We spoke to Leia Ruseva of EllisX on how they help startups tell their story.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Leia Ruseva: We’re well, thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded EllisX.
Leia Ruseva: Our story is quite serendipitous. When my co-founder, Richard Mensah, and I met, each of us had independently arrived at the problem EllisX is now solving. Personally, I discovered the problem while working on a non-profit that aimed to bring more visibility to immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States. Founders with whom I worked would constantly ask if I knew media or event organizers who would want to tell their stories, which made me realize that the barrier to access is very high unless you know the right people. This was confirmed further when I found out that American-born entrepreneurs were facing the exact same problem. At that point, I met Richard and shared my findings with him. He had experienced the problem first-hand as an entrepreneur in Ghana, and the pain point really resonated with him. We spent about a year getting to know each other and started EllisX together in June of 2019.
How does EllisX innovate?
Leia Ruseva: We’re the first B2B marketplace that matches startups with media and event organizers based on mutual interest. This way, startups can tell their stories via relevant podcasts, articles, and events, in front of ready audiences who want to hear about their products. Nowadays, people don’t just buy products. More than ever, they care about the story of the brand, its values, and its mission. Storytelling is the best way for them to learn about all this, especially if it’s via shows they already listen to or publications they read and trust. With EllisX, startups can do all this for a small monthly fee. It’s the beginning of the authentic marketing movement.
On the flip side, creators and event organizers are always looking for interesting stories and speakers. Relying solely on your network has its limits and often limits diversity and representation. With EllisX, they can easily discover qualified and verified experts beyond their networks and present a broader variety of voices to their audiences. And since they don’t receive monetary compensation from the startups, they always have an incentive to pick the best people.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Leia Ruseva: As a remote-first team, we were ahead of the curve when the pandemic started, and the transition has been easier for us.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Leia Ruseva: When the pandemic hit, our product allowed startups to connect only with event organizers. We found that the number of events significantly slowed down at the beginning of COVID-19. We had spent the previous couple of months focusing only on event organizers and saw our supply dry up. This incentivized us to switch our focus on media and launch our media product very quickly. We launched it fully in June 2020 and have been able to provide our customers with new opportunities to tell their stories this way. By staying agile, thinking outside the box, and being aware of current trends, we were able to continue delivering a great experience for our customers. We learned that we should never lose our ability to be nimble, so we can swiftly react to market changes.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and EllisX in the future?
Leia Ruseva: We’ve found that the best way to deal with stress and anxiety is to execute our vision consistently. Stress typically stems from being overwhelmed, and the only way to reduce it effectively is to do the work necessary to bring us closer to making our vision a reality.
We envision a world where companies will be able to find customers by meeting people where they are (e.g., the shows they like to listen to) instead of spending money on paid Ads. The truth is that none of us look at paid Ads anymore, yet companies spend hundreds of millions every year on advertising. At the same time, 70% of consumers and 80% of business buyers don’t look at them and prefer discovering new products via media and events. There’s a real gap that EllisX can fill and ensure that people are not bombarded with messages they don’t want to see and instead find out about helpful products through publications they love. It’s a win-win for customers and companies alike.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Leia Ruseva: We are creating a new market category but still have indirect competition. Services like HARO that match people with reporters and bloggers have been around for more than a decade. However, HARO specifically is in the consumer space, is extremely manual, and does not verify the people who sign up as sources. In fact, there have been incidents of people posing as someone else and being quoted in an article this way, which means that the media have to research every submission they receive.
There are also services like MuckRack, PressHunt, and JustReachOut that help companies get press. However, all of them emulate the agency model, which sends email pitches directly to the media without requiring mutual opt-in. In addition, they only offer access to media and not to public speaking engagements.
Last but not least, there are services like LinkedIn, LunchClub, and Twitter, which facilitate connections between people, but these connections are rarely targeted and often depend on one’s already existing network.
While there is a good amount of competition, the truth is that these solutions have traditionally underserved startups and small businesses. Effectively, we create a new market segment to serve these companies and help them find repeatable inbound marketing channels by connecting directly with media and event organizers interested in their stories and telling their stories in front of highly relevant audiences.
Your final thoughts?
Leia Ruseva: Building a great business is always hard, especially so under the current circumstances. However, history shows that some of the most iconic companies were started during or on the heels of a recession. Apple, Uber, Airbnb, Stripe, and many others were formed during a recession. There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had disastrous consequences worldwide, but I am optimistic when it comes to economic recovery. Human ingenuity tends to thrive under pressure and during difficult economic times. I believe that this year will offer fertile ground for innovation and give rise to a number of great businesses.