weathered ones.