Instagram marketing hacks from Gretta van Riel

Instagram, with a network of over half a billion followers and reaching 59 percent of 18 - 29 year-olds in the US, is undoubtedly one of the most valuable mediums for marketing to the young and tech-savvy generation. A distinctive phenomenon within Instagram marketing is the rise of influencers, everyday amateurs who are often great in product and lifestyle photography and manage to attract a faithful following. They are in a prime position to recommend their favourite brands to their target audience.

Chris Joannou speaking with Gretta van Riel for Startup Grind Melbourne's fireside chat

Chris Joannou speaking with Gretta van Riel for Startup Grind Melbourne's fireside chat

Four years ago, Melbourne entrepreneur Gretta van Riel was one of the early entrants into this platform. In this very short period, Gretta has created several successful companies by harnessing the power of Instagram and has cumulatively amassed over 17 million followers across her ventures. Gretta spoke to Chris Joannou of Startup Grind on 24 November 2016 about her adventures with Instagram and shared some of her tried-and-tested hacks.

Gretta's first venture, SkinnyMe Tea

Gretta began her career as a digital marketing manager and soon found that she had limited opportunities to feel challenged in her role. In her spare time, she discovered how it was possible to create a non-personal following around products like her wardrobe and later sell off selected items such as her designer handbag.

This gave her the idea to start her first Instagram-based eCommerce business SkinnyMe Tea (SMT), a 'teatox' product that helps with weight loss. Gretta initially did all the manufacturing, packing and shipping from home during nights and weekends, whilst juggling her full-time job. The Instagram account grew to over 600,000 followers under a year and very soon Gretta was making her monthly wage in a day. That was a signal for Gretta to quit her day job and focus fully on her entrepreneurial dreams. She has never looked back since!

SMT now has over 350,000 customers and has been featured on Elle and The Four-Hour Workweek. 


Dropbottle came out of SMT and Gretta's intuition that the market was looking for a stylish and robust bottle of carrying detox water. Dropbottle is a long glass bottle that can be filled with healthy fruit and water and comes with an infuser and handle. Apart from having a splendidly photographed Instagram, what has helped the rise of the Dropbottle is being handpicked by Oprah as one of her favourite things of 2016.


The Fifth Watches

The Fifth Watches is the only company that Gretta has co-founded, pairing up with her friend Alex McBride. It started with the idea of monetizing Alex’s design and architecture blog which finally ended up being a brand of limited edition watches.

The 5th has an interesting business model based on exclusivity around timing. The online shop displays products all the time but only opens to customers on the 5th of each month for 5 days creating a sense of urgency and scarcity about the products. This trend seems to be working very well as the team has expanded and so has the Instagram following to over 440 thousand.


After several much simpler products, Nichify is Gretta's first tech offering that builds upon her experience as an influencer to form multi-directional relationships between brands and influencers.  For Gretta, Nichify has been ‘the hardest to build and also has had the most personal involvement’. Analytics on her existing base of 17 million followers indicate that there is 200 million inreach and over a billion outreach amongst the connections. This is what Nichify is looking to leverage. The unique value proposition of Nichify is that it is not a marketplace but focuses on building relationships. The beta version, which is free, is due to release in Jan and Gretta is working with only 15 brands at this stage.

While Gretta acknowledges that not having a technical background makes things difficult and so a technical cofounder can be a good idea, she has been able to hire a dream team to pull together the beta version in six months.

So what are some of the Instagram Marketing and Business hacks from this sensational serial founder?


#1 Collaborating with Influencers

Collaborating with other influencers within an industry is the best way to grow one's following. The best influencers to work with in the industry are those with 20 to 50 thousand followers as they have a lot of room for organic growth.

#2 Shoutout for Shoutout (SFS) or Share for Share

Networking with other influencers can be easily done through mutual shoutouts and reposts of shared images. The SFS technique works best between accounts with similar numbers of followers and can help both accounts grow through reaching out to each other's following.

#3 Repost top posts

Searching a hashtag is a great way to find what are the top posts on the subject. Reposting the top posts attracts both likes and follows.

#4 Follow and unfollow

Gretta spent hours each afternoon following others and then unfollowing them the next day that helped to grow her Instagram as people got interested to find out who the person was.

#5 Instagress - automatic following and unfollowing

For those who are time poor, liking, commenting and following can be easily automated using the online tool Instagress.

#6 Buy other Instagram accounts

Instagram accounts are prime real-estate and can be bought as well. This gives a business ready access to followers and content that can be subsequently built on.

#7 Scarcity and Exclusivity

Always having an element of scarcity and exclusivity around one's product offerings, such as a limited edition or limited time release creates urgency in customers' buying decisions.


Lessons Learned

In spite of all her success, in her years of entrepreneurship Gretta has also had to learn from her mistakes, which she lovingly refers to as ‘million dollar MBAs’!

For SkinnyMe Tea, the Instagram following grew from 0 - 600,000 within one year, all the while Gretta was operating as a sole trader and did not have the foresight of creating a company. So the marginal tax rate of her business was incredibly high in the first year.

With rapid growth of SkinnyMe Tea, it was hard to keep up with the production in-house and for a brief period, Gretta sourced her product from Chinese manufacturers. However, the quality did not live up to the standard and several batches of high-value stock had to be wasted. This prompted her to choose quality Australian manufacturers who have been her suppliers ever since.

SMT had to work with Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to get regulatory approvals or they risked a multi-million dollar fine for not being regulatory compliant.

Gretta has an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm in the way she has built her brands. Instead of finding the product-market fit which a lot of other entrepreneurship mentors talk about, Gretta’s approach is to create a market and then launch a product. The Instagram platform provides a powerful tool for engaging with young people who spend several hours a day on their mobile phones. Once effectively engaged through great content, followers can be funnelled into choosing an exclusive product that provides something tangible to remind them of the creative brand that they like and love so much on their phone screens.


Posted on November 28, 2016 .

sleepbus Founder’s Mission to End Australians Sleeping Out on the Streets

How the sleepbus story began

Just over eighteen months ago in the Melbourne suburb of Saint Kilda, entrepreneur and business consultant Simon Rowe had a chance encounter with a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk covered head-to-toe in a white doona and oblivious of passersby stepping over him. The man explained to Simon how he preferred to sleep during the day in a crowded place rather than risk his safety trying to get a night’s rest. It brought back memories of Simon’s own homelessness as a teenager when he had to sleep in his car for four months before he could save enough for accommodation. At the urging of his two older children, Simon set out on a mission to tackle the problem of cost-effective and safe nightly shelter for some our nation’s most vulnerable people.

sleepbus has a very positive and innovative brand to help raise awareness and resonate with audiences (Image: supplied)

sleepbus has a very positive and innovative brand to help raise awareness and resonate with audiences (Image: supplied)

The sobering ABS statistics from 2011 indicate that there are over 105,000 homeless in Australia with over 6% of them (or 6,300) sleeping rough on any given night. To get to the crux of the issue, Simon went undercover as a homeless man and spent some sleepless nights at the shelters. What he found was serious overcrowding, lack of safety and privacy and strict rules around not accepting people involved with drugs, alcohol, mental health conditions and even pets. With existing policies around affordable housing several decades away from having any real impact, and brick-and-mortar shelters rather expensive and not easily adaptable to the needs of the homeless, Simon saw this opportunity to come in with a radical solution.

The sleepbus Project

Simon undertook extensive research over a twelve month period on different solutions and found inspiration in the San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae that brings free showers and toilets on buses to the homeless. This took him down the pathway of creating a fresh business strategy around sleep pods in buses that would provide for the need of safe sleeping spaces and would be cool and innovative enough to resonate with the younger generation.

The sleepbus is equipped with 22 sleep pods, each with a lockable door, quality bedding and sheets, lights, climate control, charger and intercom. There are even eight climate controlled pet kennels underneath the bus for guests with pets. The bus is also equipped with two toilets.  All pods have a TV with free-to-air television and a channel dedicated to support services. 

The sleepbus mantra is “Sleep changes everything”. Simon further explains, “The idea is if everybody can get a good night’s sleep, then with a clear head in the morning, the pathways out of homelessness and pathways out of that situation might be a little bit easier to find and that’s my hope.”

A caretaker is employed on-site to stay throughout the night and monitor the guests. All guests have intercom access to the caretaker, and there are security cameras for added safety. Each bus can provide 8030 safe sleeps per year which can have a tremendous impact in the lives of those who would otherwise be sleeping rough.

Schematic diagram of a sleepbus showing its ingenuity and purposefulness (Image: supplied)

Schematic diagram of a sleepbus showing its ingenuity and purposefulness (Image: supplied)

Operational Model

sleepbus is designed to complement existing services for the homeless and expand capacity in a very cost effective manner. Simon’s estimate indicates that sleepbus can provide safe nightly sleeps for as little as $27.50 per day on a complimentary basis, which represents a  cost saving of up to four times relative to traditional brick-and-mortar establishments.

Simon has also instituted a few lean strategies around how the bus is going to be built. The fit-out process which is inspired by Ford’s manufacturing methodology is designed in such a way that  4 buses can be completed in 4 weeks largely without the need for any skilled labour. Thus, there is a potential for providing opportunities to young people and supporting their entry into the workforce.

Funding for sleepbus

With the cost of purchase and fit-out of each bus being $60,000, Simon has several strategies us his sleeve for raisings funds for the sleepbus project. Simon launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in February 2016 with the aim of raising $20,000 for a pilot. The target was reached within 4 days with the story raising global interest and a significant portion of the funds coming in from the UK. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald also picked up the story, and the goal was bumped up to pay for the first bus and the launch of the pilot program. In total, sleepbus has raised over $115,000 to date, and this makes receiving traction for future buses a lot more feasible.

As Simon explains, sleepbus operates on a 100% model, “I have two accounts, the corporate account and the donations account. All public donations goes into the donations account and 100% of that money goes into building buses and putting them on the road and operating them, and we track it.”

The innovative donation tracking allows for greater transparency for donors who can login online and check which bus their money has gone into and vital statistics about the bus such as the number of sleeps it has provided.

The Power of Generosity

What Simon has experienced first-hand throughout the project is the incredible generosity people have in the community. Simon was living on his savings, spending every available minute on his dream sleepbus when he received a call from a company in the building industry who were willing to cover his wages for the next three years without asking for anything in return. Similarly, some corporates have been generous enough to open up their spare meeting rooms for sleepbus to use as office space and volunteer accountants have come on board to help with finances.

sleepbus Founder Simon Rowe (Image: supplied)

sleepbus Founder Simon Rowe (Image: supplied)


The Future of sleepbus

The sleepbus is now waiting for the final sign-offs before the pilot can officially begin. The first bus has been allocated a spot on Fitzroy Street in Saint Kilda, and there are already orders for buses from all over Australia. Simon has bold plans for scaling up the project to 319 buses over the next 6 years, the number that would take to get every person across Australia off the street. Being the first of its kind in the world, several other nations such as the UK, Ireland, Spain, France and Germany are seriously considering how the same model can be applied within their communities. Therefore, Simon believes that there is a great opportunity to make an impact on a global scale through international partnerships and training.                                                                                                                                                    

All in all, sleepbus is an incredible example of a social enterprise tackling an issue that is close to the heart for many around Melbourne and Australia. Simon has come up with an innovative solution that comes as a breath of fresh air for thousands of people in need. It will be very interesting to follow the progress of the project in the coming months and years.


To stay in touch with the sleepbus Project or to donate to their amazing program, please visit


Posted on November 21, 2016 .

Melbourne startup Influx is setting new trends in online customer support

For many growing startups, keeping on top of customer service queries by email and live chat is a difficult task. While there are a plethora of great software tools offered by the likes of Zendesk, Ticksy and Salesforce, having people to answer queries in real time with the quality and empathy needed to make each customer feel at ease poses a real challenge, especially for growing startups that have small teams and limited resources.

Melbourne startup Influx is upending how online customer support is done (Image courtesy Alex Holmes)

Melbourne startup Influx is upending how online customer support is done (Image courtesy Alex Holmes)

This is what  Michael De Wildt, co-founder and creator of Wordpress Plugin for Dropbox, realised while working on his venture. So he teamed up with Leni Mayo, veteran internet entrepreneur and founder of several startups to create Influx, a company dedicated to taking away the load of having to answer customer tickets for client businesses. Fast forward three years, and they have grown into a team of over 100 passionate and dedicated engineers, managers and helpdesk staff across four different locations and time zones in Melbourne, Indonesia, Kenya and Jamaica. They serve early stage and growing startups worldwide and have over 100 loyal clients on their books.

Alex Holmes, Chief Marketing Officer at Influx, shared his thoughts about his company on the latest edition of the Startup Melbourne podcast.

According to Alex, “We offer elastic customer service on demand for startups. So that allows us to do 24/7 support with email tickets and live chats and improve the support experience for our clients.”

Outsourcing of customer service to external parties and especially to business processing centres in places like India and the Philippines is a standard practice for many large Western corporations.

So what is Influx doing differently that others already haven’t?

Well, Influx is upending the classical outsourcing model through innovative people and technology-oriented solutions.

1. Employee Culture

Influx recruits highly motivated and dedicated engineers and customer service staff across their worldwide locations. Having teams in four different time zones means that at each site, staff work regular office hours and as a whole Influx can answer queries in real time, 24/7.

Influx has made significant investments towards people management, including developing an automated training tool, to empower staff with all the necessary skills and support to do their best at their jobs. Thus, they have a low turnover, which is often not the case for traditional outsourcing companies. In fact, many of their founding employees having moved up to manager positions within their teams.

2. Technology tools

The company has developed an Influx Assistant tool that integrates seamlessly with existing client CRM systems and helps to automatically pull tickets onto a dashboard, thus streamlining the workflow and enhancing staff productivity. Third party support tools such as Slack also assist them to remain in constant contact with teams in different locations and ensure smooth customer service delivery in real time.

3. Quality Assurance

Influx has established a dedicated team that looks into Quality Assurance (QA) across tickets on the four dimensions of comprehension, brand, depth and empathy. This enables teams to learn from the feedback and develop their responses with each iteration. As opposed to other outsourced providers that often focus on response time and volume, Influx takes a ‘quality first’ approach, ensuring clients are getting an exceptional value for their money.

Team members at Influx are empowered to do their best (Image courtesy Alex Holmes) 

Team members at Influx are empowered to do their best (Image courtesy Alex Holmes) 

Market Opportunity

From Alex’s experience from having worked in a number of startups in San Francisco and Melbourne, he estimates that about 5 - 10 percent of the workforce at any startup is directed towards customer support and so is 5 - 10 percent of total revenue. Further research indicates that 84% of companies are looking to outsource their customer service function to an external provider as it is too difficult to run in-house without a 24/7 team in place. This represents an enormous multi-billion dollar global opportunity for Influx.

Due to cost advantages in having teams in low-cost locations, Influx is also in an enviable position to provide attractive pricing options for startups.

Alex says, “We are different from other providers I know in that clients only pay per output with us. So that means that they only pay when we answer to a customer.”

Additionally, having a team of over 20 talented engineers on board on their support teams means that Influx can help their target market of SaaS and eCommerce companies painlessly deal with their more complex queries.

Thus Influx has a great business model in the niche that they are operating within. The startup scene globally has been on the upswing in recent years, and most companies looking to build a brand identity need to invest in customer happiness. However, for a resource limited early stage venture or a company that is exponentially growing, getting all the elements together to have an efficient and quality customer service protocol that meets the demand is a huge challenge. It is where Influx can come in with their existing infrastructure of talent and technology and help to create capacity and drive the success of these businesses.

Posted on November 13, 2016 .

Serial entrepreneur Matt Mickiewicz speaks about Hired on Startup Grind Melbourne

The guest at the October session of Startup Grind was Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of Hired, who was in Melbourne to launch his tech recruitment platform in Australia. Hired is a startup that is primarily focussed on helping developers find the right roles within the tech industry.

Startup Grind event at NAB Atrium (Image: Startup Melbourne)

Startup Grind event at NAB Atrium (Image: Startup Melbourne)

The expansion of Hired in Australia comes in the wake of the acquisition Melbourne-based job marketplace Jobbop in February 2016. The company has raised US $40 million for its international acquisitions, valuing it at US $200 million.

Matt, who grew up in Europe and Australia and now lives in Canada, founded Hired in April 2012 along with Douglas Fierstein and Allan Grant. The idea came out of their need for attracting the right talent to their growing startups in the saturated market of San Francisco, where finding skilled developers, data scientists and software engineers can often be a rather difficult task. Moreover, the traditional recruitment process reliant on cold calls to employees from recruiters as well as the lack of transparency meant that more often than not, companies and new staff found themselves unsuitable to each other’s needs.

Hired is turning the tables on the traditional recruitment process by handing the power over to the candidates to make the right career decision based on market relevant information that is available to them upfront during the hiring process. This means that a candidate can come to an informed decision about their next job and can be expected to be more engaged in their role, minimising staff turnover.

Hired co-founder Matt Mickiewicz speaking with Startup Grind ANZ director Chris Joannou (Image: Startup Melbourne)

Hired co-founder Matt Mickiewicz speaking with Startup Grind ANZ director Chris Joannou (Image: Startup Melbourne)

The platform curates candidates before bringing them on board. Only the top 5% of those who apply are featured in their database. Once successful candidates have set up their career profiles, they receive interview and job offers from employers, each stating their conditions, salary, and benefits. Employers can view each other’s offers and come up with a more competitive offer for the right candidate. Candidate profiles are also hidden from the past and current employers to protect member privacy.

While the platform is free to join both for employees and employers, the company generates revenue by charging employers an average 15% of the candidate’s first-year base salary for each successful hire. Hired is also quite innovative about their user experience, offering champagnes, personalised notes and a candidate sign-on bonus when a successful job match has been generated.

The Hired team in Melbourne (Image: Startup Melbourne)

The Hired team in Melbourne (Image: Startup Melbourne)

Before creating Hired, Matt had already built three other successful online businesses with Melbourne-based co-founder Mark Harbottle. Their first venture was the media and advertising company SitePoint, which eventually pivoted into an online publishing company for developers. SitePoint had a great community of designers who suggested the idea of running contests to choose the best design, an idea that led to the formation of the hugely popular 99Designs, a global marketplace for businesses to outsource their graphic design projects. It is the largest marketplace of its kind, having done over US $150 million in business since 2008. Another marketplace that came out of SitePoint was Flippa, dedicated to buying and selling domains, websites, and apps, and has processed over US $185 million worth of transactions since 2009.

Matt’s theory of building a thriving marketplace is about finding the right people, capital and getting the ‘product-market fit’. Interestingly enough, Matt likes to hire people he views as ‘smarter’ than himself, to whom he can delegate the day-to-day running of the company and focus on his next big thing.

As for marketing, building a solution that is ten times better than anything out there is the best strategy. As a two-way marketplace, Hired initially faced the classic challenge of getting developers and employers to sign up. Targeted email campaigns to developers and approaching VCs to coax employers to come on board was what ultimately helped them to succeed. Matt also recommends creating a robust referral system which makes the scaling up process much easier without having to spend a tonne of resources on marketing.

From his previous visits, Matt observes that the Melbourne startup ecosystem has grown up a lot in recent years with the proliferation of entrepreneurship networks, events, and coworking spaces. There is also a rise in the investment climate with increasing numbers of investors willing to support startups, although anyone looking for venture capital above $100 million needs to look outside the country. Matt believes that in Australia, we tend to be more resourceful with our money, given that we have less of it as compared to Silicon Valley.

Another valuable lesson that I took away from Matt’s journey was the development that one observes between his first startup SitePoint to his latest creation Hired. SitePoint is a publishing site targeted towards a niche community, while 99Designs and Flippa aimed at making money from individual transactions by appealing to the larger online business community looking for specific solutions.  However, these early marketplaces lacked curation and can often be confusing given the number of options that they present without necessarily addressing the quality expectations of the customer. With Hired, the online marketplace has come of age, offering the best quality talent to companies and helping interested job seekers access companies that match their personal beliefs and career aspirations.

With recruitment being a significant drain on resources for organisations across many industries, creating better talent attraction solutions offers a tremendous opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs in Melbourne and beyond.

Posted on November 6, 2016 .

Emerging opportunities in social entrepreneurship with Geoff Gourley

Many social issues such as poverty, homelessness, and climate change get hotly debated by the media and political circles on a daily basis, However, until very recently, the business world has largely stayed away from any direct involvement in these issues of social relevance. That seems to be changing, driven by rising demand amongst consumers and the public to remain informed about the impact of their dollar. With businesses being encouraged to find their core social purpose, there is a big wave towards solving societal issues through purposeful social enterprise models that incorporate startup concepts such as lean philosophy into otherwise charitable  and impactful endeavours.

Social entrepreneur and founder of One10 Geoff Gourley (Image: supplied)

Social entrepreneur and founder of One10 Geoff Gourley (Image: supplied)

Geoff Gourley, the founder of the social enterprise accelerator One10 and the $100 million Impact Investment Fund is a veteran in starting, running and supporting purposeful businesses. Therefore, talking to him on our podcast was a great opportunity to learn about the nuances of social entrepreneurship and the tremendous opportunity this field presents for tackling problems while offering a positive return not only to shareholders but also to the community.  

Compared to when Geoff started his first business as a nineteen-year-old almost three decades ago, the Australian business landscape has changed remarkably in terms of the support that is available for new entrepreneurs and startup companies. The emergence of incubators, accelerators, VC mentors, and government initiatives such as the $60 million LaunchVic have meant that people with great ideas have much easier access to advice, support and capital to bring their dreams into life!

Things have been gathering traction within the social enterprise arena has well.

Geoff explains, “The not-for-profits social enterprise sector in Australia in 2015 was the second fastest growing business sector. There are over 660,000 not-for-profits and social enterprises in the country and about 1400 of those have a revenue of greater than $10 million.”

With such big players in the social enterprise scene and investors increasingly becoming wary of investing in big banks and mining companies, impact investing has emerged as a robust asset class on its own, returning 8 - 13% per year. However, Geoff concedes that social enterprises are lagging behind in terms of the support that they receive relative to other startup sectors such as fintech.

Many companies and organisations are under increasing pressure to examine their core purpose

Many companies and organisations are under increasing pressure to examine their core purpose

The One10 Accelerator Program was launched in December 2015 with the single purpose of providing social entrepreneurs with much-needed support and mentoring required in order to build sustainable businesses around their ideas that address burning social issues. The Impact Investment Fund, on the other hand, enables high-net-worth individuals, family businesses, and socially conscientious companies to invest in purposeful ventures.

According to Geoff, “The One10 Accelerator along with the Impact Investment Fund provides a complete ecosystem within which a company can be guided down an unbroken pathway from ideation, through to minimum-viable-product, to investability and then scale.”

For aspiring social entrepreneurs, Geoff advises that they find an idea that they are really passionate and aligns with their top skills. The next obvious step is to surround oneself with a great founding team who bring along complementary skills. Having the support from professional mentors within an incubator or accelerator is also a fantastic idea as that takes a lot of the stress out of launching a company and reduces the chances of failure. For education as well as inspiration, Geoff is particularly fond of the books Lean Startup by Eric Reis and Chapter One by Daniel Flynn as being especially useful for creating a lean business in the social entrepreneurship space.

With State and Federal governments looking to become more efficient in the delivery of services, there is increasing reliance on social enterprises to offer leaner and cost effective solutions that large organisations and companies fumble to put together. Additionally, the trend of millennials seeking fulfilment in their work over and above monetary compensation means the pace of growth in social entrepreneurship is very much likely to continue in the future.

To learn more about social entrepreneurship and the One10 Accelerator, visit or follow Geoff on Twitter @geoffgourley.

Posted on October 31, 2016 .