Roar writer Sayali Marathe sat down (virtually) with CEO Jay Richards to talk about his start-up, Imagen Insights, that helps students across the UK to get experience in marketing while using Gen Z input to improve their strategies.
Roar: Could you briefly explain to our audience what Imagen Insights does?
Jay: Imagen’s mission is to help Gen Z to shape its future. The best way to shape Gen Z’s future is via brands, as brands shape countries and culture. The government and Donald Trump only wish they had such power! So, Imagen enables agencies and brands to crowdsource feedback, ideas and insights through our Gen Z consultants. Currently, we have a few thousand Gen Z consultants (between the ages 18-25) that help brands ideate and crowdsource feedback.
R: What motivated you to start Imagen?
J: When I was in secondary school, I was good at being bad. I was always getting into trouble at school! Nonetheless, my business was encouraging, and I started my own business selling t-shirts during my secondary school years. That encouraged me to get a Business Studies degree, after which started working in the City of London in Sales. However, while working I felt like I wanted to do something similar for current students. I initially started an incubator where I helped students fund business ideas. After this, I was contacted by the National Football League (NFL) after a few months, who wanted to work with me to use my network with university and secondary school students to help them with marketing. As a result, the whole thought process came to me about Imagen!
R: It seems like the business came from a very personal place for you. What was it that made it so special?
J: If I had something like this back when I was in school, it would have solved a lot of problems for me. So, that was great. Imagen is a great way, I suppose, for a lot of students or young people who are planning to venture into the space that I am in. It definitely came from a personal place as I wanted to help solve the problem. I believe when you try to solve a problem from such a point of view, you’re able to make the most out of your business.
R: When you started Imagen, were you able to use the contacts you made from your previous business ventures?
J: Yes, 100%! The good thing for us was that the previous network we had built was very transferable. At the same time, what we already had was a very small network, so a lot of the clients we have now, we had to go out and find them. It was a bit of both, I’d say.
R: How do you suggest we go about building these professional networks for the future? I ask this because a lot of students have barriers to creating contacts or networks like these.
J: Building networks is always tough, especially when I was coming into a market of advertisers and a new city, so I wasn’t in the space where I knew a lot of people. The best way I thought of to build a network was to go on my personal LinkedIn and start posting valuable content or things that I knew about. I tried adding value to other people’s businesses and asked them how I could help. That way, people started adding me to their network. That’s why I think LinkedIn is the best way to create professional networks. It’s a great place – if you like something on your timeline, I can automatically see it on my feed because you liked it! It’s a great way to put out content onto the website and add value to people. Here’s my advice: put stuff out into the ecosystem so people can interact with it.
R: And what about creating connections offline?
J: The offline is easy if you’re in university, of course. You have a lot of people from different backgrounds and countries at uni. One great way to gain connections offline is to just sit down and ask them, “How can I add value to you?” or “How can I help?” or “What can I help you out with?” Whenever I meet a client, I ask them these questions. From this, I think you can create wonderful relationships. There’s a book called The Power of Positive Thinking that I think is brilliant. Norman Vincent Peale talks about things that really helped me create this optimistic outlook. Just keep trying to add value to other people’s lives and your connections will form without hesitation! Apart from this, you can go to loads of networking events outside and inside of uni. I know it’s difficult to do networking events unless you’re an extrovert like me, but it’s a great place to meet people even if you talk with just one person there.
R: Thank you for that advice! When you first started off, how difficult was it to recruit clients and students/consultants? Were there any obstacles you faced in student/consultant recruitment?
J: It’s still super hard! I don’t think we’re at a point where I can say, “Oh yeah, it’s so easy.” The main thing we struggle with, whether it’s bringing on new consultants or clients, is that a lot of people don’t know we exist. So, I think for us, the biggest challenge is letting people know you exist, and you want to advise them and provide something beneficial to them. I don’t think we’ve quite nailed it in the head yet, but we’re getting there slowly. Our current strategy is to let people know we’re trying to add value to you, and if we can add value to our consultants, they’ll go out and tell their friends and family. This is the best way to recruit consultants, in my opinion, and eventually, more clients will come.
R: Because you’ve mentioned the phrase “add value to people,” I want to ask you: how do you add value to people? How does Imagen try to add value to people?
J: I’m glad you asked that question! Simply by talking to other people. For instance, when I talk to other people, I try to think of who it is that I can introduce them to from my network that will be helpful. When I leave a room, I’m thinking, “Perfect! I can introduce them to so and so, and no matter what, I’ll help them.” The way we add value to our consultants is by opening as many avenues for them as possible. Outside of the office, I help them with their CVs, try to find experiences that can help them become a more rounded person. So, by the time that they’re done with school or university, they have had a little bit of experience to show future employers.
R: How has COVID-19 treated Imagen?
J: I think it’s been okay for us. We’ve been able to keep our team on and keep some of our consultants as well. It’s definitely been a little quieter, but it’s going better than I expected. I have seen a lot of businesses go down, unfortunately, but we’re doing very well.
R: Since COVID-19 has brought a lot of advertising online, what role do you think Imagen will play in this online space?
J: I think the good thing is that everything is moving online. A lot of businesses haven’t really tapped much into the online space – this territory is uncharted for them, at the moment. Thanks to our consultants, we’re able to keep an eye on the online trends. It’s exciting, for sure, because there’s so much potential, and I think a lot of brands are starting to realise they need to engage with the Gen Z audience. We’re at a stage where we can really help with that, so I’m very excited! I think we’ve only barely tapped into the potential of online marketing.
R: What is your vision for the future? Where do you see yourself in, maybe, the next five years?
J: Apart from world domination… We’re looking to expand internationally. We have a huge community in the UK here, but we definitely want to try and expand to other countries, especially in the mainland United States. That’s really just our main vision: we want to try and onboard new consultants and add to our current client list without compromising the equality we have in our start-up currently. We want to take risks and do new things, and bring on a LOT more clients!
R: A lot of students want to think outside the box, or start their own businesses. What’s your advice for them?
J: There is nothing worse for an entrepreneur than to not solve a problem you don’t face. Without having a personal connection, you won’t be passionate about it, and then it won’t work out. By solving a problem you’re currently facing, like we are, you’ll be able to add value to the rest of humanity.