While it seems virtually every screen we interact with has become fodder for advertisers, tech entrepreneur, Vivian Rosenthal, found white space somewhere obvious, the chat box.
“People are already spending all their times in messaging channels, and now brands are playing catch up to put themselves into the conversation," says Rosenthal, a forward-thinking tech entrepreneur with a background in architecture. “We are providing technology for brands to enter a channel where there are already billions of users."
Rosenthal's platform, Snaps, is billed as the first brand marketing platform for mobile messaging. She asserts that with Snaps, everyday people who are chatting with friends can become brand ambassadors simply by sending an emoji. Since 2014 Snaps has been making branded stickers and emoticons for more than 100 brands like Nike Jordan, Coca Cola, Viacom, L'Oréal, Coach, Burger King, Toyota, Dove, Dunkin' Donuts, Sephora, and Macy's, as well as celebrities like Kevin Hart, looking to get into the branded emoji game (a la Kim Kardashian's Kimoji line, which famously crashed the app store when it was released.
“For us it's really about being the go-to solution for brands that need to find a compelling strategy and tech platform to reach millennials in the messaging space," says Rosenthal. “We are looking to drive powerful experiences for clients and consumers and exploring further investment from different verticals in different brands."
"When we decided to make KEVMOJI, all I knew is that we had to do something no one else was doing," says Kevin Hart about his move into the branded emoticon space. “So here we are, literally changing the face of iMessage by creating a real experience through emojis and stickers, rather than in animation. With the launch of iOS 10, my production team, HartBeat Digital along with Snaps, is revolutionizing the kind of content I'm able to share with my fans."
With a combined network of more than 2 billion global users and over 120 keyboards in the market to-date, Snaps has three different product suites; a branded keyboard, branded stickers, and Facebook Messenger chat bots on Slack and Kick, Imessage.
Because of the nature of sending branded emojis, Rosenthal says the overall affect for advertisers is surprisingly effective, as it opt-in for consumers. Rather than bracing for or ignoring a pop-up ad you might see on Facebook, customers tend to engage more authentically in the messaging space.
“It's very different than traditional social ads," says Rosenthal. “You will not see ads like in your Instagram feed. Instead, you unlock your sticker pack and opt to send a Starbucks emoji to a friend. It's someone raising their hand saying 'I want to be a brand ambassador.' The engagement has been so meaningful because it's opt-in, peer-to-peer sharing. Because of that it's [a recommendation that has] been vetted, pre approved."
There has been much discussion as to whether or not social media ads are successful, and the overall belief is that in order for them to work there must be authentic engagement. In addition, ads that work on mobile tend to be even more effective. While there has been some question as to whether or no branded keyboards are working to increase sales for brands, there is no shortage of corporations trying their hands at it. In 2016 alone almost 300 companies launched their own versions of emoji keyboards.
“There has been a huge movement away from the traditional broadcast model of social into a more private messaging channel," says Rosenthal. "With chatbots, the opportunity out there is really powerful. One-to-one marketing in scale can reach millions, but it's still a personal experience. It offers the ability to reach out and touch someone in a way you can't do in social."
Since this is still relatively virgin territory in terms of monetization, Rosenthal says the long-term goal is to eventually bring shopping directly into messaging.
“One one hand you can look at it as pure brand engagement and on the other hand, we are seeing some clients looking to drive commerce," says Rosenthal. "Going from conversation to commerce is the promise of messaging. That's the direction we're going in."
Rosenthal, who originally started her company as an AR platform, said she realized she was ahead of her time in terms of customer understanding and usage. She says the idea was originally centered on virtual pop up stores and geosense, which were very appealing to brands and retailers but premature for consumers.
“One of the things that I learned through this whole thing is that there's this thing called product market fit, which means, is the timing in the market right for what you're trying to create," says Rosenthal. “The AP platform was really early. We saw it come to live with Pokémon Go and that was four years later, goes to show you can have a good idea, but it could be too early to market. It was a great lesson and I ended up pivoting the action into the messaging space, as data supported that's where people are spending all their time. I learned first-hand what it meant to have something too soon for customer adoption."
“And then we pivoted into messaging, which is the opposite," says Rosenthal. "The consumer adoption is already there."
“We've seen brands on our platform use the messaging space in an impactful way to drive ROI, which depending which vertical, has different key metrics," says Rosenthal. "Because the messaging space is quite fragmented, they need to have a strategy for each different one. They need to do a lot of things concurrently. We saw this in social. Now we are seeing the same kind of thing happening in the messaging space."
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.