We all want the best skincare products, makeup essentials and hair accessories. But before we throw down our hard-earned cash, it would be great to know what we’re getting for our money. Well, problem solved, thanks to Influenster, a community of social-savvy shoppers that sample and test products from their favorite brands. But what’s the catch? That’s the beauty. All you need to give up is your honest opinion of the products you’re trying. The #girlboss behind the startup is rad too. Read our interview with Elizabeth Scherle, co-founder and president of Influenster, and get ready to be seriously inspired.
B+C: What were you up to before co-founding Influenster?
ES: Before co-founding Influenster, I worked at an indie shopping event startup that helped brands distribute products to shoppers through goodie bags. The women at the events loved receiving the beauty freebies — who doesn’t? But we weren’t collecting any feedback on the products shoppers were trying. Simultaneously, my good friend and now co-founder, Aydin Acar, was at a traditional market research firm that was inefficient in collecting data from research studies. We put our heads together to come up with an innovative solution to modernize both the market research and product sampling markets to bridge that gap and fill a hole in the industry — and that’s how we co-founded Influenster!
B+C: So, Influenster connects savvy female shoppers with brands they love, in exchange for their honest feedback. Can you explain a little more about the company and its mission?
ES: Influenster.com and the Influenster app are all about product discovery. We enable our growing community of over two million socially savvy members to explore the latest products and get the advice they need to make informed purchases. Because who wants to waste money on an expensive face cream that doesn’t work?
Members use Influenster as a personal shopping companion by accessing over seven million unbiased product reviews and sharing their own opinions through reviews. They also come to Influenster for articles and videos that are pulled from what’s trending within the community — how-to articles, top 10 product roundups, video tutorials and more. By being active on Influenster, they can also qualify to receive complimentary full-sized products to test and review.
On Influenster, everyone’s opinions matter. Brands pay attention to every word that our members say. This is how we empower consumers and women to have their voices heard.
B+C: What’s the biggest problem Influenster solves for brands?
ES: In today’s digital age and cluttered marketplace, with consumers spending more time on their phones and social media than ever before, brands are having a hard time breaking through the noise. Plus, consumers are increasingly suspicious of ads and turn to product reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations to influence their shopping decisions. This is where Influenster steps in to give brands the edge they are looking for — connecting them directly with targeted consumers who in turn create meaningful conversations about their products.
B+C: What’s been your favorite brand partnership to date?
ES: That’s a tough one, as we’ve had many memorable partnerships that have turned into lifelong relationships! If I had to pick a recent one, it’d be our groundbreaking collaboration with Target on the launch of their new and improved fashion-forward C9 by Champion sports bras. I’ve always loved Target, so when their innovation team sought us out in their hunt to find a new, creative marketing solution to raise brand awareness for that upcoming product launch, it was a huge win, and I was pumped!
Members were obsessed over this campaign; we sent free C9 sports bras to fitness lovers who were challenged to show off their bras in workout action on social media. But we didn’t stop there — we opened up the C9 experience to thousands more members through a location-based digital coupon alert on our app. Members could earn a 40 percent discount on the C9 sports bras if they went in stores to find and scan the bras, scavenger-hunt style. Thousands of inspiring fitness posts were generated, reaching millions of consumers; even months after the campaign has ended, C9 by Champion is still buzzed about on social media as a trendy fitness brand!
B+C: You’re a female founder of a tech startup. Unfortunately, not words we hear together often. What’s been your biggest challenge?
ES: My biggest challenge as a founder — and not necessarily just as a female founder — was starting the company from scratch with no resources whatsoever. Unlike other startups, we didn’t have strong connections and didn’t raise money at the beginning — a rather unusual track for a startup to take.
We didn’t have experience starting a business, either. What we did have was an unwavering belief that there was a need for our business. So we were laser-focused in our efforts to sell the product and build brand relationships to lay a strong foundation for the startup, which was extremely difficult considering that Influenster was a new service with no proven track record. After countless rejections, we changed course and offered them the chance to test our services for free, even if it meant going into debt. Once we had that chance to prove ourselves, brands were not only sold, they kept coming back to Influenster and recommended us to other brands, as well!
B+C: Any opinions on STEM education and getting more young girls involved in tech earlier?
ES: It’s important to expose girls to different areas of STEM from a young age — from the toys they play with, to the extracurricular activities they are engaged in, to the heart of the classroom. Role models and mentors are also extremely critical to guide practical learning experiences and create comfortable environments for girls to fail and opportunities for success. I always hear from my fellow ladies in the STEM field that the reason they chose to pursue a STEM career was because other successful women in their lives proved that it could be done and inspired them. That’s why here, at Influenster, I shine light on other high-achieving women engineers in our Code Like A Girl content series and also by supporting outstanding female college students studying in the STEM fields with our Code Like A Girl scholarship program.
B+C: What’s your best advice for the #girlbosses out there living a startup life?
ES: To all my #girlfriends and #girlbosses out there, always remember to think long-term! Most of us will be cash- and sleep-deprived during the early days of our startups (eye bags are definitely a part of the package deal). It’s easy to get lost in our day-to-day running of the business and focus solely on making money. But it’s critical to keep the big picture in mind and strategically invest in the partners and companies with whom you want to develop long-lasting relationships. You do that by, first and foremost, providing excellent service and over-delivering on your promises to them (even if that means offering your product or service for free), and then money will follow.
Also, #NoPainNoGain. You’ve got to be willing to give up everything — a stable income, a social life, sleep — and do all the grunt work in order to lay a strong groundwork for your startup. If you believe in your business model and work hard to give your users and clients the best possible experience, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t get paid for over a year, went through every dollar of my savings and worked every single day for a good few years. Today, I can safely say it paid off. Influenster is rapidly growing and we currently have 50+ smart and loyal employees. On that note, it’s also important to stay involved as your startup expands and to speak, live and breathe your vision so that all your employees are in tune with it. Even as you expand, you must keep innovating to stay ahead of the curve and the competition.
Lastly, stay away from people who don’t believe in you. Of course, accepting constructive criticism is essential for redirection and growth, but beware of the haters who bring you down. #StayConfident and know that it’s okay not to have all the answers. As entrepreneurs, we might feel the need to have it all together all the time, but it’s totally normal to feel as though your business is on top of the world one day, and that you’re way behind on where you want to be the next. Just stay motivated, be willing to learn from your mistakes and stay open to change along the way!
B+C: How (and why!) can our readers become a part of the Influenster community?
ES: Signing up to be an Influenster is incredibly easy and free! You can create your profile on the Influenster iOS or Android app or on Influenster.com. You’ll be asked to link your social accounts to Influenster, and the more information you share about yourself, the more likely you’ll qualify for campaigns to receive product samples to test and review. Think: YSL Beauty, Kat Von D, Kérastase, CoverGirl, SK-II and many more.
And why should you join? Because we’re a community of two million+ product junkies discovering, reviewing and sharing our mutual love for products. Find out the latest scoop on millions of products aggregated from millions of reviews from real people like you, not ads, not magazine editors. It’s a fun, social outlet for you to tell your friends and followers about the products that you like and don’t like. What’s not to love?
Tag us in your Influenster pics @BritandCo!
(Photos via Influenster)