“Don’t listen to individuals… Listen to the market and what the data tells you”.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elma & Amra Beganovich of A&E. Today they run a top digital media agency in New York City, but as glamourous as their life may be today, it didn’t come without sacrifice. Born to Bosnian immigrants, these sisters were merely children when their parents decide to pack up and move to a foreign land. Growing up, their parents stressed the importance of a good education and they both landing positions in top Universities. By 2012, they both had a very bright future ahead of them. However, like many great entrepreneurs that came before them, they decided to take a big risk to explore their true calling. I was truly inspired by their story of triumph, bootstrapping a company to one of the top social media agencies in New York.
Gene: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Gene: Please tell us what exactly your company does?
A&E is a leading New York-based digital marketing agency with a focus on social media, influencer marketing, business growth and photo/video production, i.e., making brands explode digitally. We work with Fortune 500 companies and growth stage brands to boost ROI through social media, spectacular content, innovative digital strategies and influencer marketing. Currently, we are focused on releasing our proprietry technology, A&E Influencer Analytics, for brands to be able to quickly find influencers who share their target demographic. Brands are able to search and analyze the influencers, anywhere from their engagement and reach to their growth rate.
Gene: How do you use your influence as a leader to give back?
We work with a variety of non-profits, like Rescue Dogs Rock NYC, WWF, and BCRF, to donate and raise awareness about their causes through our social influence. We have worked on everything from photo production for Rescue Dogs Rock NYC to promoting Earth Day and World Rhino Day across our social channels for WWF.
Gene: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you founded your company?
In the beginning, I was flirting with the idea of raising capital (much to Amra’s opposition), thus we had gone to a sort of speed dating investor event. Investors would switch chairs while entrepreneurs presented their companies. One of the venture capitalists came over to our table and asked “so, how do you plan to scale this?” We both turned to each other and then back to the investor and asked “what do you mean by scaling?” Now, I can look back and laugh about how much we didn’t know but I suppose that is part of the journey – being open to learning and stepping outside of your comfort zone every single day.
Gene: What project are you working on that truly inspires you?
I believe we are all connected: humans, animals and the environment; as humans with this sort of a super brain and with our technology, we have an enormous responsibility to take care of our environment and of the animals we share this Earth with. Hence, we work with Rescue Dogs Rock NYC; they are a truly inspirational group of individuals because of their humility and selflessness and all in order to rescue and save abandoned and abused dogs and puppies. They are a diverse group of volunteers. A variety of people, from stay at home moms to truck drivers, who rescue, raise funds to treat and foster abandoned and abused dogs. Amra and I are huge advocates for animal rights and environmental conservation. Hence, Rescue Dogs Rock NYC and WWF really resonate with us.
Gene: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a digital marketing agency with a focus on social media, I think Amra and I stand out because ultimately the proof is in the pudding: we have invested an enormous amount in our content, capturing images from some of the most desirable destinations around the world, have a following (about 2.3 million), and have worked with industry leaders like Johnson & Johnson, Uber, HTC, and Avon. Many agencies only recently started their digital divisions after working for decades on TV and magazine campaigns.
As a technology company, there are only a few influencer platforms that serve as directories to find influencers and analyze their following and engagement rates. Furthermore, these influencer platforms certainly do not have the background of working with brands as influencers and as a social media agency as Amra and I already do with A&E.
Gene: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
This is one of my favorite questions because I do not believe in individuals as mentors; I believe in the market as a mentor. In other words, do not listen to individuals because if they knew, they would do it themselves. Listen to the market and what the data tells you. I have never been more wrong than when blindly listening to “mentors” because their experience is limited not only to their industry but to their time, that time when they succeeded in their craft. The market is a lot more objective.
Gene: What are your “5 things I wish I knew when I got started”
1. Create a product that the consumers actually need and can afford. With technology and the Internet, you are able to reach a wide consumer base for a fraction of a cost; hence, work on having a quality product that people need and can afford. This is your priority. In other words, there are options outside of taking VC (or angel) funding. Focus on generating a healthy revenue rather than over leveraging your company. Then use whatever revenue the product generates to support your operations. Be resourceful, like using influencer marketing, social media and e-commerce, to reach a wide consumer base. Lastly, one does not need a fancy office space and rockstar employees to get the ball rolling; hire contractors or part-time employees, and park into a humble office space. Focus on generating actual sales rather than supporting fancy operations.
2. You don’t need mentors. Listen to the market.
3. You don’t need rockstar employees to get your operations off the ground. Find individuals who are committed and consistent.
4. Don’t be afraid to bargain with your contractors and employees. Remember that salaries and hourly rates are whatever the market dictates them to be. Some people need jobs more than others; find those individuals and offer them positions.
5. Don’t take on an enormous amount of debt until you have a proof of concept that the market actually wants to buy your product. See point #1.
Gene: If you could spend one day with any person (alive or not), who would it be any why?
My day would probably be spent with Walt Disney because of his ability to imagine the unimaginable, persevere against all odds, and never take no for an answer.
Gene: Thank you so much for speaking with me and sharing your inspirational story.