As part of our ongoing P1P Interview series, we caught up with two of New York City’s more active young businessmen, Mateen Aini and Jeff Arbour. Between the two of them, they’ve started multiple companies, some of them international, developed new media technologies and worked with some massive corporations.
We couldn’t cover it all, so you’ll have to trust us when we say that they’ve got some hefty resumes.
In addition to their business ventures, they’ve also both taken an interest in public service, the duo served as founding advisers for a non-profit organization, and continue to be involved in other pro-social pursuits.
Mateen Aini, chief executive officer of the web company Plyfe, and Jeff Arbour, Plyfe chief marketing officer, allowed us to pepper them with questions. Fortuitous for us, these guys were good sports and gave us the goods. You’ll read Aini’s thoughts on some of his company concepts…like of rewarding web users for what they are already doing, followed by Arbour’s take on everything from building an online audience to drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid.
Q. You’re an online entrepreneur, with an impressive resume…I imagine that you had lots of ideas when you were determining which might work out and which might not, how did you decide on the route to go?
A. Well thank you! Much appreciated. I believe my passion for Plyfe stems from the fact that I believe there isn’t anything for people to get value aside from an influencer score or badges.
I think about my mother in the Midwest whom adds value in today’s digital ecosystem but isn’t rewarded for her time online, on mobile or social. Why does that have to be? Isn’t it more important to have a voice that people listen to rather than a huge social following in which no one is engaged?
My mother represents the masses. The masses deserve a company like Plyfe to swoop in and help them build digital value that can be used to get closer to a dream vacation or a product that they need.
This is why we’ve built Plyfe. I believe that one’s online, mobile and social activities can be framed in a sequence of mission’s that we call life. Life is a game. Play life.
A. Well…lucky for my investors and me, I am focused on Plyfe. Through Palindrome I am able to give back to the community that I am a part of. Giving back has always been a part of my DNA and being a part of Palindrome and After School All-Stars of NYC is something that keeps me a part of the fabric of my community.
Q. Do you have any recommendations for companies who are interested in increasing public awareness of their site? Is there a strategy that has consistently worked for you?
A. Honestly, it’s all about authenticity and transparency. Defining who your market is for any company is priority number one. In today’s digital world creating a way for people in your market to read, interact and consume content that interests them really helps drive awareness and engagement.
The question becomes….Where can I find my constituents? And when I do, how do I best engage with them? For example, if I am an arts and crafts site. I should be creating organic interactions across the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter etc. My messaging should be about ways to create better holiday ornaments, Halloween baskets etc.
People will engage and identify you as a trusted source. This is when virality kicks in with shares, comments, re-Tweets, re-Pins etc.Now you’ve created a funnel of trust where people consume and share, and as a result their friends get involved.
Obviously, I have to plug Plyfe…we help companies organize digital and social activities to increase awareness, engagement and loyalty. Our platform helps companies realize their strategies in [certain] areas. Before Plyfe, you needed a separate CRM [customer relationship manager] mobile and social strategy.
Thinking of things, not separately, but as part of a digital strategy will help companies think the way most consumers do.
Q. If you don’t mind my asking, a lot of web companies seem to either get it, or they don’t. Do you see specific things happening that make or break an online company?
A. From my perspective, I think people need to treat online businesses very much like traditional brick and mortar businesses. Nothing is a sure thing and there isn’t anything such as an overnight success. Take Pinterest, for example, they have been iterating for almost five years prior to realizing their recent success. It takes hard work and lots of A/B testing to make sure assumptions are proved right or wrong.
A lack of focus is a killer too. For any company, I believe rolling out features is the way to go. There is a fine line between testing new features and not testing enough. Get things out there in a way that makes sense with your business trajectory and consumer base.
Q. We noticed that you are involved in some philanthropic endeavors… is that something you are passionate about?
A. Yes, absolutely! This is something that I learned from my parents, and it was reinforced when I was working at Target Corporation in Minneapolis. As a buyer, I would work on initiatives to raise money for United Way, Habitat for Humanity and Hearts and Hammers.
I’m a founding advisor to Palindrome Advisors, which is essentially a “match.com” for people in tech that want to give back to non-profits that are looking for help from business execs from the tech sector. When I moved to NYC to start Plyfe getting involved with After School All-Stars helped me meet new people and spend time with kids in the New York City area.
Q. Can you give us an idea about what is next for Plyfe and the others…we all want to learn from your tactics, of course.
A. We are focusing on a great experience for our users on Plyfe.me. In the coming weeks we will be launching new features that will enable people to build equity in the time they spend online sharing, commenting, buying and uploading etc.That time is worth something and we have positioned ourselves to help create value. So be on the look out.
Q. If you have any tips or advice for newer companies, our readers would love to hear about them.
A. Blanket vanilla tips wouldn’t help all of your readers. They can reach out to me and I’d be happy to help. I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A. Plyfe rewards users for their digital, social and mobile activities with real world prizes and priceless experiences. Users are contributing a wealth of content via their social profiles and as result entertainment for their social audiences; we felt it was time they got something in return.
Q. A few years ago, you were at the top of the list for the Direct Marketing News’ 30 Under 30… I imagine the momentum has just increased for you since then. How has business been for you?
A. It was a very proud day for my mother and me; I think she thought I sold mobile phones at the mall before receiving this great industry acknowledgement. I’ve always had a love for emerging digital trends and since digital has broken free from the confines on the computer screen there are a lot of new emerging digital platforms to keep me entertained and engrossed, it’s a great time to be in digital.
Q. How and why did you decide to get involved in Plyfe?
A. Before it was even called Plyfe, there was the team. I’ve known Zaw [Thet, Plyfe chairman] and Mateen [Aini, Plyfe CEO] for a long time and we’ve been trying to work on a project together for years. The timing Gods were on our side, so it was a pretty easy decision when it was presented.
Q. Plyfe is an interesting concept, since it basically rewards people who generate that coveted “great content.” Am I correct in that statement?
A. You’re completely correct, the consumer is the new publisher company and distribution channel and we believe they should be rewarded.
Q. In some ways, Plyfe is kind of like the net’s answer to a content generation talent search…would you agree?
A. Completely, building audiences is the biggest challenge for any content company; social media has allowed the everyday consumer a chance to be heard and a chance to entertain their friends, families and followers.
Q. Do you have any tips or suggestions for online companies and other online businesses?
A. Five or 10 years ago, a company’s survival was dependent on their adoption and integration to digital. Those that ignored it are no longer around, while their competitors that embraced it still remain today, look at Best Buy versus Circuit City.
Today it’s key to adapt and adopt the new digital landscape of social and mobile and everything else. Companies need to realize that digital has evolved and thus the way they integrate it for their marketing and business purposes must evolve as well, think about Polaroid versus Instagram.
Q. Some of us in the industry tend to perceive companies without an online presence as somewhat irrelevant. With your involvement, companies like HyperFactory have been industry leaders in mobile marketing. Do you believe mobile marketing could usurp its online counterparts?
A. A lot of industry people are talking about mobile and there is no denying its importance or opportunity that it brings. I’ve been working on mobile since 2003, so I’ve drank the “Kool-Aid” and truly believe in the power that it brings and its importance.
I also think companies need to stop looking at digital in silos, for example mobile, social and online. It’s all digital. Companies must create cross-platform strategies and realize that each platform brings a unique purpose and value.