When was the last time you bought a product based on an ad? How about something promoted by an influencer? Most people probably wouldn’t admit to being influenced by influencers or other direct forms of advertising. Advertising is so ubiquitous, and such a big part of our lives, that many of us have learned to live with it — and few will admit that it affects their buying decisions.
Here’s another question: When was the last time you bought something based on a friend’s recommendation?
Yuri Kaplan and his team at AdMass hope the answer is “recently and often.” AdMass is on a mission to turn customers into brand advocates. To do this, they’ll bypass the influencer system entirely and give regular people incentives to post about brands they love to their social networks — no matter how many followers they have.
“Imagine Nike emails you a 30 per cent off coupon,” Kaplan explains. “All you have to do is post yourself wearing your Nike outfit on Instagram, tag us or mention us, and you will get the 30 per cent off.”
The moment that you post, AdMass’s AI automatically verifies the image and caption match what Nike asked you to post, then unlocks the discount. No matter how many followers a user has, they will feel appreciated by a brand they already have an affinity for.
“You could have 50 followers,” Kaplan says, “and the brand is still valuing you, getting those discounts, and the brand, in turn, builds customer loyalty, drives repeat purchases, and brand awareness through the power of friends and family.”
AdMass has an ambitious plan and the numbers to back it up (they increased Banana Boat’s social media followers by 350%), but ambition does not a successful startup make. Kaplan and his team needed support. They found it at The Forge.
The Forge is the business incubator for McMaster University and the Hamilton, Greater Toronto, and Niagara Regions. Based in a state-of-the-art facility at McMaster Innovation Park, The Forge connects startups with mentors, investors, an entrepreneurial community, and students looking for real-world experience.
That’s where Experience Ventures comes in, providing entrepreneurial thinking placements for students at Forge-client startups. Experience Ventures was created by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking at the University of Calgary to offer new ventures a structured and dynamic way to engage with students through real-world challenges. McMaster University joined 11 other Canadian post-secondary institutions in the program that offers students opportunities to develop their skills.
One of Experience Ventures’ goals is to build innovation networks. Connecting students looking to start their careers with confidence by getting in on the ground floor with innovative startups like AdMass fits the bill.
The students have the skills and enthusiasm the startups need, and Experience Ventures provides the opportunities — the trick is making the most of a great opportunity.
Yuri and his team took advantage of their connections with students through Experience Ventures and The Forge. Obviously, his company required a lot of developer support, but marketing and social media help were equally important. They worked with several students, each working a total of 80 hours spread across a semester, for about 5 to 10 hours per week.
Yuri knew he had a great idea with AdMass. However, as new talent came on board, he found some cracks in the company’s organizational structure.
“It was a great experience for me to learn how to project manage,” he reflects, “to improve our workflow, create better onboarding materials, and get students excited about what they’re doing.”
After the first round of students, he admits to learning a hard lesson: “They told us they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing!”
The students got worthwhile hands-on experience, and Yuri and his team learned how to improve their onboarding.
“That’s the most valuable thing we learned,” he says. “We only get students for 80 hours, so if we’re using many of those hours in onboarding, we’re wasting their time and ours. With the Experience Ventures students, we could define new procedures and refine them through every Experience Ventures cycle.”
Now that they had a foolproof way to onboard students, what did Yuri have the students doing for AdMass?
“We had a couple of students,” Yuri reports, “who did great user research within our target demographic, specifically UX design, that was very helpful when we were launching our mobile app.”
One student designer “really stood out” and created an interface for the AdMass app that Yuri quickly implemented. He estimates the new interface app led to thousands of new downloads. Three students working only 80 hours were able to launch an app in only three months — that’s a serious achievement, but it’s not the end of the benefits McMaster students provided AdMass.
“We had a couple of great social media marketing students that refined our branding template,” says Yuri. “They reworked it for Instagram to give it more colours, plus they created a content calendar as well as structure and procedures for future students.”
This not only improved the product, but it also contributed to the all-important improvements in onboarding.
“(The social media marketing students) did a lot to grow our social media followers, and one student came on who was able to easily find brand advocates in specific schools to help promote our app and our community,” adds Yuri. “She got us a lot of access that we otherwise would not have had.”
After hundreds of hours of student work and multiple students from many different disciplines, what’s the one word Yuri would use to describe AdMass’ collaboration with The Forge, McMaster, and Experience Ventures? Valuable.
“All of the elements provided by the Experience Ventures students, the user research, the design, implementing some new technical components, plus all the refinement we were able to do on our procedures, all of this was very valuable,” concludes Yuri.