The Silicon Review
“My research at Stanford GSB revealed influencer marketing produced the highest ROI among all forms of advertising models”: Susan Akbarpour, Mavatar Technologies, CEO
As a media guru, innovator, entrepreneur and investor Susan Akbarpour has over 30 years of hands-on experience in building innovative products and businesses in technology and media. She is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Mavatar, the company she founded in 2011 based on her research in graduate school of business, soon after receiving her MS in Management from Stanford University in 2010. mCart platform as-a-service consists of a decentralized marketplace and shoppable content publishing solutions provide retailers and media companies with a new way to measure IMPACT at the convergence of data intelligence, content and consumer-centric commerce, leveraging cutting edge technologies such as blockchain and AI.
Susan’s recent mission is leading her world class team to create a Decentralized Attribution Protocol that combines advanced blockchain technology and a fresh approach to Basket Shopping and Influence Marketing or User-generated & consumer-centric advertising to address lack of transparency and trust in the retail value chain. mCart platform closes the gap between online and offline sales, shopping and advertising, making the world around us shoppable.
Throughout her journey as an entrepreneur, journalist, publisher, investor, board member, community advocate and political fundraiser, Susan has received multiple media, community and business awards, spoken at various conferences and is frequently featured in mainstream media.
Susan is also a partner at Candou Ventures, member of the board of directors at IMA International Executive Council and VOMax Corporation, advisory board member of Trustroot, member of Stanford Business School Alumni Association, Stanford Women On Boards, a prestige member of Watermark, a contributor writer of Forbes and an official Member of Forbes Agency Council.
She is one of the most famous and prolific entrepreneurs of her generation, with her poignant and often provocative commentaries shaping the market. Her Forbes articles, blog and social pages are must-read for the innovators and business elites.
Susan Akbarpour, Mavatar Technologies CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?
Mavatar began as my research study at Graduate School of Business at Stanford which became the base of the company I founded a year later along with my co-founders. As a media veteran, I saw the massive gap in advertising and commerce in general and where we were headed in terms of giving up our privacy just to have easier access to information that may make our decision journey shorter and more rewarding. We soon realized the broken advertising industry must be optimized if we don’t want to shove irrelevant information down the consumer’s throat. My research revealed influencer marketing produced the highest ROI among all forms of advertising models as shoppers trust context and content publishers more than brands’ push ads but the attribution models were vague, unfair and not scalable. To activate such a massive sales force, transparency and scalability are vital, so we created a platform called mCart that empowers content creators and turns all the “tools publishers” to the platform’s given features. The platform pushes the attribution mechanics onto the blockchain, scaling and democratizing the influencer marketing industry and disintermediating multiple layers of middlemen that not only don’t add value to the shopper-retailer relationship but also increase the cost of sales and distort the value chain. With mCart protocol, the retailer can work directly with millions of influencers, sharing value directly with individuals and entities who drive their sales without worrying about the back-office burden.
There is nothing more important for a successful small business than a well defined mission and vision statements. Can you explain your M&V statements in brief?
The consumer has been always centric to our product vision, design and development. Our platform mission was always pulling real time and relevant data about products that consumers discover. I dubbed this “pull advertising” as opposed to the conventional “push advertising” model that is about to collapse as I predicted 7 years ago, with the intervention of regulations like GDPR. If consumers feel empowered and buy with confidence, retailers sell more and reward the real influencers, therefore noise, waste and scams are removed and the entire value chain will be better off.
How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.
As mentioned, mCart pilot was very well-received, we’d built a strong mCart marketplace, healthy base of shoppers, easy tools for influencers to monetize their content partnering with retailers who were done with the nightmare of outdated affiliate marketing models. Soon we realized that at best we created yet another Amazon, or a shoppable Pinterest or an Uber for retail sales. How about instead of one giant Amazon that only supports 5 percent of the US retail sales and the fragmented market of small to midsize businesses, showcasing products and vendors who are not necessarily accountable for product quality and customer service, there were dozens of marketplaces for brick and mortar and established retailers, customized with different business objectives to save them from failing and dissolving? The world is a better place without monopoly where transparency rules.
That’s how we took on creating a platform-as-service and cloud-based solution, that allows media, manufactures, malls and any entity that has the power, content, user base or any reason to start a large scale marketplace in a matter of weeks and days with a fraction of cost of in-house development. This vision was always part of our road map, but was clearly defined when blockchain came into the picture. Now that our blockchain integration is done, we are excited for what comes next: a democratic and consumer-centric commerce. mCart makes the world around us shoppable instead of polluting consumers’ lives and minds and wasting advertisers’ dollars with ineffective ads and irrelevant information.
An organization is defined by its core values. What are your company’s core values and how are they helping you to succeed?
User privacy and empowering consumers have always been at the forefront of our values. We are ahead of the game as our technology can become a standard for an ad-free and inherently GDPR compliant commerce that provides the most relevant data while rewarding consumers for their participation in our marketplaces.
Any company, big or small, must have the sense of authenticity and originality to succeed, is your company a ‘leader’ or a ‘follower’?
mCart is definitely leading the way for a new era of consumer-centric and omnichannel commerce as well as influencer marketing or user generated advertising. No other platform on the market encompasses so many cutting edge technologies and valid approaches to help tired industries that desperately need to be disrupted. Disruption is one thing, but “crossing the chasm” was even more important. This couldn’t have been done if mCart technology couldn’t make the world around us shoppable.
What kind of mixed responses have you received from your users or customers over the years? How have they motivated you to shape your offerings/grow the company?
Blockchain coming into the picture was a major pivot for us to allow mCart to properly and transparently serve all the constituencies of the value chain. A year ago when we revealed the first mCart marketplace as-a-service to the industry, we are shocked to hear that retailers thought of it as a too great of a technology they can’t afford.
mCart was scaling the influence marketing to millions of micro to macro influencers that could have been rewarded for each stroke of their pen and keyboard leveraging traditional and new media content. But who was supposed to cut and send possibly millions of checks or wire millions of micro-payments every month to this next-gen salesforce? Cutting each check can cost between 15 to 20 dollars. How about if the commission was a fraction of a dollar? That’s why we entertained embracing this new paradigm shift, blockchain to remove the micropayments roadblock to cross the chasm.
mCart is thoughtful functional software that leverages blockchain to allow retailers to better serve shoppers and reward their products and brand ambassadors with the ultimate omnichannel experience and no additional work on the retailer’s end.
“Earning trust and respect of consumers is through consistent focus on delivering high quality in all of our actions,” how do you interpret this statement?
When we decided to have a consumer-centric approach to everything we develop, I created the C-Commerce philosophy. C stands for consumer-centric, contextual, crypto, collaborative and connected commerce. C-Commerce can’t be initiated by or even started from the retailer’s and advertiser’s side. It can’t be paid and leveraged against consumers. By default it has to be free for consumers, but at the same time showcases the ultimate user experience. My team and the prominent investors behind the company all signed up and supported my vision of “The by-product of a great product is financial reward.” Thanks to this team and our financial backers, we had the luxury of being patient to deliver our promise at best, learning, building and measuring, as many as times we needed to.
Fostering a culture of feedback is crucial to the success of every organization. How is this true with your company?
Our culture has been built on one important principle: The ball is always in my court!
This philosophy instils a unique environment where everyone tries to inspire, help, follow up and become an intrapreneur. Being a team player is good but not enough. We are all trained to see, breath and live to make it to the finish line because of our strong belief that we are here to change the world for better.
What are the factors that make your brand one of the ‘Best’ companies?
mCart is doing something no one else does. It converges the best and most innovative technologies such as AI, decision engines, blockchain to close the gap between online and offline shopping, sales and advertising. Our turnkey solution not only requires no to low integration for all the parties, but also is an engaging solution that can be adopted by multiple type of the users (shoppers, influencers, sales rep) in a rapid manner.
About adaptability, how do you stay relevant to the consumer interests and needs in this high volatile market?
One of our major investors and chairman of advisory board is the former Macy’s CEO, Phil Schlein. He believes in customer service-first because that’s what sets you apart from everything and everybody else is that experience that makes people come back to you. For delivering your promise and serving your customers, first you should hear them. That’s why in every page of mCart platform you see the most sophisticated tools for user’s feedback such as “bug report,” “feature enhancement request,” “AB testing” and even “customer service chat boxes.” Users are the most patient advocates of a product if they believe their needs have been taken into account. With their help we have and will continue to deliver a platform that encompasses high expectations to stay on top of a volatile market.
How do you keep your company up and running? What are the factors that help your company to compete on a global platform?
A strong team, investors and cohort who signed up to the primary vision of changing the way people shop, sell and advertise.
Customer service varies, but companies can still be successful. How do you maintain your customers’ trust and loyalty? The customers’ trust and loyalty is what mCart was built on.
Established brick and mortars have fostered loyalty, delivering excellence in customer service and product quality over decades but seems have difficulties to capture the attention of the modern shoppers. mCart is a technology that lets well-known stores and brands maximize their stake in the market and catch-up with more tech-savvy shoppers and influencers exceeding their expectation. mCart is closing the gap between senseless online shopping and daunting offline shopping, bringing the online experience to offline world.
How do you and your company contribute to the competitive global IT platform at large?
While mCart technology is easily a leading approach to tomorrow’s retail landscape in the U.S., it is also able to compete on a global scale. In fact, our greatest response at ICSC RECon (the largest global retail real estate convention) was from international prospects. Overseas, consumers are ahead of us in terms of adopting and leveraging new technologies such as omnichannel, blockchain and social media. We also plan to create an open protocol where developers can build many more useful applications on top of our numerous APIs and mCart token protocol.
Do you have any new products ready to be launched?
Blockchain integration was completed not long ago and our bevy of features makes mCart as a service the premiere option for omnichannel marketplace operators. Our first blockchain-based marketplace will be released soon. FX Group, the award winning marketing partner & advisory firm that manages Hollywood’s most iconic brands, is launching the first mCart blockchain-based marketplace by Mavatar in June 2018 to leverage “Influence Marketing” in a massively scalable manner.
As a question on sustainability, where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
In a few years I hope to have several clients whitelabeling mCart as-a-service. I also hope we have a fleet of millions of influencers, from micro to macro, using mCarts every day to showcase their favorite products from every category making world shoppable. mCart will become an industry standard for advertising. Think of mCart as an enabler for creating dozens of Amazon for stores and brands you already love and trust without worry the products coming from an unknown vendor and may be fake or faulty. mCarts are travelling between online and offline and cross devices for the omnichannel experience shoppers want. It feels good to have a choice to buy online or from stores in your area, return and exchange if you need to and touch and feel the product. mCart offers your favorite stores a new platform to maximize sales in the digital age, making every social post, magazine article, movie and physical place shoppable, tracing the products to our decentralized marketplaces that are operated on immutable and transparent smart contracts between four major players in commerce: shoppers, influencers, retailers and marketplace operators.