Founder and CEO of Buyapowa Gideon Lask became an entrepreneur out of his passion to sell things on the internet.
Aside from Buyapowa, Gideon Lask takes pride in building and selling e-commerce business for Universal, HMV, and LetsBuyIt.com, among others.
At Buyapowa, Gideon Lask has led the company to become global leaders in “customer-get-customer-selling.” Their passion for innovation has convinced equally innovative companies like Tesco, Costco, L’Oreal, Sony, and Argos to adopt their platform.
Gideon Lask also uses his Buyapowa experience to help “other brands and retailers acquire new customers in an altogether smarter way.”
Through Buyapowa, Gideon Lask aims to “put word of mouth back where it belongs: as our number one priority,” because the next generation of retail giants will arrive when marketing goes “backwards to go forwards.” In the past, word of mouth was everything to marketing. Finding a great shop or product meant people hanging out at the “corn exchange/market square/high street to check it out.” Retail giants got started that way.
Gideon Lask and Buyapowa understand that technology has brought its own set of challenges to marketing. However, it has also made sparking word of mouth that much easier. His company gives “existing shoppers messages they can—and will—take out to their friends,” through “combining instant rewards for customers who get their friends shopping, communal incentives to get entire customer-bases engaging their friends and gamification prizes to supercharge the most passionate customers.”
One of the keys to success in business is to listen to your customers. Gideon Lask, Buyapowa
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Gideon Lask: Don’t tell anyone, but I used to be a Management Consultant. Sorry! Anyway, it gave me early exposure to the Internet and I was good at helping traditional businesses take the digital transformation journey. I soon learnt that hopping from project to project wasn’t for me and that I was at my happiest immersed in a business, especially early stage startups. I gave up the suit and tie and never looked back, becoming slightly addicted to taking risks at the same time.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Gideon Lask: I’ve always been a great believer in the power of word of mouth marketing, even before my days as CEO of LetsBuyIt.com. After all word of mouth was how our ancestors learned of great products and services, back before we even knew the term marketing existed, when there weren’t any agencies to speak of — never mind smartphones, internet and social networks. And even today, the power of a recommendation from a trusted friend is consistently cited by consumers as being the most trusted information channel, far ahead of adverts, celebrity endorsements or any other advertising.
LetsBuyIt.com, as one of the earliest online group buying platforms, was definitely way ahead of its time. You have to remember that that was during the days of dial-up modems, smartphones and where social networks were just getting started.
By 2011, the panorama had completely changed, and I thought it was time to take the best of what I had learned from my time at LetsBuyIt.com and update it for the new reality of smartphones, ubiquitous broadband and the huge growth of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and chat networks like Whatsapp and Viber. That belief led to the birth of Buyapowa.com, as a consumer co-buying platform where participants could get a better deal if they got friends, family and colleagues to buy as well. However, since then we had a couple of pivots before we arrived at the magic formula of powering advocacy marketing for large enterprise brands.
A key aspect of our success in internationalising has been in hiring native speakers for our main target markets and realising that different markets have different maturities and require different selling techniques.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Gideon Lask: One of the keys to success in business is to listen to your customers. Although we started out as a consumer brand, we quickly found much more interest in what we were doing from large enterprise brands like Tesco, Argos and Oasis, who wanted a new way to engage with their consumers and get them buying online and on social. That led us to build a social commerce platform for large brands to engage consumers across all customer touch points with a series of different promotions that used gamification, time jeopardy and smart rewards to get them to rally friends to the offers.
However, despite some initial success, we found that this was not really what our clients wanted. It was too difficult to communicate these new concepts to their customers and the need to remove the sale from the standard check out process for promotions caused more problems than it was worth. What we found was that our clients actually wanted something that was easy for their customers to understand, was easy to set up and which didn’t interrupt the established check out process. This was referral marketing.
Luckily, we were able to quickly adapt our platform to accommodate referral marketing, all the while retaining key features such as gamification, tiered and intelligent rewards, triggers and other smart psychological tools which help make our advocacy marketing platform the most suited to getting referrers to refer again and again.
While it was disappointing to see our initial success in social commerce not lead to greater things, had we not sat down with our clients and not got their detailed feedback on what they really wanted, we might have missed the opportunity that is enterprise advocacy marketing. The truth is that, while you need to listen to your clients, they often don’t actually know what they want. This means you can learn as much from failures as from successes and you shouldn’t hide from customer feedback, no matter how harsh.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Gideon Lask: Since we decided to focus on referral marketing, we have gone from success to success and we now power word of mouth marketing for over 100 leading brands across fashion, beauty, retail, travel, grocery, telecommunications, banking, insurance, utilities, gaming and gambling etc..
In particular, we have been able to expand globally with clients in 27 countries and in 21 languages. A key aspect of our success in internationalising has been in hiring native speakers for our main target markets and realising that different markets have different maturities and require different selling techniques. This has required patience in building up a presence in each of the markets, as success rarely happens overnight.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Gideon Lask: Back when we offered the social commerce product, we ran a very successful promotion with O2 Priority for an Ed Sheeran concert. We used gamification and the top prize was a backstage pass to meet Ed Sheeran. We generated many tens of thousands of sign ups for O2, with one person generating nearly 15,000 sign ups alone. However, our platform was able to see that almost all the referrals from that person were self referrals, even though they were from different email addresses. It appeared that one young fan had been so desperate to meet Ed that she’d been manually creating email address after email address to refer herself. This just illustrates the point that without proper anti-fraud tools, brands risk being defrauded online.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Gideon Lask: Ahead of its recent successful IPO, Airbnb announced that it gets 91% of its traffic from non paid for sources. It termed this Organic Discovery and there are many tools you can use to develop an Organic Discovery strategy for your business. These include:
- Tools to encourage your customers to create User Generated Content that you can use on and off-site to drive traffic and help with conversions. For example, Olapic, Bazaarvoice, Curalate etc.
- Tools to get reviews from your customers like Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews, Feefo and Trustpilot etc.
- NPS surveys to understand what your customers think of your business, such Qualtrics, Medallia, Hotjar or SurveyMonkey etc.
- Referral Marketing Tools like our own Buyapowa.
- Partner and Influencer Marketing tools, again like our own Buyapowa.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Gideon Lask: Most of the tools mentioned above, to create UGC and get reviews, can greatly improve conversion rates, as can a good UX test and learn strategy. But it is difficult to beat the conversion rate of a referred-in friend.
Recent research from the Keller Center for Research at Baylor University (LINK TO : https://www.baylor.edu/business/kellercenter/news.php?action=story&story=214061) identified two factors why recommendations from trusted friends are such a powerful means to win new customers: Better Matching and Social Enrichment. Better matching was broken down into ‘passive’ matching due to the fact that people tend to associate with people like themselves; so a good customer is likely to know other good customers. And ‘active’ matching where referrers actively looked for people in their networks who would appreciate the offer. Social enrichment is also very powerful, as an existing customer not only knows your products and services very well, but also the preferences of their friends. So the offer is more likely to be well received by the recipient.
In other words, you are getting the right person referred in to the right product at the right time by a very credible and trusted information source.
What you need to do is have your brand ambassadors speak for you: your customers, past customers, employees, staff, partners and influencers.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Gideon Lask: Obviously the best place to start is by having a great product or service with competitive pricing, a top notch user experience across all consumer touch points, excellent customer service and a fair returns policy. These are the basics that create high levels of consumer satisfaction, and create the basis for generating positive word of mouth. So your first goal should be to make your product or service great.
But while just having a great product or service will create some natural word of mouth, to get the maximum benefit from positive consumer sentiment, you can’t be passive. The first thing to realise is that simply telling everyone what a great product or service you have is not credible. It certainly won’t stand out against all the marketing noise out there, as all your competitors will be saying the same thing. What you need to do is have your brand ambassadors speak for you: your customers, past customers, employees, staff, partners and influencers.
In other words, as well as a great product or service, you need to have an advocate marketing strategy with a top class referral marketing platform to engage your brand ambassadors and encourage them to recommend you to their friends, family and colleagues not once but over and over again.
The first thing to realise is that simply telling everyone what a great product or service you have is not credible. Gideon Lask
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Gideon Lask: Here are the five things I would recommend to create an optimal environment for Organic Discovery, for which Airbnb can be a good example for almost all of these:
- First create a delightful and unique customer experience, such that your visitors will want to talk about you and share their experience with others;
- Create the infrastructure to enable your customers to create user generated content, leave reviews and refer friends;
- Actually ask your customers to create user generated content, leave reviews and refer friends across all touch points: on your website, in your emails and newsletters, social posts, in your app, account areas, leaflets and flyers etc. And link the requests by asking someone who gave a good review or high NPS score to refer you etc.
- Remind your customers to generate UGC, leave reviews and refer friends using triggers such as on contract renewal, anniversaries, birthdays, upgrades etc.
- Use psychological tools and techniques to encourage your customers to generate more UGC, leave more reviews and refer more friends, with
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!