In today’s MarTech conversation, we speak with Szymon Bolczyk, the founder and CEO of Afi.to, a client engagement platform that helps businesses build smart partner loyalty programs.
Bolczyk explains doing business with a non-dilutive approach to funding, how he has learned from his mistake of marketing with a poor content plan, and his goals for the future.
Afi.to is a client engagement platform—essentially, a loyalty partner program. An example would be when you fly somewhere, you can collect airline points. This way, airlines are incentivizing you to be more loyal.
What we do is a little more complex. With Afi.to, you can incentivize your fans and customers to complete tasks that are aligned with your strategy. So for marketing or sales, it could be resharing or creating content, writing reviews, completing opinion polls, recording unpacking videos, and so on. There's quite a lot of flexibility.
Imagine what 100,000 people could do for you if you’re a small or medium enterprise, for example. Even when you think about resharing just one post. If each of those 100,000 has, say, 100 to 1,000 people in their sphere, that’s a lot of reach.
We had the idea for Afi.to in 2017 because we were looking for a tool like this ourselves. We basically decided to create something on our own. After we got a few clients, we realized we might as well do this commercially.
Our software is designed for small to medium-sized enterprises. With a premium account, the software is essentially invisible—they can use their own branding and their own domain, so it looks like they created it.
One mistake I made at the beginning was targeting companies that didn’t have a need or a plan to encourage customer loyalty, so I had to sell the vision as well as the product. Retail and even FinTech proved to be good companies to target— any ecommerce business who has customers who make repeated purchases. Cosmetics is a fantastic example. And our target audience is constantly evolving, but that’s the startup world.
As we’re a new startup, I only have one marketing employee at the moment. I try to give her a lot of varied tasks—from SEO to content marketing to social media management—to help her grow. We do everything remotely, although I do try to meet with my developers from time to time. I really want us to be a company that can get together for a beer in a more social setting, too.
In terms of my day-to-day work, we always have our plan outlined on Trello. I like to check in with my two developers about any hurdles or obstacles. Sometimes, I’ll check in with our graphic designer and our new junior employee for debriefs. We also use Notion for our knowledge base, where we can keep everything documented. We also use Ahrefs and SEOquake. I thought I’d be able to get away from Excel, but it’s actually been pretty useful, especially when we were in talks with investors.
Unlike most startups, we decided that we’d try doing three years of non-dilutive funding with an investor. It’s a strong partnership—they also want to implement my tool into the array of tools that they sell.
They’ve started sending me a lot of leads, so I’m planning to get to the break-even point, knowing that in the next three years, I'm not going to dilute or get any investment, which I don't need at this stage. This means that I can build the platform without thinking about the metrics that VCs look into when they want to invest, but, rather, focusing on how a healthy business should operate.
So, my next year is basically about consolidation and stabilizing the team. I also definitely need to review the website, do a lot of SEO, and build up our knowledge base. Essentially, my next goal is to take the business to the next stage of maturity.
My ultimate goal is that we have happy customers, we have recurring revenue, we have low churn rates, and that it's easier and easier to sell over time. This would be the end goal. And also that we have fun when we do it, and it's not all blood and sweat. That's how I define success.
At first, we tried to create our content ourselves. We thought, “We’re smart guys—we work in business. We’ll just whip up a couple of blogs here and there.” But when I did an audit, I realized that there were a lot of problems like 404s showing up, missing elements, and missing alternative descriptions.
So, I thought, “Well, we’re a startup; I’ll come back to it one day.” This day didn’t come for a year, and before we knew it, our website was outdated. And although the rankings weren’t bad, the keywords were no longer relevant to our product.
So, we tried to learn from our mistakes. We realized if you have the resources to hire the right people, you should stop trying to do everything yourself.
I think what really worked well is that we realized our mistakes. Now, we finally have a plan—we're executing it and it's going in the right direction. We’re getting the right people and we finally know what areas we need to cover.
On the Freakonomics podcast, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt have been discussing the efficiency of paid advertising, especially with Facebook and Google. The idea was that if people started looking into paid advertising data a little more, they’d realize that paid advertising is far less effective than it appears.
For instance, if you have a paid ad for a page that appears at the top of a Google search, but you also have great SEO, you’ll also appear in the second-ranking position. So, if you didn’t have that paid ad, you’d still get the same number of clicks. Essentially, people only click on ads when they’re already looking for the product.
If people do stop putting their money into paid advertising, big players like Google or Facebook may undergo a small crisis and a big stock devaluation. After this, a new advertising trend may emerge: perhaps a more authentic type of referral marketing.
The ultimate goal is always getting sales leads, creating happy customers, spreading the word, getting trust—and it can only help with that. In smaller companies and some more traditional businesses, I think content is neglected. And not many people know how to do it well. To make it work, you need people who are prolific writers who also understand a bit of technology and how to talk with a given audience.
Of course, some people will say that content is all about sharing knowledge, and to some extent, that’s true. But ultimately, it’s really about driving sales—you need it to survive. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in; ultimately, it has to be about sales.
Learn from our conversations with up-and-coming marketing leaders, published weekly.