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21 June, 2021 - 10:32 By Tony Quested

Pals pay as startup launches ‘Friendvertising’

Two Essex graduates, whose business specialises in helping companies boost their brand awareness and perform market research through social media, are celebrating a £450,000-cash injection to take their startup to the next level.

Oliver Bourne and Eliot Wood met while studying business management at Essex Business School and after graduating in 2019 went on to form WYSPR, which specialises in ‘Friendvertising’ – the idea that if a company tells you their product is great you might ignore it, but if a friend recommends it you are more likely to listen.

Bourne said: ”The idea for our business came about because we saw influencers desperately trying to build a sense of friendship with their audience to gain trust. We thought, why bother?  We already have friends, people we know, love and trust, so why not use them? 

“It makes no sense that an influencer’s ‘like’ on social media is worth something, but the regular person’s ‘like’ isn’t – especially as we care more about what our friends have to say. 

“WYSPR is all about helping both businesses and individuals benefit from Friendvertising – businesses can boost brand awareness, and ultimately sales, while individuals can use it to earn money by becoming advocates of brands.”

The pair market tested their novel idea and found Friendvertising can increase engagement with a campaign ten-fold. 

“The average influencer campaign achieves 2.4 per cent engagement rate whereas Friendvertising achieves upwards of 15 per cent on a feed post and 30 per cent on a story. This is how WYSPR has achieved engagement rates of over 45 per cent on campaigns,” said Oliver.

However, having a good idea and being able to turn that into a successful business are two different things – with funding often being a crucial barrier.

With the help of Essex Startups, the programme run by the University of Essex to support student and graduate businesses and [email protected] –  the University’s platform which matches potential investors with businesses that need funding – they have raised £450,000 to further their business.

Much of the funding has come through the Anglia Capital Group, a consortium of individual investors, who between them have considerable business experience, and a knack for spotting good ideas, having worked for companies such as Swinton, Pixar and Aspall Cyder.

Patrick Smith, lead investor and former chairman of Swinton Holdings, said: “I very much like the concept of Friendvertising which sits at the heart of WYSPR’s business, bringing greater integrity to influencer marketing.

“I am also impressed with the huge enthusiasm Eliot and Ollie bring to this project. They have already proven their idea works and I’m delighted to support them in their bid to build the business up to industrial scale.”

The funding has enabled Oliver and Eliot to move to new offices in London and they are about to embark on a recruitment campaign, which they hope may attract applicants from Essex. Their ties with their alma mater remain strong.

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