Takumi founders Mats Stigzelius, Gummi Eggertsson and Solberg Audunsson

Proving social media pays

Takumi co-founder Mats Stigzelius tells Bryce Wilcock how he has helped build a business connecting ‘Instagram influencers’ with brands across the globe…

Serial entrepreneur Mats Stigzelius is no stranger to launching and growing a successful business.

Moving to the UK in 1996 to study aerospace engineering, the entrepreneur has since gone on to launch three successful businesses from his new home city, London.

The first of his ventures was a start-up bootcamp venture which saw Mats co-found an organisation dedicated to helping start-up businesses grow.

He then went on to launch a co-working hub in the Capital named ‘Rainmaking Loft’ which went on to open sites in Berlin and across Scandinavia before he exited the company last year.

However, it is his third business venture which he is now best known for. He explains: “Takumi is my newest venture, it’s an Instagram influencer platform.

“We connect brands and advertising agencies with large groups of influencers on Instagram, so they can run campaigns together.

“Basically, if a brand is launching a new product, they can use Takumi to find brand ambassadors on Instagram who can create unique content and can talk about the new product with their Instagram audiences.

“It was my co-founder’s idea [Solberg Audunsson], he had some friends who were small Instagram influencers with 5,000 followers or so.

“He realised the potential they had and was complaining that, even though they would make great brand ambassadors, they were never given the opportunity to work with brands.

“Companies were too focused on celebrities and Youtube stars and they were missing out on this whole market which could prove extremely lucrative to marketeers.

“It was this frustration which led to the launch of Takumi, we realised we could aggregate a lot of these smaller influencers and create very large campaigns.

“Based on that idea, we spent over a month or so drafting up the business plan and then launched the platform three years ago.”

Takumi works by grouping together Instagram users who have been well vetted by its algorithms to ensure they’re legitimate users with quality engagement rates.

The majority of users have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers and tend to have built their accounts organically by posting quality content relative to a particular hobby or interest.

Takumi then works with brands to match their marketing campaigns to influencer groups who they can work hand-in-hand with to promote their newly launched products.

Stigzelius explains: “Normally these small influencers post for a hobby. They don’t have an awful lot of a following, which means they can’t afford to post full time. It’s more the fact that they have a passion for what they’re doing, whether it be yoga, triathlons or make-up art.

“They enjoy what they’re doing and they’re good at it, they create a great following for themselves. When they work on campaigns with us, it allows them to monetise their passion and hobby and in turn, dedicate more time to it.

“As for brands, they come to us and say, ‘we have a campaign we want to run’ and we work with them to pinpoint a group of influencers who would fit with what they’re looking for also provide stats on how much of a reach the combined group would have.

“Our platform works a bit like Airbnb, we get a fee for brands using the platform and from there they can work with the influencers on how to market the brands products.”

The company launched in April 2015 and the trio spent seven months working on the platform before it went live in the November.

However, at that time, the majority of people were unaware of the benefits that Instagram influencers could bring to businesses.

So, like many other start-up success stories, the trio started by having to establish their own market place and building not only a business, but an entire industry from the ground up.

“The biggest challenge at the beginning was that we were right at the beginning of the influencer industry before it went mainstream,” he adds.

“I felt as if I was that guy standing on a soapbox on the corner of a street shouting ‘influencers are coming’ and nobody understood what I was talking about.

“We created the market from scratch. Nowadays, it is practically the opposite, there is a lot of competition out there now. It is becoming so popular.

“At the start, we had to persuade clients that it was something they should look at, now they come to us as it’s such a mainstream activity.”

The company has grown exponentially since its launch and is now the most active dedicated Instagram Influencer platform, working with over 600 brands including household names such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nike and L’Oréal.

As well as its office in London, the firm has also opened offices in New York, Berlin and Reykjavik and boasts an annual turnover of over £4m.

However, persuading brands to get on board wasn’t the easiest of tasks. Luckily for Mats and the guys, they were able to secure the backing of a group of very influential angel investors who helped open up doors they could never have dreamed of.

He said: “Since our launch, we’ve managed over 2,000 campaigns with around 650 different brands ranging from huge consumer brands down to challenger brands that are up and coming.

“We’ve been lucky enough to secure the backing of a number of high net-worth angel investors who have good networks and have opened up many doors for us.

“When you’re in an industry like this, where you’re looking to work with marketing professionals and consumer brands, it’s vital to have the right contacts to make stuff happen, they’ve been very helpful for us. It certainly helps having a large group of angels backing you.”

So, what’s next for the Takumi team? Stigzelius concludes: “We’re pushing very hard in the US at the moment and expect to see that side of the business really growing over the next 12 months.

“We’re also looking to expand into new regions beyond Europe and North America such as the Middle East.

“The Middle East has a huge presence on Instagram and there are also opportunities to explore in the likes of Singapore and South East Asia further down the line.

“We’ve grown by around a four-fold every year since we launched, and we expect that growth to continue over the coming years.”