Today not all celebrities are made at the box office or in a recording studio. Though a hit movie or single can help, many launch their careers or find new, devoted fans on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. They’ve become influencers, and their social media presence brings them closer to their fans than ever before.
Even as celebrities have become increasingly reliant on social media, however, many have become frustrated with its limitations. Popular platforms nurture creators but too often deny them control over what they create—and how it is monetized. That’s where influencer platform escapex comes in. Founded four years ago, the Singapore-based startup aims to create a new social currency that will improve the experience for influencers, brands and followers alike.
At its most basic level, escapex helps influencers create Personally Owned Platforms (POPs) that allow them to interact with their fans outside mainstream social media platforms. The idea is to create a decentralized ecosystem of such interactions, where each app is customized toward individual influencers’ goals—so customized, in fact, followers might have no idea they’re visiting an escapex app. For influencers, escapex offers a new space where they can build a unique brand, which will be supported by their existing Instagram, Twitter or Facebook accounts. For fans, meanwhile, escapex apps are where they can be seen while getting the most in-depth news and content about their favorite celebrities. Right now, escapex’s network includes 250 influencers, as well as multinational firms like Coca-Cola, Flipkart (a Walmart company), Vodafone, and KAYAK (a Booking Holdings company).
The key to escapex’s success is the patented technology behind its unique user interface. It gives followers the power to boost their posts and content on influencers’ POPs —using virtual currency they can earn, get from other fans or purchase. Boosting provides a way for loyal fans to be seen by the community and the influencers they follow. Celebrities have the freedom to pick and choose which fans they interact with, of course, but the engage-to-play system gives an advantage to those fans who engage more or are willing to spend money to show their support.
In the U.S., India, Indonesia and Latin America, escapex already dominates the market for influencer apps. Now, with a successful Series B under their belts, escapex’s executive team is positioning the company to make their platform the global standard.
Filling Gaps In The Influencer Value Chain
Founder Sephi Shapira hatched the idea for escapex back in 2014 after noticing gaps in the market for celebrity social media—and in the mobile economy more broadly.
Shapira noted that half of mobile app revenue comes from advertising, while the other half stems from in-app purchases. At that time, players in the mobile economy seemed to grasp one piece of the value chain, but not the whole picture: brands had the money to promote a product, but their own efforts to reach an audience were generally dismissed as insincere. Meanwhile, celebrities were able to generate an eager, attentive audience, but they often had no means to monetize their following—nor the understanding to do so. escapex could bridge those gaps, while making interactions better for audiences, Shapira said.
The key to growing escapex’s user base was getting influencers on board. Luckily, that was an easy sell, according to Shapira. Once influencers understood how they would be able to personalize their own app and then identify and interact with their most dedicated fans, they were eager to come onboard.
“Do you want to live in a rented apartment or own a private house, your own asset? For [influencers], it’s an obvious choice,” Shapira said.
Once escapex had influencers, users predictably followed. escapex sees better user engagement than most social media platforms: users spend an average of 19 minutes a day on its personalized celebrity apps, compared to 7 minutes on Twitter and 13 on Instagram. Across influencer platforms, the company reaches more than 2.8 billion followers, and escapex has become the number one influencer app platform in large swathes of the world.
Poised To Set The Rules of The Influencer Market
Between their innovative in-app purchase system for users and the positive response from influencers, Shapira said escapex is unparalleled among influencer apps. At this point, he added, the company’s main competitor is Instagram, but the companies can easily coexist because they provide users with different forms of interaction. “Instagram is an ad driven digital TV station, but you can have a conversation here [on escapex].”
For escapex, the major marketing challenge is “noise.” Most influencers don’t specialize in tech, so they don’t immediately see how escapex stands out from other platforms like multi-channel networks that find brands for social media promotion.
“There are many companies [that] sound enough like us that it hampers them [influencers and brands] from paying attention,” Shapira said.
Shapira said he doesn’t talk about fundraising, but there is one aspect of escapex’s two rounds of investment that is worth mentioning. From the beginning, the company had backing from both Asia- and U.S.-based investors, which is uncommon for startups, especially in early funding rounds. In addition to Monk’s Hill Ventures, escapex gained support from New York’s Tribeca Ventures as well as the Singapore-based firm Rajahblue Capital.
Shapira attributes escapex’s cross-market success to the fluidity and global appeal of celebrities and social media. American and European celebrities have long had fervent fans in Asia, and today American audiences that once focused on local stars are increasingly tuning into international celebrities, too.
“In social media, there’s no such thing as a local play,” he said. “The moment you’re on board, you’re immediately a global player.”
Shapira was determined to embrace that global perspective from escapex’s founding—and to select investors with a similar mindset. Now that the company has an established base in multiple regions, Shapira feels there’s a strong case for Personally Owned Platforms, where influencers focus on their own apps and use Instagram and Twitter as additional tools, the industry standard.