A Q&A with Sverve co-founder and CEO Rohit Vashisht. The New York City-based startup recently closed a $435,000 Seed funding round and entered the 500 Startups summer accelerator. It was founded in early 2012.
SUB: Please describe Sverve and your primary innovation.
Vashisht: Sverve is an influencer marketplace that connects online businesses and female social media influencers for online marketing. More than 250 businesses and 5,000 influencers are already using Sverve.
With 20 million female social media influencers in the U.S.—54 percent on Facebook and 30 percent on Twitter—representing a highly influential but fragmented segment, only a few are well-known. There is no easy way for millions of online businesses to find the right influencers and spread awareness of their products and services. Moreover, influencers have limited avenues to connect with the right businesses.
Sverve is building a deep and accurate categorization of female influencers and compiling comprehensive statistics for each influencer, making their subject authority and social media reach transparent. Businesses receive end-to-end campaign management tools for connecting and communicating with the right influencers, making payments, tracking metrics and reporting on campaigns. We make influencer marketing affordable and viable for all businesses.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Vashisht: We are focused on bringing millions of social media influencers and online businesses in the U.S. together on our platform. Our vision is to expand across geographies and topics of interest. Our initial target influencers are women who are bloggers with a strong presence on social media. We are targeting online businesses of all sizes and PR firms looking for social media campaigns and blogger outreach.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Vashisht: The mass adoption of social media channels and rise of native ads have attracted many companies to the influencer marketing space. We see two types of competitors. The first type sells Software as a Service to Fortune 1000 companies for managing their influencer marketing processes. The second type sells databases of influencers to small businesses. We see a hollow in the middle: an opportunity to provide a comprehensive, intuitive, and efficient platform to millions of businesses and influencers so that they can work together seamlessly. In the offline world, small agencies can also be considered competition, but their price points are cost prohibitive for our target clients.
SUB: What differentiates Sverve from the competition?
Vashisht: Sverve’s goal is to make influencer marketing viable and affordable for all businesses. We set ourselves apart by providing a self-service platform that simplifies social media campaigns by providing a deep and accurate classification of influencers, targeted match-making between businesses and influencers, and end-to-end campaign management. Moreover, Sverve is not just a database of influencers but also a thriving community where members share their areas of influence and content, follow peers, and endorse them for their work. All these features help influencers fine-tune their profiles and take the guesswork out of our classification of influencers. Finally, influencers come to Sverve to hone their skills and expertise via our educational blog and monthly webinar series.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Vashisht: Sverve is a transformation of our earlier company, called HashTip. We started developing HashTip in late 2011 and formally incorporated it in March of 2012 with our first round of funding. While working on HashTip, we realized how difficult it was to find the right influencers and execute social media campaigns, and decided to solve this problem first. We then launched Sverve in December of 2012.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Sverve? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Vashisht: We worked with mom bloggers to promote HashTip for more than a year. During this time, we experienced first-hand the challenges faced by both bloggers and brands for discovery, communication and execution of social media campaigns. After conversations with hundreds of bloggers, we learned that they were either wrongly pitched by brands or never pitched at all. Similarly, brands lacked a mechanism to find the right influencers for their campaigns and had no transparency with regard to a blogger’s true outreach. Those findings inspired us to launch Sverve in 2012, and ever since, we have seen great traction on our service.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Vashisht: It is almost impossible to find a memorable and short name for which a domain—let alone a Facebook page or Twitter handle—is available. We spent days thinking about the name. Our criteria was as follows: it should be one word, related to our service, and it should be available as a domain name. After three days of brainstorming and crowd sourcing, we knew it had to be some combination of ‘social’ and ‘verve’. Our CEO’s wife was on a plane for a business trip when in-flight turbulence on the runway made her think of ‘swerve’. She suggested Sverve—social + verve—and everyone liked it immediately. The final affirmation was the availability of Sverve as a domain name.
SUB: You recently joined the 500 Startups summer accelerator and raised $435K in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise more funding?
Vashisht: We were working on our Seed round before we were accepted into 500 Startups. We saw quick adoption of our platform on both the influencers and businesses side in the first few months and knew we needed to build a small team to achieve a product-market fit quickly. We are fortunate to be part of 500 Startups’ 6th batch. It is a great place to truly ‘accelerate’ a startup. We have connected with many advisors, partners and potential investors through the program.
SUB: Do you have plans to raise more venture funding in the near future?
Vashisht: We have money in the bank to build out our business. However, we are always looking to connect with the right investors who share our vision and want to help us build a great company. We are planning to close an Angel round within the next 3-to-4 months.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Vashisht: We were fortunate to find a strong core of teammates early on, but expanding it with the same caliber of people hasn’t been easy. We are also realizing that we need to educate both businesses and influencers on how to run social media campaigns, manage expectations and work with each other. We are fine-tuning our content marketing strategy to take on this challenge, but it’s easier said than done.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Vashisht: Sverve is already generating revenue that has grown 400 percent in the last three months. We have two primary revenue streams: campaign subscription fees and commission on payments. Businesses pay $200 per month for a campaign and campaigns can be renewed on a monthly basis. We also charge 10 percent commission on all payments made via our platform.
SUB: What are your goals for Sverve over the next year or so?
Vashisht: With 250-plus businesses and 5,000-plus influencers on our platform, we know that there is a real need for our service and that ours is a viable business model. We are focused on scaling our business over the next 18 months. We are expanding our team in the areas of design, development, sales and marketing. We are seeing demand for our service outside of the U.S. and have plans to expand geographically in the next 12 months.
Sverve – www.sverve.com