Aleks Koha from Promoty on futurism and turning your interests into a startup

Aleks Koha is the CEO and co-founder of Promoty, a platform that connects influencer marketing with social media analytics. Having experience in the startup world and cyber security, he took a plunge into social media marketing by launching Promoty in 2017. In addition, Alex is a futurist who believes that we as a species must make it our mission to live in space one day. 
The interview was written by Kadri Martin, a member of the sTARTUp Day Communications and Media team.

Your presentation at sTARTUp Day has the intriguing title "Why do anything at all?" How did you come up with such a topic?

This is somewhat close to my heart, as my deeper motivation is based on the fact that I like to ask "why" a lot. If you ask "why" often enough, it will, in turn, lead to bigger questions, such as what is the point of something or your activity? It is also one of our main job interview questions at Promoty. We ask people why they wake up in the morning, why they do something.

So I thought it would be a good aspect to bring into the sTARTUp Day program – not just do a standard Promoty promo, but a more philosophical presentation. The larger point of the presentation is that humanity, in general, has no greater purpose. The philosophy behind it bounces off the question: ​​who do we want to be? We have an identity crisis as a species because, at the individual level, we all have missions – some of us bigger and some smaller –but humanity does not have a single mission. It's getting very existential, isn't it (laughs).

More precisely, you plan to make people ask "why" more.

In principle, yes, thinking about why you as a person do something at all and what is the meaning or purpose of your activity. If you go with the flow, other people will decide for you what will happen. Maybe it is the best way to have some kind of control over who you want to be, where you want to go, and what is important to you.

It also helps to find motivation. The presentation will definitely be interesting for anyone who doesn't know what they want to do in life or perhaps has not yet found the right thing. Asking yourself questions will help to clarify where you see yourself in the future and what you want to contribute.

You yourself are building Promoty on a daily basis. When was the last time you thought to yourself, "Wow, I'm doing such an awesome thing," and saw a great result?

I just talked to a friend who is not connected to our company and observes my doings as a bystander. When you're in the middle of it, you don't notice how much you've already done or how far you've come.

We started Promoty with zero capital, and just the two of us – me and my co-founder Leonardo Romanello. Today, thousands of people have found value in our platform and can earn a living doing what they love.

My friend I was referring to earlier made me think that I don't really notice the impact of my projects, but as a bystander, he can see that many people have found jobs they enjoy thanks to the company, and this is a heart-warming feeling.

What are Promoty's major projects and achievements this year?

Our expansion into India is one of our biggest projects right now. We opened our platform there a month ago because we already have more than 2000 users and several dozen campaigns in India.

The second big ongoing project is the launch of our new product. We plan to launch a CRM for influencers, which is essentially similar in concept to Trello, but for influencer and social media marketing. It will have the possibility to view analytics, monitor content and post performance, and contact the influencers directly. The platform will make life much easier for a marketer. Marketers who currently document their long-term relations in Excel, Trello, or elsewhere will be able to make deals and manage campaigns more easily.

How many customers do you currently have, and in which countries do you operate?

We have around 100 customers each month, depending on the month. Over 5000 marketers have joined Promoty, and there have been over 14000 collaborations and over 5000 campaigns through our platform. Currently, we mainly operate in Scandinavia and the Baltics, but now we are also starting to expand more globally with the CRM-based product, which allows you also to do various collaborations through the Promoty platform and simplify the process.

You have obtained a master's degree in cyber security from Tallinn University of Technology and have worked in this field. How did you come to the idea of creating Promoty?

We did it with Leo (Leonardo Romanello, co-founder of Promoty), also my partner in the previous startup. What we did in that startup was we dug up dangerous data about people from social media and sold it to big companies. But because it was basically an employee monitoring tool, it wasn't very popular anymore when GDPR came. So we decided to stop this venture, but mining data from social media is very useful in marketing.

I've always liked growth hacking, and then I accidentally stumbled upon the social media side of marketing, dug deeper and became more interested in this field. After which, Leo and I put our heads together and looked for a more effective way of social media marketing since this field was still developing. In fact, until now, no good global solution has been found for social media marketing. It is a complicated problem to solve – at first glance, it seems simple but has many small nuances that need attention. I thought it sounded like a very exciting and interesting problem to solve, and that's how we came up with this idea.

In addition, I was also fascinated by the idea that then we could offer an opportunity to creative people to earn a living while doing what they truly love – when the basic needs are covered, people can start to ask bigger questions.

When you started Promoty in 2017, the field of influencers was probably quite new. Were you a pioneer in this field?

When we launched, we were unique in this region, but there were similar solutions in other parts of the world. So, we were definitely local pioneers. We don't have such a big and wide reach yet that we could create real trends ourselves, but someday we want to influence trends on a global level.

How easy or difficult was it to enter the market with such a unique company?

The most difficult thing about starting is that you don't really understand all the aspects that have to be taken into account – and also the responsibility. In the beginning, there will be a brain-crushingly large amount of details, and you just have to prioritize what to do first and what to do later. There is no such thing as being away from it for a few weeks; you have to be there and act constantly. It is always necessary to find and invent solutions to problems.

Perhaps the most difficult part is when there are problems for which you cannot immediately come up with a solution, and often there is no time to come up with a strategy or a plan on paper, but you must take quick step-by-step action.

Startups face many big problems you don't know the answer to. This is perhaps the most exhausting part of the whole process, but it's also cool.

How has the recent or current economic situation affected Promoty?

The period of restrictions affected us because travel, food marketing, etc., were canceled, which is more important in Instagram marketing. At the same time, we can't say for sure how much we could have grown otherwise. It certainly affected us greatly, but our fall was softer compared to other sectors. You can do marketing very effectively even during a crisis, but the possibilities are definitely more limited, and the budgets are also smaller. So it is necessary to change your angle and act smarter. Plus, the expansion also helps to stabilize the unexpected because the markets are a bit different.

What new belief, custom, or habit has improved your life the most in the past few years?

A difficult question. I have developed many new habits that have improved my quality of life, but most of all, I would point out reading and especially reading philosophical literature. I never read much philosophy because it seemed too abstract, and I perhaps did not see immediate value in it.

Philosophy does not immediately give answers but throws more questions into the air.

Philosophical aspects help to think more strategically and see the bigger picture. I think this has been a good new habit that has brought about a positive change.

What is your life philosophy?

The basic philosophy is that life is perhaps the most interesting thing and on the other hand, the most complicated thing that we know as humans. I believe that the purpose of humanity should be to preserve life at all costs. One big thing for preserving it is what Elon Musk is already doing. Maybe we have to expand into space, and since space is very big and it takes a long time to move there, we could also extend human life for that purpose. I am very futuristic in my philosophy.

Michio Kaku, the science popularizer, has listed civilization types that evaluate how advanced a civilization is. The scale starts at type zero and goes to three, but we are currently in a type zero civilization. In other words, this is the lowest level: we burn fossil fuels and are not that advanced yet. Type one is when our planet's energy is utilized fully, so there are no waste products or energy loss. This would be the next step for humanity. My philosophy is that humanity could pull itself together and aim to reach the next level, i.e., more efficient energy consumption and production methods. But I find the lack of philosophy to be a more general problem.

Aleks Koha will step on the stage on Day 2 of the sTARTUp Day festival on 26 August. Check out the full program.
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