At the end of each show, I offer you up the opportunity to ask a question or throw out a topic you’d like my take on to inspire a show. You’re always welcome to do that by emailing me. The address is [email protected]. I love it when you do because it gives me a good topic to talk about and it probably helps your fellow listeners and Winfluence community folks learn, too.

I also have people in the industry reach out about trends and problems they’re seeing. When one piques my interest, that topic becomes a show as well. Today’s is one of those.

Sam Mendel and Saranga Pagadala are two young whippersnappers who have dreamed up a different take on an influencer marketing platform, but one that is informed and inspired by what they see as an industry issue. They reached out and said talent agents and managed services are taking too much of an influencer’s earnings. 

As you can imagine, that raised an eyebrow on this face. I work with talent agents all the time. They provide a valuable service to their clients, the end creators, so they can focus on creating. But when Sam and Saranga said they’ve seen up to 40% commission rates, I asked them to tell me more.

We spent some time going through the issue and touched on CashU which is their new entry into the influencer marketing space. You can find it at textcashu.com. As you can probably guess, it’s an influencer marketplace and discovery platform that operates mostly as a text platform. Worth checking out if you’re a creator or company looking to engage micro- and nano-influencers. 

They had some interesting things to say. I’d be interested to hear if your experiences align with theirs and what you think after you listen today.

We have two new sponsors to welcome to Winfluence this week. Today’s episode is brought to you by Zencastr and Basecamp. I’m excited to tell you more about them, because I use them both. All the interviews I record for this show are captured with Zencastr. I’ve used it for years to capture high-quality audio over the web. It does high-quality video, too.

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Sam Mendel & Saranga Pagadala on Winfluence Transcript

[00:00:00] Jason: On this episode of Winfluence.

[00:00:01] Sam: So we see all the work being done by the creator and when they come to us and say, yeah, I’m losing 20 to 40% of what I’m supposed to be making to an agent that’s, you know, their job to give you the deals when really there’s not that much work involved in terms of this market currently to get those deals to the creator, it’s just really, really tough to hear that.

[00:00:20] Jason: There’s a difference between being an influencer and actually influencing. I’m Jason Falls, and in this podcast, we explore the people, companies, campaigns, and stories that illustrate that difference. Welcome to Winfluence the influence marketing podcast.

Hello again, friends. Thanks for listening to winfluence the influence marketing podcast. At the end of each show, I offer you up the opportunity to ask a question or throw out a topic that you’d like my take on to inspire a new program. You’re always welcome to do that by emailing me. The address is [email protected] in case you need it. I do love it when you do email me questions, because it gives me a good topic to talk about, and it probably helps your fellow listeners and influence community folks learn too. I also have people in the industry reach out about trends and problems they’re seeing. When one peaks my interest, that topic becomes a show as well.

Sometimes they come on as the guest to talk about it. Today is one of those. Sam Mendel and Saranga Pagadala are two young whipper snappers who have dreamt up a different take on an influencer marketing platform. But one that is informed and inspired by what they see as an industry issue. They reached out and said, talent agents and managed services are taking too much of an influencer’s earnings.

As you can imagine that raised an eyebrow on this face. I work with talent agents all the time. They provide a valuable service to their client, the end creators, so they can focus on creating. But when Sam and Saranga said, they’ve seen up to 40% commission rates, I ask them to tell me more. We spent some time going through the issue and touched on CashU, which is their new entry into the influencer marketing space as well.

You can find it at textcashu.com. That’s the words, text and cash with the letter U added on textcashu.com. As you can probably guess it’s an influencer marketing and marketplace discovery platform that operates mostly, uh, via text. It’s worth checking out. If you’re a creator or a company looking to engage micro or nano influencers, we talk about that on the show, but they had some very interesting things to say about the rates that talent managers and managed services charge the creators to work with them.

I’d be interested to hear if your experiences align with theirs and what you think after you listen today. Before we welcome them in, let’s take a moment to thank our presenting sponsor Tagger. It is a complete influencer marketing management solution. With tag, you can find, engage, hire, collaborate, review, and measure all your influencer marketing efforts.

I tested the Tagger outreach feature recently. I just found an influencer I wanted to work with, added them to a campaign with just a click. I jumped into the engagement area and sent them an email from inside the tool. Each response to that email is pulled into the tool as well, to document the entire thread of conversation.

Everything I discuss with that creator is there for me to see cuts down on a lot of confusion, a lot of conflict for sure. Now I could go on, but you know, I love Tagger, you know, I use it everyday. You should check it out. It might be right for your brand or agency. Go to jason.online/tagger to get a free demo and see if tag is right for you.

That demo is free and you can have one at jason.online/tagger. Our talent managers and manage services taking too much from creators, Sam Mendel and Saranga Pagadala, the founders of CashU are next on winfluence.

All right. So Sam and Saranga, you guys reached out to me about a, a problem in the influencer marketing space and wanted to talk about it. And we love tackling problems here on the show. So I think correct me if I’m wrong, but you are seeing larger influencer marketing agents, talent managers, and agencies.

Taking what seems to be an inordinately large chunk of the commissions of revenue that their content creators generate. Tell me where you’re seeing that and how you’ve come across that assumption about the marketplace and why that’s an issue.

[00:04:36] Sam: Yeah. So really we’re seeing that across the board. So we deal with a lot of micro creators. First of all, a lot of these agencies don’t give them a lot of deal flow. So it’s hard for them to support themselves on a regular basis. But even on top of that, they are taking these enormous cuts, 20 to 40%. Off of what the creator makes. And, uh, it’s kind of coming from this framework of these agencies, thinking that there’s only limited deal flow in the space, but the reality is there’s so much demand on the business side for influencer marketing to work with these creators. But these creators are just not really seeing that.

[00:05:08] Jason: Is the problem that the micro or the let’s say mid tier and below, let’s say under 40,000, under 50,000 followers is the problem that below that it’s not really worth the talent, manager’s time to sell to a micro influencer audience, because they’re not gonna be able to sell that through to a, a brand.

The brand’s not gonna pay tens of thousands of dollars to work with somebody with 10,000 followers. And so there’s this kind of separation of I guess a social class system, if you will, there’s tools and platforms and even marketplaces that are really, really good for micro and nano influencers. And then there’s dividing line where, okay.

Once you get to the maybe a hundred thousand follower range, now all of a sudden the talent managers will, will pay attention to you is the problem that we’re comparing the apples to oranges between micro influencers and mega influencers, or is there something more, you know, sort of sinister at play there?

[00:06:05] Saranga: So I think to answer this question, good way to look at it is what kind of businesses are targeting, what kind of influencers?

Right? So there’s a huge, different types of businesses. There’s larger businesses and smaller startups. And I think our main focus is smaller startups that are trying to test different marketing strategies. So one of the big things that we wanna focus on is fast feedback loops, which is trying out three or four different marketing strategies.

Within a short timeframe and the best way to do that would be with micro creators because they’re the ones who can test and see what their audience is reacting to and what they really enjoy. And then we can try and rinse and repeat that process with these startups.

[00:06:39] Jason: Well, and it sounds to me like what you’re talking about is kind of an in between model of bigger than a marketplace, but not quite a talent agency where, you know, you’re going out and representing, you know, a single influencer or a group of influencers.

Sounds to me, like you’re looking at kind of a different model to approach the. Micro to mid-tier influencer. Is that what you guys are building there with cashew?

[00:07:02] Sam: Yeah, exactly what we do is working with these micro and mid-size creators and support them financially and socially all through our automated text platform.

So, you know, as an agent, it’s kind of built into the structure of it where their time is limited. They can only work with a certain amount of creators and it’s a very manual process, but because we are automating a lot. We can work with a lot more micro creators at the same scale. And, you know, because of that, we’re supporting these creators financially and socially.

So financially with the brand deals on a regular basis to help them make that transition to be a full time creator, as well as socially with, you know, social networking events, meeting other creators. Collabs with other creators and all that, because being a full-time content creator is a very tough, daunting, isolating journey.

And we’re trying to have as much empathy for them as possible to kind of help them become this full-time creator that they wanna be.

[00:07:52] Saranga: I think just adding on that, right? Like as young people in the space, we kind of understand what these content creators are going through and how isolating it is coming outta COVID and not being able to socialize as much, right. And I think, cause a lot of TikTok happened during COVID. They haven’t been able to socialize. And so throwing these kinds of events and creating like a collaborative environment for them is really what these content creators are looking for, and so we see a lot of value in that in providing them with these opportunities.

[00:08:16] Jason: All right. So help me understand a little bit more about how the app and your tool and your approach operates, because you said a couple of things that are a little conflicting. You talked about having empathy. You talked about having in-person events and collaborations and things like that, but then you also talked about it being automated and those two things don’t jive in my brain. Explain to me how it works.

[00:08:39] Sam: Yeah, definitely. So what it is is basically just a text list. So cashew is a contact in their phone and we text them with these opportunities, whether it’s an invite to an event near them in a city like Los Angeles or with specialized opportunities. For example, a brand, let’s say a makeup app that wants to work with these beauty creators and they have a specialized rate for them.

And all of it is automated through texting. So these creators can accept the offer, create the content, send it back and get paid within three texts. So we wanna make it as simple as possible for them to create content, get paid instantly and, and out all that.

[00:09:14] Jason: Okay. That makes sense. To me, it sounds like you’re almost taking the automated approach of a marketplace and expanding it to have a little bit more of a personal touch, which is really interesting.

I like that. But I also know that in order to drive the revenue and the commerce there, you’ve gotta have the brand sold in it. So what are you guys doing to attract those brand deals that are gonna come to you and look for the types of influencers that you guys have?

[00:09:39] Sam: Yeah. So I mean, specifically with what we do, what’s great with using text messages is that our response rates are really high.

So we’re able to complete these campaigns in a matter of days and weeks instead of months with a lot of other agencies or marketplaces. And because of that, we kind of prioritize these rapid feedback loops where. We have multiple strategies that we test on a weekly basis. And then we can analyze those results and optimize the campaign and fast moving startups, really like that approach.

So they like having these tests and it’s, you know, I come from a background in, uh, consumer apps in, in tech and as the growth side on that. That’s how all the frameworks are done. It’s all tests on a weekly basis. And you don’t know if you’re gonna have the same feature set in your app today than you will in three months.

Right? So you don’t have time to wait for these agencies and marketplaces to deal with this long process. They wanna have these results in a matter of days and weeks so that they can. Optimize a campaign and, and keep it running. And I come

[00:10:32] Saranga: from a background of agencies. And so a lot of these agencies that work with these businesses have to communicate with all of the influencers that they’re working with.

And even with companies that have in-house marketing teams, they understand that these influencers work via tech. So a lot of the success that I had with building these relationships with businesses and with, with influencers and when I was in the agency space with regards to playing soccer. So a lot of the athletes that I was working with, a lot of the academies that I was working with, I did it all through text because it was the most convenient way of communicating.

[00:10:59] Jason: So, I know you talked about, you know, the sort of nimble startups. This is, you know, really good for them because they love the test and iteration. It sounds to me also, like you’ve got a really good model for the either direct consumer brand or, you know, maybe the consumer product brand that they want to get. A lot of product out there seated in the marketplace. They wanna get people talking about, ’em get some buzz, get some reviews. Are there certain brands that your tool and your approach are good for versus bad for? Is there anyone that isn’t a great fit? What’s the ideal customer you’re looking for?

[00:11:33] Sam: Yeah, so definitely consumer apps are perfect for us because we can have a really, really short timeframe. We still work with consumer products as well, but that timeframe is usually tests within a week time, just because we have to, you know, facilitate the product, getting to the creator and them using the product and creating content around that. So it’s slightly longer, but we still work with those are like the two categories that we kind of optimize for the consumer apps and consumer products.

[00:11:57] Jason: Very nice. All right. So let’s get back to the allegation if you will, that there are talent agencies and, and folks out there that are taking basically too much money. And if you guys are seeing 20, 30, 40% commissions being taken by agencies, I would be really interested to sort of, start the investigative trail and figure out who that is, because from what I know about the entertainment industry, if you go broader to Hollywood show business talent agencies typically take between 10 and maybe 20% on the high end. Are you guys really seeing up to 40%? And if so, what do you say to a creator that says, yeah, my agent takes 40%.

[00:12:36] Sam: I mean, it’s, it’s so tough to hear that honestly. So we see all the work being done by the creator and when they come to us and say, yeah, I’m losing 20 to 40% of what I’m supposed to be making to an agent. That’s their job to give you the deals when really there’s not that much work involved in terms of this market currently to get those deals to the creator. It’s just really, really tough to hear that. And it’s undervaluing and deeding as a creator and a lot of creators just have a negative outlook on agents because of that. But I mean, we’ve talked to, you know, over 20 agent agencies and different like end to end solutions. I think Saranga can talk, talk more about that.

[00:13:11] Saranga: Yeah. I mean, I’ve sat on demo calls with close to 20 to 25 different end to end. Um, Technology solutions, SAS solutions for influencer marketing, and all they help with is automating the outreach process, but they don’t help facilitate the entire, you know, closing and actually getting them the post, right.

That’s where their agency side comes in. So a lot of these end end solutions also work with agencies or have agencies that run the SAS solution that essentially do all the influencer marketing for these startups. But what we’ve seen from talking to close to like 50 creators after moving to LA is the first question that everybody asks is how much commission do you take.

Because they don’t wanna be undercut. And a lot of these end end solutions are kind of doing the same thing. They’re putting these businesses into year long contracts and making them pay anywhere between four to $6,000 a month for their services. And that’s not including the agency services that’s just used yet the end 10 solution.

And so for the agency they’re gonna, there’s an upcharge, there’s a premium for that. And then actually getting the views or actually getting people to post is all dependent on the creator at the end of the day. So we don’t see a lot of value in these end to end solutions and with working with an agency because it’s so hostile for these creators, but we rather take a more personable approach where we’re actually helping the creator and trying to give them as many resources as we can. To kind of build a community around that.

[00:14:20] Jason: You know, you talk about the resources that you’re providing for them. I think you guys indicated that you’re trying to create connection points and resources for creators like mental health resources and things like that. Talk a little bit about what you guys are trying to provide and, and why you’re going that extra mile for micro and nano folks who, you know, aren’t necessarily gonna be bringing in high dollars.

[00:14:41] Saranga: I think the goal is that we work with these micro and nano creators because they have the potential, they’re the ones that are creating really good content. They’re the ones that are out there being risk takers, trying new strategies. And at the end of the day, they’re the ones that are gonna succeed. If they’re given the right resources from a mental health standpoint, we think that, you know, really socializing and building a community around being a content creator and really giving value to that and telling people that, you know, there is a career path in this, you know, you can go full time with this, if you stick to it and you make great content.

We have content specialists as well, that kind of give tips to the creators. If they’re looking to make content. And we only work with businesses that allow the content creators to make their own content. So we make it very clear and because the demand is so high from the business side, we are able to pick and choose what kind of businesses we wanna work with.

And every time we bring, we work with a new client, we tell ’em, Hey, all of the content creation should be done with the hands of the creator, because they’re the only ones that know their audience. You know, that is the first step towards making ’em feel valued in the process, which incentivizes them to wanna work with you longer.

[00:15:42] Jason: Very good. So I know an additional issue that you guys pointed out when you reached out to me, was that these larger talent firms refusing to support the smaller creators, because obviously for them there’s no, not enough money in it. That’s creating an ecosystem problem of middle class that the ecosystem can’t really support or isn’t supporting well enough. Is that really what you’re going after? If you’re trying to kind of fill that gap between making the nano and micro influencers have the ability for there to be a middle class within the industry and not the haves versus the have nots.

[00:16:16] Sam: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, if you look at it, that transition from being, you know, a part-time creator doing it on the side and transitioning that to be a full-time creator.

Is the hardest part of the whole creator journey. So we really want to help those people that are trying to go from a part-time thing to go full-time. So that whole, like middle class of creator, giving them the opportunity to actually do this full time as thing that they wanna pursue.

[00:16:38] Jason: So what kind of success have you guys seen thus far who’s using your platform and what are they getting out of it?

[00:16:43] Sam: Yeah, so, I mean, this has been fairly recent, but we’ve just passed 200 micro creators in our community. Giving them brand deals. We worked with some apps to do some promotions with them. So we’re getting these creators that beforehand have told us they would be surprised that they’d have to do a lot of outreach to brands to get a single offer to them now getting inbound, and they’re super excited about it, which is awesome. So we love seeing that and as well, we’re starting on the community side. So we’re hosting our first event, June 30th in Los Angeles. A creator event where, you know, you can meet other creators, create content together and all that. We’re looking to do biweekly events after that and, you know, expand to different cities, major creator cities as well. So of course keep LA going, but also San Diego, Miami New York. And we’ll see how that goes.

[00:17:26] Saranga: Yeah. One more thing is that, you know, this is open to all content creators. So if you’re a creator and you’re out in LA, please feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, textCashU. So yeah, that’s the best way to get in touch.

[00:17:37] Jason: Awesome. And, and I, I think you told me there’s no cost for the creators to join the app or the, the community. So in that light, what’s the business model. I mean, do brands and agencies support you? If so, how, how do you guys make an end game out of this?

[00:17:51] Sam: Yeah Definitely. So part of onboarding a creator themselves is that they get to choose what their rate is like, what they like to take.

And based on that in our algorithm, which is, you know, non-biased is just completely based on their engagement and their category. Um, and their following. We have the pricing that we send to them and they get paid within their range of whatever they feel like they should be paid. So we pay them fully a hundred percent of that goes straight to the creator. And because, you know, there’s so much demand on the business side. We’re able to upcharge the brand themselves from five to 10%.

[00:18:22] Jason: That’s pretty good. Five to ten’s a hell of a lot better than 40 that’s for sure. That’s very cool. So tell us where people can find the app and learn more.

[00:18:31] Sam: Yeah, definitely. So check out our website, textcashu.com as well as their Instagram. If you wanna look at that, which is just @textcashu.

[00:18:38] Jason: Very good. Sam, and Saranga keep fighting a good fight. The, uh, creators do need resources like CashU and people on their side. Like you guys appreciate your work out there.

[00:18:46] Sam: Thanks so much, Jason.

[00:18:47] Saranga: Thank you.

[00:18:52] Jason: So, what do you think, are you a talent manager? Are you charging 15, 20, 30, 40%. Is your rate fair? What rates are. For you managed services folks out there, I’d love to hear from you too, though I doubt I will. When you charge a client a hundred thousand dollars for a campaign, and we know 40 to 50% is probably spent on paid media.

So you can hit your numbers. What’s the other 50 to 60% going to, it’s not all going to the creator. How much are you taking for your fee? And is that fair? Hit me up. I’d love your perspective. [email protected] is the email address. I will only use your response on the show with your permission. Not gonna back anybody into a corner.

If you want to come on the show and fire back, consider it a date. Speaking of a date, I need you to make one with your friends and colleagues to talk about this show. Let them know winfluence is a handy podcast. Listen, for those who wanna know more about influence and influence marketing and how to apply that to your brand, share this episode or a link to winfluencepod.com with them along with your recommendation of the show.

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