Aydin Acar and Elizabeth Scherle are the Co-Founders of Influenster, the product discovery and reviews destination that enables consumers to find new products and get advice to make informed purchases. Influenster's 1.5MM+members have written over 5MM reviews on over 1MM products, spreading the word over their social media networks.
Under Aydin’s leadership, Influenster has become a data driven, efficient market research platform with a distinct marketplace position. He has built the platform as a hub of consumer activity that collects an average of over 650 data points per member that marketers can activate for insights. Responses to Influenster surveys have held steady at over 82% return due to the gamified elements that drive response rates and eclipse the research industry average. Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Aydin received his BA in Political Science at Hunter College and MA in Political Science and Masters of Survey Research from the University of Connecticut.
Elizabeth runs the business development and client partnership departments that work with brands like Unilever, P&G, L’Oréal and eBay to conceive and execute review and content generation programs across key consumer verticals. She also manages the social and community teams to best leverage and activate the membership community to become brand ambassadors for clients. Under her leadership, Influenster has grown from one test program in 2010 to over one million products distributed thus far this year. Originally from Henderson, IA, Elizabeth received her B.A. in Marketing from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
How did you get into the Tech industry?
Aydin: We were separately working in the market research and product sampling industries when we realized that if we modernized both industries and combined forces through technology, we’d be able to bridge the gap between brands and consumers, as well as harness the power of the consumer voice through social media.
Tell us about Influenster. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Elizabeth: The Influenster idea was born out of a casual coffee catch up between Aydin and me at a Nolita cafe more than five years ago. Back then, I was working at an fashion events startup where I partnered with Fortune 500 clients to facilitate the distribution of product samples to shoppers who attended events. While these women loved the products, there was no data collection whatsoever. Aydin was caught on the opposite end of the problem - he was working at a market research firm that was slow at collecting data from consumers. After listening to our clients and their desire for a more efficient way of collecting targeted data, we put our heads together to dream up the perfect solution - Influenster was conceived to activate consumers in their social media networks while feeding marketers with real-time data and feedback. This business emerged from a need in the marketplace - the old fashioned way!
Aydin: In the early stages we started as marketing vehicle to drive trials, social advocacy, reviews and insights for clients while getting our members excited about sampling new products targeted at their interests. Over the years, we listened to our members who wanted to be able to write reviews on all products, not just the products they tested. We then evolved our business model to keep the marketing arm of our startup while expanding it into a full product discovery and integration experience as a go-to product reviews destination for consumers.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Influenster's success?
Aydin: We’ve been able thrive as a business with zero advertising budget. Through word-of-mouth marketing, we have grown our membership community organically through listening to their needs, giving them what they want, making them feel connected and empowered, letting them brag about the products that they test and review and inviting their friends to be a part of the action. This is a similar approach that we adopt to get brand partners excited about our model.
Elizabeth: Through Influenster, these brands are not seen as ads, they are the reward and main attraction to consumers - it’s a win-win situation. Members love testing products that fit into their interests and lifestyles so they are happy to share details like where they shop or brands they typically buy, while brands want to reach a targeted audience and collect valuable data on them. We help these brands populate the digital sphere by creating campaigns that involve activating our members in their social media networks. Through our gamification model, we invite them to participate in surveys, write product reviews, create product lists etc. to earn badges that they can show off on their Influenster profiles. Through targeted product sampling, we invite members to test and review products if they’d like to. As a result of the amplification of these consumer posts across social media platforms, we help brands, both established and new, and their new products enter the conversation and get to the forefront in a cluttered market.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Elizabeth: We’re in the mobile era where reviews are the present and future of digital marketing. We help our brands reap the value of mobile point of sale by moving our members towards in-store action. With our recent launch of the Influenster app version 2.0, we’re capitalizing on the development by enabling our members to compare products and discover new ones in stores to help them make better purchase decisions on the spot.
Aydin: Now more than ever, people trust opinions of other consumers more than paid advertisements. People do not make purchasing decisions without checking out reviews. By directly connecting brands with targeted consumers, we populate a lot of user-generated content and product reviews that empower consumers while simultaneously creating sales for the brands.
Aydin: "A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow."
Elizabeth: Discover. Review. Share.
Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Influenster? Most difficult moment - how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Aydin: It’ll definitely have to be getting Influenster up and running entirely profitable on its own. This success didn’t come easy. Unlike many start-up founders we put all of our focus on building a viable product and a sustainable company instead of just focusing on raising funds. Elizabeth and I received a lot of “no’s” from these prospective brand partners at the beginning because our product was new and the brand was unknown , but we weren’t willing to give up and offered to give them free trials which finally won them over with the success of the campaigns. From then on, they were on board and new business opportunities kept pouring in through referrals. This was all done without any help from institutional investors! We learned that if you’re confident in the potential of your business model, work hard and persevere and you’ll hit the ground running.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Elizabeth: Find a business partner who is going to take your startup to the next level. Aydin and I are very close friends which means we can be very honest with each other, trust each other 100%, and bring different skill sets and perspectives to the table to grow the company. It has to be a healthy balance of someone who both challenges your ideas while at the same time you can count on to always have your back.
Aydin: You also have to believe in yourself. While it’s good to take criticism, absorbing too much advice can be distracting. You have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t implement all ideas or suggestions - others don’t necessarily understand your business the way you do after all.
Describe the ideal experience using Influenster.
Elizabeth: When you’re at a shopping aisle trying to decide which wrinkle cream to buy - the $100 super prestige brand or the $25 more mass one - you would scan the barcodes of both products with the Influenster App and compare them side by side through reviews from other women with a similar skin type to your own. You can also build lists (like wish lists or shopping checklists), browse other members’ lists, write reviews on other other products, ask or answer questions, and discover other top products based on the products that you follow.
How do you motivate your employees?
Elizabeth: Motivation comes from being challenged. We have many intelligent, hardworking professionals on our team who are given a huge amount of responsibility at a young age. Some negotiate with Brand Marketing Directors while others present to top executives. etc. We are a startup that is rapidly growing so we’re constantly creating new procedures and better ways to do things. Instead of telling our employees what to do all the time, we challenge them to come up with solutions to present to us. Employees feel impassioned when they can see their own ideas rollout and come to fruition. This is what inspires them to be connected to our brand, and motivates them to keep pushing the boundaries and take the initiative to grow the company. Some of these results include new products and services such as app launches, site upgrades, fun articles and YouTube videos. We empower them with very important job scopes and that is motivation.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Aydin: Nutella and Laphroaig Scotch, but not necessarily together.
Elizabeth: Grapes (I go through an entire bag a day) and Champagne with Campari with lots of ice.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Elizabeth: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I like to read about people in other cultures, and with this book, India is the next country I want to visit.
Aydin: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. I prefer non-fiction - business strategy books in particular - that can help me to better challenge my own notions of running a startup.
Elizabeth: Lately I’ve been reconnecting with my artistic roots. I made a project room in my apartment where I draw, paint and reconstruct clothes.
Aydin: My 96 lb “puppy” Chaplin. He accompanies me to work every day and has become our office mascot.
Favorite travel destination?
Elizabeth: We both love traveling and always look forward to visiting Aydin’s hometown, Istanbul.
What's next for Influenster?
Aydin: We’re looking to expand into the Canadian and UK markets by the end of this year. We’re also developing our API to allow our members’ rich content to live anywhere on the web, not just on our app or website. With all these exciting developments on the horizon, we’re ultimately aiming to become a household name for product reviews.
Influenster App in the Apple App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/influenster/id917701230?mt=8
Influenster App in the Google Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.influenster