Interview with Thomas Owadenko, President and Founder, Octoly

Thomas Owadenko, President and Founder at Octoly

“The most impactful disruption will probably come from brands taking even more advantage of the relationship influencers have with consumers to reinvent the entire value chain.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you arrive at Octoly?

I’ve spent nearly my entire career in and around video in some capacity — even before YouTube launched — so when I founded Octoly formally in 2015, it was a natural next step for me. I watched the rise of early YouTubers such as Michelle Phan and knew I wanted to create a solution that helped brands capture this organic content.

My Co-Founder, Fabien, and I began by self-marketing our YouTube analytics software. One year in, we were finally able to sign with our first beauty company, but eventually lost the account because they weren’t looking for an analytics solution. In the meeting, the company said it was looking for a way to be prominently featured in YouTube videos. We listened and got to work: Instead of coding, we sent a simple survey to the YouTubers, “Do you want free products? Would you feature the products if we give it to you for free?” “Yes!”

I called my network of beauty suppliers to see if I could negotiate some free products. I got the usual response, “Oh sorry we are busy, but maybe we can schedule you in three weeks.” I didn’t have that time, we were almost bankrupt, and I needed to do something quickly. I bought a bunch of products at Sephora and shipped them off. Shortly after, I saw the first review and Octoly was born.

What is Octoly and how does it fit into a CMO’s tech stack?

Octoly is the largest platform connecting brands with influential Instagram and YouTube communicators via a free product exchange (you can liken us to an Amazon or Sephora, sans the “buy” button). We have a creator community of almost 12,000 micro-influencers (those with a following of less than 100,000) — they reach more than 700 million subscribers — and drive a monthly average of 20,000 product reviews for brands across the US and Europe. This reach and scale makes Octoly the largest intermediary between brands and influencers on social media.

We sit right alongside any other marketing solution in the tech stack, although most brands, particularly those outside of the beauty/lifestyle space, haven’t quite made the jump to invest in an Influencer Marketing solution. Although a highly proven tactic (I remember seeing a stat that said 92 percent of consumers trust user-generated content more than they trust traditional advertising), Influencer Marketing doesn’t have the budget that other mediums command. I expect as the industry consolidates and more brands see the value in partnering with authentic creators (I won’t deny there are some bad actors), the industry will explode.

If not MarTech, where else would you have built your career?

I would probably have created a brand; thanks to influencers, the barrier to entries have fallen and it’s nowadays easier and cheaper to reach consumers. It’s a unique timing to launch a brand. My brand would have a purpose as consuming is clearly a citizen act. I would have loved to launch the brand

How much has video advertising, especially around YouTube, changed since you started connecting with influencers?

When YouTube launched in 2005, social media was not yet “social media” — Facebook hadn’t even opened to the public yet, it was still a platform only accessible with a .edu email address. Fast forward to when Octoly launched in 2015 and clearly the entire industry shifted immensely. Influencers have an incredible opportunity to be seen and heard by brands, but it’s also a major challenge to breakthrough, which is why we offer the educational resources and level of support we do to the creators on our platform.

In general, the creative format is evolving, and getting attention through online video advertising is hard. Through licensing video content from influencers, brands now can build truly relevant ads showcasing the best user-generated reviews. And new indie brands are investing far more resources into this medium than they are in traditional advertising.

Which Marketing and Sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We use Salesforce, but we’ve also developed our own solutions to help influencers and brands understand the value and impact of their activities on YouTube and Instagram.

What are the core tenets of your business development model? How does Octoly help customers derive more value from their influencer community?

The core tenet of our business model is that by offering the opportunity to our customers to receive hundreds of reviews, we are also the most efficient solution for brands to be visible on social networks, simply by leveraging a unique network of thousands of micro-influencers. Brands pay a monthly subscription, but there is no limit to how many products they can gift to influencers and, in return, how many reviews they can receive.

How often do you measure the performance of your Marketing Analytics and Sales Reporting for influencers?


What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Operations for 2018-2020?

The most impactful disruption will probably come from brands taking even more advantage of the relationship influencers have with consumers to reinvent the entire value chain. We’re slowly waking up to the realization that the audience is driven by the influencer, not the platform.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Beauty and fashion indie brands like brandless, Kylie Cosmetics℠ by Kylie Jenner, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Fashion Nova. These companies are using new data-driven marketing techniques in really interesting ways.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign? 

California beauty brand Kate Somerville partnered with us to increase its brand awareness by collaborating with the beauty and skincare micro-influencer community on YouTube and Instagram. Through our platform, Kate Somerville connected with 348 unique content creators, whom it wouldn’t have reached via traditional methods. In 12 months on Instagram and YouTube, the brand received 565 reviews and ultimately generated $265,190 in earned media value. The brand not only established a strong relationship with its influencers, turned brand advocates, but also drove traffic and conversions — thanks to all the reviews generated.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

You have to integrate the right solutions for your business at the right time. We’re bringing Machine Learning and automation into our platform to make it easier for brands and influencers to match and produce reviews corresponding to each other.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Octoly is, at its core, a mission-driven organization. This company exists to empower creators to grow their own businesses and foster authentic, meaningful relationships with the brands that matter most to them. Everyone on the team works hard to maintain and support these values every day and we’re collaboratively working to make influencer marketing easier and better for all parties involved. When everyone is aligned with the purpose of the mission and working in tandem to create a better, smarter, richer solution, inspiration is easy to come by.

One word that best describes how you work.


What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

My phone — it is, for better or worse, my lifeblood.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

It’s a simple app, but I do love Notes on iPhone. It’s the quickest way for me to jot down anything I’m thinking or need to do, and it’s so easy to come back to. It’s become my running digital to-do list.

What are you currently reading? 

I am reading a book by French entrepreneur Jacques Attali about the must-see movies, books, monuments, and countries.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Put the right tools in place to help your company navigate success, and be nimble enough to evolve them as your business grows.

Scaling up a company is hard. As you grow, so does the volume of people and projects to manage, so it’s critical you are able to steadily handle everything at a much quicker pace. It’s like driving a race car or piloting an airplane. Your team needs to be aligned, but that alignment only comes once the leadership team has the right tools in place. The way I incorporated this advice at my company, Octoly, is — I created a one-pager that allows the whole company to see monthly results easily; it lists the highlights, opportunities, and issues of the month, as well as the goals of the year, showing the key metrics for employees to strive for. It’s a very simple but effective management tool, and it helps to steer my teams in the right direction.

Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?

Resilience. My journey to founding Octoly could have ended a long time ago, but I am a hard worker and I never gave up on my vision. I’m also a voracious reader of news and I still consume every piece of content I can find on influencer marketing. I want to be leading the evolution of the industry, not sitting idly by as the space evolves.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator.

Thank you, Thomas! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Thomas Owadenko is President of Octoly, an influencer marketing platform he co-founded that connects brands to beauty and fashion influencers through a scalable product gifting model.

Octoly LogoThe leading influencer marketplace worldwide with more than 350,000 products reviewed, Octoly launched in the US in 2017. Octoly’s unique product-gifting model enables brands to discover and work with a community of 12,000+ verified influencer talent on a singular platform, bring authenticity to their influencer marketing initiatives and scale programs. In return for receiving a product, the influencers share authentic content/posts with their audiences, thus changing the way brands are looking at marketing and consumer engagement. Octoly operates in 5 countries (France, United States, Germany, Spain and Italy) with flagship offices in Paris and New York.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.