Jessica Ruhfus: Collaboration
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jess Ruhfus, Founder of Collabosaurus, and chatting about how she built Collabosaurus to what it is today, the launch of their new website and tips on collaborating in business.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you, your background and how Collabosaurus came to be?
I fell into a journalism course after starting a cinematography degree that wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. After a music journalism, radio and management course I was exposed to Public Relations, which is what I ended up majoring in.
From there, I got my first job in a fashion and lifestyle boutique PR agency, which was so great! I was the showroom manager which was a proper grad job – really long hours – I think my salary at the time was $33k a year on 12 hour days, and the office was about an hour and a half from home. I was stressed-out and working a lot but found it really interesting and completely different to any work experience I’d had, expectations I’d conjured up or hospitality jobs I’d previously held.
Part of the job was coordinating launch events and media showings while keeping to a budget. We’d be sourcing venues, catering, photography, ‘goodie’ bag inclusions and sometimes booking talent. The brands we were representing were already paying us as an agency, and so additional event budget every season was extremely limited. So, we would scramble together contra deals and collaborations (that weren’t leveraged very well) through our networks and a publicity-industry newsletter / digital noticeboard called Social Diary. Being a graduate, I didn’t have an extensive network, so I found the whole process messy and time consuming.
After the PR job, I started working for a marketing education company aimed at small business. Here, I noticed hardly anyone was pursuing partnerships, which was astounding seeing as they’re one of the most cost-effective, impactful marketing strategies out there. I’d ask them “hey, why are aren’t you partnering? Is there a reason you’re not doing it?” Often it was because they had been rejected before and they didn’t have the confidence, or they heard ‘crickets’ after reaching out and didn’t receive a response. I found a lot of people dismissed it as a concept completely not worthwhile.
One day, I was pulling together some potential partnerships for an event and facing the usual time consuming struggles. Tinder was becoming really popular and that’s when the idea came up for Collabosaurus. I mean, how amazing to have a dating-style platform, but for brands to build great cross-promotional relationships? As a marketer, this was a no brainer. I thought I was a genius and started building out the idea in secret – which makes me snort with laughter, now.
How did Collabosaurus develop from your first idea to what it is today?
I built the initial product as a tool for publicists because that’s where I was predominantly experiencing frustrations myself, and all my PR friends had said, “absolutely, that’s what we need!” Then, of course, as soon as I launched it the publicists weren’t the ones hopping on board. Publicists and big brands wouldn’t hop on until we had a bigger user base or until we had some case studies to go off, which is totally fair enough. So, our first prototype, which I sank way too much money into, was attracting startups and small businesses, who were completely confused by the industry jargon and the way the site was structured.
From there, I was fortunate enough to meet my now-business partner, Nick, who helped flip the messaging and design to fit SME audiences. To save money, we put new designs on-top of old code and avoided rebuilding the website from scratch. Launching this version saw us quadruple in about a week which was absolutely amazing.
3 years on, we are set to release a brand new Collabosaurus, a site we have built fresh from the ground up. For this version, we’re moving into the digital advertising space with tracking & reporting, a significantly improved algorithm and a host of new features. Did you know that brand collaborations are up to 30x less expensive than other digital advertising? It’s incredible, and brands of all sizes have so much to gain from effective collaborations.
So for small businesses looking to collaborate, what can you offer them at Collabosaurus?
Collabosaurus is the matchmaker for brands. We’ll connect you with complementary businesses for clever marketing partnerships and cross-promotions in events, social media & products.
Not only will you be making use of a marketing tool up to 30x less expensive than other digital advertising, you’ll be growing your network at the same time.
In short – we’ll help you grow your audience! It’s free to start, too.
How long have you been going for now?
Almost 3 years! We kicked off in September 2014 as that publicity platform and in July 2016 we re-designed the website. Over the past 12 months we have been gathering data and a tonne of feedback ahead of our new website launch – It seems every year we have a new thing going on!
So you obviously would see some really good collaborations come through Collabosaurus, what have been some of your favourite ones you’ve seen come out of it?
There are so many! Collabosaurus has seen over 600 successful collaborations, so it’s really hard to pick one. I’m really emotionally tied to the early ones, simply because I worked hard on bringing those to life.
The collaboration between Printsea x Mickey Rose is a good one – Printsea do the most beautiful, illustrated print designs and Mickey Rose produce eco-friendly kidswear. For a product collaboration, they released a limited edition unisex harem pant for kids featuring a Printsea print. Micky Rose have said that this was one of their best-selling items yet! They both marketed to their unique audiences, which allowed them to effectively double their reach.
I also love the Topshop x Dessert Parlour event collaboration because it’s awesome when big brands and emerging brands collaborate. Topshop was running an event in Melbourne for 500 students, and their catering partner dropped out at the last minute. So, they hopped on Collabosaurus and sourced a collaboration with The Dessert Parlour, a local boutique patisserie. The Dessert Parlour produced around 1500 gorgeous, Instagram-worthy donuts for the event, saving Topshop approximately $2500 on catering.
In return, The Dessert Parlour was able to get in front of 500 locals at the event, plus exposure to over 300,000 people on Topshop’s Instagram, and then 30,000 people on Topshop’s email list. That was such a win/win because Topshop was stoked; they saved cash and the Dessert Parlour got awesome exposure.
Tell us about the name, Collabosaurus, how did that come about?
It was actually a joke to begin with! I love the idea of collaborations and I didn’t want to call it ‘partner up’ or anything like that, I thought that was boring. So, I nicknamed the business ‘Collabosaurus Rex’ while I was building the initial platform. Later, when we started exploring some potential names, nothing was singing to me as much as Collabosaurus. Everyone hated it, honestly, and now everyone loves it. People initially came at me with, “you can’t call it that because it’s hard to spell” and “it’s not memorable”. But, we have incredible SEO value – even if you grossly misspell it – because it’s so unique. I get a ridiculous amount of comments on how quirky and great it is and it’s proven memorable in time. I really love it, I have a bit of an attachment to it.
What be your ‘top tips’ for a really good collaboration?
My top tips are:
1. Make sure you have a specific goal in mind. Don’t just connect for connections sake. If you really want to grow your email list that month, for example, connect with brands that could help you grow your email list. Have that marketing goal in mind, because it’s less about the creative idea and more about achieving a specific growth goal. That leads to my second tip…
2. Don’t stress about having a big idea, or knowing who to partner with. That’s why we built Collabosaurus; we team you up with the right brand. If you don’t have a big idea in mind, it’s great! This gives you wiggle room to negotiate later. If your goal is to grow your email list and their goal is to grow their social media following, you can work on an idea that helps you both achieve that. Have a clear goal, but don’t get too stressed about having a big idea.
3. Know your target market. This is really, really important. Know exactly who you want to get in front of so that you can collaborate with someone who shares that same audience. For example, if your target market are men over 60 and my target market are female entrepreneurs under 40, it makes no sense for us to be collaborating because our audiences don’t line up.
What are some potential roadblocks that can occur when it comes to collaboration?
Absolutely! My top three are..
- “I’ve got nothing to offer” if you’re feeling like this, I PROMISE you have something to offer – even if you started your business yesterday. Think about time, skillset, services, products, and the community that you do have. Even if it’s 50 people, you have a community that another brand wouldn’t get in front of otherwise.
- “I’ve been rejected / taken advantage of in the past” that sucks. But this is one of the reasons we have build Collabosaurus in the first place. Our partnership with Law Squared means you get access to legal contracts & agreements to keep things legit. The Collabosaurus team will be there to hustle with you, avoid rejections & ensure collaborations run smoothly.
- “I don’t have a collaboration idea or know who I should partner with” great! Collabosaurus will find you awesome collaborators and ideas can be generated together with your collaborator (or with the Collabosaurus team inside the CollaboHub)
Have you had many mentors over the years and if so, what’s one piece of advice that’s stuck out for you?
It’s funny – I have never had an official mentor. I’ve found that a lot of the networking connections I’ve made along the way inspire me and have ended up in that mentoring role. I have my business partner, Nick, who has been on the Collabosaurus journey for the last 2 years. He has probably been the biggest mentor in terms of being constantly in contact and keeping me accountable. I also have a great network of friends in business who completely inspire me and help me along the way.
The best piece of advice that Nick has given me is that the growth and success of your company is your responsibility. I think we find it easy in the small business & start-up space to go ‘well this didn’t go to plan because this didn’t work’, or ‘this person didn’t do the right thing’. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to you. I think it’s really important to recognise that and invest time in ‘the hustle’ because it can be so easy to get stuck in the day to day. I have found that the best results and connections, partnerships and collaborations have come from when I really sat down and said to myself – ‘I’m going to do a bunch of pitches myself and I’m going to get out there and hustle.’
What motivates you?
I love people’s energy. That motivates me. I love networking and building collaboration partnerships; surrounding myself with people who have different views and skill-sets.
Nick is such a good motivator just because he sees things in a different way. He is an ex-finance guy so he sees the money side of things. He says things like, “cool, we can get to this if you can improve this, this and this number”, and that’s such a motivator for me because he can see the big picture and gets excited about it. I think being around other positive people is seriously important and motivating. It’s very easy to fall into the trap if you’re surrounded by people who are pessimistic or a little bit negative – that can really suck on your energy and has the complete opposite effect. It’s demotivating. So I think positivity is great curate around you.
What’s the most effective daily habit you possess?
That’s an interesting question (laughs) everyday is really different for me! But, the one thing I always do is get a morning coffee. It’s funny because my boyfriend said to me, ‘you could save thousands of dollars a year if you stopped drinking coffee’, and I told him ‘it’s so much more than a coffee to me.’ It’s a moment that I take to ‘check in’ a little, to take a breathe. That’s the ritual that I do, not just for the caffeine but also to get out of the office. I don’t look at my phone – I either flick through a magazine or the paper and it’s just so I can gather my thoughts for the day.
Lastly, goals for the future, yourself personally and Collabosaurus?
What’s next for us is changing the digital advertising landscape! Not an easy task, but we’re doing it already! We will be raising a round of capital to help us grow our organic pockets of users in the UK, Canada, the U.S and strengthen our presence in Australia. We want to make it easy and cost-effective, for any brand, of any size, to harness the power of brand collaborations and grow. Wish us luck!