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YuhWen Foong – shaking up influencer marketing in Malaysia

An aspiring actress, YuhWen Foong aims to disrupt the digital branding world in Malaysia by changing the way brands and digital influencers connect with SushiVid.

Human Asia was honored to have been granted this exclusive interview by Wen.

Give us some color about the digital marketing world in Malaysia. How is it different from the US or Europe?

Wen: In Malaysia, the way a brand engages an influencer is usually through an agency, or if they are a small company then they would engage an executive to reach out to influencers one by one. To engage an influencer, brands would have to search on the interwebs, get their contact information and then liaise back and forth with details of the campaign, what they need to mention in their content and then ultimately have a long discussion about whether or not the influencer can give them a discounted price. As you can see, it’s an extremely tedious process and most of the time, a campaign losses its full potential because both the brand and influencer are inexperienced in managing each other’s expectations.  SushiVid is here to make all of the above a much simpler process.

Why did you decide to start SushiVid ?

Wen: I was selling an email marketing software that helps our clients send personalized messages at mass. To me, the solution was perfect but I wasn’t able to get traction. I started to ask around – why aren’t our e-commerce clients adopting this? I spoke to a really kind mentor who told me that most of the e-commerce portals do not have enough initial traffic to begin with. So it got me thinking, where is all that traffic? I was on the subway on my way home from work when I started to look around me, and everyone was either on social media, streaming videos, playing games or chatting. That’s traffic!

And I thought about videos. What could I do with videos? A lot of people are on YouTube, my niece is always on YouTube. Why aren’t many people making branded content on YouTube?  And that’s how I came up with the idea for SushiVid.

Tell us about the full range of services provided by SushiVid

Wen: SushiVid is an influencer marketplace where brands can put up campaign briefs and wait for influencers to propose to them. We help brands find the perfect influencer in terms of target audience, demographic, content style and price. We also provide analytics for every video with click through rates and cost per views so the brand can see which video performed best for their money spent.

Right now in Malaysia, influencer marketing is done very manually with agencies creating spreadsheets and constantly checking on the video to see if the views increased over the past week. SushiVid’s goal is to automate this entire system to make influencer marketing easier and more efficient.

The team at SushiVid

From the influencer perspective, it has always been a very reactive approach. When a brand is looking for you,  you would either get a call or a referral. Sometimes you get calls to go for casting or you write a proposal only to get rejected. I was there once. I would wake up two hours ahead of a casting call to get there on time only to wait for another two hours for a ten minute shot in front of the camera – for that chance to be chosen for a commercial.

Usually I would go for over fifty castings to land just one low paying job. I wanted a way to make this more proactive and efficient. Now, influencers no longer need an agency, they no longer need to wake up, get stuck in traffic, meet clients to get that chance. They propose a one paragraph on SushiVid and let their statistics speak for them.

Could you tell us about the brands and influencers you are working with?

Wen: We are very lucky to have worked with big brands such as Digi, Panasonic Beauty, Lazada and Watsons for previous influencer campaigns. We also work with a lot of e-commerce portals –  only because I have already established the relationship with the owners in my past working experience. In terms of influencers, we have worked with most of the top names in YouTube (Malaysia) and have successfully created branded content with Joseph Germani, Dan Khoo (MacamYes Studios), Shawn Lee, and Ling Big Yong just to name a few.

Read also : Mikko Perez – Serving the Bottom of the Pyramid

What are the main challenges you are facing in this business?

Wen: One challenge we have been facing since the beginning is that the industry is not willing to accept this format of approaching influencer marketing. They are so used to agencies proposing to them that when we give them a platform, they would want us to create proposals in the traditional format. I have to explain time and again that we do not do proposal decks!

Also, influencer marketing is still a very new form of marketing and people are skeptical about how ‘influential’ these influencers can be. Over the past year, we have gained the trust of a few loyal clients who have seen the effects of influencer marketing and have done multiple campaigns with us.

Another challenge we are facing is the lack of influencers in this region purely because of our smaller population compared to the US or European countries. With a high demand from the brands, we lack the supply of influencers especially relating to mother influencers or kid-related channels.

Any expansion plans for Sushi Vid?

Wen: We strive to become the largest influencer marketplace in the whole of Asia and hopefully one day place our flag in the US and Europe as well. In terms of the platform we are looking to grow our database to 10,000 influencers by the end of 2017. As for investors, we are definitely looking but our main focus has always been about refining our product to strike the right chord for our clients. To provide value to them first. If the product is good, the investment will come eventually.

Tell us more about yourself and memories growing up.

Wen: I am a proud Klangite, a whiskey-lover, a nerd and also a functioning introvert. The last time I went to Japan, the Yamazaki 18s were all sold out!

I grew up extremely competitive. I wanted to win in everything, so I was always out to compete for something or another. From Scrabble competitions, academics, to singing competitions, I’ve done it all. I love the thrill of it, and because of that, I mostly excelled in school and everything I put my heart into. When I started working, my first job was as an equity research assistant in a local research house. I was so bored. I kept looking at the guy next to me who has been there for 8 years, thinking if I sat here, 8 years from now I’d be sitting there. I just couldn’t believe that is it! It really wasn’t part of my personality. I remember walking out of my job worrying about what I would do next, but I have never regretted it.

So did you always want to become an entrepreneur?

Wen: I live my life without a “what if”. I take a lot of risks, and for the most part I’ve fallen flat on my face. But I also know I’ve always tried my best and have no regrets.  I didn’t start as a founder right away, I went from job to job, in four different industries before settling as an entrepreneur. I started as a founding team member but over time, I started to think what if I was the founder, and what if this was my own company. I knew all along that at one point, I’d be there when I’m ready for it.

Tell us what a typical day for you looks like

YuhWen Foong – founder of SushiVid

Wen: Everyday comes with a different challenge, so it’s hard for me to say but I will use today as an example. I woke up at 7.30am,  made my to-do list for the day, checked my calendar of events, then hit the gym for about 30 minutes. I left my home at about 8.45am for work. For most part of the day, I would be working with the team, coaching them and finding out about any hiccups and what we need to do more or less of.

At about 4pm or 5pm, I would meet one of my own coaches for a quick catch up on what’s happening and what I’m stuck with. If I don’t have a session booked, I’d read one of the few startup manuals I have. Mostly my work revolves around coaching the team, sales and also fund raising. I try to keep it to just that and delegate the rest. At nights, if the team works till late, I’d stay with them. Some times we’d grab a meal together, but other nights I’d just go home at about 9pm and  prepare for bed by 11pm.

What does success in life mean for you ?

Wen: Success to me comes in bite sizes daily. I genuinely think that there is so much to do, and so much we could do in this world. What I’m doing right now with SushiVid is purely because I felt firsthand what it’s like to want to be an actress so badly but having to give it up because of the lack of support.. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to others.

I want people to want to pursue their dreams. Everyday we’re giving influencers jobs, everyday someone gets to continue to pursue their dream to be a creator. These are all small achievements and small successes I celebrate in life. I am at my happiest today. With all its ups and downs, I’m still enjoying life everyday.

Final advice for aspiring entrepreneurs

Wen: Big hug! Nothing will prepare you enough for it but it’s so worth it. If I have to give one advice : have a few founder friends you can trust. They are my everything!  They can be your mentor, coach, shoulder to cry on, drinking buddy, everything!

Visit SushiVid at  http://www.sushivid.com/

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