Episode #5- The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Vinod Varma

About Our Guest

Vinod Varma

Vinod has spent the last 10 years helping innovative brands build their GTM strategies to penetrate new markets, drive market-share, and ultimately fuel growth to become category leaders. He was responsible for growing the wearables category from $18m to $180m in Canada by launching products for FitBit, Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Sony, and more on behalf of BestBuy.


In episode 5 of the Performance Marketing Spotlight, Vinod Varma joins us from Creator.co. Vinod leads Creator.co and is helping brands scale and automate influencer marketing with their all in one solution. Vinod has spent the last 10 years helping innovative brands build their GTM strategies to penetrate new markets, drive market-share, and ultimately fuel growth to become category leaders. He was responsible for growing the wearables category from $18m to $180m in Canada by launching products for FitBit, Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Sony, and more on behalf of BestBuy. Listen in as Vinod shares his insights and experience in marketing and the influencer space.


Marshall Nyman [00:00:05]:

Hello and welcome to the performance marketing spotlight. I’m your host, Marshall Nyman, founder and CEO of NYMO & Co. Each episode, the podcast brings you someone with deep experience in the performance marketing space where they will highlight their experience within the industry. Today I have Vinod Varma, who is co founder and CEO of creator Co. Welcome to the podcast, Best.

Vinod Varma [00:00:25]:

Thanks, Marshall. Pleasure to be here.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:27]:

Very excited to have you on today.

Vinod Varma [00:00:28]:


Marshall Nyman [00:00:29]:

So let’s get right to it. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience so they can get to know you a bit?

Vinod Varma [00:00:34]:

Yeah, for sure. So, my name is Vinod. I co founded Creator Co about five years ago. Prior to that, I was responsible for launching some pretty significant brands like Fitbit, the Apple Iwatch, the Garmin, Forerunner, Samsung Gear, and these were predominantly in Canada with Best Buy. And through that process, learned a lot about working with influencers and how it can be used to scale awareness, build trust within targeted communities, and ultimately help brands really build loyal communities, which then can be translated and developed into very strong performance marketing plans.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:05]:

Awesome. Well, would love for you to share a little bit about Creator Co, what you’re doing there, and all the great stuff.

Vinod Varma [00:01:11]:

Yeah, for sure. So, Creator Co is really an ecosystem designed for brands and creators to connect, collaborate, grow, and earn more money. Really a two sided ecosystem where we have dedicated people on the brands team that is helping them create strategies, find the right influencers, execute and manage campaigns, obviously get all of the content and reporting and all of that good stuff. And then we also have the creator side where we’re actually committed to helping aspiring influencers find more brands, become part of those communities, and drive ambassador programs for challenger brands predominantly. So, yeah, two sided ecosystem, really designed to help grow the creator economy in the two largest underserved segments of it, which are challenger brands and micro influencers.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:55]:

For sure. I mean, that’s the barons that we focus with, and those are the ones that are always, I think, struggling to break through. So having tools and ways to help them grow their audience and followings for those brands is really instrumental in their marketing strategy. So it looks like you started the company back in 2016. What was the central point that got you guys started? What was the kind of the problem that you were trying to solve at that moment?

Vinod Varma [00:02:19]:

So the problem was trying to work with thousands of influencers at once. So this was a problem that I faced in my previous role when I was launching one of the new Fitbit devices. We were trying to manage and work with hundreds of influencers, and it was a nightmare. There was no platform that really supported this type of growth and scale, especially with micro influencers. And I understand that when you’re dealing with larger corporations that there are legal teams involved and there can be a lot of friction that’s necessary at that size, but it can also slow down campaigns and really lead to inefficiencies that take away from the true ROAS. When I peeled back the onion, really what we were doing was trading very specific products for tailored social exposure. And so when we looked around at technology that was available at the time, there wasn’t really anything that was just simple and easy and could get scale quickly. And that was the genesis moment for Creator Co when we decided we were going to build a platform that made it really easy for brands to trade their products and services for very tailored social exposure. So we founded the company in 2016, spent about two years building it, it launched in 2018 and yeah, we haven’t looked back since.

Marshall Nyman [00:03:30]:

Awesome. What were some of the major challenges that you faced in the beginning?

Vinod Varma [00:03:34]:

Definitely funding, I think at the very beginning, for a new entrepreneur to tackle, raising capital is a whole new thing that in my neck of the woods, was never discussed, never learnt in school, so that was a whole new learning and challenge that I needed to get through and overcome. And thankfully, the people that I surrounded myself with or that ended up surrounding their self or being close to me. I was fortunate enough to have people in my corner that really supported the vision of the business. And they were able to provide me with sound strategic guidance, open doors so that I could have those meetings, develop myself into someone who could raise money for a growing startup. And then it all kind of worked out. And now we’re hitting some pretty serious scale right now and should be growing to about 30 team members by the end of the year.

Marshall Nyman [00:04:21]:

Well, that’s awesome. I think that’s pretty much one of the biggest struggles right now is funding with everything going on the economy. So it’s good that you got through that period previously because I know right now it’s definitely not easy to get money. So what does an ideal brand look like for Creator Co? Or is there not really any brand that could be a fit or what do you see as an ideal fit?

Vinod Varma [00:04:42]:

So we like to think of ourselves as agnostic and if we can help a brand work with creators or help a brand grow using the creator economy, then we want to learn if that’s something we can execute on. For the most part, I will say brands who understand the value of their social media. So brands who have good social media presence doesn’t need to be thousands of followers, but understand that the aesthetic is important, that posting consistently is important. They have a well developed product and defined ideal customer profile, typically CPG brands, health and wellness, food and beverage, pets, fashion, home decor, fitness, those categories. Pets do really well for us, so that’s kind of the brands that we reach out to and see if we can offer some help or guidance when it comes to influencers. And then we’ve also worked with technology, apps, web, Three projects and all kinds of things. We’re getting more into the gaming space now, so Twitch is becoming really important to some of the strategies on those brands and I’m learning more and more every day about the other verticals that can really benefit from the creator economy. But we haven’t had a ton of experience yet as that market really still develops.

Marshall Nyman [00:05:47]:

Anything exciting on the roadmap for creator co that you could share?

Vinod Varma [00:05:50]:

Yeah, so by the end of Q Two, we will have pretty much all of our affiliate network integrations completed. So Rakagen refersion AWIN sharesale and soon impact Pepper, Jam and CJ. Which will mean we are one of the most integrated influencer platforms that exist. Which means any of our brands will then if they’re set up on those said networks will be able to essentially drop in campaigns, recruit influencers to not only create content and talk about them on social organically, but they’ll also be invited to participate and join affiliate programs. And we believe that microinfluencers have the ability to convert better than a lot of other publishers and a lot of other content mediums.

Marshall Nyman [00:06:31]:

Well, I agree with you as far as micro influencers. We like to work with micro influencers in our programs. We see the value in people that are still growing their followings as a brand is growing and I think there’s something nice with growing together. And so as that person starts to go from a smaller following to a larger following, they might still be excited about your product, still use it, still share it, when you’re going after someone a little larger, it’s harder to get in that door. So I definitely agree with you on the micro influencer side, they also tend to be a little bit easier to work with because you’re working directly with them versus maybe like a professional manager. But to your other point about getting integrated with the affiliate networks, that’s always really helpful for affiliate managers to have it all in one place. And it sounds like based on the ones that you said, you’re covering all the major affiliate networks that most of us work on. So that’s really great to hear. As far as your product goes, is it something that affiliate managers are using? Is it a service where you’re doing it white glove? What does that look like for someone that’s looking to work with creator co?

Vinod Varma [00:07:30]:

Great question. So both so we have agencies that come on and use our platform as a self serve tool for their entire team or for their clients. And then we have brands and or agencies that come to us and they require a little bit more labor, I guess, involved, because if you can have a tool with everything in the box ready to execute. You still need to find the right influencers. Conversations need to be had, recruiting needs to take place. So there’s a bit of work and sometimes it can be time consuming to do. So we offer that as a service as well. So we start at $460 a month for the base platform, which is everything you would need to run and drive an effective influencer campaign. And then you could add an account manager based on your needs from there.

Marshall Nyman [00:08:10]:

Okay, that’s very affordable for getting started with influencer. So that kind of ties into my next question about budget for influencers. I think obviously it seems like everybody just wants to work on just gifting and commission. I think if it works, it’s great. But it seems like we’re at a point now where pretty much every influencer that we talk to says, hey, I’m going to put a lot of time into putting together a post for you. There is some sort of upfront cost that I need. So what are your thoughts on kind of paying for post or having some sort of fee or hybrid model to working with influencers?

Vinod Varma [00:08:45]:

Marshall it’s a great question and honestly, probably the one I face most when talking with our partners, when talking with potential brands. The truth is there isn’t a formula or straight answer. And I’ll give you an example. If you’re Nike and you’re offering people free sneakers to do a post for you, almost every influencer would say yes to that because the brand name has so much clout, and when you’re seen collaborating with it, it does. Good things for your personal brand versus if you’re a brand that no one’s really heard of and you’re offering free product and requesting it. The influencer should know that in this equation they hold the leverage because they have the community, they have the trust that’s taken time, has taken effort for them to build and maintain. And the brand needs to pay to access that because that influencer and individual has worked hard cultivating their community. So that’s kind of the balance. The two extremes that I guess you could say is sometimes we know that the brand really needs the help and therefore should pay to play and get the exposure to that influencer. Who is taking time to create content, edit it, create a caption that resonates with their audience. And remember, it’s always in the influencers best interest to create content that’s aesthetic to their feed and engaging to their community. Right. There’s no incentive for them to botch a collaboration because there’s intrinsic values there for them. So for brands we do, as a strategy for most of our clients, recommend doing an Evergreen Gifted campaign. The advantage to that is you get people who are really in line with the brand values, who understand it, who are probably a customer or would be a customer if they saw it in a store or online. And that’s when the most authentic content comes through is when they’re like, yeah, I want to support this brand, I love that you’re vegan or gluten free or allergy free and my kids need all of that stuff. So I’d love to help you guys out and collaborate. And for them they get seen as someone who’s breaking the news first about a new brand to their audience. So there’s value and to the brand they obviously get the much needed exposure and the trust and the content. On average, we like to do a mix of gifted campaigns and paid campaigns. The paid campaigns allow you to better target sometimes more higher quality influencers that are being sought after and you have to appreciate that other brands in your space are probably contacting them as well. So you do need to stand out from the crowd a little bit, but then that need for just organic, steady content and getting people who align with the brand values into your Ambassador program for long term growth gifted campaigns are a great strategy to do that and to put your product in the hands of someone who would be an ideal customer.

Marshall Nyman [00:11:20]:

Yeah, I mean, I agree with that. I think personally it makes sense to have a little bit of budget if you’re looking to get into influencer. If not, it’s going to be more challenging. And when I say budget, it doesn’t have to be a big budget, but definitely something to think about, paying the creators for their time at least. And then I think the other thing is that a lot of affiliate marketers are used to running everything on a performance basis. And so a lot of the more traditional publishers are better equipped with their tracking and driving conversion, where influencers aren’t always great at driving conversion via the platforms, they might be great at driving conversion other ways, and you’re not always seeing that. So I think that’s the other reason why sometimes paying them a fee and knowing that traffic is going to come but it might not directly come to your website via your affiliate platform and so you’re not tracking it and seeing it the same way. That’s something also I think that’s important for people to consider when they’re putting together budget because it’s just not the same attribution like you’ll see across the board budget is important to really having a successful campaign in my opinion. So what are some of the major challenges that influencer marketing space is currently facing?

Vinod Varma [00:12:32]:

I think to your point, your earlier question, one is understanding the budget involved and what’s required of achieving the success that you’re looking for. I think people jump into it and think influencer are just going to magically drive sales for you and that’s not the case. It’s like any marketing strategy where you need to have a thought out strategy, a defined goal, and then kind of reverse engineer from them. Who are the influencers that we need to target, to get to this goal, to get to this reach, to get to this impression camp, to get this type of content, whatever it might be, there needs to be a plan in place. So I think one is making sure that you’ve got a very defined goal and then reverse engineer a plan from there. Also, I think there’s frustration trying to determine ROI. So again, part of that goal is determining what are the factors of ROI? Are there going to be social metrics in terms of reach engagement? Is it going to be follower growth on your own TikTok, Instagram, YouTube channels? Is it going to be the content that you get and you know that it’s going to take you? If you were to hire a photographer or videographer, it would cost you thousands of dollars and months or at least weeks to get content back the way you want it. In this case, it’s a little bit faster, a little bit more organic, and can still be high quality, and there’s a value associated to that. So there’s different ways to build a scorecard. But I think brands right now the frustrations would probably be around determining ROI, creating a real plan that leads to a desired outcome, or at least a way to measure if a desired outcome is being accomplished or not. And then I think overall in the industry, I think the number one time suck in this space is finding and recruiting the right influencers. From what we say, that seems to be the biggest, like, yeah, we’re interested, we like the premise, we have a good product, we know that the influencers will love it, but we don’t have 2 hours a day to recruit 100 influencers when only ten or 15 are responding to us.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:19]:

Yeah, I think setting expectations are key, as you said in the beginning. And then recruitment for us is pretty much where we spend most of our time. It’s what we see as the biggest piece to continuing to drive success for any program. And it’s just always a rinse and repeat kind of thing. So you never kind of finished finding them. You’re always looking for new ones or maybe going back to ones that didn’t engage in the past and seeing if maybe they’re interested in working together now. So I think that’s all really great points. I was asking to ask you next, what’s a common misconception? But I think you pretty much kind of hit the nail on the head. I think people basically, they think it’s a waterfall. They’re just going to turn it on. And working with influencers is going to be this big money maker overnight without really thinking about a long term strategy. I think one of the other things that we talk about with clients a lot is like, where do you want the content? Where are you trying to grow your presence? Like, is YouTube a focus today? Is TikTok? Is Meta where are you trying to spend your time and then using those types of influencers? So I think kind of like, as you said, reverse engineering. It really understanding what the goal is versus just saying, hey, we want to work with influencers.

Vinod Varma [00:15:21]:

Yeah, totally. Yeah, that’s probably the biggest misconception. Is it’s going to just lead to instant sales, but no one’s heard of the brand or no one recognizes it or it’s over $100 and it’s not an impulse purchase, so it will take some time to get there and trickle down the sales funnel. Yeah, definitely. That would probably be the biggest misconception. And if anyone is aware of a vending machine in marketing where you can put a few dollars in and it spits out a guarantee out, then yeah, I’d love to see it.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:47]:

I mean, I always tell people, if you’re looking for overnight success, affiliate channel is not the best one. I think people are used to running in Google or Social and you kind of put the money in, you start to see the conversions instantly. You can kind of push the lever up or down like affiliate. It takes a lot of time. You establish the relationship, you get them the product, they’re interested in it, they use it, they write the review, then it finally goes live and then you start to see maybe some of the conversion come in. Maybe it takes a couple of other interactions from that partner to really drive sales. So it’s not like you should always have that expectation on just that first hit. Everything’s going to happen. It’s really building that partnership and that relationship.

Vinod Varma [00:16:25]:

Totally. Yeah, you’re bang on, man. It’s all about that. Takes time.

Marshall Nyman [00:16:29]:

Any predictions on the future of influencer marketing?

Vinod Varma [00:16:32]:

Yeah, I think creators are going to become their own storefront very quickly, sooner than we expect. I think people will be focused less on retailers and more focused on buying from people they trust, individuals they trust. And I think that there’s a lot of technology coming down the pipeline from creator co included that’s going to enable more influencers creators, whatever you want to call them, to take more control over the products they support and to earn more from being a part of that brand’s growth story.

Marshall Nyman [00:17:01]:

Awesome. Well, really appreciate you having on. Great conversation. Definitely valuable for anybody looking to dive deeper into influencer marketing or interested in taking a look at the platform. A big thank you to you Vinode, from creator Co for joining the podcast this week. Some really great insights. What is the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Vinod Varma [00:17:22]:

You can find me on LinkedIn. Just my first name, last name, Vinod Varma. You can also email me Vinode at.

Marshall Nyman [00:17:30]:

Again, thank you. I am Marshall Nyman. I am the host of the Performance Marketing Spotlight signing off. Thank you for joining us and giving a like or a follow if you’d enjoyed this content. Thank you.

Vinod Varma [00:17:41]:

Thanks so much.