Oliver Bourne and Eliot Wood met on the first day of their Business degrees. Three years on they have just launched their company WYSPR, which aims to disrupt traditional digital and influencer marketing agency models with an approach they’ve named ‘friendvertising’.
Oliver and Eliot discovered they shared many interests when they first met at the start of their courses at Essex. They both took similar courses and shared many conversations about the direction they wanted their working lives to take. Of course, the social side of university life was also hugely important to them, but they often found themselves talking about dreams for the future.
Oliver: We identified a potential business opportunity with a gap in the market. We invested time and effort and worked day and night while still studying, to build this machine! Two years later and here we are on the precipice of our launch.
Eliot explains: Influencer marketing is dominated by shouting, in-your-face advertising. Even products that are actually not that beneficial to consumers have a ‘loud’ presence. We thought, let’s not do that. Let's be more authentic. Not shouting but whispering.
Oliver: We exist in a territory that's never been seen before. The digital marketing agencies can help you through performance and creation and they have a whole scope of general offerings. And then there's influencer marketing agencies that will connect you to some particular influencers to help you promote your brand. What we do is entirely different. We allow the regular person to become a means of communication and advertisement.
We allow anyone to sign up through application. Sign up using your Instagram and we will calculate how much we can pay you to promote the brands and products that you love already.
The connections that you have already are your friends and family. That's why we don't call it influencer marketing. We call it ‘friendvertising’. Because we don't use influencers, we use real people. We also use these same people to promote quizzes and polls on their stories to see how their friends and family feel about certain products and brands.
That allows their friends and family to vote and say: ‘I've had a bad experience here’ which lets the brand know their customers are moving away. This is entirely new. This isn't something that's even been tried before. Through our technology we've utilised the power of the regular person as a means to connect brands to the masses. If you look at the scope of the industry globally, what we are doing is an untouched and untapped field.
Oliver: The support was always there but it was up to us to segue from University to business. Now we have graduated the Innovation Centre has been phenomenally useful. I can't overstate how closely we've worked with them. Andy Mew who works at the Innovation Centre has been a phenomenal help. He knows us well and has helped facilitate every opportunity that he can. The availability of seed corn funding has been immensely important to us. I have to say that the Innovation Centre has been a fundamental achievement for business at the University and we can't wait to build a strong and lasting relationship with them for the future.
Eliot: Definitely get in touch with the Innovation Centre. They're really good at guiding those first steps and they'll make you aware of local opportunities such as from the Council and funding routes that are opening up. For example, I know they've just launched an investment platform. If want to get started but aren’t sure where to start, try to turn a hobby or passion into a business. Hypothesise, come up with something to test the waters, maybe build a following or make a small website.
You can build it from there but be prepared to pivot and change. That’s the one thing we did at the beginning and it's a practice we’ve employed the whole time. That way you know you can constantly make the changes that are really crucial when you're a small start-up and you are really pinching pennies.
Eliot: We have directly integrated learning from academia into our client process. We approach new clients by first doing a full breakdown to get to their brand identity, their essence and then effectively translating their well-established brand into a completely new digital sphere. We have to make sure we do this consistently.
Equally important was having a great connection to the lecturers. We met some really, really cool people. They really helped us out with testing our ideas and thoughts, back and forth. Dr Stephen Murphy was one that we had a lot of time for.
Oliver agrees: Yes! I did my dissertation with him and he was really helpful, giving his own thoughts and input to what I was doing. There’s a mountain of reading involved but it has all been invaluable in terms of researching our own specialist areas, mine was brand cults and Eliot’s was experiential marketing.
We apply that on a daily basis when talking to clients and advising them and consulting with them. And I think the most practical thing that we learned from our degrees as well is the fact that Eliot and I are last-minute submitters and working under that pressure and understanding how to produce such a vast amount of work in such a short amount of time directly translates into the business world.
Eliot: Say yes to everything! Just say yes and see where it goes, within reason of course. And take risks while you’re young. University really is the best time to capitalise on any idea because you don't really have to worry about risk or outgoings. All the free time you have now is your best asset and not something you're going to have when you go out into the world post-graduation.
'' Innovation is something that we hold very close to us at the heart of WYSPR. It's the ability to criticise, tackle the status quo, deconstruct and reconstruct it into something entirely new.''