AARON FROM VAMP (VISUAL AMPLIFIERS)

Visual Amplifiers (VAMP) is a tech start-up connecting Instagram social influencers with brands such as The Horse, ASOS and Smirnoff. Aaron Brooks is one of the co-founders and has achieved roaring success, to the point where they’re listing on the Australian Stock Exchange this year. You didn’t hear that tip-off here…

Back in December, I co-hosted another edition of Cereal Entrepreneurs, a fun breakfast meet-up event combining a live interview with creative workshop and cereal (derr). Aaron Brooks, co-founder of VAMP aka Visual Amplifiers, was one of our speakers. We had a rad time talking investment, not finishing high school, and whether or not he’s a dickhead.

Tell us about the VAMP journey. You originally approached investors with a different idea for Snapchat… so how did it pivot into the Instagram platform it is now?

We originally got signed when we approached investors with Snaparazzi, and in the ideation phase it spun out into what VAMP is today. The way we could have done it traditionally is to go around and raise money on our original idea, but we weren’t super attached to it which helps, we just knew we were onto something. We were quite lucky to be where we are; it was a good time to be getting investment for a tech social media start-up.

Investment isn’t something that people talk openly about, so can you tell us a bit more about that? Why did you decide to go straight up to investors?

The cash injection is kind of nice! It’s hard to fund a start-up with a fulltime job, time-wise. We also had the opportunity to learn from these people, which has been so valuable. It’s hard to give up parts of the business for investors but they have a great track record and they really help. You can spin out and do things on your own later on. Plus I took a salary straight up which has been great. Ultimately you have to give up some control but it’s like getting a small piece of a big pie. We wouldn’t be on the track we’re on today if we didn’t have investment.

Did you get rejected a lot?

Yes.

How did that feel?

You just need to keep going. It’s just because they don’t see the vision you see. You can’t be deterred by that too much; it’s better to focus on finding someone who will believe in your vision. Keep focused and you’ll find the right one. They very much invest in the team and the people as well. In Australia it’s harder - in US markets it’s easier and more commercial, the idea of investment funding.

by Amy Lovat

What was the catalyst for you leaving your full-time job?

The catalyst was the investors coming in and asking me to work full-time on VAMP. I actually had a delayed reaction to it. I first I was working in Oracle in sales, and it was maybe a couple of weeks into VAMP that I was like ‘Shit, it’s just me at the moment.’ It hit me. A lot of people said to me the risk is that if it all falls over, you just go back to doing what you were doing before.

So your old job or career is like a Plan B, a safety net?

That’s right. Once you come out of the hard slog, it’s really such a small time-frame in the long term.

Is it addictive, starting a business? Do you think you’d ever be able to go back to your sales job, though, and give it all up?

Nup. Absolutely not. [laughs] Even if it fails. So many people in business end up running multiples because they’re hooked from the get-go. You can’t go back and work for the man! It’s like the saying – you throw enough shit in the water and it eventually sticks. [laughs]

Do you feel like you work for yourself?

Good question. At the time, you do. But then you’re still reporting to other people, even though you’re the founder of the business, which is why the investor route is not for everyone.

This might be surprising for some people considering where you are now, but you never finished school or went to Uni, is that right? Has that affected your journey at all?

For a long time, it was one of those things that I felt was holding me back but it was my own personal thing. I just had a chip on my shoulder. All my friends had good jobs and were doing all these cool things. But I’ve worked hard and here I am.

Do you think it’s the chip on your shoulder that made you go gung-ho?

Well it definitely helped! It spurred me on. But it took me awhile to get over it and realise that you can still do whatever you want to do.

Should we all be banking on Instagram as the future of social media?

There’s some cool stuff to come, they’re moving into e-commerce, which means brands can have shoppable feeds, which will be interesting. They’re also integrating into other Facebook products. There’s a long way to go. You see some of the Asian markets and its atrocious – Australia has a real appetite for Instagram. I think because it’s perfectly simple to use. There’s so much happening on Facebook in your news feed and with ads, but Insta is so simple.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The main one is not to be a dickhead. Take meetings, always be approachable, and be a nice person.

Have you stuck to that? Are you a dickhead?

[laughs] I don’t know if I’m the best person to answer that. My business partner is here, maybe ask him!

I think we all are sometimes so we will let that one slide. We’ve been talking a bit about mindful business lately, and the idea of visioning what you want to attract. You shared a story with us about finding a picture of the founder of Instagram in your wardrobe… can you tell us about that? Do you believe in that attraction of energy?

Yeah, that was crazy. I was cleaning out my cupboard recently and found a picture of him that I’d stuck up on the inside of the door, years and years ago. I guess because it was what I aspired to be. It’s pretty odd that when I found the picture again I realised that I had actually built a business based on Instagram, and there he was. I’ve gotten into neurolinguistics and the brain lately. It’s really interesting.

What’s on the wall now?

A house I want… in L.A.

Dream big! I think the lesson is we should all go home and make vision boards.

Absolutely.