Taking a startup to the next level

Kirsty Sharman

Johannesburg -Kirsty Sharman, Global Head of Operations for Webfluential, chats with IOL about growing and expanding her first startup.

Q: Is Webfluential your first start up?

A: Retromedia, an online media buying agency, was actually my first start-up. It merged with Webfluential in March 2015 and we grew from there.

Q: What gave you the idea?About four years ago, the marketing industry started realising the power of social influencers. Bloggers, Tweeters, and YouTubers were on the rise and brands wanted a piece of the action. We started running influencer campaigns manually with excel spreadsheets, our phones, and even the occasional FAX! My current business partner, Murray Legg, sparked the idea of automating the process and turning it into a marketplace that allowed brands and influencers to collaborate. When Webfluential and Retromedia merged in 2015, we combined the power of influencer and paid media and now we’re one of the fastest growing technology companies in Africa.

Q: How is it doing?

A: We’ve just closed off our first financial year and we’re extremely proud of the results we’ve achieved. Webfluential is the largest Influencer Marketing platform in Africa with over 6 000 active influencers and almost 3 000 clients. Our team is currently sitting at 30+ and we’re helping top African and European brands run smarter and more efficient influencer campaigns every day.

Q: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

A: I always knew I wanted to be something more than an employee, but I didn’t realise that meant being an entrepreneur until a few years ago. As far as I can remember I have always had a side project, dabbling in eCommerce, and working with Leigh Fowle to grow Girl Geek Dinners Johannesburg which is one of the largest networking events for women in technology in the southern hemisphere.

Q: What made you choose this career path?

A: If I’m being completely honest, I think this career chose me. For as long as I can remember I’ve been completely obsessed with the internet and what it can help regular people achieve. I spend hours online reading about tech, learning things on YouTube, building things, testing new social channels and whatever else the world wide web challenges me to do. Entrepreneurship happened as a result of me gaining knowledge in the online space and my passion to learn more about the commercial challenges behind being an entrepreneur.

Q: What's next on your list?

A: We’re determined to grow Webfluential internationally over the next 12 months, as well as continuing down the path of building the smartest technology to connect brands and social influencers. My role at Webfluential focuses heavily on the marketing and the operational sides of the business, so I’m looking forward to empower more and more influencers as our brand grows internationally. We have an exciting year ahead!

Personally, I’m working on a project that could change the way millennials accelerate their careers going forward. I’d like to make more time in 2016 to bring this idea to life and hopefully help millennials overcome the hurdles I’ve faced in my own career.

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?

A: Work with people who complement you. The current leadership of Webfluential consists of three individuals who have the same goal in mind but very different skills, all of which the company needs to succeed. I see too many businesses start because people have similar skills – you just end up with two people doing the same thing and that often limits growth. If you partner with people who have different skills to yours, you can go further and faster together.

Q: Would you say you need a degree to get started?

A: If we’re talking about entrepreneurs with internet-based businesses, then Google is enough to get you started. Google... and more determination that you think you have! Sure, a degree is always helpful and provides the base knowledge we need every day when running Webfluential, but that doesn’t mean starting a business without a degree is impossible. My mother, Sarita Sharman, runs one of the most successful lighting consultancies in South Africa and she doesn't have a degree or qualifications. Her talent and determination to be the best in her field have helped her run a successful business for over 10 years.


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