A reflection on building, launching and re-launching Airfluence.
The first iteration of Airfluence.com.au was built 3 months ago, over 24 hours with $173.50.
We did this while working our full-time jobs:
- Duncan is the Chief Technology Officer of an upcoming Medical Technology startup & INDX.GURU.
- I head the Product team at INDX.GURU and just finished up my Biomedical Engineering thesis.
Needless to say, it’s been a busy year for both of us.
As we enter 2019, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on Airfluence, how it came to be and what progress we have made to date.
This is our story.
An Unlikely Pivot: Skincare Company to Influencer Tech
At the beginning of 2018, before Airfluence, Duncan and I were working on an organic skincare project called Arome. We had stitched together the assets to manufacture and distribute a range of impressive hand-made organic skincare products globally.
The go-to-market strategy was simple and straightforward: we would implement a top-down influencer marketing strategy. Very similar to the approach adopted by HiSmile over the last couple of years. It’s an expensive approach, but if done correctly, can generate significant long-tail engagement and drive repeat purchases.
Swinging for the fences.
Very quickly, we started having conversations with some of Instagram’s largest and fastest growing Influencers. To my surprise, there was immense interest from multiple management groups to collaborate and white-label the product on an equity/revenue share arrangements. We narrowed our focus and doubled down on the most promising relationship in the pipeline, putting the remaining conversations on hold.
Everything was progressing as planned. At the rate we were moving, Arome was set to be a success before it had even started. We were about to secure a partnership with an Influencer that had a distribution channel of 20M+ highly engaged followers.
After a couple of months crafting legal documents and finalising relationships with manufacturers and distributors, things went sideways.
The deal quickly went sour and we were no longer receiving responses from the key personnel of the management team. Weeks passed and we were informed that this Influencer decided to decline the deal. It turns out they ended up pursuing the exact same deal but with a much larger, well-known skincare brand. A known entity. We’d been blown out of the water.
We quickly turned to our alternative strategy: a bottom-up, micro-influencer approach.
We thought a micro-influencer strategy could be just as effective as having a well-known figure involved in the business if we could collaborate with thousands of individuals at scale.
For this approach to work, we needed full flexibility to:
- Identify influencer audience analytics (like Google or FB ads) — including gender, key categories, age etc.
- Identify all the relevant influencer in select locations.
- Click a button and have hundreds (or even thousands) of collaboration deals signed, executed and monitored.
We didn’t have time to email and identify people individually. The arduous process of collecting and saving BSB/Account numbers, sending out products via AusPost and monitoring collaborations was a daunting task. There had to be a better way.
When searching for options, we found a number of half-baked platforms that promised the world yet delivered subpar product experiences. Some had awkward monthly subscriptions and others had ridiculous 20% service fees. Most had scraped influencer accounts and made it seem like their platform was thriving when in reality it was not. Response rates were very low. It wasn’t looking good.
F*ck it, we’ll do it ourselves.
We decided to build an internal platform that would help us scale out Arome’s micro-influencer strategy and later decided it would be better to open this up to brands similar to us.
The first iteration of Airfluence.com.au was built over 24 hours with $173.50. It was built on a Tuesday night. A beer in hand.
The product was stripped down, bare and one-dimensional. But that didn’t matter.
There was just one objective: get to market in less than a week.
We couldn’t waste time on this if it didn’t work.
We treated it like a startup, not a side project. We wanted feedback. All of it. The good, the bad and especially the ugly.
Prior to launch, we had a couple of very simple hypotheses:
- If we could offer a frictionless and free sign up process, influencers would be encouraged to sign up.
- If we offered a one-click collaboration feature with low fees, brands would use Airfluence over existing competitors in the market which are over-priced and convoluted.
Airfluence went live just two days later. We sent it out to a number of our friends and asked them to share it around. Before we knew it, 100 influencers in the Sydney area had signed up. $0.00 CPA.
There was just one problem. Airfluence only adds value if brands collaborate regularly with Influencers on the platform.
We quickly took to the Sydney Startup Facebook Community and let them know about Airfluence. The response was fantastic.
We had 15 brands reach out to us almost instantly. That evening I was in coffee meetings throughout Surry Hills trying to get as much feedback as possible. The conversations we had with these brands really set the foundation for the next iteration of Airfluence.
While “Influencer Marketing” is certainly a congested space — the response we received indicated that something in the space was missing. We are on a journey to figure out what that missing ingredient is.
By 17 August, we decided to put a hold on Arome and focus on Airfluence. Not only would it help brands more affordably scale their content marketing strategies, but it was also something that many of our friends were using to find collaborations. That was enough for us to continue working on it — even if it would ultimately “fail”.
Our progress to date
After meeting with a number of supportive brands and influencers, as well as consulting our network of mentors, we decided to take down the original version of the platform. It was a hard decision to make, but in hindsight, it was the right one.
We decided it was not possible for us to grow the existing platform, build a new feature set AND prioritise working our full-time jobs.
We’ve been heads down working away the last couple of months building something we think is quite special and are excited to share a number of key milestones we have reached right before the year is over.
1. We launched. Again.
We have launched a completely rebuilt and rebranded version of Airfluence. It’s been live for a little over 7 days (at time of writing) and we have already accumulated access to a network of 2 million+ followers. This number is compounding every day. A really great start.
2. Brand Features: Secure Payments, Disputes & Messaging
During our discussions with brands, we found that they were particular about ensuring campaigns were completed on time under the right collaboration constraints. So we made an internal decision to prioritise “trust” among brands.
- With that in mind, we implemented an escrow powered payment system. Brands will not pay Influencers until they manually accept that the collaboration has been completed in the fashion they instructed. If a brand isn’t happy, they can click dispute and initiate a review to refund the transaction.
With this, we put additional time and effort into the messaging and notification system to ensure a smooth, scalable and transparent collaboration process.
3. Raised our first ever Angel Round
Three months ago there was absolutely no way that Duncan and I thought we could realistically raise money by the end of 2018. We were behind on the product build and it didn’t seem like we would be launching the second version until early 2019. We somehow pulled ourselves together and found enough hours in the day to get Airfluence 2.0 out the door.
At the same time, we were able to sell the vision of what Airfluence could be and that, in fact, we were the right people to get it there based on our experience building and scaling products.
Raising money was a new experience for Duncan and me, and was certainly an achievement that turned this 2018 into a highlight year.
4. Hired two AMAZING interns
We’ve been fortunate to bring on board two very talented interns James and Julian. These were two of the first people who saw Airfluence after we launched and instantly asked: “how can we help?”. Duncan and I loved that. They’ve been helping us ever since on an array of different projects which we’ll announce early next year.
Looking forward to 2019
Currently Airfluence is the core of something much bigger we are looking to create. We’re working hard to bring new features and updates that will fulfill our original vision of building a truly scalable content creation and distribution engine for brands.
We look forward to sharing our journey with you as we head into the new year 🙂
If you’ve made it this far down the post and you’re a Brand looking to grow your influencer/content engine, flick me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can chat.