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Startup Talk Toronto’s Startup Podcast Episode 10 Node & Instage


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In this episode I interview Armand Faraji of Node at the CNE Innovation Garage about building a two side marketplace for instagram influencers and small businesses, pitching, and getting stuff done.  I also take time out of the Fundica Roadshow to talk to Imran Mouna of Instage a VR startup that gives you real time feedback as you practice any presentation.

Hosted by The Startup Coach

Direct from the six world renown. Canada’s largest city, with Canada’s biggest Thinkers, Visionaries and Hustler’s this is Startup Talk featuring the Founders, Funder’s, Innovators and community leaders, who have led Canada’s Startup Ecosystem right here in Toronto. You’ll hear the challenges, the failures; the successes Toronto Startup podcast gives you the full story Direct from the entrepreneurs and influencers who have made a difference, now the host of Startup talk, the founder of Toronto Startup talk, the Startup coach.

The Startup Coach: It’s the Startup coach here and I’m down at the CNE Innovation Garage and today I’m here with Armand Faraji of Node you were pitching on Friday can you tell me about what was it like to be here at the CNE Innovation Garage and pitching, how did you get here?

Armand Faraji: Hey Craig thanks for having me on the show. As far as my pitch, so just to give you a little background about Node, we offer a marketplace as I mentioned in our pitch to brands and businesses is to offer goods and services in exchange for post from social media influencers so we connect brands directly with influencers that are local and that we verified. So in terms of the pitch, the team went really well I really enjoyed it, we have a video as well that we’ll be sharing online. I think byes when it comes to judging I’ve done several pitch comes by now and I think that the feedback was really great there is definitely things we can improve and I mean yeah, there is lots of fun. It was kinda cool getting out there and getting new word out there looks like we’re getting some leads through it too.

The Startup Coach: Leads are always good and I always suggest people pitch as many pitch competition as they can once they have a good pitch because it only adds value gets the word out there and eventually it leads to something. So it’s great, tell me a little bit about how do you started Node where did it came from, where did you get the idea?

Armand Faraji: Sure, So I mean myself…I’ve actually been running social media agency prior to Node two and a half year almost and we mostly work with food and beverage clients as well as a lot of retail businesses in the past year we start realizing the power of influencers in particular when it comes to social media and we started working directly with a lot of local influencers to see how we could kinda leverage their audience to build some of the brands that we’re working with. And I mean just over a year ago we started working on a model that we could actually offer to businesses to work directly with some of these fantastic influencers that we’re in touch and I mean since then we’ve been actually working with business and I mean my own agencies other agencies and influencers to develop a beta which we launch three weeks ago on the (I.O.S) store.

The Startup Coach: Congratulations.

Armand Faraji: Thanks appreciate it.

The Startup Coach: And so there is a lot to talk about here, so you’ve got a lot to talk about here…so you were doing the social media before for a while, you realized that influencer marketing is becoming huge and a lot of people don’t know how to go and where to go so you’ve filled in this niche of a small companies, medium companies, large companies you want to connect with authentic brands and that’s great. So how are you finding that two-sided marketplace where you need to find influencers who want to on board and then applying to or trying to get to the right influencers?

Armand Faraji:  Sometimes it’s like kinda when you throw a party and you want your friends to come and then you tell them that the other guy is coming, and then you tell that dude that this other guy is coming so they both show up to the same party it’s kinda like that I mean you have to find like a middle ground where you could offer value to both sides and then offer them some sort of introductory offer to get them to show up to the party really. So I mean for us it was offering influencers an opportunity to network and build directly with brands and for brands, it’s an opportunity to meet and again work directly with a lot of fantastic influencers and both sides see the value it given where the market is going so by just communicating the value to both sides we were able to get into kinda both show up to the party.

The Startup Coach: So let’s talk about the band side, the customer side of the situation, what is your ideal customer, what size are they… you know you talk about doing social media for restaurants, is this specifically for restaurants still or have you branch out to anything?

Armand Faraji: Great, three questions so basically in the past year since developing our beta we’ve work actually with our customers and our users to develop Node this wasn’t something we went one on one to create we have like an amazing amount of data that we’ve collected through surveys, personal interviews and just observing like media events that have happened in the past year. And with that being said we found that food is a really good entry point for us just because it’s very social and nature and has that natural network effect and it just lends itself well to visual content that our influencers are producing on Instagram.

The Startup Coach: Well and if you did launch just three weeks ago I also always suggest to Startups that they reached down and you know rather than be everything to everyone, go after a market, gain control of that market and then expand so yeah, and that makes sense. So are you dealing with local restaurants in Toronto only or you into the wide or only (U.S) international?

Armand Faraji: Well I mean the thing is we’re…the way I see it is that if you pick a niche you have a compound in effect within that group if you’re able to offer really great value, whereas if you pick several different markets it’s difficult for you to look at where is really giving you the most value and optimize based on that. So for us I mean we realized that in Toronto like this is really kind of like the capital for food in Canada and it’s a major app for influencers as well so there’s really no better place for us to start than the restaurant in the food and beverage industry in Toronto and absolutely I mean our goal is to extend beyond that. And a mean a lot of the brands and influencers were working with them and contact with or asking for our platform outside of Toronto. But first, it’s like a matter of perfecting the experience.

The Startup Coach: And that makes total sense to me, you’re a start launching here, you’re a three weeks old. So you’re going after the restaurant what’s the typical size, like if I have one restaurant should I be talking to you, should it be three restaurants, should it be ten restaurants?

Armand Faraji: Right, so I mean we actually when we designed this product it was out…the point of it was for it to be a very low entry point so that any business can get involved. I mean when it came to mind the way I actually thought about it, it was that if my friend opens up an ice cream shop and he gives one of our most popular buddies ten free ice creams just for sharing it on Instagram then you know he could definitely get a line up going and start you know growing his business and build some momentum off that. So for us, we originally built it for any business that’s starting off to use Node to build their traffic. But now we’re approached by larger brands and we’re finding that some of the franchises are actually using the tool more than smaller businesses, so with that being said I mean we constantly optimizing. But the point of the actual app a mean it’s intended for a wider audience.

The Startup Coach: And that makes sense from scalability going forward. So we talked about the business side of it let us talk about the influencers side a little bit, who are the influencers you generally going after I mean obviously food industry or where local influencers that aren’t necessarily food specifically in Toronto, what size are following is it only on Instagram where are you looking for influencers what kind?

Armand Faraji: I mean for us like we have a set of criteria that we create based on what we learned that brands and agencies and marketers as a whole wanna see from influencers and for us the main thing is that the content quality is up to par. So they’re using you know good equipment to actually shoot it and their photos are edited so that the brand could actually recycle that content and use it for another campaign secondly there audience has to be authentic, so what I mean by that your followers aren’t purchased and we could basically tell that based on their engagements so as long as they get those three marks.

The Startup Coach: And there are lots of tools second tech I mean

Armand Faraji: Exactly

The Startup Coach: There’s a few fake follower tools I use to make sure that we’re doing well and we’re well below two percent on that and since Twitter, as purged up Twitter anyway I think we’re well below that now.

Armand Faraji: Yeah I mean that’s definitely a big issue that….in the past week we have been talking bots and how we could detect them more and for us and again that’s why we have content quality and engagement. And then also hosting frequent like how frequent they post all their activity as like other measures that we look at it is an all-encompassing I mean like to evaluate influencers and we’re working on like a, an actual algorithm so that we can automate that process, but a lot of that is managed by a person right now.

The Startup Coach:  And that makes sense. So I think you have to take a look individually to find out whether someone has ten or twenty thousand followers but they’re very active and they engage followers that might have a significantly more impact than someone has a hundred thousand followers but they’re not as active engage or are not as local. How do you approach these influencers or you just say “hey” you get ten free meals or like your ten free ice cream cone for example or how does that work?

Armand Faraji: So a mean we’ve actually tried that before and it doesn’t always work just because I mean folks are skeptical to try new apps and you know give their information and just don’t like you know people got all tons of apps on their own devices installed already and they don’t necessarily want to keep the next one. A big thing as using influencers, influencer marketing ironically enough to do our marketing so we work with certain influencers that help us kind of onboard other influencers on to our program and I mean like because like we’re a startup we don’t have the type of marketing material or like really a story that we can create right now, just because we’re starting off and we’re just capturing information and really we’re finding the experience. But really we’re building that onboard package help right now it’s all about really networking individually with influencers and again over the past few weeks we’ve been working with these influencers to develop this product.  So I mean know it as a whole is a community built project right and we’ve worked with a lot of these businesses and agencies and individual influencers and they’ve been in the loop over the past year while we’ve even building it.

The Startup Coach:  Honestly that’s the way to go again one of the things I teach is to get the people involved the stakeholders to give you as much feedback as possible shown on the screenshots let them know…give you the feedback on what’s missing and how to drive that. So you’ve talked to the influencers you’re kinda getting them onboard or you match making them now from a platform so you’ve got the influencers, how do I come to you and I say I’m looking for something or just click randomly, how does this work?

Armand Faraji:  So the way that this platform is that influencers have their own version of the app and on that app, there’s an offer that they can access the offers are cater to them based on their location and their audience size. Businesses on the other side hand have their own version of the app and they can create these offers and they can set a criteria for the type of influencers to redeem these offers based on the influencers subsequent audience size and there distant from that location and their distance is obviously tracked from the influencers (G.P.S) and basically influencers on an ongoing basis they can redeem offers they just have to visit the venue show that they could redeem it with their mobile device and then that content actually…the app connects to their Instagram counsel you got to submit it through the app itself back to the business.

The Startup Coach: Amazing you got the influencers coming out you’re connecting them online they can take the offers so as a business I can put up whatever offer up there I want and I can decide to take that depending on location proximity all those things, can we talk about pricing?

Armand Faraji: Absolutely

The Startup Coach: Is it a free market from I’m not free, you go pay but from a, I can offer up anything and see if any influencer buy it, or how does that work?

Armand Faraji: Right, so real thing that offers an amazing amount of flexibility in terms of pricing I didn’t mention it is a low entry point for businesses so it’s a hundred dollar a month subscription for businesses to join our beta right now and there’s no contract, there’s no commitment, there’s no setup for cancellation fee, so they use it as they like and they can create offers as many…. as much as they like really and connect with as many influencers as they pleases as long as they’re on the subscription with that being said as far as the offers they have to always be complementary to the app, so they can’t be offering discounts and then you’ll really have very success with different types of offers I mean you might have a venue that offers a coffee for instants and they don’t see influencers necessarily biting on that so maybe they will revise it and make it a coffee and a donut and see if that helps and if not maybe they’ll make it a coffee and a dozen donuts or half dozen donuts so yeah like the business has full control over the type of offers and the type of product they want promoted with these influencers.

The Startup Coach: So you launch three weeks ago how many active clients do you have on right now who are users?

Armand Faraji: Right, so we’ve kept there our user base, so we only except five new brands every week on our program no more and only twenty new influencers that we verified every week and that’s just because we’re trying to make sure the experiences is really refined for both sides of our market and we want to be able to cater needs of both sides as well. So in order to be able to handle all those requests, we’ve kept it, right now in the past three weeks we’ve got about twenty brands that we’re working with I say about fifty percent of them are multi chain franchises or national brands you could say so I mean it’s going pretty well but…like I mean in my head I think it’s going to be difficult for us to keep the five brands onboarding them five a week just because we’re also dealing with a lot of like bugs and things that we’re fixing through the app; so yeah, it’s going well.

The Startup Coach: Startup scale-up problem

Armand Faraji: Yeah

The Startup Coach: And interesting seems great from a pricing model and obviously you’re vetting them to make the experience great. Because that’s obviously the next thing any joke could come on and say hey, you know push my product and do whatever and you have to make sure that that’s the product and that they’re not just scamming people. So what kind of user experience or feedback are you getting from the users using this and either the user is using it and then feedback from the influencers.

Armand Faraji: So one thing how we did actually we launch the app without an onboarding so we just gave it to the influencers and we just wanted to see how they would react. and the reason for that is because we want create an onboarding process that shows them every step of the app. the rules and the guidelines, but we would first wanna see how are they engaging with the app. Where some of those pain points are so we could address them right where they are and without having to revise too much. With that being said, I mean there is certain influencers that are having trouble navigating through the actual rules. in terms of how they supposed to redeem offers and then share them through Instagram most of them aren’t having an issue on the restaurant side.  We’re having some problems with restaurants downloading the influencers app accidentally. So again these are like little things that come up and we could pretty much fix them like within a short time span.  But again like we launch the app kind of unfinished as an MVP for this very reason.

The Startup Coach:  MVP I obviously just get I out there, get it out there reiterate it, reiterate it. What are the responses are them…you know you’ve been trying this obviously for a little while I assume in beta, what are the responses from people using it and the influencers from a whole they getting the reactions they want the customers they want that kind of thing?

Armand Faraji: Right, so from the businesses we’re still onboarding influencers so they’re getting in terms of the content they’re getting influencers to redeem offers and share about them. From the influencers side we were also like influencers are very happy with the offers that we have.  Obviously they want more right now we have about fifteen, we have twenty brands that are working with us, we have about fifteen offers that are live right now  and a mean amongst I think fifty influencers that are on the program. In general, they want more offers and brands a lot more influencers these are the main pain points is that both sides just want more to work with and for us it’s like we’ve have already capped that five businesses and twenty influencers so we told them that it’s going to come in time but they’re getting the content they’re getting what they paid for it’s just a matter of like getting the volume there.

The Startup Coach: So if I’m an influencer hearing about this thinking I want to get on your platform but you’ll only except five influencers, is it five influencers, or five brands, five brands and twenty influencers sorry. How do I tip the favor in my scales to get to the front of that line or make sure I get accepted?

Armand Faraji: Well we’ve had a Queue set up on our website for I think last four months.  I mean prior to launching the apps there’s a line up there aside from that we do work with a couple of agencies that do have certain influencers that they kind of want to push to the front line and like…I mean obviously, we have to prioritize because brands have a preference about certain influencers too. And another thing is like if brands…like I should have mentioned if brands aren’t getting any return on our product we push their billing back we don’t charge brand until they actually starts to see the notes and the redemptions happening.  So the way it works that you’ll get charge as hundred dollars when you joined the program but you won’t get charged again until you see the influencers coming in and sharing content from your venue.

The Startup Coach: That’s a great way to get people on board from a lower risk perspective if it’s like getting value there’s no risk for you that’s amazing. So it’s great that this is happening and businesses are coming onboard so it sounds like you’re….right now you’re in scale mood.

Armand Faraji: I think we’re still in validation to some extent like I said I think it’s too early for scale like I mean our goal is to scale in the new year when we have our Android app and also when we really got the scene lockdown in Toronto in terms of influencers and the type of brands we really want to be working with.

The Startup Coach: Yeah, I guess with this conversation it’s easy for me to forget that you just launch three weeks ago so when I say scale I guess yeah, we’ve got to get out some of the kinks and bugs out first then make sure…so you’re here trying to get the word out are you looking for funding, what kind of people should get a hold of you?

Armand Faraji: We’re definitely interesting into money if you have any to offer us. But I mean more than anything we’re looking to work with people that are interested in pushing forward the restaurant industry and really marketing as a whole for small businesses and small-medium size businesses. Again our platform is a new form of marketing.  And we wanna work with like finding people who are interested in digital marketing, social media restaurants and really our vision as to be a lot we’re not just looking to take checks right. There as to be an objective and a real vision beyond it.

The Startup Coach: So one of the things I always tell entrepreneurs because they’re always looking for money as; money is the lowest common denominator it was specifically was created so that we can exchange everything else. So when you’re looking for money so at least unless it’s not a grant from the government or whatnot if it’s coming with some sort of commitment from an investor, you’re looking for more than money. you’re looking for someone buy it, get you into the industry be an influencer whatever those things are, your startup needs that stuff is more important than the money.

Armand Faraji: Yeah, I mean exactly I mean for us it’s like we’ve had these conversations and even pre-revenue before we launched we had these conversations with investors and it always comes down to OK you’ll give us this much, but how many clients are you going to introduce me to, how are you going to grow our platform? Because the dollars can come from anywhere we have revenue we’ll be able to get a loan in a few months you know I’m not really worried about that it’s more about like how could we scale in a short period of time.

The Startup Coach: So after this, there’s a few people a few people I would wanna to connect you with just based on this conversation.  So any advice for young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Armand Faraji: Get paid!  Don’t do unpaid work!  That’s what I’m gonna to tell you. I don’t really believe in unpaid internships I think you should find value and find a way to get paid for what you do absorb knowledge and just do it you know don’t hold back you’ll learn from it I start…I fail my first business at nineteen I lost almost twenty thousand dollars it’s like I’m still paying that back but the point is I mean I wouldn’t be able to start other adventures if I haven’t been able to do that in the first place at the end of the day it’s like you got to do it before it’s too late.

The Startup Coach: Just do it is great advice. I’ve heard it from several people and they’re making huge waves and you know Sheetal Jaitley from the head of TribalScale have you seen how fast they have grown in the last three years it’s amazing two hundred and fifty plus employees in five countries or something exactly he gave a speech on just F’n and do it stop holding back so that’s awesome. And if people wanna get a hold of you Armand and know more about Node how did they do that?

Armand Faraji: So you could follow me on Instagram thisisArmand you can hit me on Twitter Armand’s world I got a website, first name last name dot com don’t hit me on LinkedIn unless you know me are you want to do business I don’t accept request from people that just want to see my face or to look at my profile but you could follow me on social media.

The Startup Coach: Definitely and where can people find out more about Node?

Armand Faraji:  There on our website where it’s at we have some updates where we post sharing a blog our Instagram is super updated it’s very pretty with the sexiest food photos you’ll ever find on the web that site on Instagram and you can obviously find their app on the iTunes store.

The Startup Coach: Yeah, I’m gonna have to check out your Instagram right after this thanks for being on Startup talk.

Armand Faraji: Thank you appreciates it serious.

The Startup Coach: Hey it’s the Startup coach here and I’m in here with Imran from Instage. Now we had you out the augmented reality virtual reality summit last month I think it was that was a great event, did you enjoyed that?

Imran Mouna: It was as fantastic I really appreciate the opportunity to be there I had a lot of fun.

The Startup Coach: I’m glad that you participated we got a lot of great feedback.

Imran Mouna: Thank you.

The Startup Coach: So for those who weren’t able to attend tell us about Instage.

Imran Mouna: Sure, so Intstage creates virtual reality of role play based simulations and what we’re doing in that time is we’re collecting a lot of data while people are under some of the stress when for instants they give a presentation or they have a high-stress boardroom meeting.  so we’re creating these simulations with a headset called the HTC Vive. Some extremely immersive experience when you put on this headset you’ll forget where you are and instead it kinda feels like you’re in a top floor boardroom in front of clients.  it will make your palm sweat and your heart race.  and when you’re done you’ll receive a detail feedback report with metrics like whole percentage of the time you made eye contact or how many filler words you used.

The Startup Coach: I have to say I’ve seen it and it looks great.

Imran Mouna: Thank you.

The Startup Coach: And the feedback is great so what are you doing here at Fundica?

Imran Mouna: Well, we’re here today to. We’re starting a seed around the funding and so we were actually in the wild card pitch event we got here early seven thirty to sign up for our wild card spot and spend the day just going through the workshops meeting some of the other Startups and we just found out we won the wild card spot so we’ll be pitching on the main stage in about half an hour

The Startup Coach: That’s fantastic so if people wanna know more about you and get in touch with you how do they do that?

Imran Mouna: You can check out the website or feel free to add me on LinkedIn my name is Imran Mouna and I’ll be happy to get back to you and answer any questions you might have.

The Startup Coach: Thank you very much.

Imran Mouna: And also thank you, Craig.

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