Kevin Markowski, a French-born entrepreneur based in Barcelona, has built a startup around the idea that every customer is a brand ambassador.
He himself is an ambassador of the Barcelona startup lifestyle: he basks in the Mediterranean sun shining through the windows of his beach-side office, works hard, networks even harder and every few months organizes one of the city’s biggest gatherings for entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts.
He’s in the business of connecting brands with influencers. So why does he say influencer marketing is dying?I’m about to find out as I sit down for a compelling conversation with the co-founder and CEO of Barcelona startup Spitche.
Becoming a Startup Entrepreneur
We’re up on the 27th floor of the Mapfre Tower, in a vibrant coworking space. The panoramic views are breathtaking, stretching from the mountains across the city and out to sea.
Although Spitche HQ is in Paris and the software developers are in Kiev, Ukraine, Barcelona is where Kevin spends most of his time.
At 29 years old, his CV is impressive. He studied economics, business and marketing and spent each of his five years of university at different schools around the world, in Spain, China, the USA and his homeland, France.
It was those cross-cultural experiences and various internships that helped him get ahead of the game. But after interning with companies such as American Express, he realized the corporate world wasn’t for him.
He craved the freedom and creativity of entrepreneurship and startup life. After his studies, he launched a marketing agency and also began working with Eventtia, an event management software company. Tech and innovation piqued his interest, and he wanted to take it further.
Ambassadors and Community Marketing
Kevin is keen to tell me all about the project he’s been working on since 2015.
“Spitche is an advertising technology software, where brands build social media-based loyalty programs and use their community to increase reach and engagement organically,” he says.
“The platform incentivizes sharing and engaging. Companies can invite their community to become ‘ambassadors’ who earn points and rewards from actions on the social media page of the brand.”
While typical loyalty programs are based on sales only, Spitche allows brands to reward their ambassadors for shares, likes and comments.
“We want to give more power to the customers and community.”
“In the history of advertising and loyalty programs the customer was very passive. We want to give more power to the customers and community,” Kevin says.
The brand has a chance to boost their organic reach and save on paid ads. At the same time, ambassadors are rewarded for their efforts and can take advantage of the discounts and special offers they earn with their points.
Sounds like a fair deal. But is there a catch?
Will people keep interacting on Facebook in order to rack up points to spend? That could become annoying for their friends and even tarnish the brand’s image.
I wonder how they ensure the engagement is authentic.
“While any action will earn points, we’ve found that, generally, ambassadors are self-regulating. Normal people don’t want to clog their social media feed by constantly promoting brands. They are selective. They choose the posts they want to engage with,” Kevin says.
“We also take into account action from friends. If people are spamming their wall with posts that their friends are not interested in, that will show and affect their points,” he adds.
Spitche analyzes all this data so companies can interpret the interests, engagement and behavior of ambassadors and their community. That means more effective lead generation and qualified retargeting.
Building the Product
It’s a familiar startup story – only after much trial and error and various different business models did they arrive at the product they have today. Kevin reveals where the inspiration came from.
“After I finished my masters, I launched my marketing event agency and began asking myself – how can I use my current clients to get more clients? I was looking for a tool that would allow me to leverage my network to source new clients, and I didn’t find it. At the same time, I wanted to get into tech, digital, startup business… and a traditional marketing agency wasn’t really what I wanted,” he says.
Kevin approached close friend Matt Astarita, who agreed to work with him. They became co-founders.
Since the launch in September 2017, around 500 brands have signed up for the first, free version. Now, version 2 is out – the paid software which runs on a monthly subscription fee. The objective over the next few months is to increase revenue, speed up product development and grow the team.
I’m curious about the connection between Spitche and the founders’ other project. If you’re in the Barcelona startup scene, you’ll know Meltin Lab, the networking and learning event for startups.
What started as two separate companies has now merged into one. They discovered the events were a perfect testing ground for the platform and also a great way to boost their customer acquisition. They’ve now created an ambassadors program for MeltinLab, using Spitche.
“We can invite big companies to be speakers and, from there, build a relationship. It’s not very aggressive and it’s beneficial for both sides,” Kevin tells me.
The next event will take place in Barcelona on the 4th of December 2019.
“We work with brands that inspire passion. A brand selling toilet paper, for example – that’s not our customer.”
The conversation moves back to Spitche. I want to know who the target customer is.
He quickly points out who it isn’t.
“A brand selling toilet paper, for example – that’s not our customer. We work with interest-based brands that inspire passion. Things that get people excited, that they want to talk about and share with their friends,” he says.
Think sportswear and accessories, fashion, travel, luxury, cosmetics, and more. These kinds of brands probably already have strong social media presence and might be using influencer marketing as a way to reach a bigger audience.
The Age of Influencers?
As we get on to the topic of influencers, I can sense that Kevin is a bit sceptical.
“Influencer marketing is dying,” he says.
I’m taken aback – I ask him to elaborate.
“Well, it’s dying in the way we know it. An important question to ask is – why and what do they want to influence? There’s a lot of fakes out there, doing it for the money and promoting things they don’t necessarily believe in,” he elaborates.
He concedes that there are great influencers, the ones who built a true, organic following, and only work with brands they align with.
“We all act as ambassadors for brands we love.”
Still – influencer marketing sometimes falls short.
“Take Instagram – there’s a lot of girls posing in bikinis at the beach, wanting to sell female-orientated products for cosmetics and fashion brands. The problem is, 90% of their audience are male.”
It’s a good point. Nano-influencers, he claims, are the future – ordinary people, with small followings who are highly engaged and genuinely interested in what they do.
I’m intrigued – does that mean we’re all influencers now?
“Yes, I think so,” he laughs. “We all influence our friends to do things, and we all act as ambassadors for brands we love.”
These days, people are turning away from direct advertising and instead placing more value in trusted recommendations.
“When traveling or going to a restaurant, the first thing you’re checking is not what the brand says – it’s what the customer says. Now brands need to be authentic and provide something different, of excellent quality,” says Kevin.
What’s Next for Spitche?
As we start talking about their goals for the future, Kevin says they’re looking to branch out from Facebook to Instagram and other social networks.
“Eventually we want to arrive at a version 3 or 4, which will include the loyalty platform, social media based retargeting and sales tracking. It will be a complete solution for e-commerce and B2C brands,” he says.
Kevin is totally down-to-earth and easy to chat to, but make no mistake – he’s highly ambitious.
E-commerce is a smart industry to tap into – according to statistics from E-Marketer.com, the global e-commerce industry is now worth $3.535 trillion. It’s predicted to rise to $5 trillion by 2021.
I ask Kevin for a final thought, something to sum up the Spitche brand, values and vision.
Characteristically, he’s not afraid to dream big, and he refers to a Mark Zuckerberg quote:
“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”
I’m eager to see how much influence Spitche will have on the future of advertising.