The launch of Brandmoji: A story of courage, resilience and supreme vision

Jared Kruger

28 Apr 2020

Reading time: 11 min Startup stories

An exciting app called BrandmojiTM launched earlier this month, and we expect GREAT things. This AdTech innovation, founded by Startup School alumni, Jonathan Yarwood, is placing brands in the hands of everyday people, and unleashing mass potential for micro-ambassadors across the globe. 

Intrigued? We thought so. So we chatted to Jonathan about his entrepreneurial journey, his most valuable lessons, and his expectations for the future of the business. Prepare to be inspired!

He came, he saw, he conquered the gap in the market

Jonathan Yarwood had been playing the traditional corporate game for most of his life when he stumbled across a need that no-one else seemed to be paying attention to. He saw an untapped market that would connect brands with their biggest fans, and he filled that gap with BrandmojiTM.  

Brands have been totally overlooked by the current chat platforms on the market, we want to change that.

According to Jonathan, over 38 million South Africans use Whatsapp daily. While businesses are easily tagged on social media posts, it’s a little more difficult to ‘love on’ your favourite brands when using apps like Whatsapp. Something Whatsapp does have, though, is emojis! 

The BrandmojiTM app is compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems, and across all social media and instant messaging chat platforms. Customers are able to include their favourite brand emojis in their everyday conversations and social behaviour.

Why BrandmojiTM is fun for people, good for business

Including the emojis of your favourite brands in your digital chats is obviously fun for the user, but it also offers massive benefits for businesses. To start with, every person who uses your BrandmojiTM naturally becomes your brand ambassador. 

This app will enable brands to connect with their consumers in a more natural, meaningful and effective way. Our intention is to create micro-brand ambassadors, super connect brands and influencers, add value by helping brands measure their social presence more effectively, and finally, create the next exciting step in the evolution of our modern language.

The ability to measure a brand’s social presence on chat platforms is the other value-add that many businesses will find tough to ignore. By accessing impression usage data on a custom dashboard, brands will be well-positioned to incentivise and reward loyal ambassadors.

Plus, the business model is genius. Anybody can download and enjoy the BrandmojiTM app for free. This encourages a high number of app users (and brand ambassadors). The more users, the more motivated businesses will be to claim their own unique brand emoji for a once-off fee. 

From employee to entrepreneur: Jonathan’s pre-launch journey

Jonathan’s always had an entrepreneurial inclination, and he’s certainly no stranger to the side-hustle. But the beginning of his journey toward the launch of BrandmojiTM involved a bold leap of faith. He quit his day job (yikes!) to invest all of his energy into his own business. 

Risky? Sure. The real shocker, though, is that the business in question wasn’t BrandmojiTM!

I decided to leave corporate to align myself and focus on one endeavour. A huge risk, one that I was never brave enough to take before. The opportunity I decided to focus on failed due to many unforeseen reasons, but through it I learnt the lessons that would set me up for the next venture. I lost so much along the way, but I gained so much, too, so that’s ok.

And so, BrandmojiTM went from side-hustle to sole focus, but it wasn’t just smooth-sailing from there. Jonathan was up against a host of challenges, and if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve seen this movie before. 

Finding investors (good ones) is always a challenge, especially in South Africa. Plus, there are doubters around every corner. You are constantly selling your dream, whether it’s to family, friends, investors, potential clients or the government, it’s a constant hustle.

Luckily, Jonathan is built of the good stuff: Resilience and determination. He ignored the nay-sayers, believed in himself and his purpose, and continued to do his best. Today, BrandmojiTM isn’t just a dream. It’s a live, downloadable app, and a business that’s met some great milestones. 

Our biggest milestone was signing up our first few brands and receiving those first pennies in the bank. Some others were landing funding and partnering with astute businesspeople, seeing the app for the first time on my phone and sending that first BrandmojiTM in Whatsapp, completing the Startup School course, seeing the look on prospective clients’ faces when demoing our technology, and on a personal level, developing resilience and still being able to go out into the market with confidence and pride.

Why the future belongs to entrepreneurs in South Africa

Jonathan says that his awareness of the extent and potential of entrepreneurship in South Africa grew during his time on the Startup School Entrepreneurship course. 

I didn’t realise how many different businesses there were popping up all over the place, so diverse. The passion, drive and commitment I saw from entrepreneurs on the course really astounded me. I believe this is just the start, and the future belongs to entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, not only in South Africa, but globally, too.

Jonathan launched BrandmojiTM during South Africa’s lockdown period. Why? Because he could, because his business is online, and because there’s never a ‘perfect’ time to start a business. 

Startup School was very helpful in many ways, but the most value was understanding my business and myself better. A true deep look inwards is what makes the biggest difference. Developing a comprehensive business plan was a huge achievement and the blueprint is now in play. We need more institutions like Investec Startup School that support and educate entrepreneurs in this fashion! What an incredibly valuable initiative, I am forever thankful.

If you, too, want to take the plunge, but would like some support along the way, check out our online Entrepreneurship course. This integrated programme offers practical online content, business coaching, access to one-on-one mentorship and the opportunity to win R100,000 in business funding. 

We offer hundreds of bursaries every year, which cover the full course fees. So why not apply today?

Like Jonathan, you can be the maker of your own destiny 

What Jonathan loves most about being an entrepreneur is that he is the maker of his own destiny, and all the excitement, learning and creativity that comes with it.

Learning about what actually makes a business tick from legal to funding, to marketing, to sales, to networks, to accounting, to people and all the lovely creative things that come with innovation. And lastly, knowing that you have the ability to make an impact in your country and the world.

He also shares some advice for others who’ve taken the bold step (okay, maybe it’s more of a jump) into startup life. Most importantly, he reminds us to be patient with ourselves and others, and to remember why we started our business in the first place.

It’s a lonely journey being an entrepreneur, so understanding yourself, being patient, resilient and persistent are what have helped me to continue to pursue my dreams. You cannot let critics or doubters affect your mental state. Keep believing in yourself and your purpose by keeping the faith.

Startup life is tough on our bodies, minds and social lives, and it’s no different for Jonathan. That’s why he invests in himself. 

Find ways to distract your mind momentarily, otherwise you’ll inhibit a negative sense of anxiety. I try to meditate during the week, spend time in nature and with my dogs, watch sport. Work on yourself everyday – it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

Finally, he stresses how important it is to be open-minded and curious. He’s big on continuous learning, so you’ll often catch him buried in the pages of one of his favourite books (The Miracle Morning, Think and Grow Rich, The Lean Startup) or listening to podcasts like Joe Rogan Experience, The Fighter and the Kid, Brilliant Idiots, Cliff Central and Tiger Belly. 

Be willing to take advice, but also be wise enough to know who to take it from. In other words, find a mentor and surround yourself with people who add value. Never be the cleverest person in the room. Some of these might sound like cliches, but they all speak the truth.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about Jonathan and BrandmojiTM? Make sure to leave them in the comments below!

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