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Trenzi CEO Calder Wong.
Trenzi CEO Calder Wong.

Social media has produced an entirely new class of celebrity. Those who rise to Internet fame have the potential to reach and influence thousands of followers. Actors, musicians, and other traditional celebrities have been sought out to promote products for years, but this new cohort of social media stars is a largely untapped market.

That was the impetus for Trenzi, a marketplace that matches social media influencers with businesses who need help promoting their products.

“We noticed that typical advertising mediums are very good at communicating ‘features’ of a product, but when an actual person refers a product, they do a way better job at communicating the ‘benefits’ of the product by stating how or why it fits into their lives—and that is powerful,” said Trenzi CEO Calder Wong.

Trenzi influencers share products with their followers and receive some form of reward based on how well the post performs. The Seattle startup launched last summer and recently graduated from the 9Mile Labs Accelerator.

We caught up with Wong for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

trenzi-icon-redExplain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Trenzi figures out how much a post to social media is worth to a company, and then brokers the exchange of the post for rewards. ”

Inspiration hit us when: “I was living in New York and shopping for a birthday present for my girlfriend at the time. I knew she had talked about shoes with red soles in the past, but didn’t know what they were. I had a co-worker that ran a small lifestyle blog come help me pick out the shoes. Because she owned a blog, she had access to an affiliate link. I bought the shoes through that link. When I bought the shoes, my girlfriend was happy with the shoes, my co-worker was happy because she made some money, and the shoe company got an incremental sale. It was a win-win-win for all parties involved, and it felt great. With Trenzi, we’re working on making transactions like that the normal way products are sold.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We bootstrapped Trenzi with founder contributions, and took a small amount of friends and family investment prior to joining the 9Mile Labs accelerator. We went with that approach because we had the skills required to ship a MVP already inside of our founding team. Now that the product is up and being used, we’re raising an angel round to fuel growth.”

Trenzi_Campaign_Screenshot

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Market-making social influence, and focusing our innovation around the transaction of influence for money. The influencer marketing space is still being fleshed out, and we don’t believe there is a clear winner yet. We’ve seen a few companies launch in the last few years, all with a slightly different approach. Generally, they are matchmakers, though, like a ‘Tinder for social media influencers’ and they help companies connect with influencers with value adds like analytics and demographic data.

Our approach is different. We think that in order to capture the influencer market, we first have to make it. Think of it like trading stocks. The price of a stock will move up and down depending on demand and outside influences. The value of a stock is always fluid. Social media posts by influencers are similar in that the value of a specific post depends on the quality of the post, timing, and revenue generated. Our system crunches empirical performance data to figure out what a post is worth in real-time. This opens up a lot of opportunities, the most important of which is that it allows influencers to self-select campaigns that will resonate with their audiences instead of waiting for a company to approach them with a deal.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Joining 9Mile Labs, hands down. 9Mile Labs is a B2B startup accelerator based in Seattle. When you are a small startup with a big idea, you usually don’t have a complete team. 9Mile Labs gave us a lot of benefits, but the most critical of which was access to mentors and thought leaders that helped us fill in some of the paradigm gaps in our team. This allowed us to avoid mistakes we would have made otherwise, and ship a better product.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Trying to incorporate advice from every channel we were receiving it from. Generally, we try to solicit feedback from as many people as possible. Those conversations can be awesome, and exciting, and really get your head spinning. But if you try to action all of those conversations at once, you lose development cycles, which can be fatal for a startup with limited resources. Our most significant personal growth over the last few months has been around getting better at discerning what advice to action and when. We’re not perfect yet, but meaningfully better.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “That’s really hard because each one of those names has elements that we really respect and admire. All three married human insight with technology offerings that fundamentally changed the human experience, and had the tenacity to see it through. But ultimately, we’d have to choose Bezos. He has a deep commitment to doing what’s best for his customers while maintaining business objectives, and he managed to permeate that commitment throughout his organizations. At Trenzi, we view both companies and influencers as our customers, and our offering is about making it easy for those two groups to help each other out to create value.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “It might sound simple, but it’s actually just sharing a meal. We’re all foodies, and getting out of the office and breaking bread is a nice context switch for us.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Grit. Startups, at our stage, are in almost a constant state of problem solving. New things come up every single day. This can be overwhelming, monotonous, and stressful. But it can also be exhilarating, interesting, and fun. We look for people that, when faced with a problem, just have an itch to solve it and have the grit to see it through.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “You need to be confident in yourself, your team, and your idea, but you also need to be able to react to change and new information. It’s a tight rope to walk. The best piece of advice I can give is to be very realistic with yourself about what you know with a high degree of certainty and what is still a hypothesis — a line that can get blurry. Know where that line is, and test it, constantly.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies participating in the 9Mile Labs incubator fall cohort. 

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