dward East is such a big fan of Pharrell Williams that when the American rapper launched a fashion label called Billionaire Boys Club, East bought the domain BillionDollarBoy.com, “in the hope that one day it might be.” get his attention and lead. to introduce. “
It didn’t happen – but the name still stuck, says East, 35, who co-founded his influencer marketing company with that name in 2014, the early days of media marketing society. Billion Dollar Boy currently has 110 employees and £18 million in revenue.
The inspiration came while East was working at his father’s film company, Exclusive Media, in Los Angeles. “In the meantime, I was researching a new way to monetize movie clips on YouTube,” he explains, “and then realized that even though brands were obsessing about working with bloggers, but those are the YouTubers they need to connect with.”
East noticed that studios had started broadcasting YouTubers to promote their work and talk to his friend – and now BDB co-founder – Permele Doyle, who works at Estee Lauder, he knows that the American beauty giant is starting to pay Instagrammers to promote its products.
East began spending his evenings and weekends building a database connecting bloggers with brands, which was the beginning of BDB. Doyle set up an office in New York, while East and another friend, Tom Walters, started a startup in London, launching with four employees in a small office in Percy Street, Fitzrovia – also the very room where Ricky Gervais wrote The Office” in 2014. They used an initial £230,000 cash, raised from friends, family and industry connections, and started offers ‘Creator Marketing’ and ‘YouTube Rights Management’. “Unlike most businesses in our industry, we have never raised institutional funding,” adds East. “Our competitors raised millions of pounds and gave away huge amounts of equity to get where they are today but we did it all organically.”
Early work included managing Vine (the now defunct six-second looping video clip) stars Stuggy, Joe Charman and Daz Black. They’ve worked on campaigns for Bentley – BDB has Instagrammers doing content driving their cars in Nevada – and McDonald’s, promoting bland summer drinks.
Growth was slow at first: “There were months when I panicked about payroll. Influencer marketing is a nascent industry and very few people who work in brands believe it will work, so getting our share of marketing spend has been a challenge. ”
When they go to work, BDB’s reputation must be protected at all costs – that’s how East found himself being photographed in sun-kissed shorts in a packed Soho one lunchtime. “In one of our first campaigns, for McDonald’s, one of our influencers didn’t show up so I had to volunteer to take their place. It was the McDonald’s Facebook page, before, where people would vote for different outfits, and I had to pose in a pair of tight shorts in Soho Square, where people were eating lunch and staring stare at me. I was definitely not made to be a model! I deleted every image from our shared storage at work so my co-founders couldn’t dig them up and use them against me.”
Two years at BDB signed a £300,000 deal with skincare giant Garnier; Other early brands on board include handbag maker Coach. BDB now has a proprietary ‘creator management’ platform, Companion, which includes a large database of influencers and demographic data about each person’s audience, to match brands. brand with their ideal target market.
“Today, some creators are making branded content as creative and high-quality as big-budget productions,” East claims. BDB currently works with brands including Procter & Gamble, Sky, Sainsbury’s and Primark, and has offices in New York and New Orleans as well as London.
Revenue tripled from £2.7m in 2019 to 2020: “Spending the first day at home after office closures due to Covid, uncertainty is incredibly scary. But luckily, we didn’t have to do anything redundant due to the explosion in popularity of creator marketing. Brands are finally realizing the potential to create engaging, effective content to promote [return on investment] even if it’s made from the comfort of their own home.
Revenue is currently £18m – but East thinks they will double over the next 12 months, as BDB opens new offices in Brazil to complement outposts in London and New York.
“One of the biggest problems advertising agencies have is reputation,” he explains. “The industry we work in is controlled by a different generation, who have very different interests, preferences and views of the world and who are immature with social media. Our people set us apart, and we aim to break the traditional, supposedly toxic trajectory of the advertising industry.”
BGB staff: 110
Revenue: 18 million pounds