Model Village is a community of models and brands. The company was created in 2017 and was born a member’s club for models transiting through London. It has now expanded as an influencer marketing platform which offers influence solutions for brands to collaborate with highly engaged models on Instagram.
It is the first global community for fashion models and provides members with exclusive perks and privileges around the world, including; London, New York and Paris. Their app was awarded the Social Media App of 2017 at the UK App Awards.
Introduce yourselves and tell us what your roles are at Model Village?
W: Hi my name’s William and I’m the CEO. I take care of all the day to day operations, developing the business and making sure we are expanding globally.
Q: I’m Quentin and I’m the talent director of the company.
Where are you from?
W: I’m originally from Paris but I’m half English
Q: I’m also from Paris and I’m half Japanese half Parisian.
How old were you when you started the company?
W: We first met at the age of 23 back when we were working in the nightlife industry, catering to clubs and promoting models at their venues. I think what would mark the creation of our business is when we became a memberships club in partnership with the W Hotel in Leicester Square back in 2015. The company was reborn as a tech startup in 2017 when Adrien Thierry and Alexandre Fauron came on board.
Had you started a business before?
W: I previously, and still own a Rose wine brand from Provence called Minuit Rose. I developed it with my other business partner and we sell it in five different countries still today.
Q: My background is in events and scouting for modelling agencies.
Did you go to university, if so what did you study?
W: I went to ESSEC Business School in France. I did the Bachelor’s degree in BA. Later on, I came to the UK to do a masters in Strategic Marketing at Imperial College.
Q: My background is a little different, I lived in Thailand for a bit and didn’t really study much but learnt on the go.
So essentially you started out hosting nights out in London and now you’re a collective which connects models and brands together to launch campaigns?
W: I Don’t like the word connector. I feel like as a business we do more than that, I’d describe us more as a catalyst. A good way to describe our business would be a community. The same community back in the W hotel days, the same one we built relationships with when we were working in events.
This community of models, now with time and social media having developed have all cultivated thousands and millions of followers. These audiences have a real value for brands and I think that’s something we’ve understood over the past years and now the challenge is about how we convert that into buyable media for brands.
Where did the name originally come from?
Q: Model Village was the name of the lounge where all the models would converge back in the W hotel.
What went on at the W Hotel?
Q: This was a place where models could hang out and network between shows and castings. They had access to all the hotel’s facilities including the spa, gym and lounge.
W: It was really answering a problem that we saw amongst models; the fact that they didn’t have a place to re-group and socialize. We went from a very basic fact which was that most models are actually foreigners and don’t know anyone in their country of work.
So getting them to connect with like-minded people and giving them a safe-haven to actually be able to do that when a lot of them live outside of the city and don’t have the means to go back and forth between jobs and castings. I think that was part of the success of our lounge.
What was your first move in starting the business? How did the idea come about?
W: It was quite a long process to get to where we are today. We started up this lounge in partnership with the W hotel thinking that maybe we would get money from brands for sponsorships. We envisaged that route, which was actually quite difficult to tackle simply because the W hotel belongs to a larger group and many guidelines have to be respected. By the time that gets fed up to management, the deal’s off the table.
We then imagined a Groupon type model but that wasn’t the way the industry was going either. A little later, we started realising that Instagram was taking such a big chunk of the modelling industry that paying them was something that was going to become possible.
It’s a process that I think evolved with us as brands and businesses became educated on the influencer topic. It’s an education process that we have to lead daily, even though more and more people are aware of it. Convincing them of the efficiency of influencer marketing versus any other channel is however less and less challenging.
I would have to say that Adrien and Alexandre were both instrumental in taking this business to the next level, by bringing expertise in both venture capital and investment banking.
Have you experienced a lot of scepticism amongst brands in the use of influencers?
W: It’s becoming less and less difficult but yes, it’s one of our main issues. All of ours are vetted manually as well as being signed talent.
Where did you meet each other?
Q: We met in London through a mutual friend.
Do you find all your skills complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses?
W: To be honest I really do. I’m more of a pragmatic and sometimes impatient person. Whereas, Quentin is more of a people person, more reflected and also very down to earth.
You’ve worked with brands such as Vans, Chanel, Gymshark and Dyson. Who are your target market?
W: In terms of industries, it’s fashion and beauty. They’re two of the most lucrative industries for us right now. When you’re looking at the market as a whole, we tend to position ourselves as the premium solution for luxury brands trying to do influencer marketing.
The reason for this is that we do have a very specific niche of influencers to offer them.
When you’re a brand such as Chanel (who are one of our clients), you don’t want anyone to be shouting out about your product and it’s actually being able to identify an influencers audience but also their personality and physical criteria that suddenly enables luxury brands to tap into this field.
How did you initially approach these brands and build these relationships?
W: Like any business you’ve got to start at the bottom. When you’re creating a tech platform for the first time without any development background, you’ve got to go with what you have. We started by selling influencer campaigns that were not automated at all. We approached clients that were within our network, people that were close to us and ready to give us a first chance.
The goal is to initially create those first case studies that are going to be able to validate what you’re doing. Once you have that base, slowly you’re able to build your credentials and start approaching clients that have a bigger notoriety.
You’ve been awarded the Social Media App of the year in 2017 at the UK App Awards. Congratulations!
Tell us what the app does.
W: Our main product is an online dashboard for brands. The actual mobile app is only for our influencers and models. It enables models to discover a range of perks across any city that they live in, so that could be grabbing a free smoothie, to going to a spin class at the latest gym studio, to having a free dinner.
On top of that, we are going to embed a certain number of brands that are looking for product placement within an Instagram post. The influencer is able to suggest a post to the brands instantly using our app. If the brand approves it, they will then get paid instantly into their bank account. So it actually enhances your lifestyle, whilst enabling you to make money.
Many people have good ideas for apps but the problem is executing this idea. How did you start the app and how did you find developers?
W: A couple of summers ago, I remember Quentin and I sketching out different iPhone screens. Once we started this, we suddenly understood the flow of what we were trying to build. It enabled us to suddenly understand what is feasibly doable, and what isn’t because you confront yourself to different issues.
For example, when we were creating the screens for the perks, we thought OK we need the models to be able to book in a time slot or to get a QR code. And then suddenly you realize that as you’re creating the next screen that’s going to become very complicated in a user flow. So, I guess a lot of it we learnt as we went along.
The biggest challenge is of course pulling together a tech team when you don’t have a tech talent as one of your founders. We were lucky enough to find someone called Far to head up our product division today. He built the whole ad-tech platform for Time Out, after which he joined Songkick.
He has an incredibly good ability to translate tech vocabulary into a business language. He manages our team of developers, which he built from scratch. The transition we were able to do from outsourcing our developers to actually having a team in house has made us gain efficiency and value in a tremendous way -William
Did this eliminate any communication gaps and allow you to work closely with the team in-house?
W: Yes. When you’re working with an outsourced team, it’s very difficult to get a stable product and that was one of the reasons why we weren’t able to approach some of the top brands until we were in a stable enough place to put our product in front of them.
When starting out as an influencer platform, how did you market yourself? How do you get people to know what this is?
Q: It came step by step. We started doing small activations with our community thanks to brands who were sponsoring us. For example, we would organise yoga classes, weekend spa retreats for our members. This built the relationships with the brands, but also with the influencers, who then used word of mouth to spread our message to the people we wanted to reach. Lucy, our marketing manager was our first employee and what she would say is that we marketed ourselves through what we do best; through our own influencers.
Between the time when the W hotel died down and when we were developing the app, we had to re-activate our community. All these activations we organised for our members really brought us closer together and got everyone talking about Model Village as the models would post their experiences at these events on their Instagrams.
It comes down to what we are as a business. If you’re not able to drive a good influencer campaign yourself, how are you going to do it for other people. To be fair, we used a lot of our events and night life credentials to get ourselves out there, leveraging venue leases and inviting the right people that are going to talk about it. It’s simply word of mouth, whether its on or off-line! - William
What kind of events have you put on in the past and can you share any plans to what we can expect for Fashion Week?
Q: We do bi-annual events in London and have just launched in Paris, NY and Milan for Fashion week. It’s called ‘The Lounge’ and this is a place where we group all industry fashion professionals as well as all the models to allow them to converge and connect.
W: From a member’s perspective, we’re trying to position ourselves in the industry as a place that will re-group everyone that has anything to do with fashion, creativity and influence. When you’re at those crossroads, the MV pops up. The lounge is a place for you to go and create content, relax but also to discover brand experiences.
Is Social media the way forward? And how do you keep your consumers engaged and stand out from the competition?
W: I do think Social media is the way forward and I think it will probably change in its shape or form but the core of it, which is essentially online word of mouth is only going to continue. This digital conversation is getting more and more complex and the vocabulary people are using is getting refined and that’s what we’re trying to do here at MV. To provide brands with a way in on this digital conversation that none of us really have control of.
There’s an interaction constantly happening between the brands and their consumers and they’re almost dictating the way forwards to the brand. So yes, Instagram might disappear one day and it might be replaced by something else but the actual habit that our generations have been so used to now is here to stay.
The format that it’ll be pushed onto might change. But what’s going to make a difference in the long run is the quality of the content that’s pushed out as well as the profile and talent of the people pushing it out. That’s why we focus exclusively on agency signed talent, because we believe that credibility is the way forward.
How do you think this has changed the modelling industry? From a model’s perspective, being signed is no longer a pre-requisite but some need to have a big following?
W: Totally. Today, modelling agencies are struggling to renew themselves within this space and understand it. But it’s definitely contributed something major to the modelling industry. Thanks to stories on Instagram, models suddenly have a personality to show the world and they’re not just a pretty face on a billboard. That is a massive game-changer and what we’re trying to do here on MV is enable this talent and monetise this online presence that they’ve cultivated.
What has been your biggest challenge throughout the process?
W: Biggest challenge I would say since we’ve scaled to 20 people, has been building a global team. For me personally, it’s been learning to be a manager as well as a leader in 4 different geographies.
To be a good role model and making sure the team your building is the right one and also making sure they feel good because their happiness is your happiness and you feel that in the results produced.
As you look to expand and continue to recruit more people, what characteristic do you look for in potential recruits and what makes an individual a good ROI?
Q: Someone who takes initiative and understands our industry. Someone who works hard and doesn’t count the hours of work.
W: We are a start-up at the end of the day. We’re well funded but that doesn’t mean we throw money out the windows and what we’re looking for are people that are really passionate about what they do. To join the adventure for the long run not just to get 1-2 years of experience. When Quentin and I first started, it was never really about the money, it was about building something from the ground up and it’s continuing that adventure that really stimulates us. So, we’re looking for people that have that same vision.
What’s your one piece of advice for someone starting out as an entrepreneur?
W: That’s a good question. I’d say don’t do it for the money. A lot of people decide to be an entrepreneur just because they think they’re going to get rich. Of course, that’s a motivator but if that’s your only purpose I doubt you’ll succeed.
What’s the big dream for Model Village? The 5-year plan?
W: For now, we’re called Model Village-that might not always be the case. This goes back to your previous question, a tip for any entrepreneur is, start your business with a laser focus. Don’t try and go too broad and do everything at the same time. Focus on something very specific that you’re good at. I always take the Amazon example here, they started doing only books and progressively started selling DVDs and today they do everything even groceries. For us, it’s the same approach.
Today, we’ve managed to make a space for us in the market and we’re recognised as being the premium solution when it comes to influencer marketing. That’s because we had this laser focus on fashion models. We leveraged a community that we had previously built and nurtured.
It is a very crowded space today and the one thing that makes us stand out is our talent.
We’ve put that before our customers. Most of our competitors in terms of influencer platforms are creating tools to enable these brands to get posts from influencers. None of them have actually focused on nurturing the talent themselves and enabling this talent to have all the tools they need to do their job. Ultimately influencer marketing will get to a stage where everyone knows it’s important and what will make the difference is the actual talent you’re using to shout out about it.
You have another side business called Jusu brothers, which offers Japanese food in Notting Hill. How do you find time to work on this and MV?
Q: Jusu brothers has been open for two years and a half now. To be honest, we aren’t involved in the day-to day operations and we’re just shareholders of the business.
W: We both worked on the launch of it so it was nice to see it come to life. We recommend going there for a Sunday brunch it’s really good!
What does the definition of success mean to you?
Q: To be happy in your life and really do what you love with passion.
W: I do think I’m a career driven person so success is measurable from that perspective, but I do join Quentin on what he said. Confucius once said ‘do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’. For me, having started MV I think that’s very true. I come to work very happy, sometimes there are problems but that’s part of the fun, trying to solve them. I’m really excited to do this every day.
How has a failure set you up for later success?
W: I’d say looking back on my wine business. I definitely learnt that building a team is key. One of the mistakes that we made with this business could have been a hit. We decided as two founders, that we had the ability to run it all by ourselves. The biggest learning that I took from that is to not be too greedy. It’s better to have a small piece of a big pie than a big piece of nothing. Build a team, surround yourself with the best.
Q: By yourself you might go faster, but in the long run you’ll go further with people.
It takes a certain level of focus, resilience and character in each individual to drive routine and want to make their mark on the world. What do you think taught you to be this way and what childhood influences have contributed to this?
W: I come from a family of creatives, both my parents were in the advertising world. Now they have their own advertising agency called Le Nouvel Opera where my dad is the Creative Director. My mum is a photographer. Always being immersed in a creative environment, there was that business fibre that was always missing for me.
When my parents created their own agency, that was a motivator for myself and from a young age, organising parties started first as a hobby and quickly became a money maker. Knowing that you can build this yourself and you can put it together is the most satisfying feeling in the world.
Q: My dad is also a creative. He was the marketing director of a big perfume company and he’s always taught me to be very independent.
When you feel overwhelmed or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do to get back on track?
W: I like your questions. The truth is, if I had to take a break for every time I was feeling down I probably wouldn’t be in this office half the time. Being an entrepreneur, especially when it’s a tech startup that’s growing at this speed, it is like a roller-coaster ride (in terms of emotions). So, what do I do? I look at the positives and I try and find solutions because at the end of the day being an entrepreneur is being a problem solver.
Q: For me, I like to surround myself with family and friends.
W: Being an entrepreneur can sometimes feel a bit lonely and you feel closed off into your own world. It’s important to stay connected socially outside of work too.
What kind of health tips have you learnt over the years?
Q: I think you need to be health-minded. A lot of people try and focus too much on diet and sports but you need to have a healthy mind.
What does your morning routine look like?
W: Well mine’s pretty quick. I’ve got this great Lumie alarm clock which I definitely recommend. On top of delivering sound it also gives out light in a progressive manner so you don’t wake up with a shock. I’ll then have a shake (protein powder, banana, peanut butter and coconut milk), a coffee, shower and get dressed.
I usually check my e-mails and to do lists whilst I’m on the tube so I already know what I’m doing first thing as I arrive in the office. I’m not one of those people that takes ages in the morning, I prefer to get more sleep in. I find a lot of peace working very late at night, my dad was the same. Something that also works well in the morning is a ginger shot, that really gets you going.
Q: I’m a morning person. I’ll wake up take a shower-I need to let this hair dry *shakes his afro*.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
Q: To be happy and to find balance.
W: The message for me would be that ‘you’re the creator of your own destiny so don’t let life fly by’.
26 JULY, 2018