JESS FROM COLLABOSAURUS
Jess Ruhfus is the 24-year-old founder of Collabosaurus - a match-making site for businesses, dedicated to growing brands with strategic partnerships and collaborations. Jess recently worked with Topshop, woah nelly bakes and a big US tech behemoth (sssshhh...) and is also a self-confessed Harry Potter, Twilight and Shakespeare trivia whiz. Challenge accepted.
Collabosaurus is the brainchild of Jess Ruhfus, when she was just 22. I don't know about you, but I certainly wasn't that cool in my early 20s. Working in PR and marketing for small business, she noticed clients were coming across the same set of challenges when trying to collaborate with other businesses and brands. The cogs started ticking and Jess approached a few people about her idea; one of whom offered financial support. In less than two years, she's gone from having no money, no website, to over 2000 people signed up to the platform and heaps of amazing PR. How did she do it?
With a sparkling personality, for one thing. Jess was one of our speakers for the latest Cereal Entrepreneurs event held in December in Sydney, hosted by myself and Dream & Do. She totally wowed the crowd with tales of her success, sunburn and bad Tinder dates.
Take us back to the beginning.
I was working for small business and marketing and working with owners and part of the course was strategic partnerships but no one knew how to negotiate and split things, plus they had a fear of rejection. There's also a horrible history of people being taken advantage of no matter the size of the company. It can be so awesome and strategic. The best ideas come when you’re solving something!
How do you avoid being taken advantage of?
It's all set up in the site at Collabosaurus. To secure a partnership you need to put in your assets, what you're willing to give, in exchange for what you want. By the time you secure a partnership you should know what they want and it's all anonymous. From an organic sense, doing it old-school, I recommend having an informal contract, just something in writing that has clear roles and responsibilities. Consider each partnership deal as something different to networking - each is its own little campaign.
Tell us about quitting your full-time job.
That was the best day ever! [laughs] I waited a while to quit my job. I tried to get as much off the ground as possible. Looking back, in that moment, I was so excited but I could’ve stayed longer because everything takes longer than you think. But no regrets! To soften the blow, I'm still not in full-time Collabosaurus. I tutor high school English and I work as a barista on weekends. It's still backup money. I don’t take a salary because we don’t have that kind of investment. And anyway I would rather put my salary back into the business at this early stage.
Investment is something that's not discussed openly in the entrepreneurial space, particularly with start-ups like yours. Can you shed some light on the route you took?
I have angel funding. The angel came to me, it was crazy! I had this idea and sat on it for ages because I wanted to be confident. I come up with ideas every couple of weeks and I wanted to know that I loved it before taking the plunge. I talked about it with a couple of people. One person was a family friend who had invested in things in the past. I don’t think he quite understood the concept but he must've believed in me enough. That was a fluke. We’re already revenue forming which is great.
by Amy Lovat
Was it difficult letting go of some control over the business when you had angel investment?
Well actually I have a really good arrangement in that I do have control over the direction. My investor is a numbers guy - there for financial advice and support, which is great.
What does the future look like for Collabosaurus?
We want to keep improving the UX - user experience – it’s not quite there yet. We also want to move into the US, Canada and the UK now that we've got press and clients to show for it. I needed to build it, prove it, then get further investment. There's also an app in development.
So it obviously helped that you had a background in PR and marketing when you were trying to get the start-up on people's radars, but how can those of us without that kind of knowledge get good press coverage?
Journalists aren’t as scary as people think. Start a conversation, they’re always looking for cool stories and ideas. You need to approach them in the right way – present them with a hook that they want to find out more. In saying that I think you need to have your assets set up with a website and photos before approaching them, maybe facts and figures. Often journalists' contact details are on Twitter, otherwise direct tweet them and ask. LinkedIn and Sourcebottle are also great. To be honest, it's great for brand recognition, but we've had more actual traction from partnerships and collaborating. I've done joint webinars, contra blog posts, events, the works!
Do you use Collabosaurus software yourself?!
Yes we do! And people who partner with us have to be using the platform and signed up as well. We take preference to people who are already signed up to Collabosaurus. I'm walking the walk!
You're growing so quickly and it's only been six months! Do you ever feel out of your depth? Anything in particular you struggle with?
A challenge is that I hate waiting, I’m so impatient. Everything now is with developers and it's frustrating. It's the same thing that every other business owner faces – I'm in this alone! There are definite moments of self-doubt that creeps in, usually once a month... so unusual! [laughs] Having a really good network of people around you helps – I use a shared office space and have used a few interns. That's why I love doing the barista job. It’s a non-stressful environment and I can switch off.
What's your fave collaboration to date?
Topshop recently used Collabosaurus to partner with a small Melbourne patisserie which was so nice to see that it's a "big guy" helping out a "little guy". They did all these branded donuts and stuff for the Topshop launch and got so much social media traction. It was amazing to see.