[caption id="attachment_191488" align="aligncenter" width="690"]Irish Ong, co-founder and CEO of AlphaConcepts Irish Ong, co-founder and CEO of AlphaConcepts[/caption] In today's world of brand advertising, much of it happens online — via social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This has led to an explosion of a new breed of influencers (also known as brand spokespersons) who may not be celebrities in the traditional sense (actors, musicians, models), but are able to command a large following on their social media channels due to a variety of reasons: good looks/body, ability to generate viral content, or others. AlphaConcepts, a HK-based influencer marketplace is riding this wave by helping brands connect with suitable influencers more easily as well as help them optimise their advertising spend. The startup was founded by Irish Ong, a professional model with about 10 years of experience in the modelling industry. This long exposure to the industry allowed her to pinpoint some of the shortcomings of its practices, mainly the inefficiencies of hiring and using influencers. Founded nine months ago, AlphaConcepts has since partnered with 1,160 influencers and 50 brands. It recently raised a US$200,000 seed round from four angel investors in Hong Kong and will use it to ramp up product development and expand its market presence. In an email correspondence with e27, Ong talked more about the genesis of the startup, the specific pain points it wants to tackle, and more. Here is the edited excerpt:

Can you tell me more about your background?

I've started my career in modelling at the age of 14, and have been in the fashion, digital media, and TV industry in Asia Pacific working with major brands and walking fashion week runways. In 2014, I represented my country, The Philippines, in DIVA TV's reality show "SupermodelMe Sirens" which was aired across Asia.

What inspired you to form AlphaConcepts?

In the modelling industry, photo shoots are created one by one for advertising purposes. Content production requires the whole team of creatives, photographers, models to do one great shot, meaning processes are slow to publish ad campaigns in magazines and newspapers. While these channels worked well before the digital age, I've always found it slow and unsure whether the contents created are the credible enough to engage with the brands' consumers. As I tried to discover ways to innovate marketing, Asia's startup ecosystems continue to boom, and the Jessica Alba's Honest Company dream becomes more probable than before. I started to connect with business owners, like-minded talents, and adventurers in the startup community.

What are the pain points AlphaConcepts seeks to tackle?

For brands: the problem is similar to what Uber, Airbnb, Deliveroo are trying to solve. Currently, there are no efficient ways to connect influencers to brands. This market is highly fragmented. Companies have tried to hire influencer managers to focus on searching, managing, and organizing influencers only. These managers will also negotiate fees of influencers individually, explain the campaigns manually, and find new influencers after every single campaign. This is extremely time-consuming, ineffective and inefficient. Also Read: AI is set to kill digital marketing, thus marketers need to evolve AlphaConcepts is effective in creating and distributing quality contents in quantity by leveraging digital influencers vs. traditional celebrity. To illustrate: imagine if we ask a famous celebrity who has 1 million followers to post one photo. The same amount of money paid to the celebrity can allow AlphaConcepts to attract:
  • 50 influencers with 20k follower each of your choice (i.e. same number of follower base as the famous celebrity).
  • 50 better crafted, quality contents from 50 minds.
  • These 50 photos can be posted on say 50 days, instead of one photo posted on one day.

Tell me more about the mechanisms of the platform. How does it help advertisers or other companies engage with influencers?

AlphaConcepts is a marketplace that connects brands with influencers.
  1. In the span of few minutes, marketers can create a campaign giving us information about their products, and what they want to see in the photos and hashtags.
  2. Influencers then see the offers and apply for the campaign through their mobile app.
  3. Influencers will then get the product and submit their photos/videos to us.
  4. Once approved, influencers publish the contents and earn.
Now, instead of brands looking for influencers one by one, influencers find them through the AlphaConcepts app. Once they publish their campaigns, thousands of verified influencers can see their campaign and apply for it at once, they can also filter their targeted influencers that fit their brand image. Also Read: Today's top tech news, January 9: fashion company 'Steve Jobs Inc.' wins lawsuit As of now, we cater mostly on Instagram as it gives influencers and brands the most number of outreach and engagement. We are also gearing towards YouTube and Facebook for video contents.

How is this better than existing influencer marketing platforms available?

Most other platforms act as an agency for influencers wherein they are only engaged once they are selected by a specific brand. In AlphaConcepts, we aim to be an open platform for influencers not only to earn money from campaigns but also to redeem free products of their choice akin to a VIP membership program. They now have options, rather than simply reacting when brands select them. We believe our business model would create an infrastructure for engagement of influencers.

How big is your team?

[caption id="attachment_191499" align="aligncenter" width="690"] AlphaConcepts' Hong Kong team[/caption] I've been fortunate to work with a talented team of 7 people. We have a former 9GAG Android Lead (Alex Lau) who's now our tech co-founder, and other team members who have a background in finance, design, and advertising.

What challenges did you face in forming the company?

Initially, we had a different concept of connecting all models in the world to create value for brands. However, we pivoted into a more scalable concept and started working on that in late 2016 and launched in 2017, which relates to the current form AlphaConcepts.

Why was your initial concept not scalable?

We don't want to compete with something that has already been doing very well in the industry. Modeling agencies are very structured, the top 3 local agencies in each city would have already captured the market. Additionally, it's not as segmented as the influencer market. Now, the influencer industry, on the other hand, is something that is somewhat happening online already, but no one has been very successful in leading the market yet.

What does AlphaConcepts have in store for 2018?

In the first quarter, we are launching an Android version of the mobile app to further enhance growth. Apart from that, we will continue to focus on product development effort and enhance our data and analytics capabilities for our clients.

Approximately how much revenue have you earned so far? What is the Month-on-Month (MoM) growth?

Based on our confidentiality agreement with investors, we cannot disclose revenue at this point. However, having said that, we have a consistent MoM growth of around 30 per cent in our key KPIs. Our KPIs include number of influencers, combined outreach, and engagement. -- Image Credit: AlphaConcepts