Five years ago, on October 25, 2017, we signed on a set of final paperwork to incorporate Affable Technologies Pte Ltd. Indeed with a vision to revolutionize social commerce. We, two former software engineers, today look at affable.ai growing into a leading global influencer marketing platform currently with over 4500 marketers as users, 120 clients and 60 employees worldwide, making this vision a reality.
Influencer marketing was still nascent when we started. At that time, we had a common hypothesis that social commerce would take over search-based commerce in the next decade. We had a strong belief that there would soon be a world where more consumers would purchase products while scrolling through their social media feed rather than searching for products on the internet.
Additionally, something happened on a personal level. Influencers on social media frequently reached out to our family business (a fashion label run by Swayam's mother) for paid partnerships. Even while it would pique our interest, we had no means of knowing if the partnerships would work out.
We put our engineering hats on and made a quick prototype to validate if software & data can help bring transparency to the influencer marketing space. We could combine social media data with artificial intelligence to identify the right influencers for not just one brand but every brand out there. And with that, affable.ai's journey began.
The vision was to build a platform that any brand could use in any part of the world to activate word-of-mouth initiatives through the power of social influence.
The exciting journey began with our friendship at Entrepreneur First in Singapore, where actual brainstorming took place — helping businesses reach their consumers via social media channels in a scalable way. Facebook Ads were already saturated, and the best way to reach consumers has always been through Word of Mouth. Brands were already engaging micro-influencers to scale their presence on social media.
We've had some good validation that micro-influencers can drive conversions for our customers. We wanted to extend this to nano-influencers and eventually everyday customers/employees/advocates of a brand.
As we embarked on this new era of creator economy and social commerce, we wanted to be present at every touchpoint where one can drive influence. It was a lofty goal but achievable. If we accomplish this, we can build a category-defining business in a big and expanding industry.
Working with influencers was very manual, time-consuming, and full of guesswork. There had to be a better way to engage social media micro-influencers while tracking the performance of these collaborations. The hunt for the solution led us to build affable.ai - an end-to-end influencer search and management platform.
Our first client was a men's fashion and apparel company trying to launch its products in Singapore through male micro-influencers with a predominantly male following. After spending a lot of time trying to do it manually, they used our search engine to discover micro-influencers that matched their target audience.
The client attempted to accomplish this manually and worked with various agencies but could never find the most suitable influencers for their launch. Using affable.ai, they had access to sieve through the data for every influencer in Singapore and were able to shortlist influencers in an hour! We were the only solution in Singapore with rich insights about any influencer's followers.
They had a successful launch and drove sales on day 1 through these influencers — a huge validation for us. Of course, it was one of our happiest moments and the first revenue for the company. We were onto building something that clients would actually need and pay for. PMF in our first year = music to our ears!
Our early backers - Entrepreneur First, Decacorn Capital, SGInnovate, Prime Venture Partners and some amazing individual angel investors/advisors - were convinced that this is a large enough problem and that our technology could be a disruptor in the space. With their conviction and support, we raised capital to hire a team and build a Go To Market strategy. Our investors have been amazing advisors on our journey and have guided us across hiring, expansion, product and go-to-market.
Five years down the lane, we are more focused on building an even more helpful and powerful affable.ai. We want our services to be accessible to as many businesses. Our USP lies in our data platform. And we have built an extremely powerful influencer engine on top of social media data. It includes best-in-class machine learning models that add several layers of intelligence to raw data that is aggregated and indexed at a massive scale.
Beyond saving our users’ time, our innovations include deep learning models to profile influencers, brands, audience interests, demographics, authenticity and engagement metrics, and more; so that marketers can make data-driven decisions when it comes to influencer marketing.
Rather than relying on vanity metrics like an influencer’s followers or post likes/comments, we used data to suggest the right influencers. Using image analysis, we’ve built a language-agnostic solution that could be scaled to any market speaking any language.
Today, we've grown 100% YOY while building a cash-efficient business. We continue to evolve by applying the most advanced technologies to solve pain points experienced when running influencer campaigns at scale.
Reflecting on the past involves both failures and lessons learned. There were times when clients expected us to build a specific solution for them rather than the product we had envisioned. Following that path would have completely hijacked our product roadmap. It taught us to focus on building a product that many clients require rather than building a one-off product for a specific customer.
One of the main lessons we've learned is — Stay true to the company's values and not compromise on the vision for short-term wins.
More importantly, rather than just having quarterly goals, keeping a view of the future, the quarter after two years, is important. It requires bringing in experts, delegating ownership, and giving them the freedom to operate as they deem fit without getting too involved in every decision.
Often being in the company's leading role, we try to juggle many things that may make us less efficient, sometimes a bottleneck for the team. But we understood it was okay to ask for help.
As service providers, we know we cannot build a one size fits all solution, so it's very important to focus on the right problem and solve it 10x better than anyone else in the industry because customers do not buy the platform — they buy a solution to their problems.
As we scale, we need to be mindful that the people we hire will hire more people, so every single person joining the team needs to embody the company's values. We spend a lot of time with people we work with (our Affabees), so it's important to hire people you'd like to genuinely spend time with. Equally, it is important to offer growth opportunities for existing team members. If they feel saturated/stuck, that's a failure for the company.
What makes us proud is our Glassdoor score, which stands at 4.9/5 as of today. We have worked hard to make Affable a company where people can do their life's best work. We believe in bias for action and being customer obsessed. We hold ourselves accountable, and we collaborate with our teams. Most of all, we celebrate empathy: for our customers and our teammates. All of these qualities are what make us affable.
As we look back at the founding years, we have so much gratitude for our Affabees, clients and investors. It's the people who have made this journey so rewarding. We'll continue to work together to enable a better influencer marketing experience and invest all of our efforts into maximizing its potential.
Abraham Lincoln once stated, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Affable has spent the last five years building a world-class product, team, culture, and company. And as we head into the sixth year, we look forward to tremendous growth.
Here’s to the next (even better) 5!
Nisarg Shah, Swayam Narain
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