Lujza Bubanova is a former pro-golfer turned (self-styled) “kamikaze” entrepreneur who is hacking facial expressions to improve the value of influencer marketing. Or at least that’s the thinking behind Youfirst, which deploys artificial intelligence to drive both influencer marketing conversions and do a better job at valuing marketing.
Grit Daily caught up with Bubanova at TechChill to get a closer look at her tech and to find out where the “kamikaze” description came from.
Grit Daily: Not everyone knows of your former pro athlete career. For the uninitiated let’s start there. Share that.
Lujza Bubanova: Sports were essential in my career.
Aspiring to become a pro golfer I had to be lean in finding ways of how to practice in the cold winters of Eastern Europe.
So I wrote motivational letters to golf courses in warm, southern Spain where there were facilities I would use in exchange for half of a work day, anywhere I would be needed. I ended up teaching kids at an academy, serving snacks on a golf cart and working with Ralph Lauren X. i introduced their clothing collection to local golf clubs and created one of the first Facebook and Youtube communities for my golf club.
It worked well enough for my golf practice. I had to learn how to live off a minimum budget with no family or friends around and in a country speaking a very foreign language. This was twelve years ago.
GD: How has that experience affected your current journey with YouFirst?
LB: Because of those first digital marketing attempts, I chose to study in San Francisco where my business school offered a program called “masters in digital marketing.”
In 2011 I moved to San Francisco and a completely new world opened up for me. The lifestyle of startups was an absolutely new concept, especially coming from post-communist countries where the chief aim for a graduate was to find a stable job for bigger and better pay.
Even though this was just few years back, the change in mindset that I personally got from my California years was huge. As my parents like to call it, my “kamikaze approach to business” allows me to be persistent even when things are not at their best.
And my sports background definitely taught me that success without hard work is just a coincidence. Sustainable growth is the product of blood and tears.
GD: Influencer marketing is still “new” for most. At what level of expertise do your clients come in to your fold?
LB: “New” is a very important description here.
With new forming fields or industries, a number of challenges and opportunities arise. Influencer marketing very much resembles the entertainment industry but the creativity is decentralized from production houses into the hands of creative individuals.
Just like entertainment came to a point when data became an essential part of production — Netflix being the best example — the same will happen to influencers very soon. Youfirst allows influencers to back their production and sales arguments with data to each second of their video content. Such an analysis stands against any other professional and super expensive research to justify one’s influencive.
In particular, the character of micro expression as a gauge of genuine reactions minimizes bias when compared to modeled questionnaires.
GD: What’s one conventional wisdom about what artificial intelligence can do in this space that’s just plain wrong?
LB: I am quite sure that the name of this type of tech — AI or artificial intelligence — triggers more fear than it really should. At the same time, the name is still far from being accurately descriptive.
What technology allows has the limit of what we can imagine happening. At least for me the real question is how to teach AI to compute decisions without adopting our biases, racism, and prejudices.
When it comes to mediaTech, one of our main arguments why we do what we do at Youfirst is to protect creativity, the most human characteristic. I believe there are assumptions that creativity can be done by computer, but I refuse to believe so.
GD: How do you measure a “spontaneous reaction”? How does that differ from one that’s not “spontaneous”?
LB: The character of facial expressions is, by default, spontaneous. In a quarter of second, the reaction to a trigger appears as a facial expression. So, time and the exact combination of muscles would define the genuineness of the reaction.
A very obvious example would be a fake smile, where only the mouth smiles and muscles around eyes don’t move.
Humans are born with ability to express and read facial expressions, so all of this, even if not explained, we do or recognize naturally.
GD: What’s behind the YouFirst name?
LB: Youfirst is a do-it-yourself platform for creatives to monetize their content better by understanding their audience, thus produce and sell better. The name Youfirst represents the important weight of the viewer because he or she comes first. The second meaning of Youfirst is the character of our campaigns, where the main motivation to switch on camera while watching new influencers content is the exclusivity of being the only and first — lets say — 200 viewers. So, be the first to see the new content. It is a call to action for the first viewers.