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Every startup has a story to tell. From the conception of an idea, to the first lines of code, early hires, and preliminary funding rounds – every company has a unique narrative.
But there are always shared experiences. Processes, tactics, and habits that shape the experience of the fledgling startup. In this series, Tales from the Trenches of Tech, we talk to founders to hear their perspectives on the key element to their successful strategies.
This week, we talked with Philip Bock, a Dane living in London, of Sponsta (Copenhagen/London). It’s a platform that facilitates collaboration between brands and Instagrammers. Its aim is to help brands create better content by working directly with talented Instagrammers.
No stranger to the world of advertising, Philip was at M&C Saatchi in London, working on Sponsta on the side. After signing up its first client, McDonald’s, the team decided to quit their jobs to work on Sponsta full-time. It was, he states, a “now or never” situation.
As social media marketing shows no signs of slowing down, advertisers are in constant need of good content. After talking to brands to produce sponsored content on his own popular Instagram account, Philip realized that he should be “facilitating this idea.” The startup now focuses on distributing authentic content created by Instagrammers via Instagram ads.
Since we reviewed Sponsta last year when it launched, it now has over 13,000 Instagrammers signed up. We asked Philip about Sponsta’s next steps in the world of brands, influencers, and marketing.
Hi Philip! Tell us about yourself.
I am a 26-year-old Dane living in London. I studied Creative Advertising in Copenhagen and moved to London to work for M&C Saatchi. I developed my idea for Sponsta on the side.
I’ve always been more drawn to digital media, looking at how brands can make use of new apps. After nine months I realized wanted to work on Sponsta full-time. Right now, we are headquartered in Copenhagen and I travel back there every month.
How did you come up with Sponsta?
I always look at problems and try to find a solution by coming up with creative ideas. I was a big Instagrammer and quickly saw the natural link between Instagram as a medium and the advertising industry.
I had the idea to sell my space to brands to produce sponsored posts. Then I realized I should be the one facilitating this idea but today we focus on content creation and actual Instagram ads versus using the Instagrammers as ad space.
When did you start pushing it out?
It all culminated in May-June last year. That’s when we got our first big client: McDonald’s. From there, we got attention from business angels in Copenhagen. We also had the chance to talk at Cannes Lions.
What’s your vision for Sponsta?
A lot of brands are struggling to get content for their social media marketing. It’s often poor quality or really expensive to create. That’s why collaborating with Instagrammers makes so much sense: creating content for social media is their passion and they’re really good at it.
However, it’s hard to get these collaborations to scale from finding the right Instagrammers, to communication, legal agreements and payments. That’s the problem Sponsta solves.
It’s about a brand teaming up with a content creator, having fun together and doing some cool stuff. The brand enables the Instagrammers to get better equipment and, in some cases, to travel.
Do you plan to expand to other social media networks?
We started on Instagram and it’s been our main focus but we will be expanding to other platforms. YouTube makes sense as a next step.
It’s a matter of people who are able to create nice content and influence people with that.
How are you dealing with the ease in which brands can now integrate their advertisements into people’s newsfeeds?
Instagram is able to keep developing their platform based on the revenue they get from Instagram ads. Although we enable our clients to buy Instagram ads directly on Sponsta, we’re not competing with them. We simply give brands access to better content which I believe benefits the brand and the audience.
Are you usually working with big corporate brands or smaller brands?
We’ve had McDonalds a few times and we just had Microsoft and Ford. Those are the biggest.
Our targets are agencies: social media agencies and advertising agencies. The agency comes to us with a campaign idea and they use our platform to do it.
There’s a nice opportunity to go to smaller brands who can’t afford to pay an agency. I definitely think a lot of smaller brands will enable them to create nice content in a cheap way.
In terms of pushing Sponsta out, what has been your biggest support?
Right before we launched actually, The Next Web was a big push for us, it gave us a huge amount of traffic. We got more attention from that piece than from actually speaking at one of the main stages in Cannes.
In terms of pushing it out, we’ve been on a very tight budget, none for marketing. I’m a creative but I’m not good at PR.
Where are your clients based?
We have a worldwide focus but we are based in London and Copenhagen. Most of our case studies are from Denmark, but we’re doing a lot more in London.
I think our market will be in London because Denmark, as a country, is a tiny market – we are 5 million people in total. London is about 9 million people alone.
The advertising industry has always been huge in London, both in media and creative. It’s a good place to be.
How do you compare the Copenhagen and London tech scenes?
I’m a lot more familiar with the startup and tech scene in Copenhagen than in London. Copenhagen is really interesting in the sense that, right now, there’s so much happening. We have organizations for cities, for the country, for the Nordic region.
Small grassroots organizations are popping up like Copenhagen For The Win. They do everything they can do to support and promote Copenhagen-based startups. They hosted an event in Copenhagen for idea-stage startups and let them pitch to angel investors and that’s how we got our first funding.
Copenhagen is such a small city so in the startup community, people know each other and you frequently see each other at events. I really like that aspect. It feels like a small town and you can keep track of startups.
London is big. It’s a melting pot of everything.
Last question: You’re stranded on a desert island. What three things do you bring?
I’m quite fond of Rocket League at the moment. Then I’d have to bring the television. And then my girlfriend because she would know what to do.
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