Authenticity, disclosure and discipline: How Jules Lund built a tribe of 20,000 influencers

TRIBE

Left to right: TRIBE CEO Anthony Svirskis and Founder Jules Lund

When influencer marketplace TRIBE launched with a requirement for social media influencers to own, or be willing to buy, the products they’d be recommending, there was ‘push back’ from those who were used to freebies. Believing authenticity to be paramount, founder Jules Lund stuck to his guns. A good thing too – today, the marketplace boasts more than 20,000 influencers. 

Launched by the TV and radio personality nearly two years ago, TRIBE connects leading brands with social media influencers to create word of mouth recommendations (based on a brief) at scale – quickly. To date, TRIBE has raised $8m across three funding rounds for its self-serve tech platform, which – in turn – has generated $3.5m for influencers worldwide. According to TRIBE CEO Anthony Svirskis, the company’s top 50 influencers make upwards of $2000 per month, and there’s even one who’s made over $100,000 through the platform: “It’s starting to become a sizeable and sustainable income and career”. With offices in Melbourne, Sydney, London, Mumbai and Phillipines and a team of 40 people, TRIBE undertakes campaigns globally, with some of its biggest clients being Dan Murphy’s, Moet, Aussie Farmers Direct, Priceline Pharmacies and 20th Century Fox.

In conversation with Dynamic Business, Lund and Svirskis discussed the problem TRIBE was created to solve, the ins and outs of the company’s business model, the principles and strategies they swear by and what excites them about influencer marketing.

DB: Jules – why (and how) did you create TRIBE?  

Lund: I initially designed TRIBE to solve my own frustrations and experiences in trying to create content for brands. It would often involve numerous people in a chain of communication and would take weeks or months to agree on a single sponsored post. Once I designed the workflow solution to this problem, I pitched the idea to a couple of key local business people who then joined as advisors. This was Matt Berriman who’s the CEO and Co-Founder of Unlockd Media, and Jane Martino who’d built and exited numerous businesses. They helped me raise the initial angel funding, which enabled me to bring Anthony in as CEO to execute and commercialise my vision. We officially launched in November 2015 with a total of four staff including me and Ant.

DB: What types of influencers does TRIBE support?

Lund: The influencer side of our marketplace is now just over 20,000 influencers and organically grows about 50-100 per day. These Influencers aren’t celebrities or insta-famous, they’re just everyday people with engaged audiences. We define an influencer as someone who has over 3,000 followers on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter who’s built up their following through their passions, whether it be fitness, fashion or travel. Anyone can download the TRIBE app, but to participate in campaigns, you need to have over 3,000 followers and also pass through an automated process, which uses AI to validate audience vitality. This scan looks at irregular audience behaviour and blocks anyone who raises flags outside the norms. It ensures complete integrity in our user base.

DB: Why do you require influencers to buy what they recommend?

Lund: For us, authenticity is key. We believe an influencer should already own the product, or be willing to buy the product, otherwise they have no right to recommend that their tribe does. When we launched with this concept we got a lot of push back from influencers as, prior to TRIBE, top-tier influencers were constantly being gifted products for promotion. But our influencers have really embraced the model and prefer talking about the products they already know and love.

DB: Do influencers tend to add the cost of purchase into their fee?

Lund: We find influencers charge the same rates regardless of whether they are buying product or not, which suggests the strength of authenticity in the model. There are exceptions when we run campaigns for new products or larger ticket items such as a car; however, creativity is often a solution. Mini (cars) ran a ‘spot a mini campaign’ which allowed influencers to snap Minis on the streets and speak about them aspirationally.

DB: With your two-sided marketplace, which side did you work on first?

Svirskis: Pre-launch, we decided that we needed five or so marquee brands to be in the app for when it hit the app store – this way, our early influencers could download the app and see the campaigns ready to go. It took time to convince brands to join and be patient; however, since there was no cost to them, they really had nothing to lose. As planned, once we launched, there were 5 brands in the app, including Vinomofo and Carmen’s, and it kicked off the early growth. By the end of Month One we had 25 campaigns, and 50 the next month. To date, we’ve now run over 3,500 brand campaigns with approximately 10-15 now launched per day.

DB: What key strategies fuelled the growth of TRIBE?

Svirskis: Maintaining focus and discipline in being a tech company driven by a self-serve platform. We’ve had countless opportunities to undertake high-touch agency type campaigns with larger budgets and margins, but this approach isn’t scalable. While the money is tempting, it’s more important to stay true to our core and focus on the scalability of our solution.

Our decision to have a model where influencers create content upfront before guarantee of payment, with brands only paying for content they decide to buy, has also been a major factor in growth; however, it came with considerable investment in market education and a lot of mistakes along the way.

DB: What has been one of the a key challenges you’ve faced?

Lund: One hurdle we overcame early was disclosure. Before we launched, we met with the ACCC to understand their stance on disclosure; however, the industry was so early-stage they hadn’t yet formed an opinion. With the advice from our legal team, we took the initiative to promote the requirement for ad disclosure before it was mandated. Due to the authenticity in our model, our influencers really didn’t have a problem with it and it allowed us to lead the conversation locally. Since then, guidelines from the Australian Association of National Advertisers have caught up and disclosure is now a mandated requirement.

DB: What has been the defining moment in Tribe’s story?

Svirskis: Our Series A was the biggest defining moment to date. It was a sizeable amount of money ($5.35M) and allowed us to expand internationally, and invest in resources and marketing. It has driven the company to new levels and takes us closer to thinking about another round of investment.

DB: What principles do you live by in the business?

Lund: I believe in the importance of quality and attention to detail. We focus very intently on the way our products, collateral and communications are presented, with rigorous quality assurance processes across development and marketing. There’s so much indirect value in design and it’s a fundamental part of our brand.

Svirskis: I’d add that we’ve been lucky to attract a great young team. Everyone we’ve hired has the same desire to make a difference in this industry. The culture and values surrounding the business developed naturally and has landed us in a really good place. It ensures the staff maintains excitement for the adventure we’re all on.

DB: Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue growing TRIBE?

Svirskis: We’re just at the start of the industry, so there’s plenty of growth in our core product and markets. We’ve also got some exciting new product extensions, which we’ll be releasing shortly, that give brands more flexibility with the type of content they wish to buy. Outside of that, we’re looking at the next location to expand to. 

DB: What currently excites you about the influencer marketing space?  

Lund: The latest iPhone release was highly exciting for us. When you look at all the features Apple is building into their products, most of them are focussed on creativity – higher quality cameras, video processors and ARKit. It truly aligns with our aim to enable everyday people to create content for the brands they know and love. It’s really exciting to see how this space will evolve in the next couple of years.