Brian Freeman: Nano-Influencer Marketing

Jun 05, 2019

Brian Freeman Picture

Nano Influencer Marketing.  Our interview of Brian Freeman for “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere.  Brian is co-founder and CEO of Heartbeat, a platform that engages nano-influencers to be Ambassadors for Brands that they use and love. Heartbeat works with over 300,000 nano-influencers and 200 brands including Netflix, goop and H&M.

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A transcript of the full interview follows:


Jon Pfeiffer: I am joined today by Brian Freeman. Welcome to the podcast.

Brian Freeman: Hey, how you doing?

Jon Pfeiffer:   I'm good. Now, you are the co-founder and CEO of heartbeat.

Brian Freeman: Yes sir.

Jon Pfeiffer: And [Heartbeat] is a company that targets Nano-influencers--and we'll get to what that is in a second. But as I told you when we first started, yours is a story that's best told chronographically--just because it makes more sense--so let's start from the beginning. Where are you from?

Brian Freeman: I grew up in San Diego, specifically Encinitas, so kind of like a little surf town at the northern part of San Diego and moved to L.A. In May of 2016.

Jon Pfeiffer: Where'd you go to college?

Brian Freeman: I went to University of San Diego, so I was kind of a San Diego lifer. Grew up there, went to college there. And then, in order to kind of get the tech company off the ground, had to make a change.

Jon Pfeiffer: What was your undergraduate degree?

Brian Freeman: So I had a little bit of a identity crisis going on. So I was originally political science and was writing a lot. I did enjoy that topic a lot, but I had a sit down with my guidance counselor, which was one of the teachers of one of the classes. And he was like, you know, if you want to work in government, you better get used to writing super long reports and having that be most of your work. And I was like, wait a second. I hadn't even thought about working in government at all. Like I can't, is this the road I'm on? And he's like, YES! [laughter] I was like, okay, I need....

Jon Pfeiffer: Political science. Yeah [laughter]

Brian Freeman: And I had done entrepreneurial stuff my whole life up until that point--and I've got to switch to business. So I switched over to business and ended up focusing on entrepreneurship.

Jon Pfeiffer:   So you don't have to go to Harvard to be successful?

Brian Freeman: No, despite popular belief--but it helps!

Jon Pfeiffer: Or, despite what the Harvard graduates will tell you. And then you started your career doing what?

Brian Freeman: So when I got out of school, I was a little bit of a wayward soul. I knew I was super interested in entrepreneurism because I had done a little bit of that growing up. But I got into personal finance. I had this kind of romanticism going on around venture capital and like large amounts of money and moving those things around. It was very opaque to me. So I got into--and also it was 2008 so it was a really tough time to get a job--I had been a teller as one of the few jobs I did in college, so I was able to get a job being a teller. Or, actually, I did "private banking" or "personal banking" at Wells Fargo, which is very much a sales job, which is something I was pretty used to.

So did that for a while. Got plucked from that role, where I was pretty successful, into doing private banking for Union Bank. Did that for about a year. Started working on the corporate lending side, got some training there, realized wait a second, maybe there's some opportunity for me to do this, because I was working with some entrepreneurs whose wealth we were managing. Obviously that was pretty attractive, because I can see what was possible. Got a little bit of mentorship there and some exposure to the tech scene and decided to go out on my own and started doing that. And this was about 2012.

Jon Pfeiffer: And just as an aside, where are we having this interview?

Brian Freeman: We're having this interview on the boardwalk in Venice beach.

Jon Pfeiffer: On a very nice Friday afternoon.

Brian Freeman:   Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: Um, and I mentioned that, One, because it's a very cool location, and, Two, in case a little music comes into the background, that's what's going on.

Brian Freeman:                  We are very blessed to have about 7,000 square feet that we are renting now from Snapchat. So, kind of building another awesome, millennial-focused tech company in a former millennial-focused tech building. Snapchat had a dominance down here in Venice; when they moved over to Santa Monica, they left some empty space. So we had a good relationship with some of the executives there. We were able to get this place at a really good deal. And actually we have started our own little cowork. So we have about four other companies that are renting from us now. It's a nice way to collaborate, some other entrepreneurs to spend time with, and gives the whole place a little bit more energy and buzz.

Jon Pfeiffer: And I had read in an interview that you had been asked "if you had $100 to spend on anything right now, what would you buy?" And you duck that question, and give a different answer, which was?

Brian Freeman: Well, our first office in Venice had--right now we have about eight parking spots, which is miraculous, but we had no parking and I bought a scooter that allowed me to kind of do what without having to pay the Bird subscription or the Bird fees, I could buzz around Venice wherever I wanted to. So that was my solve for that was unfolding a scooter from the back of my trunk and being able to kind of move around Venice.

Jon Pfeiffer: And for our listeners who are not from LA, google "Venice boardwalk" and you'll see exactly what we're talking about.

Brian Freeman: Yeah, it's all full of electric scooters basically everywhere you go.

Jon Pfeiffer: Fast forward to one of the companies you founded, which was Wildfire.

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: Hm, well what date--Well first, this is a dating App, correct?

Brian Freeman: Yes.

Jon Pfeiffer: What date did you launch Wildfire?

Brian Freeman: So the day I left to go full time at wildfire I think is what's cool here, which was literally just February 14th of 2014--and it just happened to be that!--I put a month's notice in at the company I was at doing partnership work and it ended up being the 14th and I was like, "Wow, can't believe that." But it was nice.

Jon Pfeiffer: And it works...

Brian Freeman: ...Yeah...

Jon Pfeiffer: So tell me a little bit about Wildfire. It was a mobile dating platform?

Brian Freeman: Yeah. The idea behind Wildfire originated because I had--this was kind of like recently single at the time that Tinder started to take off. And Tinder is exciting from a guy's perspective. And it's like, as you conceptualize it, especially in those early days, you're like, "oh my gosh, like unfettered access!" But from a woman's perspective, it was just not. It was not the same level of excitement and it was very much perceived as a hookup product. And unfortunately they've had a hard time shaking that image.

Jon Pfeiffer: Right.

Brian Freeman: So when I thought about, "okay, like I'm a big tech early adopter, super interesting to me. However, I do not want to be perceived, if someone sees me, as somebody who's just attempting to hook up." It's never been my personality. I've always been a longterm relationship guy. So I had a perception problem, and I thought, "well what if women were really in charge of who was on this network?" You'd eliminate this idea of a free for all and you'd create a safe environment where the one group of people that really needs to feel safe does, and therefore all the men benefit. And that was the idea behind Wildfire.

Jon Pfeiffer: And then how did men get on the site?

Brian Freeman: So women invited all the guys to the site. So a guy could not get in without a female invite.

Jon Pfeiffer: In the early days when you were trying to market it, did you try Facebook?

Brian Freeman: No, we couldn't do Facebook! So Facebook did not allow dating products to be on its early Ad tool. They were really selective about who used that Ad tool. They really needed to curate that experience. So in the early days, we had to come up with other options for that. And Facebook had a select group of dating companies--mostly owned by IAC, which owns most of all dating businesses--that they were letting buy ads on the platform and they were spending a ton of money. So if you were in that club, you were golden. If you were not in that club, you had a real uphill battle.

Jon Pfeiffer: So then--I looked back at some of the old marketing--there was the 'Ditch the Creeps' Ad campaign.

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: Tell me about the 'Ditch the Creeps' Ad campaign and the YouTube video.

Brian Freeman: Okay. So the 'Ditch the Creeps' Ad. What stands out to me is it cost us about 700 bucks to do it. We (my cofounder and I, on that business)--this was one of his friends. We went up to LA--we were both in San Diego at the time. His friend was living up here. We pulled him into like an abandoned studio setting that somebody else was letting us borrow. And we have like a rig set up and we filmed. The thing is that original commercial, was like two minutes long and we cut it down to like 22 seconds and like there's barely any dialogue left, but it was the right dialogue. And so we, we just knew we had something because it was just a funny slogan. And like we like--there's just, I think we're pretty funny guys--so we had that in the, the character was just a total

Jon Pfeiffer: Creep!

Brian Freeman: He was just a total creep. He was the ultimate Douche bag. We tried to conceptualize like the worst possible person on a dating app and I thought he did a pretty good job. The press loved it too.

Jon Pfeiffer: Oh, I would think. And you ultimately started to go to sororities?

Brian Freeman: Yes.

Jon Pfeiffer: How did you hit upon that idea?

Brian Freeman: So I don't think I've ever said this publicly, but I had a meeting with Mike Jones from Science, who is a super well known guy here in LA. Science has incubated and built some really amazing companies. Dollar Shave Club is one of them. Wag is another one of those--or DogVacay, sorry. And he told me about the strategy that Tinder had been using to grow on college campuses. The thing about Tinder was it was also being promoted across a lot of different social channels like Facebook and different Ad buying systems like Google.

So there was more growth than just the pure organic college strategy. But the college worked well too. And that was actually the woman who ended up founding bumble who wrote that, who kind of came up with all of that strategy. So we went to imitate that.

We went to San Diego State first, we ended up doing this nine times. We went on college campuses. We got swag. We built a competition-like website inside, like a little Easter egg, in the App itself that you could unlock if you knew how to get there. We use the invite system that we had built and said, "okay ladies, there are four different sororities that we're talking to tonight, you're number two," or "your number one--the other ones are your biggest competitors on--you know friendly competitors--on campus. And we said, "the winner of this campaign is," or "the winner of this whole contest of who can get the most people on--men and women--is going to win $5,000 or a yacht party.

And that got the room going. And what we saw was that there was a lot of initial enthusiasm, we need to get them on the App right away. And this was... One, San Diego was not like a tech center, so it's not like a ton of tech companies were coming in to pitch San Diego sororities. So that was very novel

Jon Pfeiffer: So it was unique to them?

Brian Freeman: Uh-huh. That we found that when we went to more tech oriented hubs, like we actually tried to do this at Stanford, it didn't work as well. There is--that was already a thing there. And we did this at Chico--that proximity to SF, it didn't work as well. but it worked really well in these outside of the periphery colleges: Arizona State, San Diego State, UCLA actually went really well.

So anyway, we found that, the sororities would get very excited and coordinate. So there was a big coordination to the effort for that.

Jon Pfeiffer: They're good planners.

Brian Freeman: They're good planners. So they would use our website and they would check it every day religiously and see where they were standing against the other sororities. And um, they would all get together and post on Instagram at the same time and they would also post on Facebook, but Instagram primarily, and that was driving a ton of traffic for us.

So we refined this playbook after eight or nine of these rollouts. We were actually able to train an external team to do it in the Northern California area. And we were doing this really inexpensively.

As the company started to actually lose out market share and eventually kind of get taken out by Bumble that had basically a similar message [as us], but stronger branding, better Founder's story, really good relationship with the press.

It was a big hit, obviously it is now a multibillion dollar category. So we kinda got taken out by that. But what we were left with, and as the other founders kind of decided to move on and do other things, I had this playbook that was perfect for college on the ground rollouts. And it just occurred to me--One, because I had no money but, Two, I knew how to do some things--I knew how to do MailChimp, I knew how to do Squarespace, I knew enough about Instagram--that maybe we could coordinate these offline settings in an online way. And at that point I actually like met my co-founder of Heartbeat on Angel List and we had like a little dialogue going. She was also in the dating space, ironically--was working at a company called Three Day Role. But it was just a light conversation.

And then I went back to seeing if I could digitize this. There actually was a interim product between Wyldfire and Heartbeat as it is today, this global marketplace for creating content with real people, which was a snapchat-esque dating app called Heartbeat. That was the "missing link" product that never saw the light of day. And it had a website that had a little commercial. It couldn't raise money. So like nobody wanted to invest in that, but it had the consumer's attention. It would have been a really cool product. It was just, it was going to cost a lot of money to make, it was going to face all the problems dating Apps face. So I built a website around this commercial that I made and you can't find this on youtube anymore. I think we ended up taking it down, but...

Jon Pfeiffer: I searched for it.

Brian Freeman: Oh, did you find it?

Jon Pfeiffer: No.

Brian Freeman: Okay. Yeah. So you can't see it anymore. It was super cool. I should put it back up. It was just kind of like Snapchat for dating and people really got passionate about it. And so what we did is we took that playbook model and we had people sign up on our website to become ambassadors for this product when we went live with the promise of getting either free swag or a small payment in exchange for posting on Instagram. And we had them tell us a little bit about themselves because it was going to be a dating app. So we needed to know, we needed to know gender, we needed to do to know hair color. We needed to know a couple of personal things-- we needed to know what they're into. And we wanted to know like, why they thought this would be a good idea and if there were any changes they wanted to make. And the response was insane.

Jon Pfeiffer: So this was all collected. You have their emails at this point?

Brian Freeman: We had everything I just mentioned.

Jon Pfeiffer: Plus the biographical information?

Brian Freeman: We had email, cell phones, demographic info, Instagram accounts, we had Instagram follower counts. And we had it all in this CRM, which was MailChimp.

Jon Pfeiffer: So you being an entrepreneur...

Brian Freeman: Yeah, being an entrepreneur and also being broke because like...

Jon Pfeiffer: Well broke and entrepreneur kind of goes together

Brian Freeman: Yeah, that does. So two years of--almost two years of Wyldfire, very little income. I'm sitting here with 3000 people who've signed up to be on this list and, to tell you the truth, the idea of monetizing it didn't occur to me directly. It was--I was starting another company. I actually raised money from our existing investors for a CPG company, which we ended up giving the money back when we saw this thing starting to take off. And we folded that up.

I was on the phone with a friend of mine named Daniella who had lived in Chicago and she had gone through Tech Stars. So she was a little bit further along in her entrepreneurial career--she had had an exit too,--and I wanted her to rep my new CPG company on the east coast. She's a rock star, I wanted to team up. And so she was like, wait, you've got a list of 3,000 people who want to promote some dead product that doesn't exist. Like what are they doing? I'm like just sitting in that email list. And she's like, I know some people might want that. Like, let me go see if I can get some people interested in it. I'm like, okay, well what? And so we brainstormed a little bit and I have a little call to action email I wrote cause sales guy at heart.

She took that shopping it and the next day I woke up to 15 companies who wanted to talk. So we had instantly a feel for product market fit. This idea that like real people sharing their personal story on behalf of a brand had some type of legs. And actually one of the first things I thought to do was to reach out to this young woman in LA who I knew who had a advertising background, Kate, who got super excited about it too. So, I took action. We ended up making about fifteen grand over the next four weeks going in and uh, basically hand executing these things.

Jon Pfeiffer: Mini brand deals.

Brian Freeman: Yeah. Just mini little deals. And we came into 2019 with a really cool potential business of scaling this up.

Jon Pfeiffer: And was this all Instagram?

Brian Freeman: It was all Instagram. Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: And to this day, it's still Instagram?

Brian Freeman:  Right now, yeah. We're looking--we're going to expand to at least two other social networks by the end of the year. We're thinking probably Pinterest and Twitter from what we think are the best market opportunities. But yeah, right now it's Instagram with like a little bit of here and there, doing things on other networks.

Jon Pfeiffer: Right. Okay. So you have the concept now you're going to come out with this new product, started 2019. And what was that?

Brian Freeman: Well, you know what's funny, and if it was a pure, pure narrative, we would never talk about this, but we thought there was still going to be a dating app. So Kate and I love the idea of this video based dating app. We didn't want to let it go. We just kind of like sidelined it. We actually renamed it Vibes, which is still a cool name (and I think there's a dating app now called Vibes) but we were like, "okay let's put that on the side. Let's focus on this thing that's making money. We need to do that."

Jon Pfeiffer: Because that was your passion project.

Brian Freeman: Yeah, we need to survive. We didn't want to let the dating thing die because it was too much at once. But, we started raising some money. I mean, so we knew we needed to raise money, we needed developers. We didn't have any. It was just me doing stuff and that didn't scale.

Jon Pfeiffer:  And did you have a coding background?

Brian Freeman: No. No, we had a guy who was left over who was like, who is like almost full-time but not full, not real full-time. And he also was pretty early in his coding career, so he was mostly like somebody called Dev ops, which is usually like a coordinator type role, but not necessarily hard coding things. And so we didn't really have an engineer; we had this core, young guy that was just working his tail off to try and make things work. Who ended up, when he put it in his two weeks, he, he went into the forest and went offline for two months and I couldn't get ahold of him! [Laughter]

Jon Pfeiffer: But did he take pizza with him?

Brian Freeman: He probably did, yeah. So, I mean, that poor guy got so burnt out, but he's doing great now. So the next few months became about can we get a lead investor to buy into this idea? Can we get some more companies buying into this? And we got a couple other brand deals in motion, and this investor, and this venture capital group called Right Side Capital [Management], were like: "Yeah! We love this! Uh, get rid of that dating app though, it doesn't make any sense. Like, why, why is it still around?"

We're like, "all right, fine, we'll kill it." And that's when we went completely full in with no distractions on scaling up a consumer marketplace.

Heartbeat Logo
Heartbeat Logo

Jon Pfeiffer: Background: Do you consider yourself to be an influencer?

Brian Freeman: You know, if you had asked me that three or four years ago, I would've said only with my local peer group because if I get passionate about something, I, you know, everybody knows.

Jon Pfeiffer: You get people excited.

Brian Freeman: Yeah. Which I think is a key thing you've got to have as a CEO. But now, I've spent a good amount of time in LA now, where we've cultivated a lot of really strong relationships. We try and surround ourselves with other people who can give us great advice, who can let us know the pulse of different, various industries and connect with them. And I've built a pretty decent following on LinkedIn that when we share things at the company that we're doing, or personal thoughts I have, or things that I write, we get a pretty good reaction. So I think we are. If not now, I'm on my way, or close.

Jon Pfeiffer: And we'll come back to LinkedIn in a second. I have some questions on that. Just as foundational, what's the difference between a micro-influencer and a nano-influencer?

Brian Freeman: Yeah. And um, we're almost cautious about using the word Nano-influencer just because the term influencer denotes that a person considers themselves, and that account, a content creator first. So, when I think of micro-influencer, macro-influencer, the word influencer at all,--and nano-influencer is like the bottom, bottom end of that chain, of course--I think of somebody who's got an Instagram account and the way they see that account is as an expression of their art in it that they hope to monetize. And so a micro-influencer--and there's a lot of gray area here--typically has above 10,000 followers or above 5,000 followers.

Jon Pfeiffer: It depends on who you ask. It's could be 100,000 down to 5,000.

Brian Freeman: Yeah. So, really it's, we think about micro-influencers as people who have gone outside of any potential social circle that they have. And that's 3,000 plus.

Jon Pfeiffer: People following them that don't know them.

Brian Freeman: Yeah. I've never met him in person or I have no real relationship.

Jon Pfeiffer: And you used the word ambassador.

Brian Freeman: Yes. We like the word "ambassador." We like the word "engaged consumer," "activated consumer." Because the way we think about nano-influencers are really everyday people who have an Instagram account have social accounts, but they have this desire to be participants in brand evolutions. As a Millennial or a Gen Z or somebody who's grown up with technology, there's always been feedback loops for you. So the idea that you can't connect with the brand that's selling something to you in some meaningful way is

Jon Pfeiffer: It's foreign.

Brian Freeman: It's foreign. It's odd. It's like, why can't I influence this? This product could be amazing, but it sucks. But I spent my money and I...--and people now have this connection with the entrepreneur that, rewind before tech. You've got nameless, faceless, white guys in suits with ties.

Jon Pfeiffer:  And Cigars

Brian Freeman: Yeah. And cigars and whiskey in the middle of the day. Yeah, of course! And like that's the corporate oligarch. And now you have Shark Tank, you have Kickstarter, you have this new veil--unveiling of that being an entrepreneur is just being a real person with a dream. And that really resonates with Millennials. They are the most financially conscious group of all time because of the financial crisis. They are hyper aware of their potential and they are yearning for more. They--you know, thank God now women have been empowered in a way that they've never been in a previous generation to go out there and try things and be welcomed. So you have this kind of demystifying of the entrepreneur and with that, it's "why can't I have some influence over these products? I know that there's just a real person back there. I just want to know who they are," or "I just want to talk to them," or "I just want to share my thoughts." And that's at the core of what we believe in at Heartbeat, is that we want to destroy that wall. That wall does not need to exist. It just needs to be solved with tech.

Jon Pfeiffer: What are the advantages versus disadvantages of using a micro-influencer versus a nano-influencer, or Ambassador?

Brian Freeman: So all that soap boxing I just did is all coming from real consumers, which are nano-influencers. Which are just regular people, are passionate and happy to create content for you. That's an nano-influencer: just a regular person. What you get with that is a relationship--a decision that they're making to actually continuously buy your product after promoting it. They have a relationship with you now, it's the new loyalty system.

A micro-influencer is still very much about the money. They are savvy. They know, they are throwing random dollar amounts out a lot of the time on like what is a, what their value is in terms of brands. For brands, it's very difficult for them to kind of assign a value to somebody because let's take you, for example. You might get a deal with Pepsi and you could convince them to pay you $12,000. You and I have the exact same followership in the scenario. I've got a deal with RC Cola and I could only get them to pay me a thousand. Well, my going rate is $1,000. Your going rate is $12,000 and has nothing to do with anything consistent, has nothing to do with anything quantifiable, it's purely about whether which brand was educated and a hard negotiator and that is what's going on in the whole influencer world.

Jon Pfeiffer: And how do you track engagement?

Brian Freeman: So that's fairly easy.

Jon Pfeiffer: I mean, how do you guys do it? Do you do it by click-through, do you do it by likes? Do you by comments?

Brian Freeman: We do it by all of those. So every--we created something called a pulse link, which is essentially a URL shortener that lives in the link--the bio lin--of every one of our users. So every one our users has their own custom thing, and every campaign, that URL that is built by us directs towards whatever our customer has set it up to go to. So it might be, you know, whatever the URL structure is, it's going to point to the destination URL of our client.

Jon Pfeiffer: So the link equivalent of a Promo Code?

Brian Freeman: Exactly. Yeah. And so we track the clicks on that. We track the traffic there. We track all of the likes that are happening, all the comments that are happening on all the posts in our system. We developed large scale systems for capturing that content, saving it--our dashboard show all of our clients everything that's going on. It's very intuitive. It's a very intuitive system.

Jon Pfeiffer: So I, let's say hypothetically, that I've been on Instagram eight years. I have 3,000 people that have built up, that follow me, that I've met at different places and I want to get involved.

Brian Freeman: Okay.

Jon Pfeiffer: I go to your App, I sign in with my Instagram account. Then what?

Brian Freeman: So then you're presented with kind of the world of Heartbeat. And what you're going to see is a combination of campaign opportunities in your Discover feed and survey questions that are, you know, kind of presented to all users, and over time, do get better to you.

Jon Pfeiffer: This wasn't a fair question because I actually had my son have a friend sign up.

Brian Freeman: Okay.

Jon Pfeiffer: So I've walked through the process.

Brian Freeman: Did he have 3,000 followers?

Jon Pfeiffer: About that, yeah.

Brian Freeman: Okay, awesome.

Jon Pfeiffer: So the initial questions are demographic, as I understand.

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: And then there's surveys. Tell about, tell me about the surveys.

Brian Freeman: So the idea from surveys evolved out of that original MailChimp list that I used back in 2015 when it was "Tell me a little bit about yourself so we can get you better matched to whatever theoretical thing we're going to be doing." So we've evolved that out, you know, exponentially. And we use this little mechanic of letting you see how other people responded to your--to how other people have responded to that survey. So you'll notice if you go on our App and you click any response, we flip the card over and reveal, "oh this is how everybody else did too." And that teaches people about themselves. The feedback that we've gotten on that is incredible. And we find that people can sit there and do 50 or 100 survey questions in a row. No problem, because it's just entertaining.

So we've integrated Giphy, we've made it fun. And, so, for the user, they're getting a little entertainment and they, they know that the information that they're giving us is helping us build a better Heartbeat and build a better system for that. So it's a little bit like I'm saying the categories that you're into, on Netflix. It's going to help build a better Netflix for you.

Jon Pfeiffer: And I've heard you describe it as hyper personalization.

Brian Freeman: That's right. Yeah. Our longterm goal, Big Vision here is to create a personalized ecommerce ecosystem where a Heartbeat user could potentially sign onto a website and that website would adopt or adapt to all of the, you know, thousands of data points that that person put into Heartbeat over time.

So a user who's answering those survey questions knows, okay, this information is going to be used to help me to give me more relevant information. And brands take that, those survey results, and they use them for marketing so they can see how people have responded to the questions they've asked. They can download those people and load them into one of our integrations like Shopify or MailChimp. They can take groups of people--create groups based off of those results and layer in things like, "okay, all right, for the people who answered my question of, you know, my pricing sensitivity question, I'm going to load them into a group and I'm going to find all my women. Now I'm going to find all my men. I'm going to find all the social...

Jon Pfeiffer: One of the questions is "do you own a dog?"

Brian Freeman: Yes

Jon Pfeiffer: So I assume one of the questions is "do you own a cat?"

Brian Freeman: Yeah

Jon Pfeiffer: What are the percentages of cat people versus dog people on the App?

Brian Freeman: Dog is about 58% and cats are about 32 and then you've got like a 5% bird ownership and a couple of other random things like turtle...

Jon Pfeiffer: [Laughter] Group the turtle people with the turtle people.

Brian Freeman: Dogs win out over cat. I'm a cat--I have, we have cats at home but, you know, whatever.

Jon Pfeiffer: So, have you had any pushback on privacy issues?

Brian Freeman: So we're being really diligent about this because GDPR is right around the corner and we actually see this as a huge opportunity for our business. So a lot of other companies are going to be like, what the heck do I do? I want this data--direct to consumer brands, brands that want to use this,--they are going to need solutions for gathering this information that keeps it safe. It keeps it secure and follows national or federal rules. So we are taking proactive measures now even though it's not enforced yet to be GDPR compliant locally here in the United States. So for sure California is going to be enforcing that in 2020.

Word to the wise: they actually can look back a year, so you kind of have to get compliant now. Everybody loves this compliance stuff. [Laughter]

Jon Pfeiffer: And they're passing new legislation to modify that, so it's going to change the rules as you're going along.

Brian Freeman: The bottom line is you've got to be, I think there's a little bit of some political grandstanding going on with privacy right now, but it is important and the trade between somebody giving you their personal information and you as a company, is you need to take that data and you use it for their benefit exclusively. So anything you do with the customer's information has to benefit the ecosystem as a whole and cannot hurt that person. That's my own personal philosophy.

Jon Pfeiffer:   Now let's say my hypothetical person who signed on--3,000 followers, but really it's only 300 followers. I went to one of those apps that you can get, where it's not buying followers, but essentially you're trading and it's all scam followers.

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: How do you get--how do you get rid of--how do you filter through that?

Brian Freeman: So there's a few different ways that we do that. The first way is that we have a score that all users receive. It's a scale--it's a score of one to ten, and it's based off about 30 different data points. So those are proprietary; we don't share those. But we look for all of the indicators that we know are indicative of somebody who has fake followers. So there are some kind of obvious ones. But typically you see big spikes in growth that don't make any sense. You don't see a consistent growth curve of engagement over time. You don't see a--so like if you go back in time, six months, what do some of these likes look like there? And you fast forward three months, and you fast forward one month...

Jon Pfeiffer: If you're still only getting 10 likes...

Brian Freeman: 10, 10, 10, 10,000, okay, you've got an issue. That's just, on a very rudimentary level of things we look for. We've also partnered with a group that we are super proud, that's pretty amazing, called Instascreener, who made it their life's mission to figure this out. So these guys are creating a gigantic repository of fake account data and comparing all of our users to it so we can kind of identify, okay, this person's got a little fake action. We're going to give a littlediscount there on, you know, they're going to get a negativity score a little bit. But you'd be surprised that fake account issues are so prevalent that if you have a public account, even with a small following, and I've never done anything, you've got about 10 to 15% fake followers.

Jon Pfeiffer: I wouldn't doubt it.

Brian Freeman: Yeah. And you see it all the...

Jon Pfeiffer: The second interview we did on the podcast was somebody who tried to buy an Instagram account.

Brian Freeman: Okay.

Jon Pfeiffer: From somebody in Turkey.

Brian Freeman: Okay...

Jon Pfeiffer: So he bought it and then it got hacked back and the kid in Turkey hacked back the Instagram account.

Brian Freeman: Ugh!

Jon Pfeiffer: And resold it.

Brian Freeman: Oh my God. [Laughter]

Somebody reached out to me the other day--this is totally random. My Instagram name--go follow me, I guess, is just my name, it's Brian Freeman. I was like, a very early adopter of Instagram. Somebody hit me up on there and like if you Google me, you find out who I am.

Jon Pfeiffer: Right

Brian Freeman:   And he's like, I'll buy this from you for 500 bucks. Like will you sell? And then he kept bugging me about it. It's like I'm not, why would I ever sell this? This is the...

Jon Pfeiffer: Oh I know! Set aside that it's against Instagram's terms of service, but

Brian Freeman: Oh right. Yeah, exactly.

Jon Pfeiffer: So, is there a minimum number of followers that somebody should have before they sign up?

Brian Freeman: Absolutely not. No. Our mission is rooted in that every ambassador, every potential consumer that joins Heartbeat has value. So we look for ways to give people value on Heartbeat regardless of their audience size. Because it's--you are not your audience size. You know, like you can have 280 followers.

Jon Pfeiffer: Well, ask a teenager!

Brian Freeman: I know that's true. I mean it, and that's something that I think plagues them a little bit. Like emotionally, I think it's potentially a problem, but probably a different conversation. The way we look at it is that we are a consumer engagement product. So it's not about having 10,000 followers, it's about having maybe a thousand or 300 or 400 but they're engaged and you yourself are taking part in these, in the brand purchasing experience.

So a lot of our users, about half of them rank, the reason they're on a Heartbeat is to discover new products. It's not necessarily about promoting them. They're buying from those brands. They're answering questions for those brands. They want to chat with those brands. I ran a question the other day that is a future product of ours: "Hey, would you be willing to chat with brands if we had a chat feature?" 98% of 20,000 people that respond to that said "Yes."

Jon Pfeiffer: Yeah.

Brian Freeman: And so the future is bright for us of just more tools that help regular people engage and we would never be able to accomplish that mission if we said, "oh, you have to have 5,000 followers." And that's what everybody else does and we don't want to be like all the other products.

Jon Pfeiffer: So we're conducting this interview on April 12th, 2019. How many ambassadors do you have now?

Brian Freeman: So we--the official amount is 200,000.

Jon Pfeiffer: And then, I'm sure you've done projections, what do you project by end of the year?

Brian Freeman: The thing that's really exciting that we know for sure we just acquired Iconery.com. The press release went out on that actually yesterday. So, that was a really big day for us. And with that came 107,000 new users. So we're quickly going to be changing and updating everything to be a 300,000 users. So as of, you know, next week. So that's the number for now.

By the end of the year, we project to have over a million. And part of that's drawn from some of the new features that we're doing, but we're also going to start doing some brand marketing. We've been a, we've been pretty limited in the type of marketing that we've done. The acquisition of Iconery gave us an amazing marketer that could make Heartbeat a household name. And so that starts with 2019 getting to a million, 2020, getting to 5 million and growing it from there.

Jon Pfeiffer: Now how many employees do you currently have?

Brian Freeman: Twenty-five

Jon Pfeiffer: When you have employee meetings, you call them whats?

Brian Freeman:   We call them "heart-to-hearts." [Laughter]

Jon Pfeiffer: Beause I saw it and I thought, "I like that."

Brian Freeman: Yeah

Jon Pfeiffer: I like that. What's the most challenging thing about your job?

Brian Freeman: The most challenging thing about my job is that, luckily I like to learn, but this is every time we hire someone new, it's the biggest company that I've ever run. So my personal, you know, mission is to be the best CEO for the company at any size. And one day maybe that won't be true, but I will still be trying my hardest every single day to be that person. So, the thing that's most challenging about your job is to realize as your company grows, how much of an effect you're having on a group of people. And how every little thing that you do can and will be scrutinized.

Jon Pfeiffer: Somebody is watching you at all times.

Brian Freeman: Yes. So you go from being an entrepreneur who's in a, losing your kitchen [stage], to being, having your first little office with five people and everything's tight and everybody's pretty fluid and there's, it's an extremely flat organization. And you can continue that for a little while. You start to get into the 25-30 range, sometimes it's hard to even picture what's going on here. It's hard to picture 25 people's lives simultaneously, especially comparing that to what you've been used to. You can picture nine people's lives. You can get to know nine people pretty well. And so, for me, I want to know everybody here. I want to have a personal relationship with all of them. I want them to know like if I'm having a stressful day, it doesn't mean the company's going under. I just, I'm just stressed out!

Jon Pfeiffer: You're stressed out, yeah.

Brian Freeman: It's not something to worry about. But, so that's been something that has been a really interesting thing for me to learn. And then, just staying on top of everything all the time is challenging. So we've done a lot of hiring recently putting some really great managers in place. Up until January of this year, we had grown the company to 21 people and the only management was me, my co-founder and our head of sales--or our, I'm sorry, our head of Tech, John Hall, our CTO. And now that we have these other great people in the building, we can go, we can now finally afford it. It's like, wow, we were doing some weird stuff! [Laughter] So you know, every day's a new day, you know, every day got something new.

Jon Pfeiffer: Now I'm going to shift to personal.

Brian Freeman: Ok

Jon Pfeiffer: When you meet somebody and you have--and you want to find out the most about them, what question do you ask them?

Brian Freeman: I want to find the most about them. Well, what I try to avoid doing is, LA has got a little bit of a reputation for asking people, "oh, what do you do?" You know, cause that's a little impersonal. But God, I do not have a good answer to this. I, I think I just try and create open doors and ask continuous questions.

Jon Pfeiffer: What I was going to do, I was going to flip that question around and ask you. What question you would you most like to have the answer to.

Brian Freeman: What are you passionate about? I think, you know, are you saying have asked to me or have somebody answer?

Jon Pfeiffer: I was going to flip it both ways.

Brian Freeman: Yeah, I think, I think everybody likes to talk about the things that they're passionate about. And usually when you ask that, people can think of at least one thing and then you've got hopefully a lively conversation on your hands. So I think for me, the answer's going to be the business.

Jon Pfeiffer: Now, you are a Gamer, correct?

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: Favorite game?

Brian Freeman: Right now it's The Division 2.

Jon Pfeiffer: And you said that the Ready Player VR world is right around the corner.

Brian Freeman:   Oh, Ready Player One. What a good book, totally different than the movie too.

Jon Pfeiffer: Yeah, I didn't like the movie.

Brian Freeman: Yeah, that book is fantastic. You're going to, you'll read that book in two days.

Jon Pfeiffer: Do you think that's really going to happen?

Brian Freeman: Yeah.

Jon Pfeiffer: How soon?

Brian Freeman: There are some really interesting themes that are starting to take shape in the world around us right now. And some interesting narratives. I don't have a political stance generally. Actually, I think we talked a little bit about this and try and be, I try and be, go with what I think is the most honorable thing to do at the time and not necessarily design, have party lines. But something interesting is there are going to be very large groups of people who do not fit in with the technical prowess of a new generation. And there's potentially a huge opportunity to create a virtual environment where people could provide value that feels rewarding, that is outside of their real day to day, which may not be that, which may be bleak isn't the right word, but it may not be that fantastic...

Jon Pfeiffer: Not that engaging

Brian Freeman: ...That engaging and a virtual world would provide something very engaging, very rewarding. And I've seen this in massive multiplayer online role playing games that I've dabbled around in, there's this one game, Star Wars Galaxies that I played 10 or 15 years ago. And there were people who all day long would sit in virtual fields and mine rocks. And then they would sell those rocks as guns. They would craft a gun to other people and the game had made it take, you know, a hundred hours to mine mine enough to make like this fantastic weapon.

Jon Pfeiffer: And people would take the time to do it.

Brian Freeman: People take the time to do it. And I think when you introduce feedback systems that give people these reward-like neuron fires, you can get, you can bring them into new worlds. Because it's hard to get that on a day-to-day basis if you're having a pretty consistent existence over and over again and you're, and you're feeling unfulfilled. So I think that there's potentially a moral win there, where people are providing value in a virtual world and getting that type of positive feedback. And so, I think there's enough economic incentive for people to put resources into something like this. And that's why I say something like that could be 15 years away.

Jon Pfeiffer: I think I already know the answer, but guilty pleasure?

Brian Freeman: It's gaming. I mean it's definitely gaming. [Laughter]

The thing for me is that it's the one thing I can do where my brain goes completely to a different place besides work, but it still allows me to flex the muscle of getting something done.

Jon Pfeiffer: I had a client one time that he had a Harley. And he said that's what he did because you can't think about anything else other than riding your motorcycle if you want to be safe. Not advocating you gotta go get a Harley, but...

Brian Freeman: I've had bikes before actually, and I totally agree with that. That's, that's fantastic. It's just in LA, if you want to have a short lifespan, go ahead and do that.

Jon Pfeiffer: Get a motorcycle. What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Brian Freeman: So I think a couple things.

One is that I actually am an artist, so I actually like draw and I used to paint a lot. So where I get a lot of like personal fulfillment is in working on design stuff. And so I started that really early. Like in high school I did art all four years did AP Art, I was-- almost went to college for it and I was really focused on the design than the graphical art side. So as the CEO, like if, if my team caught me messing around, I think they'd be pretty mad.

Jon Pfeiffer: [Laughter] Bring in the palette.

Brian Freeman: So, well not that, they might actually like that, but more like messing with the designer who is a million times better than me. But I think that that would probably surprise people that I have like a passion for art. I actually collect art too. I have a lot of original Shepard Faireys that I started collecting in high school for $30 because you could buy them down in San Diego. He wasn't famous yet. He hadn't done the Obama art yet. So I don't know, just stuff I don't really talk about a lot at the office.

Jon Pfeiffer: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Brian Freeman: I actually learned that this is a genetic thing when I did my 23 and Me, and it's when people eat with their mouth open. [Laughter]

But it's a genetic thing! So I can't be blamed! [Laughter]

Jon Pfeiffer: Who is somebody you would love to have coffee with.

Brian Freeman: Bezos. I want to pick that dude's brain. Is he a Machiavellian Monster? Or is he a, like--I want to know how that guy thinks about the world more. And I don't think he does all that much public analysis

Jon Pfeiffer: No I don't think he does.

Brian Freeman: He's that he's not like [Steve] Jobs in that way.

Jon Pfeiffer: Yeah. How do you keep up with what's going on on Instagram?

Brian Freeman: So I use it a lot. I mean, that's easy. But I am addicted to new information. So I use a product called Flipboard. I've subscribed to what I think are the most relevant topics for me. So: Internet marketing, automation, personalization, design, Instagram and pop culture.

Jon Pfeiffer: And what is Flipboard?

Brian Freeman: So Flipboard is essentially a magazine or online article aggregator that pulls in topics based on topic verticals and then allows you to quickly [Snaps Fingers] digest that information and just flip through it. It's got like this whole flip thing. Every single day I look at that four or five times. I will take content that I think is or articles that I think are relevant and I will put them on Linkedin and ask for feedback. And so I get to stay not only top of mind for some of my followers, but I get to constantly be in the know on all the new information.

Jon Pfeiffer: Which is a perfect segue to LinkedIn. Because you have a post, you posted your pitch deck

Brian Freeman: Yeah!

Jon Pfeiffer: With the heading, "Your idea isn't going to get stolen. I just posted my confidential pitch deck to prove it."

Brian Freeman: Yeah! [Laughter]

Jon Pfeiffer:   What was the thought process behind that?

Brian Freeman: I was getting, I was having a conversation with an entrepreneur who was really obsessed with like confidentiality, and that I think is just a good way to have your idea go absolutely nowhere for a few reasons. One, your idea is like a fetus and by the time it has, if anybody cares, it's going to be a walking talking like 10 year old. And so that means it's changed a lot, doesn't look the same as completely different set of priorities, has gotten a lot of feedback and speaks a different language. You know, so like your idea as it is right now isn't good. And it's not good not because it's not like potentially good. It's not good because it hasn't seen the light of day. It hasn't been tested, it hasn't gone into the market. It hasn't had other people's feedback who have better perspective, more perspective, different perspective. You have to filter things through just the crucible of business in order to know what's really feasible. And so the idea that someone's going to steal your business idea and go do it better than you is preposterous. Like your new toilet seat invention is in the minds of seven other people on in the 7 billion person planet and

Jon Pfeiffer: It's just will they execute.

Brian Freeman:   It's will to execute, access to resources, education and passion. And, good chance is that you're going to have to manufacture a couple of those things. And you're going to be up against somebody else who's got something similar and you're going to find out six months from now when you finally start to do competitive research. So, that's why I did that. It Isn't like, I guess that's the pet peeve is when people are like, "Oh, this is super confidential, I need you to sign...." I was like, "No. That's silly."

Jon Pfeiffer: Not Talking until the NDA is signed.

Brian Freeman:   Yeah [Chuckles]

Jon Pfeiffer: Two more questions. What do you see as the trend, the coming trends, for social media?

Brian Freeman: For social? That is super interesting. I think we're looking at the fragmentation of social media is starting to occur now. The idea that one company will dominate the social landscape continuously I think is, I think history has shown is very difficult for that to happen. People like variety and so over time I think we'll start to see the reemergence of Snapchat as a player because they're so innovative over there. TikTok has already...

Jon Pfeiffer: Just tell them to stop changing the interface!

Brian Freeman: Yeah, I know! [Laughter]

That's, I think part of how they keep it interesting for their users in a way, but I totally get what you mean.

Jon Pfeiffer: It's like a puzzle that you've got to figure out every six months

Brian Freeman: Especially for the, it's because you're only coming back every six months.

Jon Pfeiffer: Well I used to be on it every day until they changed the interface, and it's like huh?

Brian Freeman: it got weird. It got weird for a hot minute there. They did reverse course on a little bit of that. I think Evan did end up apologizing a little bit. But the challenge they have is that Instagram copies everything that they do. But with Snap and TikTok, that has really started to regain the popularity that Vine invented, and that format of looping short-form video, that's a total content paradigm that, you know, will reemerge.

So I think we're going to see fragmentation of that landscape with new types of ways to interact. And I think that's just inevitable.

Jon Pfeiffer: So last question, where can people find you? And actually, it's a compound question so I apologize. Where can people find you on the Internet and where can they find your company?

Brian Freeman: Best place to interact with me is on Linkedin. If you just search, I think it's just the regular name structure, slash Brian Freeman. Just search Brian Friedman. Look for the Heartbeat logo. Follow me on there and I'm constantly posting and interacting with people

And for Heartbeat, we're heartbeat.com. So get on over there if you want to start working with brands, collaborating, just follow the Ambassador signup process. If you're a brand, just ask for a demo. We'll get you set up. We'll get you on the platform.

Jon Pfeiffer: Perfect.

Brian Freeman: Cool

Jon Pfeiffer: Thank you.


The Creative Influencer is a podcast featuring YouTubers, Instagram influencers and the professionals who work with them.

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