Since I’m all about sharing tips on how people can grow their personal brand, I wanted to share a great conversation that I had with Mark Itwaru, founder and CEO of Peeks. I got the inside scoop on how he helps entrepreneurs with strong personal brands and a decent following, learn to monetize their influence through what he calls “social commerce.”
Who is Mark? He has more than 20 years of experience in ecommerce, marketing, mobile commerce and payment processing. He was the founder of Navaho Networks where he developed a leading proprietary payment processing solution, which processed over $8 billion in e-wallet transactions. Great guy to talk to, right? Thanks Jessica for the introduction!
Here is what you would have heard if you were a fly on the wall…
Ryan Foland: Mark, can you give me a peek into the Peeks platform?
Mark Itwaru: The Peeks platform is what we believe to be the world’s first e-commerce-enabled live streaming network that allows people to (by simply downloading an app) broadcast themselves, to interact, to transact with members of the social network globally.
Ryan Foland: Is there a good story behind how you developed the idea of social commerce?
Mark Itwaru: In the early 2000s, I founded my first company similarly based on a technology that I had patented early on in the payment space. I had the patents on carrier billing for online purchases, online debit solutions and, ultimately, a full-blown e-wallet processing large amounts of money. I sold the company, but kept the intellectual property and repurposed it into what is now the back end of Peeks. What we built on top of it was a social network for a few very specific reasons. From the payment space, which is great business but at times it is ultimately a race to the bottom. It boils down to having to charge less than your competitors. I didn’t want to get back into that space.
I was taking a look at one of the biggest problems in the payment space, which is acquiring users. It took us several years to acquire a few million users, and I was looking at the advent of social media throughout the entirety of it. I was thinking, “man, social media companies are it.” Unlike any other business in history, they can garner tens of millions of users in relatively short periods of time.
I started to think, “what if we built the social media layer as a customer acquisition tool that brought people to an environment where they can actually engage in commerce?” It took a lot of research, months and months of research, going through trends in social media and where it is going. We were looking at the trend toward immediacy. Going from an old friend getting in touch with you from high school, to Instagram, to Snapchat, where people get back to you within minutes. After following a trend of greater immediacy, we landed on live and built our platform.
Ryan Foland: What lessons from your payments processing background did you include into your idea of social commerce?
Mark Itwaru: A cohesive experience, particularly in shopper psychology and pain points in making purchases, typically e-commerce purchase; mobile purchases and e-commerce purchases. We learned a lot of lessons in terms of creating a context to make an individual feel more comfortable making a purchase.
The more engaging the context, the more likely they would be to buy the product. The app we built here is contextual commerce; a simple example would be watching home renovation shows on television?
Ryan Foland: Okay. I’ve been known to watch Design on a Dime, but don’t tell anyone.
Mark Itwaru: You know Home Depot?
Ryan Foland: Of course. Love Home Depot.
Mark Itwaru: Ok, great. So, for example, some hardware store puts up an ad because the person watching is most likely a potential customer. We have taken that concept in the context of live streaming and made it exponentially more engaging because it’s interactive. It’s a two-way communication, not unilateral viewing. We emphasize contextuality.
For instance, we watch a guy building a deck, I’m asking him how he is building the deck, our OfferBox technology allows me to download the plans that he has built and find a hardware store near me, no matter where I am and allows me to buy the products. Within that context, the sales conversion is significantly higher.
Ryan Foland: How does social commerce specifically allow entrepreneurs to build their online brand?
Mark Itwaru: In order to make a living off of it, the more people who follow you, the better it is for you. It depends on the broadcasters’ intention. To use the vernacular, if it is a side grind, with very key users, you can broadcast your viewership and make supplementary income in addition to what you do for a living.
We see people right now, several of them that are using Peeks as a primary source of income. Some of them that are making $15,000-17,000 a month, which is a good job no matter where you are living.
Ryan Foland: Wow, that is a nice side income. How does the Peeks platform allow entrepreneurs to brand their content without their followers feel like they’re being sold to?
Mark Itwaru: Good question. We make the tools that allow the broadcasters to do that, but it’s ultimately up to the broadcasters. We have created tools that offer the experience to be organic. For example, we have several iron chefs that will be coming on and giving cooking lessons. You might be interested in cooking and you are watching them, you’re interacting with them, you download the recipe using OfferBox technology, and can buy the ingredients at a grocery store near you no matter where you are.
It feels exclusive and feels beneficial to you and within that context; you didn’t actually have to spend money on the broadcaster. You are spending money on something that you ultimately want. In most cases, you add a discount and both Peeks and the broadcaster garners advertising revenue for this, cost per price and cost per action. We share those revenues with the broadcaster and it allows the broadcaster to just focus on the experience and Peeks provides the monetization.
Ryan Foland: Got it. So, followers are consuming the goods needed to participate, and then ad revenue is split. Nice.
Mark Itwaru: Yes, you got it. It is a lot less like selling, and more like sharing unique experiences where your followers buy things to allow them to participate.
Ryan Foland: Hummm. I like this. I might just love it. Ha. I need to start thinking about how I can use this platform to monetize my courses.