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Eran Eyal, co-founder of Evly.com and Springleap, an online platform connecting designers, brands and agencies to enhance creative ideation and social media marketing, has learned what it means to almost lose an entrepreneurial idea after having to buy his business back from its shareholders due to limited development and a lack of realizing the true worth of the opportunity at hand. Doing this has been revolutionary for the business and brand, accelerating its success and achieving more in the last six months than in the full time since its inception. It similarly says a lot about the concept of having skin in the game, with Eyal realizing the true potential and risk after absorbing the full responsibility and risk for his idea about.
Eyal’s career began in the creative and IT industries, hence his experience, interest and bias toward creating a platform to enable and empower designers through the power of the Internet and crowdsourcing. Following a number of entrepreneurial endeavors, Eyal has racked up a number of interesting experiences and accolades in his career to date, from traveling the world and selling his mobile designs to speaking at TedX and winning a number of high-profile tech pitch competitions.
SABLE was fortunate to obtain Eyal’s view on the entrepreneurial sector in South Africa, current challenges relating to novel ventures as well as some pearls of wisdom that every entrepreneur should factor in when operating and starting up their ventures. Read on for more about Eyal’s experiences.
David Kitley: How was the idea for Springleap conceived?
Eran Eyal: Originally, Springleap was designed as a platform to empower designers and create fun products via design challenges. Last year, I took over the business and purchased it from the existing shareholders with a big pivot. Our focus is on helping brands engage their fans via meaningful conversations and creative social media marketing campaigns across the web, as well as creative ideation for brands and agencies.
What were the pain points that you observed, and what made you think you could address them through your platform?
There are three huge pain points we're currently addressing. There is a secret fourth that we're addressing later this year that will really put an interesting spin on things.
- Creative ideation: Brands and agencies have a serious issue getting variety in creative ideation out of their four walls. Because creative ideation is considered a secretive aspect of the business, they keep it really locked down with nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and small teams working on the projects— often the same teams. They also have a problem where scaling services means bigger billing and issues around acquisition and retention of new talent. Springleap allows these clients to give us a brief that we open to 10-30 curated designers from around the globe under strict NDA. We have more than 18,000 designers to choose from now in our community based on our global reach, with more joining every day. They address the brand challenge (ranging from creative ideation and packaging to in-store promotional packaging, billboards and more) for a small fee. The one that gets chosen gets rewarded with an additional reward, often to the value of several thousands of dollars. It's not about what the client is seeing anymore. It's all about the work they have not been seeing that's hurting them. Springleap addresses this, and we have some amazing clients onboard for this service. We're a powerful tool for the empowerment of the industry and the creatives.
- Creative social media marketing campaigns engineered to go viral: We've often looked at creative campaigns that companies run in their Facebook pages or sites, which are riddled with poor user-generated content. This is because they don't have a clue about what technology they need to build to manage the process or how to activate a creative community. They also usually don't have access to a good creative community or a history of activating them. These activations are always disastrous, resulting in huge sums of cash thrown into a gaping hole that produces poor-quality, user-generated content. No one wants to share irrelevant information; the Internet is riddled with this. People share quality work, things that are made beautifully and cleverly. This teaches us a pretty simple fact: in the land where content is king, context is critical.
For years, companies kept asking us: "We love Springleap, but why can't we do the activation in our page?" After all, why should the client spend their hard-earned marketing budgets sending fans to another site in order to engage them?
This is why we created Bridge, our proprietary technology that unites meaningful communities through powerful creative content. Bridge is an app that bridges our community to the client's community and to as many partner communities as the client wants. That could be bloggers, partners in their network, etc. This app white-labels our creative social marketing campaigns with the client's brief and branding and places it in the client's Facebook page or site, as well as any other site they want the campaign running in. No matter where the awesome content gets generated (like with our creative community at Springleap) or where the engagement occurs, all of it is immediately shared across all the places the campaign is running. Of course, the most meaningful bridge exists between us and the client as it allows us to moderate/approve the content before it goes live.
- We're rewarding creative: I come from a creative background, and I know how hard it is for creatives out there. I want to find amazing ways for them to get exposure and generate revenue. We'll never let challenges occur with a bounty less than $1,000 on our platform. I think it insults the risk they take by entering a challenge. Most of our challenges have prizes valued at $3,500 or more.
What are your biggest market and largest user category, and what opportunities do you see going forward?
Brand and agencies are our biggest market. Every time we work with brands like Volkswagen, Marmite, SABMiller or Nokia, we're accessing massive user bases and really making a difference in the conversation. We're looking to build solid partnerships with agencies to resell our platform, technology and services to their client base and find distributors in different regions.
The opportunity for them is huge—they get to deliver something very special that has clear rewards and metrics. Just last year, Nokia trended for 72 hours on four of the top 10 topics on Twitter because of our campaign, and VW recently saw their largest growth and highest engagement rates on Facebook during their historically worst performing months on social due to our campaign. That's value, and we want to step it up several notches.
What have been the highs and lows so far on the journey?
The highs are valueless without the lows; I don't really see the world that way. I see it more as one singular stream of consciousness, with each opportunity creating the potential for the next. The lows have been my teachers, and the highs have often been my cautionary notes for humility. I can say my highs have definitely been winning MentorCamp Canada, where 40 amazing entrepreneurs and venture capitalizes voted Springleap the best international startup; coming in second in the Innovation100 awards in California (beating Apple, Zazzle, eBay and some other major players); and closing some of our major accounts like Nokia, Ogilvy, VW, Kraft Foods, SABMiller. But by far, the best has been the experience of meeting amazing people I've often only read about and the incredible gifts of mentorship they have bestowed upon me.
What has been the most critical business decision you have made to date and why?
It was definitely when I bought the business from the existing group; it was a scary thing to go at it alone and required huge risk. It's not easy building a startup from scratch and alone. I had to borrow some cash to help us for the first month and inject every cent I had into the venture. We paid those loans off within a month, and since then we've made more revenue and progress in six months than we did since the day we started.
Looking back, what has been your biggest lesson that you would impart on current and future entrepreneurs as they continue or commence their journey?
Always start a startup small and focused with a technical co-founder who is as passionate about the problem being solved as you are.
What is your take on the support provided to entrepreneurs in South Africa (government, VCs, mentors, etc.), and where do you think the most critical intervention is required?
The issue is not the support being set up; it's the mentality. The draconian IP restrictions flabbergasted my team at Deloitte in Canada. They have never seen anything like it before. It's a Neanderthal mentality. When you capture a beautiful creature in a cage, you either kill the thing that makes it awesome (its passion, generally), or it looks for the quickest and nastiest form of escape. Once it escapes, it often never returns. This also means many investors won't sink their cash into South African startups because they can never easily get it back. It all gets stuck here with the IP.
The result? Most of the savvy chaps I know incorporate their business and IP in places like Mauritius and Delaware.
As far as investors, the market is still not really mature. Investors invest algorithmically. In San Francisco, it’s been about innovation since before Edison (Menlo Park). They invest in innovation that will change the way people fundamentally do things. They've been taking those risks for generations. In New York, it's always been about big measured risk, especially with media, finance and commerce. South Africans are still looking for that super-safe investment and are risk-averse in general. It's changing, but not very quickly. People here understand IP that can be protected like patents. They understand commodities, agriculture, mining and finance. That's why they prefer going into investments where the risk is really measured and why there is cash for copycat businesses. The models are tested and proven elsewhere. It will be a while before that changes, but it is happening. VCs around the world are trying to look at South Africa and setting up funds here to address the seduction of the African emerging market, but many of them have lost heart after investigating and finding the barriers and repercussions too cumbersome.
The other issue is that very few of the successful tech exit partners are reinvesting into other new startups or offering their mentorship. That might be the worst thorn in the side of progress.
About Eran Eyal
In 2008, Eran Eyal co-founded Springleap and later co-founded Evly.com. He is an entrepreneur, tech journalist with Cape Talk KFM and Radio 702, and a recent speaker at TedX.
His recent achievements include being listed in Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans; the top 36 entrepreneurs in South Africa by Old Mutual "Do Great Things"; and acting as a mentor in the fields of entrepreneurship and design for Cape Town University of Technology.
For more information on Springleap, visit http://www.springleap.com/.
Other Expert Views:
Q&A with Piet Barnard and Dr. Andrew Bailey, Piet Barnard, Director, Research Contracts and Intellectual Property Services, UCT and Dr. Andrew Bailey, Intellectual Property Manager, Research Contracts and Intellectual Property Services, UCT