James Street, co-founder of Whalar, a marketing platform for social media influencers, shares his experiences in growing start-up businesses
We met during the first year of our business course at the University of Bath, and learnt quite early on that the corporate route wasn’t going to work for us. Being told that we looked ‘uncomfortable in a suit’ during a recruitment day was a pretty big indicator anyway. But we had the entrepreneurial spirit and, during our university placement, we set up a website about Marbella, sold advertising space on it and, over time, turned it into a franchise with approximately 40 people. After seven years, there were indicators that the business was slowing.
As an entrepreneur, you have to become adept at reading these signals and know when it’s time to move on. If you are not good at reading the signals you need to find someone who is. No one is good at everything.
We grew so fast that we won the Shopify Build a Business competition thanks to the number of sales we made during our first year of business.
We grew this business on Instagram, and when we took our prize – a week on Necker Island being mentored by entrepreneurs including CEO of hip-hop apparel company FUBU Daymond John and Founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson – we saw that influencer marketing was going to be the next big thing.
Our fellow competition winners had also used social media to grow their businesses. It was a common theme and it dawned on us that influencer marketing was poised to fundamentally change the marketing industry. We started Whalar in 2016.
Influencers want a lot of compensation for the work they put into their Instagram posts and the exposure it gives. However a cheaper alternative for businesses is to compensate influencers to post to Instagram stories, and it still gives businesses a lot of exposure.
Soon all businesses will be asking for Instagram story exposure. If you’re looking for influencers with whom to collaborate on a campaign, look beyond followers to engagement and ultimately values. What does the creator of the social media post stand for? What are his or her values and beliefs? The key to the power of influencer marketing is authenticity, and a mismatch between influencer and company will do more harm than good.
This is pretty simple in theory but no one likes to let people go. You’ve also got to know the right time to recruit to enable your business to grow.
We’ve been lucky in the people we’ve attracted to Whalar. Niko Croskery had been working with us on a freelance basis in the past, developing our Instagram account, and we knew he was the perfect person to develop the Whalar platform. Croskery is now our Chief Product Officer. We’ve also got people with whom we’ve worked before. So, conversely, if you get good people make sure you keep them. Our motto at Whalar is: ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ and it seems to resonate well.
At Whalar, we subscribe to the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen which is about small, gradual improvements rather than radical change. With continuous improvement you are encouraging the mindset of problem recognition, adaptation and change.
You are learning something new every day, which you can take with you into the future. I firmly believe that with each failure you are significantly improving your chance of success next time around.
James Street, co-founder of Whalar, an online marketing platform. He works with global brands such as Apple, Dior, Unicef, Nike, Unilever, Disney, Dyson and Adidas.
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