Jess Ruhfus, a former fashion and lifestyle publicist, is the mastermind behind Collabosaurus, a business she founded in 2015 after coming up with the idea of a Tinder-like platform that matches up brands who will complement each others business goals. Since this time, Collabosaurus has attracted over 3000 brands (from startups to large corporations) to create and source growth opportunities. As a valued new voice in the world of branding, Jess has spoken for Apple, General Assembly, ADMA and The Collective Hub on all things marketing, collaborations, sponsorships & entrepreneurship.
In this interview, Jess and I chat about how she turned her idea into a business, how brands can think like a startup to stay relevant and what makes a successful strategic partnership – enjoy!
What is the concept behind Collabosaurus?
When brands partner up, amazing things can happen. The likes of Uber x Spotify, Topshop X Doughnut Time and GoPro X Redbull helped spark the idea for Collabosaurus, which is a matchmaker for brands. Collabosaurus is a marketing tool that works just like a dating site to bring cool brands together for clever cross promotions, events, social media & partnerships.
How did you land on the idea and turn it into a business?
In both of my previous roles working in marketing & PR I was frustrated at the difficulties sourcing interesting brand collaborations the traditional way. There was a lot of time invested into reaching out cold to brands, negotiating and researching potential collaborations, and the process was messy. Tinder was becoming popular at the time and I thought – how amazing would it be to have a Tinder-like platform for brands?! The idea grew from there.
So how does it work? How are you able match the right brands together?
We’ve built an algorithm that can match complementary brands together. There’s a fair bit to it – from target markets, to locations, interests & offering vs what you want, Collabosaurus will find brands that complement your profile from a marketing standpoint. We want you to be able to reach relevant potential customers in a win/win partnership so we’re very careful with our matching process.
Which brands have you worked with and what have you been able to do for them?
Collabosaurus has seen well over 500 successful collaborations but with the site being anonymous until a connection is made, we aren’t able to talk about all of the brands using the platform (but there’s all things from hotel chains to airlines & telcos, influencers & alcohol brands). We’ve been lucky enough to work with Topshop Topman on an event collaboration that saw to-die-for catering provided for 500 students in exchange for social media & email list exposure to over 300,000 people for the collaborating brand, The Dessert Parlour.
What’s been the most challenging thing about running a start-up?
The cost of & frustrations of tech! Because Collabosaurus is custom built on a now-old platform, we’ve run into lots of tech headaches that are fiddly and expensive to fix. I’m quite impatient and it kills me when we’re being held back by tech mishaps – but luckily we have a legendary community of clients who completely understand.
What advice would you give to more established brands or companies on how they can think like a startup to stay relevant with today’s consumer?
- Be agile. A lot of larger companies get caught up in slideshow presentations and endless meetings with blown-out deadlines. Being agile means you can connect with today’s fast-moving, tech-savvy consumer while failing fast for impactful growth.
- Get personal. Some companies are doing this really well, but if you’re an established business and you’re not providing stellar customer service & personalised (meaningful) communications, your customers won’t think twice about engaging a competitor.
- Tell stories. Brands such as Spell & The Gypsy Collective and Mister Zimi have been able to craft engaging, beautiful stories through their social medias that capture a consumer’s interest. It’s not just about showcasing a product or promoting every 10 seconds, it’s about creating a desirable brand stories that consumers want to be part of.
What were you doing before Collabosaurus?
I started out in fashion & lifestyle PR before moving to an SME marketing education company before starting Collabosaurus. I also barista’d & waitressed & tutored high school English literature while we were getting up and running.
What do you love most about what you do?
How these collaboration opportunities completely change the way a brand engages with new people. Brands are getting more and more creative & excited within their partnerships and this makes me SO happy.
In your opinion, what makes for a solid strategic partnership?
Having clear goals in mind and similar audiences is really important. You want to make sure you’re reaching the right people when you’re shouting your collab from the rooftops! Just like real life dating, I’d suggest trusting your gut if something doesn’t feel right, and also to look at the brand aesthetic & values, as well as the fairness of the exchange.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I love the quote ‘great things never came from comfort zones’ – I’ve experienced this first-hand many times running Collabosaurus and it’s so true. Stepping outside your comfort zone is a fantastic way to grow – and the result you’re fearing rarely comes about.
How do you relate to the word ‘adrift’?
I think of ‘freedom’ when I hear the word adrift – and freedom is one of those things I value now more than ever running my own business.