How to win in business
Whichever way I look at it, having the opportunity to talk shop with Jessica Ruhfus, founder of Collabosaurus, was all kinds of inspirational with brain magic sprinkled on top. We talked about cross-promotional communities, Instagram’s shifting algorithms, the best ways to raise capital, and, well, the amazingness of kittens.
Jess launched Collabosaurus when she was just 22 years old (oh-my-gawd). She’s grown it from the ground up and today the collaborating platform has more than 4000+ brand partnerships.
I think the best way to describe the site is like Tinder for business – it works by ‘match-making’ businesses of all shapes and sizes for effective partnerships in events, social media and referral partnerships. Remember the time GoPro joined forces with Red Bull as its exclusive Point-of-View Camera and Content Partner? That, my friends, is a prime example of a media match made in heaven right there – and it worked to gain some serious exposure for both brands. It’s Collabosaurus’ job to make dream hook-ups like that easier.
Because let’s face it, making connections in business can be tough. Especially for sole business owners, start-ups, entrepreneurs and those of us who don’t have a massive, big-name network (or bank account) to draw on when times get tough. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’ve struggled. Recently, I was hurting with the never-endingness of this gig and my motivation levels were suffering as a result. So I reached out to Jess for some inspiration and she didn’t disappoint. Here’s just some of the wisdom she shared that left me feeling energised and motivated to tackle whatever comes next.
On the tough times
I’ve been a lone ranger on the business front for quite a while now, and aside from a few local gems, the rest of my team is scattered around Australia and there are times I ask myself ‘What am I doing?... What did I get myself into?’. Turns out, Jess has been there, done that, did the Podcast on it.
These were her circuit breaking tips:
Face the fear or identify the issue and outsource it
Identify your accomplishments in a daily diary
Get an accountability buddy and meet regularly
Change up your routine
Write a gratitude list
Schedule creative time
Break down goals into segments of time
Build a vision board and check in on it regularly
Surround yourself with friends who love you
“Of course, the tough times are inevitable – but trying to put things into perspective is really important. When something in business doesn’t go right - the world isn’t ending, no one has died. It’s just an email campaign or a bug in the website. Don’t throw in the towel just yet.”
On investor relationships
The relief that it wasn’t just me experiencing these ‘the end is nigh’ vibes was massive. It’s part of the process and what matters is how you deal with it at the time. Right now, I’m learning to outsource, something that even Jess struggles with.
“I’ve just hired a marketing manager to essentially take over my job, which kills me, because I love marketing,” she says. “But I need to transition my role into securing international partnerships, operations and investor relationships and reporting.”
Investor relationships, in particular, have always been a huge part of Jess’ skillset, so I was keen to find out more about how she’s worked on securing capital. Her key piece of advice? Start conversations with investors early and be open with them every step of the way.
“Start engaging potential investors now, whether you’re looking for investment or not,” says Jess. “Because no matter where your numbers are in that first meeting, they’re never going to be good enough because they haven’t seen growth, progress, or witnessed you overcome obstacles.
“So approach them when you’ve just started, then every three months report back to them on the challenges you’ve faced and the growth you’ve achieved. Then when it comes time for you to raise capital, they’ve been on the journey with you – you’ve established trust and confidence in your ability to kill it in the future because they’ve seen you be transparent with your problems, they’ve seen you ask for help, they’ve seen you grow and they’ve seen you prove progress over time. So don’t wait, start the conversations now.”
On going global
Investor chat naturally leads to scaling your business and Jess is currently seizing opportunities to attract brands from the UK, Canada and the US. There’s no doubt it’s increased Collabosaurus’ value, but the cost behind building and maintaining the technology can get exxy. Jess has been leveraging their own partnerships and existing community to keep them going, but to significantly scale at their target rate, venture capital is a no-brainer.
“We need investment – but we also need people who are experienced launching overseas. I’m not going to pretend to know everything about the UK or US market. We need to get investors on board who have done it before, who are connected in those areas and can really help us grow,” says Jess.
“But remember it’s more than the cash too – when raising capital you need to ask yourself ‘Can I have a beer with this person and tell them that everything has gone to shit?’. You essentially enter into a marriage with your investor, you basically get into bed with them, so you need to be comfortable and confident to have a conversation with them no matter what happens, whether you’re making billions of dollars internationally, or if things go terribly wrong.”
On the future of collaborations
Thankfully, the future for Jess and the business of collaborations looks bright. A report released by American Express in October last year actually surveyed 700 Australian businesses and found that the average ROI on collaboration campaigns equated to $430,000 a year per brand in sales uplifts, or savings of over $319,000. But while Australian businesses stand to gain millions of dollars by leveraging collaborations, pitching the concept has proven to be tough.
“While I feel like the concept of brand collaborations has been around forever, it’s hard to do because people aren’t sure how to pitch it,” says Jess.
“That American Express report also said that the average time it takes to secure a collaboration from beginning to end is about six months. So some small businesses might think it’s too hard, they don’t know how to go about it and it requires too much time. But with Collabosaurus, there’s no pitching involved because it’s a matchmaking site and it takes a quarter of the time to secure a collaboration.”
And once you’re met that dream match, you won’t look back. You’re essentially matched with a friend based on your abilities to help each other, tap into each other’s audiences and grow. Jess also recommends a shift in strategy towards multi-channel campaigns and to be wary of putting way too many eggs in the Instagram basket.
“Around 60% of our sales probably come from Instagram. It’s definitely a worthwhile tool, but its algorithm shifts so frequently that we don’t really have any control over how we reach our community long-term unless we’re building multiple channels,” explains Jess.
“So I think the future is heading towards recognising the leveraging of multiple channels in creative ways, particularly through collaboration. The best way to do that is by consistently collaborating with complementary businesses in different ways because that allows you to tap into new audiences again and again without ever spending a cent.”
Mental note – every possible touch point that you have with your community is considered a channel. I’m talking about event audiences, podcasts, blogs, media and publicity pitching, Facebook Groups, Facebook Lives, LinkedIn and of course, Instagram still very much has its place. There’s so much that can be leveraged for the benefit of your own unique audience. The possibilities are endless.
On the naysayers
Finding fellow businesspeople to talk to is key to staying motivated in this gig and the time I spent chatting with the incredibly talented and wise woman who is Jessica Ruhfus has proven that big time. I like to live my life in a proactive away and have this inbuilt drive to prove people wrong, something that also resonates with Jess.
“It comes from putting a positive spin on hardship. You’re going to come up against naysayers all the time, in fact my boss at my first PR job told me I wasn’t cut out for this industry. I launched Collabosaurus a year and a half later with 37 brand mentions splashed across the media. I’m not going to lie, that did motivate me.”
When I asked Jess if she’d sent her ex-boss a folder full of her media clippings, it was her response that motivated me. “No. Let the success be your noise. I’m sure she’s watching.”