CONTACT exist to empower creative talent and are doing so by building a world class digital platform that will enable creators, models, and artistic talent to get booked and get paid. A connection we made through another AUFI VENTURES portfolio company, REUBEN SELBY is a someone that unites the holy trinity in early stage founders: a disruptive idea with a stop-at-nothing attitude to turn that into reality, an incredible team, and a founder with lived experience of the exact problem they’re trying to solve.
We sat down a year after we invested in their Seed to see how things were developing and shine a light on a team we can't wait to watch take over.
- Toby WilkinsonYou’ve been involved in many creative ventures throughout the years, including a few that merge creativity with technology. Can you tell us about the experiences that gave you the idea for CONTACT back in 2018?
Reuben SelbyI’ve been working in creative industries since I was a teenager. I was drawn to the self-expression and the pursuit of creation that has a cultural impact. I’ve always been passionate about collaboration and the output that comes from combining multiple creative minds. I love to connect people together and build teams. All of these interests aligned when I founded Contact. I saw a lot of loose promises and a lack of infrastructure within the creative industry when it came to commercialising your work and getting paid fairly for it. Technology is the ultimate democratiser, and it felt like the next inevitable shift in an industry full of gatekeepers and outdated processes.
- TWOn the surface, CONTACT seems like a network of the world’s most talented and diverse models and photographers. The truth is that it’s actually a complete platform, with the ambition to change the way clients book and manage talent. Can you talk about that ambition and why it’s so important?
RSOur ambition is to empower creative talent; this comes first for us. We want to make talents lives easier and support them to get paid for doing the things they love. No one has built a scalable backend to help creatives accept payments and manage their bookings. Improving this experience for talent enhances the client experience as the diversity of talent grows and the ease of booking increases. We’re democratising the industry for both sides of the market. Up and coming brands now have access to top tier talent, and emerging creatives have access to top tier brands. There’s no gatekeeping involved, just a clear and transparent process.
- TWAs with any innovative startup, there can be many challenges at the beginning. What were some of the major challenges you initially faced in getting CONTACT off the ground? How did you solve for some of those?
RSThe hardest challenge was getting it off the ground when it was only me. You have to be patient and consistent. In the early stages, things take a lot longer than you want them to, and you don't have the resources to bring in other people to solve the problems for you. It takes a lot of learning across many domains. A difficult challenge was getting an audience known for being tech-averse to adopt a product - I spent a lot of time on sales and onboarding.
- TWThree years in and now a team of more than 20, how has the company evolved since you first started?
RSI believe that the team we’ve put together can accomplish anything. We’ve worked hard on building a culture that empowers individuals to do their best work.
- TWAs Contact has grown, does it now represent what you wanted it to become when you started, or have the things you’ve learnt along the way shifted your mindset and approach?
RSContact represents everything I hoped, and more. I’ve learnt not to take my eyes off the vision. Everything we’ve set out to do so far we’ve achieved. My mindset has shifted to dreaming bigger and focusing on having a larger impact.
- TWDiversity, equality, and inclusion are at the forefront of many cultural conversations today but is still a topic that many individuals and brands struggle to get right. What advice do you have for companies who want to be doing better in the way they approach and portray diversity and inclusion?
RSIt’s pretty simple, it starts with yourself. Everyone needs to work on themselves and unpack their biases and stereotypes; if it’s unconscious then there’s even more reason for you to surround yourself with individuals different from yourself. The internal conversations need to happen within the individuals before they can create companies/brands that have values of equality, diversity and inclusion. At the end of the day, a business is an organisation of people and the behaviours of those individuals form the culture, so my advice would be to look for caring and kind people that have a humanitarian essence.
- TWThe world has massively shifted in the last 18 months on social fronts, economic fronts, and everything between. How have you been affected in the past year and a half and how has it impacted how you run CONTACT?
RSWe’ve been lucky that when COVID-19 first hit we were small and nimble meaning that we could adapt fast. Our product was still in its infancy stages so it gave the team the time and space to work on improvements. We were already set up for remote working, so the shift to working from home wasn’t too difficult. It’s made the business stronger and the team closer. It has also accelerated the technological advancements in the industry, which has given bigger awareness to what we’re doing and how it will have an impact in the future.
- TWOutside of this venture, you also launched your eponymous clothing brand last year. Can you tell us about the genesis of that and how that has connected or not with what you are building at CONTACT?
RSDesigning clothes and having my own line is something that I’ve always dreamt of. What pushed me to make it happen was the time that I had to reflect during lockdown, I had so many ideas bubbling up and I had an intense desire to create and tell my story. The time made me realise that there’s nothing stopping me other than myself. Reuben Selby and Contact share parallel values and principles. Both brands care deeply about inclusion, self-expression and community. Inevitably there’s a lot of crossover and the RS team end up using Contact for finding and booking models and photographers to work with.
- TWLooking forward, what is your ambition for CONTACT in 2022 and beyond?
RSThe plan for 2020 is to continue empowering new types of creative talent to get booked and paid. Beyond 2020, the vision is to provide creators with the tools to fuel freedom and ownership.