The In Conversation series is a chance for us to go deep with the people behind Victory Square Technologies’ twenty-plus portfolio companies. It’s an opportunity to give you an in-depth look inside what it is they do and who they are.
The latest in the series is a conversation with Vinod Varma, co-founder of Creator.co. The Creator economy is booming, as the marketing industry looks for new ways to switch things up in the Pandemic era. Creator.co is bringing brands and creators together to change the game with an ecosystem unlike anything else out there.
This is a portion of a Zoom conversation between Vinod and ex-CBC host James Graham. It has been edited for clarity, space, and Zoom dropouts. The full conversation will be made available soon as part of the VST podcast series.
James Graham: We’ll start as I start these conversations every time. What’s Creator.co and what’s the elevator pitch? How do you explain what you do to your parents?
Vinod Varma: Creator.co is an ecosystem that helps brands and creators grow on the back of the creator economy. Essentially we facilitate the exchange of products for social content between brands and creators which accelerates mutually beneficial growth for both parties.
James Graham: What differentiates you from the competition?
Vinod Varma: I think the big thing is we’re focused on cultivating a community for mutually beneficial growth. We’re much more than a platform, we’re really an ecosystem building innovative features to make life better for creators and brands. I think a lot of our competitors are more like CRMs or have an agency-type model, whereas we’re really a network and channel-agnostic ecosystem. Our mandate is to bring intrinsic and extrinsic value to our community by not only partnering with some of the world’s most innovative brands, but also by integrating with channels like Tiktok, and networks like Rakuten so we can present them with more opportunities than any other platform.
James Graham: Break down the Creator.co ecosystem for me. How would you best explain it?
Vino Varma: For creators, we’ve got a marketplace, we’ve got a campaign hub, and we’ve got tips, tricks, and resources to help them grow. The marketplace gives them an opportunity to become affiliates, try new brands and get discounts. The campaign hub gives them the opportunity to collaborate with new and exciting brands, so this is where they’re getting paid or sent products in exchange for creating content. Then we’ve got an awesome resource hub with a creator advisory board where they can learn how to grow, they can attend webinars, essentially kind of filling in the gaps on strategy and knowledge to give the creators that extra bit of push for when they’re collaborating and when they’re shopping in the marketplace.
James Graham: Do you find that there’s a bigger push to use from one side or the other? Are creators flocking to you guys to get involved or is it more people that are looking to get a hold of them?
Vinod Varma: It’s definitely both. We have over ten thousand creators a month signing up right now, which is awesome. It’s really been a really balanced group. There are tons of brands, especially with the emergence of e-commerce and Shopify and WooCommerce. We see more and more brands wanting to collaborate with influencers, understanding the importance of humanizing their brands. Then we have creators, for whom this creator economy side gig thing is obviously huge and only got bigger with COVID. They’re looking for more opportunities to partner with brands because for them, that’s clout. It also brings value to their audience, and bringing value to their audience is really the name of the game for them. That’s how they’re going to grow. That’s how they’re going to monetize.
James Graham: From a brand perspective, break it down, why is getting involved with creators and influencers beneficial for me?
Vinod Varma: From a brand perspective, it’s about building awareness, trust, and driving UGC (user-generated content. We humanize brands by giving them a trusted voice. Being able to put your brand in the hands of your ideal user, and having them share that experience with their thousands or tens of thousands of followers does an incredible job humanizing your brand, building awareness, trust, advocacy, content, and on the long tail, SEO, traffic, and sales.
James Graham: How deep do the insights and the analytics go? If I want to peel back the layers on the onion, how far can I go?
Vinod Varma: We have industry-leading insights on over five hundred million profiles on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. We understand things like their audience, languages, cities where they live, we can identify if they’re buying followers or buying engagement. In terms of fraud detection, in terms of identifying the right creators who are speaking to the right audience, we have industry-leading data and one of the world’s largest databases for creators. Brands typically don’t have any issues getting the data that they need to make the best decision for who gets to represent their brand.
James Graham: Let’s talk about the other side of the coin. Why is working with Creator.co beneficial for me as a creator?
Vinod Varma: We really focused on the micro creator. You put yourself in the shoes of a micro creator and they’re looking to get to ten thousand followers or fifty thousand followers or a hundred thousand followers. They do that by a few things: delivering value to their audience by creating fun and engaging content, and earning clout when they’re seen collaborating with reputable brands. We make it easy for them to create valuable content for their audience, we serve collaborations on a platter, so they can pursue their craft, and continue to build their own communities
James Graham: Can you talk about some of the brands and some of the creators that you are working with? Especially ones you’ve seen interesting results with.
Vinod Varma: We’ve done some really cool campaigns, especially during COVID. We worked with a ton of malls across Canada and actually increased sales during COVID for them by driving foot traffic through creators. There was a significant sales increase in several malls across Canada from our efforts that we executed with over a hundred influencers during COVID, that was a really fun one. We’ve worked with Walmart, and drove a 50% comp sales lift with a vendor of theirs as well which we won a Hashtag award for. Other brands like Crayola, Zero Water, which is Brita’s biggest competitor, Yumy Bear, Totally Chocolate, Beekeeper’s Naturals, Freeyumm, have saved on average 40 and $3000 per month. Then the creators: With over 10 thousand collaborations since inception, we’re on pace to do ten thousand just this year. We work with thousands of amazing micro Influencers like Frankie Cena, Well Daily, Niu.Views, and a plethora of others. I want to also mention that a lot of great brands come in through top-tier agencies like Ogilvy and Mather, Jelly Marketing, WPP, Geometry Global, and more who use our platform to alleviate the major pain points faced when trying to scale Influencer campaigns.
James Graham: Every entrepreneur has that lightbulb moment. They have the “aha” moment, I’ve found my pain point that can be solved. What was yours?
Vinod Varma: I used to be a buyer at Best Buy. I was responsible for launching a lot of the wearable tech that came out. So the Fitbits, Apple watches, that kind of stuff, and we used a ton of influencer marketing, it was awesome. We saw it working, you saw the content. The problem was it cost millions of dollars to do a quarter-million dollars (revenue), typically on average for a campaign. Two legal departments heavily involved, a lot of back and forth, difficult to scale. But it worked, and if every brand had a quarter-million dollars to spend they could probably make it work too. What I saw is just this huge gap between a brand like Best Buy, which is awesome, nothing wrong or against them. They move a lot slower, as do big companies. But there are thousands of small and medium brands that would benefit in just the same way Best Buy does from using influencers to promote the brand, promote products and get people into stores or on the website. They don’t have the tools available to them or the resources to scale campaigns the way Best Buy can with one of Canada’s largest marketing teams. That was kind of my moment where I’m like, at the end of the day, all we’re doing is trading products for tailored content and exposure here. Why isn’t there a platform for small and medium enterprises to connect with local creators? We can automate that entire process, that entire exchange. That was kind of my moment when I did a lot of the digging. There were lots of platforms out there. but they were really tailored to enterprise-type brands and agencies. They were less automated and more focused on a CRM and database approach while we’re more focused on community, ease of use, and truly automated workflows between the brands and creators.
James Graham: What don’t we know about Creator.co that perhaps we should?
Vinod Varma: We’re coming for that number one spot! We’ve been live for three years and cracked the top three influencer marketing platforms, in 2021 on Influencer Marketing Hub. The top ten combined have raised over a hundred and nine million dollars. So considering we’ve raised just a million dollars, I think we’ve done really well, and our team and investors deserve a ton of credit for helping us get here. We’ve got a lot of features in the pipeline that we think are going to catapult us to that number one spot in the next 12 months, I’d put money on it.
James Graham: So if that was the last three years, then where do you see yourself and where do you see the company in the next three to five years?
Vinod Varma: In the next three to five years, we’ll be the largest community of creators on Earth. We will be the number one influencing platform as recommended by Influencer Marketing Hub and probably some others as well. We’re probably going to play a big part in the Creator economy in terms of expediting its development and getting more people involved and having more people like you, James, and like Shaf (VST CEO Shafin Diamond Tejani), realize that they may have more pull than they think. With our new marketplace and affiliate features launching in September, Creator you guys can recommend products and brands you stand by to your friends, family, and followers and make some good commission (over 10%!). It might be interesting to people that never really thought of it as a side hustle or a career before. It’s going to be more than just pretty pictures and dancing on TikTok.
James Graham: Where do you see the creative economy going in the next couple of years? I know that Shaf just did an article talking about creator coins. We’re seeing the whole creator economy exploding, especially, in a post COVID era. What’s next?
Vinod Varma: I think tokenomics is a part of it. I think there will be more and more creative platforms building on blockchain and using tokenomics. Whether it goes on the blockchain or whether it stays in web app form, there’s an argument to be made, I think, for both. The majority of creators may not be ready for that step but there’s a lot of creators on the larger scale that are ready for that type of monetization. I think, to me, at the end of the day, the creator economy resonates with the fact that people are becoming the new storefront. I don’t think it’s going to be brands selling on Shopify and Amazon anymore. I think people are going to be buying from people in a digital environment. I think that that is the future of the creator economy, where people are the new face of the brand, and they’re empowered through technology to facilitate that sale without the need for an online store, or even merchant services. Headless commerce is evolving with the creator economy – It’s the people that are now the heads and nodes within the purchase and recommendation network. The front ends that we all used to shop on will not be as relevant when brands realize that people (they’re customers, advocates, and influencers) are actually driving the sales.
James Graham: What’s coming up for Creator.co that we can talk about?
Vinod Varma: We’re launching a new marketplace focused on “better for you, better for the planet” brands, where creators will be able to purpose, promote, and earn a commission for driving affiliate sales. We’re also launching a new creator coin that we’re working on with VST and we’re super excited for that. Those projects are in stealth mode right now but we believe they’re going to be something special, something that’s never been done before.
James Graham: What haven’t we talked about perhaps we should?
Vinod Varma: How our ecosystem blends e-commerce, affiliate sales, campaigns, and soon tokenomics in one dashboard for brands and creators. I think the winner of this space (influencer marketing) is not going to be a standalone platform. I think the winner is going to be one that attracts the biggest pond of creators, so to speak, and lets them play in that pond however it is they need to play. Whether that’s collaborating with brands, whether that’s driving social commerce, whether that’s through becoming affiliates for brands that they resonate with, or issuing their own tokens. I think that the space is definitely ripe for consolidation and I think the ones who survive are the ones that are thinking beyond just being an influencer platform, as most people think of them today.