Eetu Raudas, founder of StyleDoubler tells us about the monetization of social content.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eetu Raudas: Thank you for asking. My family and I are doing great regardless of the situation. However, it wasn’t this easy during the early stages of the pandemic. I was supposed to be in my home country, Finland, for a week to meet some family after an extended business trip in Asia. A day before my scheduled departure, I heard the government’s announcement for closing the borders and issuing a full lockdown. All the flights by the airline also got unexpectedly canceled, and my week’s trip turned into a full 8 months. Being separated from my spouse living on another continent for all that time was somewhat challenging.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded StyleDoubler.
Eetu Raudas: Prior to founding StyleDoubler, I have built 3 international platform companies for E-Commerce, Customer Feedback, and Online Booking. My last few years before this venture, when running an E-Commerce marketplace, taught me the massive potential of influencer marketing in the industry. We saw what we believe was a huge pricing bubble taking place in the rapidly growing influencer marketing industry.
As we had worked with plenty of influencers to promote our venture in the past, and while coming from a very data-driven business background, we failed to understand why marketers were paying flat (and sometimes very large) fees for a single post and thought that there simply must be a better way to run influencer marketing at scale.
As we saw happen in the past with banner ads, for example, they are priced at similar flat fees during the late 90s and early 2000s, eventually getting disrupted by fully performance-based advertising networks. Today one wouldn’t even consider buying a banner ad on a website for a flat fee, with no correlation with impressions, clicks, or conversions. Yet this is how the $6 billion-dollar influencer marketing industry operates today. This is why we founded StyleDoubler, a 100% performance-based influencer marketing platform for E-Commerce, where marketers pay quantified results such as the volume of traffic or verified purchases.
How does StyleDoubler innovate?
Eetu Raudas: Since the beginning of this journey, our team has Content always been distributed across two continents: product management in Helsinki, Finland, and engineering in Riga, Latvia. Our business development is based in Southeast Asia, the fastest-growing E-Commerce market on the planet. So what this means for us is that we have always run our operations remotely, giving much room for individuals to work at their own pace across time zones. We have seen this as a very productive arrangement for innovation. Our team members have more personal freedom to generate new ideas and put them into practice quite autonomously. We also have more hours in the day since we never had to spend time commuting to an office.
On top of this, we talk to our key users and customers every day through different messaging platforms such as WhatsApp. Our online community has an ongoing discussion about potential improvements and even some occasional crazy ideas. For us, this has proven to be a very effective method to keep ahead of our competitors.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Eetu Raudas: We haven’t seen a negative impact by the coronavirus on our business. This is likely due to the fact that we operate in social media (usage has grown tremendously during the pandemic) and E-Commerce, which has also seen explosive growth. In fact, the pandemic is helping us grow even faster since marketers are increasingly gravitating towards performance and ROI measurement in their influencer marketing efforts.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Eetu Raudas: I think it’s pretty normal to see some level of employee turnover in any organization. We have been quite lucky in this sense, as our team has stayed together throughout the journey so far. I believe it’s due to our supporting and freedom-giving culture. From my previous experience in building companies, I have learned the importance of having a robust Shareholders’ Agreement in place upon incorporation. It is very rare for the founding team to stay together until Series A onwards. A good SHA will help lay down the terms for a potential founder exit, should it happen somewhere down the road. My advice, especially to fresh startup CEOs, is to work extra hard to ensure proper communication, build trust, accountability, and result-orientedness across teams and individuals. The only way is to lead by example.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Eetu Raudas: This is an interesting question. We only use email for communication with new customers or certain external stakeholders. Other than that, we have pretty much abandoned the use of email. For managing our existing relationships, we primarily use WhatsApp groups for community discussions and private conversations.
Our goal is to always have a real person to discuss with users and customers in a very personable manner, through a channel that is the “path of least resistance” for most people. Even though this doesn’t sound too scalable, we have proven it to be the best way to be in sync with the key stakeholders. It’s often how the best ideas come to life. It’s important to remember that even a single breakthrough idea will make up for the effort.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Eetu Raudas: Yes, we are very lucky to have been incorporated in Finland. Finland has probably the most extensive grant schemes for startups in the world, provided by several government agencies such as ELY and Business Finland. Even though we utilize grants wherever possible, this has not been a key factor to our success, as we have been profitable since our launch in 2019.
Your final thoughts?
Eetu Raudas: Every startup journey is different, and each stage of development brings forth its own challenges. We believe the key to success is to have an unwavering stubbornness about the long-term vision while remaining extremely flexible for the short-term details. Yes, it’s very much a paradox.
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