Influencer marketing important subset of creator economy: Roshan Abbas, Investor & Mentor, Chtrbox

Industry Watch | June 3, 2021 | Interview

QYOU Media Roshan Abbas Chtrbox Pranay Swarup

Influencer-created content company QYOU Media, which operates the TV channel ‘The Q’ in  India, announced on 1 June 2021 that it will acquire 100pc shares of Chatterbox Technologies, which runs Indian influencer marketing brand Chtrbox.

Chtrbox was founded in 2016 as a data-driven influencer marketing player, to enable brands to tell stories at scale through a diverse pool of over 300,000 influencers.

The company has been backed by entrepreneurs and media personalities including events veteran Roshan Abbas, who is Investor Partner and Mentor to Chtrbox.

EVENTFAQS Media reached out to Abbas and Pranay Swarup, Founder and CEO, Chtrbox, to trace the journey of the company since launch and the road ahead post its acquisition by QYOU, over an e-mailed interaction. 

EVENTFAQS:  VCCircle reported in 2018 that along with Gaurav Kapur, you were among the early angels to invest in Chtrbox, founded 2016. As a performer and incubator of talent yourself, what prompted you then to back Chtrbox?

Roshan Abbas: When Pranay shared with me about his earlier startup ‘Lets Intern’ in 2015, I was impressed by his focus and ability to deliver. In Rohit (Rohit Raj, Strategic Partner) he found a great companion who believed in the influencer space. I always back teams with solid ideas, and those who show the potential to see them through. And Pranay brought both to the table. The ability to also algorithmically see the true value of a creator in terms of reach excited me; it was bringing a method to the madness.

Would it be fair to say that the influencer space – and data-led influencer space within that  – were nascent in 2016? How have you seen it evolve?   

Roshan Abbas: In 2016, a lot of initial efforts went into explaining what influencer marketing is and why it is beneficial to brands. People used to be looking at follower count only; it was Chtrbox that spoke of reach, engagement, audience demographics, brand affinity plus scores based on the real influence / RoI potential of digital creators. Our data-led approach has helped clients answer how to best optimize their influencer media spends, across the macro, micro and nano-influencer segments. It's been about building a complete end-to-end content to distribution cycle based on data and creative insights.

It was nascent and took time to build belief, basis real data, with brands.

Chtrbox recently ventured into representation (March 2021). Is an end-to-end play the only viable play for influencer marketing going forward?

Roshan Abbas: Chtrbox's data-driven approach combined with having a brilliant pulse on the short-form content industry naturally led to strengths in being able to identify who the next big creators will be, and what segments and topics to bet on.

While the value behind the creator economy is a much larger play, influencer marketing is an important subset. The problems to solve will take data, creative process, monetization, technology, distribution and a whole lot more. Teams that are solving for in this space have to take bets on where their own, and the market's sweet spot lies.

India responds slowly to SaaS adoption; we are all too used to end-to-end service. My advice to Chtrbox and other startups has always been to back their strengths. Chtrbox's amazing 30 creators that they represent (Chtrbox Represents), their strong relations with all influencers and many brands, short-from content expertise, deep knowhow of influencer marketing fits perfectly well with QYOU. They're a powerhouse of a team, and businesses that complement each other very well.

What do you make of the recent guidelines from ASCI on influencer declarations? (ASCI.Social)

Roshan Abbas: We believe it's a great industry initiative. Influencer Marketing is still a nascent industry and having guidelines that serve the best interest of all is needed; further it gives lots of legitimacy to the industry. 

The QYOU acquiring Chtrbox represents reach (The Q) coming together with creators and content. Are we seeing a reintegration? Is that the future?  

Roshan Abbas: Outside of The Q's growing TV channel, QYOU runs a strong award-winning influencer marketing group in the US. They have been centred around influencers from the very beginning, and have some great initiatives in India and in the creator economy space. In spite of all growths in digital, TV is still massive in India and will be for many years until it probably all merges into each other. Great content and distribution has always been the essence of the media industry, and they are very well poised to capitalize on this opportunity.

Chtrbox has in the news for reasons good and bad since 2016. It also seems to have been in the hunt for funding for a few years now. Can you briefly talk us through the highs and lows till now? What explains the timing of this deal?  

Pranay Swarup: All companies have a few downs. Happy and proud of the team that it’s been more ups, and we went from strength to strength.

Chtrbox started out by pioneering with an influencer marketing SaaS play in mind, but very soon realized that it shouldn’t only build with that model as it comes with its challenges. We further developed our strengths in delivering the best end-to-end influencer marketing solutions to our clients, and I'm proud to say we have been profitable from year one, and didn't require external funding to grow.

Funding would have accelerated growth, but not all business models are designed for VC funding. And this is where the acquisition by QYOU comes in; we don’t have to re-invent a lot of wheels and can focus on building forward and take more aggressive bets. Our mantra has been if 1+1 can be 11 then you go for that and more.

With QYOU Media set to acquire the influencer marketing company, we asked Abbas and Chtrbox Founder and CEO Pranay Swarup about the evolution of the segment and way ahead.

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