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Utilizing TikTok to its fullest potential

Jess Flack is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ubiquitous, an influencer managed marketplace that specializes in matching influencers and brands on TikTok. Her previous job at a moving startup helped her realize the power of TikTok and creators as a new marketing channel for brands. Now, she and her team at Ubiquitous help brands run their best influencer campaigns, instill the importance of and opportunities within TikTok in their clients, and are building tech that will power and run the influencer marketing industry as a whole.

[Influencer marketing] isn’t pure performance. It’s not a water faucet. We’re building an irrigation system. We need that time to view not only how the campaigns performed the day they go live, but what are the long tail effects? What does the brand lift look like… that’s where you really get a more accurate picture of performance of a channel like influencer marketing.”

Jess FlackCo-founder and CEO of Ubiquitous


Katie Hankinson: (00:00)
Welcome to building while flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies.

Mickey Cloud: (00:13)
Jess, thank you so much for, uh, joining us today on building while flying.

Jess Flack: (00:17)
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me Mickey excited to chat.

Mickey Cloud: (00:20)
Of course. So Jess flack is the co-founder and CEO of ubiquitous, an influencer managed marketplace startup, uh, that specializes in matching influencers and brands on TikTok. Jess got her start in marketing, working at two advertising firm before joining firms, before joining, uh, Chatanooga based moving startup bellhop, uh, in 2018 to own their performance marketing, uh, where she five X their paid channel revenue. Uh, it was her experience at bellhop that led her to realize the power of TikTok and its creators, a new marketing channel for brands. And, and from that she launched ubiquitous and is now helping brands to just lift and Disney and Netflix and Amazon, and many more kinda run their best influencer campaigns to date. So Jess, thanks so much for, uh, for coming on. I’m super excited to dive to, to what you are working on now and, and how you’ve kind of gotten there and, and, and what you’re building, because I think, um, this and this, the influencer marketing is something that is, um, is been part of what we’ve been doing at Vayner.

Mickey Cloud: (01:11)
That I’ve been a part of over the past 10, 11 years, but that it’s still feels like it’s at it’s really early days. . Um, and so I guess what I’d love to understand in maybe start with is, you know, from what I understand, you started kind of dabbling in influencer marketing while at bellhop, uh, kind of tested as a channel, but also as a bit of a side hustle kind of during the start of COVID taking on some, some project work. And so, you know, um, and that kind of the, the idea for ubiquitous kind of came out of you needing to solve your own problem, um, in managing influencer marketing campaign. So I guess what was that problem and what was there maybe a specific moment for you where you knew, Hey, if I can solve this, it’s gonna be helpful for other people.

Jess Flack: (01:48)
Yeah, no, love it. That was a great intro, by the way, you really covered all the bases. Um, but yeah, no, you’re, you’re exactly right. Um, I would love to say that two years ago I had this like light bulb moment and, and saw the clear vision from day one, but, um, it didn’t work out like that, you know, I initially, so I, my experience with working with influencers at bellhop typically looked like, okay, we wanna try using influencers, let’s go to one of these talent agencies or this influencer marketing agency and, and work kind of through them. Um, so I was experienced whenever it came to kind of analyzing influencer performance and, uh, reviewing rosters and selecting the right creators. Um, but really did not have a lot of hands on experience when it comes to how much work actually goes into the, behind the scenes of running your own influencer campaigns.

Jess Flack: (02:46)
Um, but I became very familiar with those, with that process, um, through some of the, the side projects and contract work that I was doing. Um, so the may or so of, of 2020, um, like a lot of us found myself at home and, uh, I had just moved to Atlanta and had a lot of kind of spare time on my hands, um, needed something to do aside from watching Netflix. So, uh, decided to take on some contract work. And, um, the, the project that really spun a lot of this up was, uh, there was a, a new, uh, music label and they were looking for me to put together like their marketing strategy. Yeah. And that was also, um, the rise of TikTok. Um, mm-hmm and, uh, TikTok was really owning the billboard top 100, um, and still is to this day. And so I knew that TikTok needed to be like, kinda the centerpiece of, of how we could promote these artist tracks and singles.

Jess Flack: (03:48)
Um, but again, I didn’t have a lot of experience, uh, with the managing the ins and outs of influencer campaigns as a whole, but especially on TikTok, hadn’t tested the channel. Um, so I started off by just identifying hundreds of creators, um, reaching out to all of them, finding their emails and extremely manual, um, sending them offers based on, um, I would like plug in their, handles into some like third party tools and see what their average views was and, um, send them, you know, an offer based on what CPM might make sense. Yep. Um, and really even that, that piece in the beginning, I was just asking people like, what are, what are your rates to perform like to, yeah. For promoting songs. And, um, just got back offers that differ by an order of magnitude. I mean, you could tell that the, that the platform had not really been standardized yet that the, the offers, um, there wasn’t really an infrastructure to support these creators.

Jess Flack: (04:53)
Um, and, um, was seeing CPMs on average, you know, four to six times lower than I had seen on Instagram and like up to 12 times lower than I had seen on YouTube. Um, so I knew that this could be a very economically efficient platform for brands to deploy influencer campaigns, um, but also knew pretty quickly, um, based on how many hours I billed that this was an extremely manual process. And all that I had really done was collected all of the rates and kinda gotten, um, a, a roster, so to speak of yep. Of creators, uh, for us utilize. And so then the next step, which, you know, I’ll keep it short, but over the next year, really, um, it, uh, evolved very organically into testing, um, both with the label, but, you know, with, with different brands and, um, and seeing how these posts performed.

Jess Flack: (05:51)
Um, and that was also a big, um, an exciting unlock was just seeing how much higher engagements are engagement rates are on average on TikTok. Um, and just the executed CPM, you know, even if I was, uh, paying people, uh, the anticipated like, um, six to $7 CPM, we would see executed CPMs as low as, you know, less than a dollar to, to $2. And so, yeah, uh, fast forward, um, to April of 2021, um, that’s when the really ubiquitous as, as its own, uh, entity was formed. Um, and then this past October, so October of 2021, that’s when we raised our seed round and really started to hire and invest in now, what is our future vision, which is not just executing our own campaigns, um, but also building the tech that will power and run the influencer marketing industry as a whole.

Mickey Cloud: (06:53)
So I’d love for maybe to, to start to break that down a little bit more on the process side. Right. So like right now, it sounds like you kind of started it as a service where you were managing kind of influencer marketing campaigns, having used that experience freelancing and through be ops and things like that. Um, but, but also now you’ve got kind of that vision for that managed marketplace. So I guess, how, how do, how, if a brand wanted to talk to you today, you know, how are they coming in? What does that process kinda look like?

Jess Flack: (07:21)
Yeah. Um, we’ve been very fortunate from, from the beginning in that, um, we have focused so much on kind of the brand experience and the creator experience. Now at this point, I mean, around 50% of our business is repeat. Um, so everything, you know, we, we get a lot of leads on the website. I mean, influencer marketing, but especially on TikTok is just such a, uh, a new and exciting thing for a lot of brands. So there’s a lot of demand there. Um, so that’s how we’ve, we’ve grown. Um, but you’re right. And that we started off as a service. And the way that we engage with a lot of brands today is, is very service like, you know, we, we will either get a lead through our website or a referral or repeat, um, we understand what their goals are, what their budget is.

Jess Flack: (08:11)
We craft a strategy and do a strategic proposal, um, giving them like a few examples of some of the creators within our network, um, and kind of the strategy that we would suggest for them to accomplish their goals. Um, once we get sign off, um, and kind of collaborate, um, during the proposal stage, then we send over just a really simple sow. Um, and from there it’s, it’s booked. Yeah. And we pass it off to our campaign management team and our content production teams, um, campaign management team. They work directly with brands to keep them updated, to work through approvals and keep everything on track, like project manager. Um, and then the, the content production teams work directly with our creator network in developing the content, everything from collecting or, you know, negotiating and finalizing the offers and rates to collecting concepts and drafts, and then managing the go live process.

Jess Flack: (09:12)
Yep. Um, so a lot of back and forth, but we, we have these two teams very much dedicated and focused on the two, um, the two sides to, to our marketplace business. Um, and then in the, in the future, um, and what we’re building internally, um, is how, you know, I think it’s an interesting approach. Um, rather like for a product company, a product led company to not be, pre-revenue like, right, we are executing campaigns today. Um, and, um, but I think it was the right one because we really understand the problems on both sides. Um, and we also have just an immense amount of data, um, to be able to build products that actually meet the needs and, and solve the problems that are currently existing in, in the space.

Mickey Cloud: (10:03)
And I’d love to talk maybe a little bit about some of those challenges or problems that are in this space. Right. Cause so, you know, I mentioned before, like we’ve, we’ve probably tested almost every iteration of, of ways to manage, influence our campaigns at, at, within the VAX world. Um, and, and certainly, um, even within the SA group where we’ve done it in house, um, we’ve partnered with companies who have a roster of influencers, maybe more like ubiquitous at its current stage. Um, but maybe who do outreach on their own. We’ve worked with self served platforms. We put out a brief as kind of a call and you get a lot of that responses. I guess what I’ve always found is that there’s always more work. That’s gonna be done that maybe a team or client kind of anticipates, right. Like there’s just more back and forth. There’s more manual work that kind of always exists there. And so I guess, what are you building at ubiquitous to address that? Or, or how do you talk about the fact just on some level that, you know, any client that’s getting into their space, how do you set their expectations that, listen, this is gonna be more manual word than you probably think of. It’s just like here, just check this box.

Jess Flack: (11:03)
totally, totally. I mean, that is our thesis in the space is that it’s not just, there’s, there’s not a one size fits all, um, SAS solution out there that can really meet the needs of both brands and creators. We are, are creating a managed marketplace where we’ll still always maintain some level of human, QA, human, um, human, like a human layer, right. To make sure that that both the creator posts and the content that’s being developed, um, meets the brief and will perform, um, perform well and accomplish the goals that the brand is set out to, to accomplish. But, um, also for, for brands, for any brand that’s used one of these self-service kind of platforms, um, yes, they have an immense amount of data, but they kind of serve as like the yellow or the yellow pages right. Of influencer marketing. Like you still have to go through the process of identifying, negotiating, messaging, content creation.

Jess Flack: (12:04)
And so you’re right. Like, even though that all that data is there, it’s still on you as the, the marketer to make all of the decisions and kind of do the handholding. Um, so we’ll always have the, the human layers of content, QA and development and content production to make sure that everything that we’re producing is high fidelity and, um, is going to meet the needs of the brand. But we’ll also have that human layer of support on the brand side that manages, um, all of the, the many steps that it takes to, to, to really get a roster that, um, you know, goes beyond just what the algorithm, uh, you know, that we’re building and that other other companies have when it comes to like creator selection, you still need that human layer to go see, okay, what are, what are the, the comments on this influencers post look like?

Jess Flack: (12:58)
Like, are they favored? Like, are they, they view favorably or, you know, are they kind of infamous? Cause you know, a lot of creators can, uh, may, may on paper meet the needs for you as a brand. Um, but in reality, um, there’s, there’s so much more discretion, um, needed whenever you’re, you’re assigning your brand name to an influencer’s face. Yep. And to who they are, they’re really your brand ambassador. And so you, um, it takes a lot of work on the brand side to, to find those right people. Um, and we’ll, we believe that having a managed marketplace, um, will make sure that we’re still producing high quality content at the end while also taking off a lot of the lift that internal marketing teams have on their plate today.

Mickey Cloud: (13:47)
And is, is the vision, I know you mentioned some of the bigger brands you’re working with as well, but like, is it accessible for entrepreneurs for smaller size companies? Is, is there like, is there a size that’s kind of a sweet spot for you guys or a, a, a length of campaign or a number of influencers you’re working with? What’s that kind of where’s, what’s been the sweet spot so far.

Jess Flack: (14:09)
Yeah. So we, we have introduced like a minimum mm-hmm , um, for our campaigns, but really it’s, it’s more about, we need a, a healthy enough budget to, to, to evaluate like statistical significance on the performance at the end. Um, I think for any brand that’s that is looking at testing less than like spending less than like 15 K yep. On, on testing influencer marketing within a, a single month. Um, then they have, there are those self-served platforms out there where yes, it’ll be kind of time consuming, but you can, it’s, it’s not significant enough of a budget that it, um, is gonna take up all of your, your time. So if you just wanted to test a few creators and see how it goes, we, you know, we always kind of suggest, okay, maybe this is something that you can manage internally. Yep. Our bread and butter is managing budgets at scale.

Jess Flack: (15:08)
So really our sweet spot is around the 50 K um, mark 50 to a hundred. Um, and that our minimum is around 15 K. Got it. Um, for budgets. Got it. And, um, we, we also like to, um, have, have brands agree to like a three month test. Sure. Um, because this isn’t, um, quite like, you know, even with like Google AdWords, it’s not pure performance. We still need yeah. It’s not pure performance. Yeah, exactly. It’s not a, it’s not a, a water faucet. Like you, we’re building an irrigation system here and like, love it. We, we need that time to, to view, um, not only like how the campaigns performed the day that they go live, but also what are the, the long tail effects yeah. Of what’s the brand lift look like on your organic and direct traffic, uh, within the week that they went live and the month that they went live and, um, that’s where you really get a more, um, accurate picture of performance from a channel like influencer marketing.

Mickey Cloud: (16:13)
And I, I know you guys kind of got kicked off with the opportunity around TikTok, um, but you’ve expanded to other platforms as well, but I’d love to, I guess maybe just, you know, TikTok has obviously had meteoric rise to, you know, now kind of the number one driver of culture and of it, it’s still, you know, the top downloaded app and everything like that. And that’s also in some ways brought back organic reach to social media. Right. Yeah. Um, and, and we know we’ve had a ton of clients that have been recognized in that and coming to us, but, but w e’re putting out content, you know, not only it’s, I mean, at the end, the day it’s vertical video, right. And vertical videos working well at Instagram reels, it’s on YouTube shorts, you know, all, all the different platforms. So I’d be curious, um, you know, at end day you’ve gotta be a real practitioner to leverage, to, to win on TikTok and to leverage trending audio and creator features like Q and a, or duets or replying to comments with videos and things like that. So I, I’d be curious kind of, from your perspective, the, the best creators you’re working with, the brands that are taking advantage of it, what are some of those, like tactical nuances that you’re seeing creators maybe helping out brands with their, you know, your campaigns, like what’s the latest and greatest on TikTok from what you’re seeing?

Jess Flack: (17:18)
Yeah, no, that’s such a good question because I, I think a lot of brands when they approach influencer marketing and, and TikTok specifically, um, it can be easy to kind of have blinders on to all of the, the various, like utility that you can get from the platform. It’s not just about using the influencers as a distribution channel. Um, yes, that’s definitely the core of what we do. Um, but also just content creation. Like maybe you, aren’t looking for, for, um, you, you have a smaller budget, but you’re wanting to partner with creators that really understand the TikTok tone and the, and then purchase that content and use it in all of your ad creative, even outside of TikTok. Um, so content creation is a big one, um, also for B2B brands and, and B2C, but using your campaigns and trying to tell a story, um, whether it’s a, a challenge or creating a trend or, um, what you want is you want organic adoption to a degree, if that is one of your goals is to, is top of funnel, like brand awareness.

Jess Flack: (18:30)
It’s like, how do you get, uh, non-paid creators to also engage and amplify the content that you’re creating? And then how could you also parlay that into some PR, like, how can you can, you can write that story and kind of manufacture your own virality, send it out to a bunch of publishers and get, um, get in front of the faces of, of, of your top targets. Yep. Um, I’ve, I’ve talked about that a bit, um, to a lot of our like B2B brands where, you know, with B2B specifically, you have such a, a target and like very, uh, um, you know, MIS word, like a very narrow yeah. Very niche narrow, um, focus on like who can use your product. Yep. And so TikTok could be, you know, kind of, because of the organic reach that it gets, it can be kind of a turnoff for some B2B brands, but it, it’s also just the hottest platform out there. Yeah. So how can you create your own story and then leverage it even on other channels,

Mickey Cloud: (19:35)
Love that, um, you talked about like the, the data that you guys have been accumulating from running all these different campaigns, I guess. And, and, and with the vision of the managed marketplace that suits both the brands and creators, I guess, what is, what does the roadmap of features kind of look like on the horizon for that, uh, for that managed marketplace and how are you leveraging the data that you’re getting back on campaigns to inform, you know, what those, what you’re building from a tech product perspective?

Jess Flack: (20:01)
Yeah. So even just within this past month, our engineering team actually built a tool that we’re really utilizing internally now, but we’re gonna be leveraging it more externally, um, where it scrapes the entire TikTok platform. So even creators outside of our network, and anytime that they tag a brand or hashtag ad hashtag sponsored, we are ingesting all of that data. And also the brands that are being tagged have all been identified and assigned to an industry. Yep. And what’s that what that’s doing for us is we can say, okay, for the beauty industry, these are the top 10 or the top 200 creators that are promoting beauty content, and this is how well all of their posts are performing. Um, and then these are also the top brands that are investing currently in, in TikTok. So a bit of

Mickey Cloud: (20:53)

Jess Flack: (20:54)
Reach out to them,

Mickey Cloud: (20:54)
A bit of a benchmarking tool, um, and assessment. Exactly.

Jess Flack: (20:58)
That’s awesome. That’s how we wanna leverage it externally is, is by producing, um, consistent industry reports that can be found on our blog and, um, and eBooks and, you know, these, um, how, how can we also just aid people in, in finding creators? Cause ultimately, yes, we want people to work with us, but we also, um, really just believe in the power of TikTok. And we think it’s, uh, it’s best for, for the industry as a whole, um, to kind of give people some of the secret sauce and, and allow them to yeah. To test it even on their own.

Mickey Cloud: (21:32)
Um, well you started kind of your first answer talking about, uh, how the being of the pandemic, you said, all right, I need to stop watching Netflix and maybe start going, doing, and, and testing out more things. So, um, and I know you’re a bit of a movie buff, so I wanna know who plays you in the movie version of the ubiquitous story.

Jess Flack: (21:50)
Oh my gosh. That is such a great question. oh, uh, Florence Pugh. she’s I actually have, I, I named one of my plants after Florence. Uh, I’m a big, uh, a big like, um, hereditarian Midsummer fan. Um, I, I kind of into, to scary news really I’m into, I’m just a film buff. Um as you know, so, uh, Florence Pugh that’s, that would be my pick. Uh, she’s fantastic. Oh

Mickey Cloud: (22:19)
My gosh. Love that. Love that. Um, what a good answer. Um, awesome. So the last question we ask, uh it’s to kind of all of our guests, but, you know, we call this podcast building while flying, cuz you know, when you’re at the stage you’re at of growth, like it’s, it’s important to keep calm under pressure the way the pilots do. Right. And so, you know, when your back’s against the wall, when you’re faced with a tough decision for your business, what’s that internal, like pilot’s checklist checklist, um, so to speak that kind of guides you and helps you kind of get through it.

Jess Flack: (22:48)
Actually, our CFO Paul, uh, gave, gave me some great advice a few months ago when I was in one of those like, oh gosh, what’s going to happen. Like blah, blah, blah. Um, he, he said, Hey, funnel your energy into the things that you can control. Like what can you do right now that will, uh, take a lot of that nervous energy and make a meaningful and material impact on the business today. Yep. Um, there will always be a running checklist, um, working in, in this industry and I mean, just working in general, you never really reach that place until you retire that you can fully turn it all do, turn it all off. Um, so the checklist never goes away, but what can you do today? Um, that’ll make a material impact. And if, if you do that consistently and you do that daily, you’ll find yourself a month from now feeling like, oh wow, look, look how much we accomplished and all those things I was worried about going wrong or, or the things that I thought just had to go. Right. Um, they all fell into place.

Mickey Cloud: (23:54)
Yeah. It’s also I think, great perspective just on, you know, control what you can control. There’s so much you can’t control. Right? Like, and you’ve gotta have peace with the fact that like, yep, there’s so much that’s outside of our control. What are the levers we can pull and not get distracted or worry or lose energy on the things you can’t control?

Jess Flack: (24:12)
Exactly. It’s all about like having a vision, um, but also holding loosely enough to that vision, to like leave room for, for innovation and new ideas. Um, and yeah. Awesome. Keep moving forward.

Mickey Cloud: (24:24)
Awesome. Awesome. Keep building. Well, thanks so much, um, for, for taking time to share a bit about the growth story of UBI and, and you as well and, and, and really looking forward to, to seeing what you guys build.

Jess Flack: (24:37)
Awesome. Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it.

Katie Hankinson: (24:48)
Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here. Next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Flack’s influence is Ubiquitous

Jess Flack is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ubiquitous, an influencer managed marketplace that specializes in matching influencers and brands on TikTok. Her previous job at a moving startup helped her realize the power of TikTok and creators as a new marketing channel for brands. Now, she and her team at Ubiquitous help brands run their best influencer campaigns, instill the importance of and opportunities within TikTok in their clients, and are building tech that will power and run the influencer marketing industry as a whole.

In her conversation with Mickey Cloud, Jess talks about how Ubiquitous was born and how it’s evolved since its inception. She talks about the future of influencer marketing, and how a managed marketplace like Ubiquitous can make the process easier and more effective for everyone. And the conversation wouldn’t be complete without talking about the impact TikTok has had on marketing for the last two years.

In-flight topics:

  • How Ubiquitous was started
  • Benefits of working with influencers
  • What works on TikTok vs. other platforms
  • Influencer opportunities for B2B brands
  • The future of influencer marketing
  • …and more!

Links | Connect with Jess Flack:

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA