With traction metrics that would make any startup CFO foam at the mouth, TikTok influencer marketing platform Ubiquitous is making a big splash in the chaotic market of influencer marketing. It’s one of the fastest-growing segments of advertising and marketing, but one that brings some unique challenges; working with influencers directly is labor-intensive, but results don’t lie, and many brands are finding it’s worth the hassle.
We’ve seen a bunch of activity in this space recently, including a $2 million ProductWind round, Alfluence’s $1 million, Carro’s $20 million and many more. The reason Ubiquitous’ platform caught my eye is that it raised a $5 million round led by Uncork in its largest seed investment to date (with additional funding from 100 Thieves and Starting Line VC), and the company has seen some stunning growth. The company launched just six months ago, has already booked $6 million of sales and is claiming astonishing conversion rates across the board, with 250 brands already using the platform, and corraling more than 1,000 influencers onto its platform.
“I was head of growth and then VP of Marketing for a company called Bellhop. In that role, I came across this opportunity because I tried to put a test budget into TikTok influencers. We tried to find an agency or a platform or anything that specializes in this. We were looking at it for a week, but we concluded there wasn’t one. Like even when we’re talking to the Viral Nations of the world, and all our traditional providers. They’re not taking this seriously. They’re not really investing in the space to be able to get us the data that we need,” Alex Elsea, co-founder at Ubiquitous, said as he outlined the history of the company. “That was final straw for me as a marketing leader. I’ve never had a good experience with an influencer marketing provider. And so we set out to create the company that was missing in the market.”
Running influencer campaigns in-house is tremendously work intensive; if you want to put $100,000 into a test campaign, you’re looking at 20-40 creators on the various platforms. That means you’re trying to find contact details for 100, negotiate with 50-60, sign agreements with 30 or so. Managing briefs, signing off on creative, handling negotiations and payments and contracts — it becomes an administrative nightmare very fast, and you’re often working with a number of creators who don’t have a slick process set up for how to handle this. In other words; you’re hiring amateurs for contract work, which is hard at the best of times.
“The moment it all clicked was in a meeting with myself and my marketing leadership team. I found myself wondering, ‘how is anyone doing this? How is anyone able to actually execute at this scale?’ At the same time, the quotes and the rates that we got back from the TikTok influencers was astounding. They were a fourth of what we were paying on Instagram, and the engagement rates were four to six times higher. It was the best data I had ever seen — but it was so much work to make it happen that it just didn’t scale,” explains Elsea. “And so there was this meeting, we looked at each other, we were like, are we missing something? Or is this the best opportunity we’ve ever seen?”
Long story short, Elsea and his founding team had stumbled into a huge opportunity in a brand new market — influencer marketing has been happening for a while, but rarely at scale, and TikTok had a different approach than Instagram, which meant that the dynamics of running influencer campaigns suddenly started to make a lot more sense.
“And every brand is going through the same thing — so there is a huge need, and you need some tech to automate it, because otherwise, you need a massive team in order to deploy that budget on an influencer-by-influencer basis, using phone calls, text messages and emails. Our platform helps with that,” explains Elsea.
The company is essentially a marketplace with an agency component: Ubiquitous helps marketing managers put together an influencer strategy, select the best influencers to work with, and then execute the whole campaign, end-to-end. The business model is clever, too, getting two bites of the apple for every transaction. The company charges its advertisers a platform fee, but it also charges a percentage of the money it pays out to its influencers. The company’s founders declined to specify exactly what its cut is on either side of the transaction.
“We’ve been doing it for about a year, with about a year and a half of testing. We officially launched April 1st, and we found product-market fit on the brand side and on the creator side. Since our launch, we went from zero to a $5 million revenue run rate, and in less than five months, it just took off,” explains Elsea. “To date, in reality, what VCs have been willing to fund has moved this industry the wrong way. It’s pushed it towards a SaaS model where you’re taking the humans out of the equation.”
Ubiquitous decided that if campaigns are five-, six- and seven-figure sums, it wasn’t enough to sell the brands a SaaS package, give them a log-in and say “good luck, folks,” and instead built up a fully functional platform to take care of all aspects of the influencer marketing campaigns.
With the funds raised, the company has ambitious plans. The company admits that what it has built so far is a bit basic, but claims it is head and shoulders above what the competition is offering. To get further ahead, the company is scaling out an engineering and product team and is adding a number of tools that serve the creators.
“We have a deep passion for taking care of these creators. The whole industry is kind of designed to take advantage of the influencers. We want to fix that. We’ve been able to build a creator network of this size this quickly by building a brand that actually puts them first and takes care of them,” explains Elsea. “Instead of only bringing them deals, the creator-facing app is going to be the hub of their entire careers. We are talking about rolling out creator-facing insurance, accounting services and much more.”