Just Say Yeay
This feature was commissioned by and first published in Euro Asia Industry magazine
As co-founder and CEO of trailblazing m-commerce app Yeay, Melanie Mohr has been consistently named as one of the top women in tech to watch. She spoke to us about her journey from film and video production to the digital space, how an exceptionally entrepreneurial generation Z are changing the face of retail and the vital benefits of employing an international workforce.
Consumers worldwide are increasingly turning to their mobile phones and tablets to buy everything from designer shoes to groceries. BI Intelligence predicts the mobile commerce (or m-commerce) sector will have taken over 45 percent (or $284 billion) of the US’s e-commerce market by 2020, up from just 11.6 percent in 2014. The brainchild of tech entrepreneur Melanie Mohr, video marketplace app Yeay is zealously spearheading this digital revolution. At barely a year old, the Berlin-based company’s eponymous retail platform has been variously heralded as ‘the Snapchat of shopping’, ‘QVC plus Tumblr plus Snapchat’ and the result ‘if Ebay and Snapchat had a baby.’
Coming from a background in film and video content production, Ms Mohr only started to realise the potential of the digital sphere after what she jokingly describes as a “brainwashing” conversation with an American CTO friend. “He held up a smartphone and said, ‘Melanie, this is your platform number one, you really need to look into this!’” she tells us. “That was the moment that I really dived into the digital space…. I realised there are so many wonderful new ways of distributing content using apps and app creation.”
Fired with enthusiasm, Ms Mohr went on to create Apollo TV, a TV platform specialising in the production and distribution of bite-sized videos about the art and design worlds. Apollo’s content coverage includes art fairs, music festivals and interviews with gallerists, and it eventually birthed a related app – Apollo Muse – designed to be a ‘super source’ of art world news. Then, at the end of 2015, the ever energetic Mohr had another lightbulb moment. “…I woke up and had this idea of Yeay in my head,” she explains. “It was after I read an article about a great TV shopping host, describing how she got into it and how successful it is, they sometimes sell 6000 products an hour….I though, ok, TV shopping works for a certain demographic, but it doesn’t match what Gen Z or even millennials consider as a shopping platform.”
Understanding generation Z
As a mother of three, two of whom are teenagers, Ms Mohr has developed a striking and fruitful familiarity with the preferences of Generation Z (born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s). “My daughter is now 19 and my son is 16, and over the years I’ve seen how they consume video content on their phones and how they use technology,” she explains. “So for a long time I’ve had Snapchat and Musical.ly and all these other great platforms in my head.”
She watched the way her children’s generation embraced apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and karaoke performance app Musical.ly with growing interest. “This younger generation love to perform on video, and want to be the next discovered talent…to convert themselves into saleable stars” she tells us. “Everyone has something to sell, if you look at the Gen Z demographic, it’s a very entrepreneurial new generation. They are the digital natives, they grew up with technology, social media and information always at their fingertips, so they’re very quick and well informed…Also they want to be their own boss, as creatives of apparel or jewellery for example. I think we’re there with an app which enables everyone to sell stuff in the most interesting, entertaining and easy way, which is through video.”
With a highly contemporary, intuitive design, the app itself is lively, fast-paced and clearly conceived with the regular Snapchat user in mind. You can browse as a buyer without opening an account and, despite its obviously commercial backbone, Yeay don’t take any commission from consumer to consumer purchases. The platform has been intentionally designed to accommodate multiple other features that should ensure decent revenue streams, including ads and sponsored content. Its messaging feature allows for easy communication about shipping or payment, while every video is shareable on popular social media platforms and can be ‘liked’ in the same vein as an Instagram photograph or Facebook post. Snapchat-style drawing and emojis provide additional fun options for personalising footage. “Our platform isn’t only a shopping platform or a marketplace – it’s entertainment, social and shopping,” comments Ms Mohr.
Yeay’s most obvious advantage over more established e-marketplaces is a simple one – speed. “The product videos are between 10 to 45 seconds, so it’s not that you need to record endless hours for one video,” explains the CEO. “…and because the video tells the whole story, you don’t need to enter all the details that you need to enter into other marketplaces. I would say to get something for sale on our platform, besides the video, it takes less than 20 seconds, it’s really so quick. If you think on other marketplace platforms, it can take ten minutes to half an hour, uploading all these photos.”
The app also charges corporate clients 10 to 15 percent commission, though brands choosing to retail through Yeay get a lot of bang for their buck. Ms Mohr’s background in film and video production has provided the company with a wealth of global contacts, able to help brands who might be unsure how best to exploit this relatively young commercial medium. “We recently had Roderer, a luxury accessories brand from Dubai, join us. They sent all their products over to us in Berlin because we have an in-house film studio at our offices where we help brands to create product videos,” she describes. “We also have a great network of video makers around the globe, in each region in each country. As my and my team’s background is in content creation, I’ve built a huge network in the film business which is of course now very useful in creating these product videos for brands that want to be new and innovative….We’ve also held some open studio dates in certain cities – LA, New York, Rotterdam, Berlin of course – where we invited brands to create video for them, and are planning to do more.”
Ms Mohr compares her company’s nascent marketing move to that of e-commerce homestay network Air BnB: “In the beginning, they discovered that people weren’t taking proper, professional-level photographs of their apartments,” she says. “So they contacted these people and said, “No problem, we can provide professional photographers to help, so we can make your place sell.”
Extraordinary brand breadth
Yeay’s ascent from nought to global has happened at an appropriately fast pace. The company was incorporated in December 2015 and its design team had coded its product ready for the launch of the beta version in July 2016. A well-considered marketing strategy certainly seems to have paid off so far too. The platform has already attracted over 500 global brands, from Sex and the City designer Patricia Field and European online eyewear retailer Mister Spex to Australian underwear giant Mossman and online home decor store Urbanara. Mohr and her team have made a conscious decision to move away from a focus on cheap fashion, a move she says is dictated by its target market: “Today’s younger crowd aren’t always about buying stuff below 25 euros,” she claims. “If there’s a special product which speaks to them, they’re sometimes willing to spend a bit more. Just because our platform is made for younger generation it doesn’t mean it has to be in a low end segment.”
A global outlook
Ms Mohr had utter faith in Yeay’s global appeal from its very inception. This conviction inspired her and co-founder and CTO Ben Hochberg to launch the product worldwide from the very start, a bold move that seems to be paying off. “It was clear to me that it was a global product,” she explains. “…it didn’t make sense to launch in one market, we needed to be international from the outset…and therefore I needed an international team with an international mindset. Thankfully, I have to say Berlin is a great place to be currently, seeking out international talent is easy here. It’s one of the European startup hubs and besides that it has a great party scene, so a lot of young, talented people love to be in Berlin currently. ”
Yeay’s team undoubtedly align with the company’s exceptionally international ethos. “We incorporated the company here, but there’s 27 of us and I’m one of the only Germans,” she laughs. “Our co-founder and CTO, Ben Hochberg, is from LA, he’s the Chief Technology Officer and the architect behind Yeay. We have staff from Britain and all over Europe, from Brazil, from Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Sweden. We’re drawn from 14 countries and we’re 50/50 male and female, which I’m also very proud of.” The team has experience as well as youth on its side too. Its CPO, Ben Mosse, is the former head of mobile at Associated Press, while the former head of finance at online fashion giant Zalando is also on the team.
Gaining traction fast
The platform has also already attracted all important attention from key influencers and bloggers, a crucial achievement if it wants to compete at the upper echelons of the m-commerce sector. Ms Mohr thinks this is due to the platform’s immediacy and instant potential for profitability, a key draw for the entrepreneurial generation Z: “The good thing about Yeay is that while on other platforms you need to build a community to make money, on Yeay you can make money from the first video you upload,” she says.
Downloads have come from the US and Europe, and she is especially excited about its rapidly growing popularity in Asia. “It’s gaining a lot of traction,” she comments. “…Apple has discovered us and sees the potential in what we’re doing and they were wonderful to feature us in global app stores. We were featured very prominently in the Indian app store and now we have a wonderful Indian crowd getting into the app and using our platform. Also in the Middle East, the Ukraine…It’s great to see how people around the globe are using Yeay to make money but also to show what they’re passionate about in a very new and creative way.”
When we ask about the secret to the company’s impressive rise, Ms Mohr is unhesitant, offering a philosophy that businesses of all descriptions who want to connect with a younger demographic can take to heart. “In the end, you can’t have any growth if you don’t have a good product,” she concludes. “So I would say the most important thing is a product which fits into the lifestyle and the momentum of a generation.”