VAMP co-founder Aaron Brooks talks dropping out, rising in tech & upcoming IPO
Social media influencer startup VAMP is in the middle of a roadshow building interest around its anticipated launch on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX)*.
Co-founder and director Aaron Brooks is positive about the campaign.
“So far the response from investors has been really positive so we are looking forward to the IPO which will shortly be followed by our launch of our Asian operations based in Singapore,” he says.
In a recent interview with Aaron, Cheryl Mack (Head of StartCon) asks him about his IPO strategy.
The company, which builds marketing campaigns by connecting brands with prominent “influencers” on Instagram, has seen a lot of success already with some pretty big names (Samsung, EBay, Sweppes, etc.) and wants to respond to new demand in the Asian market.
Aaron might not have seen such big lights in his future when he dropped out of school in year 10. He was in all the bottom classes for his subjects, and was more interested in sport than academics.
“I asked my parents to leave school and they supported this, as my Dad also never finished school and had a successful direct marketing business for many years.”
He spent the first few years working in retail and then decided to travel overseas and spend a year in Whistler, Canada snowboarding and enjoying the summer.
On returning to Australia, Aaron gave hospitality a try, working in several hotels as a porter/concierge. But the late nights were tough and he found himself back in retail working for General Pants.
“At this point I felt stuck and that I would struggle to find a good job without my high school education or any degree under my belt. A lot of my friends were getting good jobs but I was still earning minimum wage in retail.
“I remember I had one day especially when I made a decision not to let it stop me and I decided to work my way into the workforce and into a good job. I left GP and did some stuff for my Dad's marketing business which gave me a good grounding to then move into a junior sales role at CBS Corporation working in advertising. I quickly moved up the ranks and was the promoted several times and ended up being the top sales guy in Australia until they offered me a role in London looking after some of their premier accounts including Microsoft.”
Working in London taught him an important lesson: that advertising sales was a becoming a commoditised industry. He was selling to technology companies like Microsoft and Oracle and really wanted to get into software sales.
“You can't just leap into companies like Oracle without a background in tech sales so I had to cut my teeth on smaller startups with the idea they would eventually land me a position at one of the big 4 IT firms: IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle.”
He convinced Emarsys – an Austrian company that had just opened an office in London – to give him a chance.
“I was one of their first employees. Again I quickly entrenched myself in the technology and also cold called and worked extremely hard to build pipeline and it didn't take long until I started closing deals.”
He rose in the ranks and was soon one of the company’s top two sales reps in the UK, and was selling in the EMEA area.
“After a great two and a half years selling to markets like Turkey, Russia, and the UAE, I decided to move in to increase my experience in selling different technology offerings. I worked for a UK-based cloud collaboration company called Huddle and then moved into Zuora selling SAAS subscription billing, and eventually ended up back in Australia after four years in the UK.
Then he landed that job at Oracle, dealing with some of the biggest accounts in Australia. But after almost two years, the time came when Aaron wanted to build his own company, his own brand.
He teamed up with Jamie Pride and Ben McGrath to start Visual Amplifiers, or VAMP for short.
“We managed to secure funding from a startup foundry called Digital4ge and Visual Amplifiers was born.” says Aaron.
When asked about his growth strategies Aaron talks about hiring the best people for the business.
VAMP, he says, has a point of difference because it empowers the influencers who are doing the marketing, as well as the brands who are paying for it. It’s all too easy for creative talent to be undervalued.
“We are pro-influencer and work very hard to ensure they retain creative control of their channels. We also believe that our invitation-only influencers are professional creators and deserve to be paid for the effort they put into creating an image for a brand.”
Influencers are asked only to select briefs for brands they believe in but they are not asked to purchase the product and they are always paid for their creative effort.
“Brands, after all, are commercially benefitting from their talent. They deserve to be compensated too.”
So what does it look like to work in the VAMP office now? Well, there’s a lot of old-school hip-hop, and playing on a hoverboard (“The first few hires were tested out by seeing if they could ride the in-office hover board and beat times on our track around the office set by Aaron and Ben,” jokes marketing director Amy Luca).
They also talk about what’s coming next. It’s not just about expanding into Asia, it’s about looking at new platforms. If everything goes to plan, in the future we could be seeing VAMP on Snapchat. And on top of that, VAMP employees are excited about the advent of Australian social media startup platform, Bom’d.
“We think it solves the passive user/content producer problem. We are excited to see what happens with them in the next few months. It would be nice to see another Aussie start-up hit it big.”
*Since the time this interview was filmed, Vamp postponed the IPO until later this year.
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