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Kanishka Wanninayaka, CEO at YAMU MEDIA is the interviewee in the latest episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. In this episode, Kanishka talks about his business story, Covid-19's impact on business, his strategy to build clientele, and ways he has made his business smarter.
Here is YAMU MEDIA website: https://yamumedia.com/
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(Calm music) - Hey, welcome to this episode of the Smarter Business Podcast. What we try to do here is take a look at business advice through a bit of a video lens. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, share with your friends. Our guests today is Kanishka of Yamu Media. And Kanishka, I'm gonna give you an opportunity to just go ahead and introduce yourself and Yamu Media. - Thanks Neil for having me. So I founded a Yamu Media a year ago where a digital marketing agency focused on developing digital strategies and creative strategies to help scale B2B and B2C businesses. I got started in the community as a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) for Aviate Audio, which is audio electronics startup and then just kind of moved my way around with the startup community, met a lot of people and yeah, and that's kinda how it all came to shape. - That's awesome and can you give us like a short version of what Aviate Audio is because I think that's an interesting starting point too? Yeah, I think it was around my junior of college and I met these two awesome engineers that came up with an awesome product called the air patch which is a wireless effects pedal controller for guitars. And I'm a guitarist myself and so it was a good synergy and got involved with them and helped them develop like a level of marketing plans and such, and it was a good entry into using the marketing skills that I already had. - Awesome, now back to Yamu, if you had to describe what you do in one sentence and you kind of went through and gave a list, but like, you know, right down to the kernel of it. Do you help clients find customers? That type of thing, you know. - So Yama Media develops and implements digital growth strategies using Google ads, Facebook ads, other online marketing tools to find the ideal customers for your business. - Awesome, and now let's talk just a little bit about how you got to the point where you founded Aviate and then Yamu. I saw in the bio on your website that you're from the United Arab Emirates and you ended up going to UB (University at Buffalo). How did that kind of connection happen? - So I'm actually ethnically Sri Lankan but I grew up in Dubai and think as a funny story, I applied for college here in the States and I thought I was going to New York city and ended up in Buffalo cause didn't realize how big New York state was. But, you know, happy accident, happy to be here. But yeah, I moved here for college. My journey into marketing started in Dubai cause my mom and my dad both owned businesses there and they weren't doing so well so I had to kind of step up, learned almost everything I know from YouTube and Google and Reddit and all that. So it just kind of worked on that for a few years and helped their businesses and then by the time I was in my junior year, I had a lot of experience and then I had kind of the ability to help Aviate Audio with their marketing, running ads and such. So that's kinda how I got involved and moved here from Dubai. Awesome, that's actually not the most uncommon story, right, of, hey, we're going to New York, right from somewhere far away and you ended up six hour drive from the city itself, right. But you're still in New York City. - Yeah. It's interesting cause like the whole country of the United Arab Emirates can fit twice in New York state. So like just the physical space like you can't comprehend how large America is until you're here. - Well and it happens within America. I've once had an argument with a cab driver in Houston who was convinced that Buffalo was a suburb of New York city, even though, you know I clearly was coming from there. So I don't know, figure it out. People, people have their own ideas, you know. But yeah, the scale is crazy, right, you know. Just it's a huge country and yeah Buffalo is at the far end of the state. You've got the false though, that's our iconic. (Nail laughing) - A hundred percent, I think every time I tell my family or friends back in Dubai that I'm living in Buffalo and it's not close to New York city, it just doesn't click. They can't comprehend that I'm six hours away. They're like, "Oh, then you're not in New York." It's like, "No, no, I'm still in New York." (Nail laughing) - It's a long way. - Yeah. - Well that's awesome. And the, you know, what else I noticed in your bio is we have very similar degrees. I've got media arts degree, minor in graphic design. You've got the what was the digital media? - Yeah, digital media degree. Same thing. - That's cool, yeah and we're on, you know there's a lot of different things you can do with that degree, all right. - It's interesting cause when I came to college, I came here for astrophysics and then moved my way into marine biology and then business. I honestly just had no idea what I was doing. And even until my last year and somebody said, "Oh, you need two more classes in the media studies program to graduate." And I was like, "Oh, that makes sense." I know what I wanna do and so... - I think it might be a degree that sometimes happens and too right, where, you know, I don't know, it's kind of fun and yeah do some of the more serious degrees and you end up in the media arts, right? - Yeah and I didn't think I would ever use my media degree. I didn't graduate from collage thinking, I'm gonna start a marketing agency. I enjoyed being in startups and just thought that was my direction. And in hindsight it was the best degree I could have gotten. Cause now that I'm in this marketing space, I'm pulling from the classes that I went to. I'm like looking over notes that I had before. I'm hitting up professors that I used to talk to. So and the end of the story, it was a good decision. - Nice, excellent. Let's see, I'm gonna go back to my notes here. I think we're gonna talk a little bit about just business versus COVID because it's been such a disruptive force for everyone. How is Yamu Media fairing kind of with COVID in place? - So actually, so Yama media was born out of COVID. So it's, you know, I would say obviously that would mean it was good for us to a certain degree. I was just freelancing doing marketing work for startups in the Buffalo space and I all of a sudden just had an influx of clients and then I needed to build a team. It was interesting cause I just kept meeting a lot of talented freelancers working on different projects for people. So I kinda called everyone and said, "Hey, listen, we have a lot of cool stuff to do and we've been collaborating anyway, let's kind of get together and then let's do this." And that's kinda how Yama media was born in COVID-19 cause there's this huge demand or let's say not even demand, people were lost. They didn't know how to take the next steps. And the one thing they knew was that there is a step in the online space, so there was a huge demand there. And then we just kinda stepped up to that. - Yeah. That, I mean, that makes a lot of sense right? Like the space is so unknown to certain businesses and if you can give that helping hand to help them kind of navigate it, you know folks who were traditionally offline are a little less invested in digital. That's really helpful. So, have you had a lot of the success then kind of you know, helping folks remain relevant or generate sales during this time period? - Yeah. It's the, you know, from a marketing end, the ad buying is really a lot cheaper. There's a lot more visibility. So just overall conversions for almost all of our clients are doing really well. So it's, yeah, it's a really good space. Another thing I think that helped a lot of companies to make, you know, in COVID-19 is a huge block that I've found is decision-making. Like trying to decide what channel to use and you waste so much time and burn so much money, just waiting to decide. And once this happened, now you have one choice. You have to go online and you have to be aggressive or you don't keep up, right? So the choice was made, now it just made it a lot. I think it made anybody that committed to the decision a lot easier. - I liked, yeah. I mean, it makes a lot of sense, right? That's what we're finding a lot with, you know folks who are coming into the crater network and everything is like, there are some business disciplines that literally your only option is what we're doing now, right. Move it to Zoom, move it to some other digital format where you can still kind of complete the work that you've been doing but do it in a way that doesn't involve travel. Doesn't involve a lot of people in one room and so on. - I think it opens a lot of doors for businesses. They didn't have access to... Their market is now no longer limited to their community and network, it's expanded. - Yeah. I would say for our business, that's one of the benefits is, you know we took the pivot and we're trying to do the creator network and, you know, kind of enable people to create some of their own video content. And the biggest benefit of that kind of pivot is the much wider market, right? Like Buffalo is not a huge town. Right. It's a smaller city and you can, I don't know if you max it out, but you know, you're bumping up against other people and you're trying to get enough business to do your own thing. You blow the doors off, it's much better, right? - I think also it provides a learning opportunity, like just from my business right? 60 to 70% of my clients are not in Buffalo and this gives me a range to like test marketing strategies and different areas and learn what are the common denominators between strategies and I think for any business even our own clients, I'm noticing they learn at a faster rate and at a more aggressive rate because they have a wider market that they're testing. - Yeah, yeah that's a good point, right. Yeah, it helps with kind of generating that data that can help you further make decisions and adjustments. - 100% - So. Awesome. Awesome. What has changed because of COVID? - I think everything. I think there's nothing that stays consistent. I think a lot of people got the opportunity to reinvent themselves in their businesses and kind of reposition themselves. One of the most tangible things is I think a much more deeper connection and relationship with the people you work with cause now you're having more direct conversations through Zoom. You're jumping on for an hour, half an hour and you're just gonna talk about what's important and you're not gonna talk about the weather. You're not talk about coffee. You're gonna be more personal. My clients know what's happening with my life and my visa situation. I know what's happening with their kids and school. Like it's just, I think the relationships have definitely gotten stronger and I would say one of the most significant changes. - Excellent. That's a good change, right? - That's excellent. - It's been very positive so far on the COVID. Well, what do you think stayed the same, anything or? I think that would be a hard question for me personally to answer because I just started a business. So everything that I know is new and I don't have any context to what it would have been otherwise. - Sure, that's a great answer. Had tried to stick you, but you got it. (Kanishka laughing) Do you see any challenges with like kind of this new way of doing business? - I would say yes. You know, obviously it's better because you're getting a lot more access to a lot more people but at the same time, you have a lot of people struggling that would normally not be. It closed off an entire sector of business that I could be helping or you know, it's sad and that that's like, that's a tough thing to deal with. And I think, you know, you asked me about what changed and then like, you know, the co positive light of COVID-19 for me. But on every day I have to deal with the fact that my mom and my dad's business are tanking and there's nothing to do to stop that. Like there's no marketing effort can be done to stop the tanking of an in person business. So it's just balancing your wins and losses I would say is one of the hardest things to do right now. - Yeah. I'm tuning in the notes, a dance school for. - Yeah. - That's right. Those in person, like especially physical activity at least with New York state's restrictions type set ups are tough. Right? Because that's just such a risk versus other types of businesses. - Yeah. - But that's too bad. The, yeah, so we got the positive and the negative thing. - Yeah and I think if, you know we tried our best for my mom's business. We tried our best to go virtual, you know, it may be brought in like 20% of the revenue that they normally do, which is fine, but like the rent for the properties is the same, the lease is the same, the expenses are the same. So there's just no way to keep up with the bills with just an online class. - Yeah. Well I can say for my own business, we've left our office space because it was no longer an asset to us. It was, an expense but it didn't generate any benefit. So I get it, we're in the same spot and we had the head step out. So. All right, well, let's change gears here. I don't have a real clean segue, so we're just gonna switch it up just like this. We're gonna start talking about the Vidwheel creator network is our main product now. And I try to incorporate a little segment into each one of these podcasts on it. Part of the reason I wanted to have you on for this month's podcast is our monthly theme for the month of October is video strategy. And now from some of the conversations we've had I know you're big on strategy. Now I guess the first question I'll have is how do you build strategies for your clients, for just generic digital media campaigns? - I think two of the main things that we focus on, one identifying the end goal, what is the objective? Right. And then what is your risk tolerance to that objective? And then based on that, we split test everything, AB test, everything, figure out, you know, there's two markets you're targeting. Let's build something for this and that market and then run it for a week or month, see what happens and decide to move forward. And I think that, you know, the core of any strategy, I think is the testing. - Excellent. Yeah, back to using analytics to get it right. I like it. All right, so if there's one piece of that digital marketing campaign that you think is absolutely the most important, what do you think that is? - I think I said it a little bit but AB testing, just always test everything that you're doing. I've worked with people that would come to me and have kind of a firm, like, I know what's gonna work. This is what's gonna work. Let's put all of our money into this thing and it almost always never works. - Because if it was gonna work, they'd already be doing it. Right? - A hundred percent, hundred percent, yeah. - Well, I guess on that note, have you ever had a real surprising thing where you were like, I'm betting on, you know, that this is gonna work for this client and then something just totally out of the blue was the direction based on the AB testing? Yeah. I mean, I think that happens every single time. Like, I never, I'm not attached to my strategies cause if I am, there's a bias and I try to like push it when it does it needs to be pushed. But so I think one thing, there was one moment where a client came to us with a huge budget for an eCommerce strategy to sell on Amazon and I looked at it and I was like, there's no way this is gonna work. Like, there's just absolutely no way. These are your other options. And they were so like resistant and they just knew exactly what to do. And I had to say, "No." I was like, I can't with a clear conscious support this cause like here's all the data and you're telling me, like the conversation was around. They were like trying to convince me that I can manipulate Amazon to do well for their product and you know. - Yeah that's tricky. (Nail laughing) - Like people have some kind of like preconceived notions on how the world works and they come in with those expectations and it's quite hard to navigate those. - Yeah, and you know, if you get in those spots, sometimes it's hard to do but often the best thing to do is just maybe that's not your client or you try to figure out a different way to work with them, right? - 100%. I think to answer your question again. - Sure. - A second part is transparency. And I think if the client and myself like, if we can't be friends, if we can't be transparent and I'll tell you exactly what I wanna do and you tell me exactly what you wanna do. And if that conversation doesn't happen in the beginning, it's not good for either party. And I've one reason why I'm I think I'm doing quite well right now is I have a lot of awesome mentors, you know, Jack, Clark Zach, just a lot of these people in the Buffalo community. And one of the first pieces of advice that Zack Snyder gave me was fired this client, fired that client. Like you know, that is the first thing that he did, you know and like I get it. And like in hindsight, that opened up so many doors because I was spending so much time trying to communicate with somebody who wasn't ready yet. - Yes, yeah. That is a tough thing to do. But I have to say that is one of the best things that you can do, right? Like, if somebody doesn't fit what you're trying to do and they're not gonna give you what you need to do a good job for him, like they gotta go and it's hard to do sometimes, right? - It's tough, I get attached, I'm very emotional that way. - Yeah. Yeah well sometimes it's hard to help the people who ultimately maybe don't want to be helped, right? - 100% - All right. So on any of these digital campaigns, because this is a podcast that does come back to video because that's what we do. Do you do a lot of strategy that's tied to video or you know, is that a medium that ends up in your digital strategies? - Yeah. Video is a big part of our ad campaigns. YouTube, Facebook ads, we test them against pictures and other graphic components. Videos against each other. So yeah, we definitely focus a lot on video stuff. - That's excellent. We always try to tell people that it's very effective medium. Do you agree? - A hundred percent? Yeah. So now again, back to whenever you're coming up with the strategy, identifying the goal first, right? - Right. - If you have a product that's pretty straightforward you don't need to spend, you know, a 15 second or 30 seconds gaining interest when you can just give an offer for 50% off or something like that. But if it's a new product that's new to market you wanna video to explain how this thing works and why it adds value to your life. So I think it just comes down to what is your goal? And then sometimes the video fits and it's needed and necessary while other times it's the opposite and it's not necessary. Just knowing when it is and not, is I think, you know. - That's half the battle, right? And then you test to find out the other half. So that's great. - 100%. - Awesome, so the next question that I have here is one that I asked to every person who's been on the podcast, this is kind of our singular thread. It's called the Smarter Business Podcast. What is one thing, you know, the one thing is to make it hard on you, you have to pick one. What is one thing that you've done that has made your business or your client's business smarter? - Always start from scratch for projects. Come into projects with no assumptions. Even within my own team and even if I'm working for a client assume you know, nothing and start from there. - That's great advice and then you get to go down the whole journey of discovering what they need with fresh eyes, right. I would imagine that's the kind of the logic behind that, right? - A hundred percent. I think, you know, every person as similar as we look is different from each other and this is the same thing with businesses. And like, if you go in to a relationship like the same way you handle your last relationship you're not gonna do well, this is a new person. - Yeah, and now I guess on that note, do you ever find success trying to really target very similar clients so that, you know, get rid of some of that translation there, right, or the rediscovery? - See that's an interesting. I'm at that phase right now where that's a decision that I gotta make but I'm leaning against that from my personal background. I've learned a lot by being part of so many different industries. And when you stick to one, you're not not creatively pushed as much because now you get into the flow of making assumptions and I don't Wanna become that person that makes assumptions, cause your market changes all the time. Your audience changes all the time. So, I would say, I like to work with people that you know, for many different industry. Just because then I can learn a lot from each other and then funnel to each other. - Yeah. I think it is always a, you're saying you're hitting that question mark. Now that's a question that most businesses have to deal with at some point. And it can be a balance between like the, the kind predictability of knowing a little more about the client before you start working with them. And the either, like you said, you know, kind of like of growth but also like there's a level of monotony to doing the same type of work over and over again that I think can sometimes, especially the folks with creative degrees, it can wear on them a little, right? - I think it does come down to your intention with your own life where, if you are trying to make a lot of money, you probably do wanna niche down and pick one industry. So you can just, you know, bang them out as fast as possible. But if you're looking to kind of develop yourself which is where I'm at, where I want to learn as much as possible, then that's why I would focus on different places. - That's an excellent description of the, you know, that's a good way to look at it. Well, that's awesome. I am gonna, I think we're looking good in terms of how much content we got here. So I'm gonna ask the one last question that I ask in every interview. This goes from, you know, testimonial interviews to these podcasts. Do you have anything else to add? I always ask just an open-ended, did we miss anything? Is there anything that you feel like could contribute to this conversation? - Yeah, I wrote down a few of my recommendations for things, so I could probably jump into that. - Sure, jump for it. - A game changer for my business was reading the book "Traction". It helped me really get organized. That led me to like this whole path to read a bunch of books. So then now I'm currently reading "The Power of Now" which is a mint like, you know, mindfulness meditation book which is, you know, that balance between business and personal is really important. And these books definitely help out a lot. One of a habit that I've started that is really keeping me aligned is reading three books a month, one business development book. One mind, you know, development, personal development book and another fiction story, whatever it is. And that combination of reading those three books every day, like a little bit of each keeps me grounded because I never get the chance to dive too deeply into just one thing. So I get to live my life at a regular pace because I'm always tapped into all aspects of it. - I liked that, I think that that is an awesome kind of tip. I've done something along those lines without really, I guess, knowing it, but I usually, you know, kind of balanced business books and fiction, right. I try to like kinda trade off a little bit or, you know, like you're saying, you know same day, read a little bit of one, read a little bit of another. I've been a little fiction heavy lately but you know, I've always tried to keep that balance. And then the self help type books, those find their way in once in a while but that's definitely of the three legs of that stool. That's the shortest one for me but they're helpful. - Yeah, 100%. - They're always good for you. But I think there is a category of self-help that you need at certain levels of your life, right? I think if you're like a young college entrepreneur that doesn't have much going for them but has a lot of energy, there's a set of books there. There is now a practicing entrepreneur that has a lot of things going on and how to balance all that. So I think the self help there's like tiers to those categories and like the, you know, the further you go along your career, like there's different levels of books that you're reading. - Well, I am going to ask you one last question, which is of the books you're reading right now. What do you recommend? - "The Power of Now" Eckhart Tolle. An awesome book, probably top three books I've ever read in my entire life. And I'm probably gonna try to read a little bit of it every month over and over again cause it keeps you in that, the one idea that I love a lot in that book is the idea of being present in everything that you do. And I think as an entrepreneur, you're always thinking about the next step and your past failures. And like, you're always trying to learn. You're always trying to develop, you're trying to do the next thing but this book helps you remember to stay present in the moment and appreciate what you've already done and where you are. - Excellent, and the one I always recommend to people if you've ever read Kim Newport's "Deep Work"? - I haven't. - Oh yeah. Write it down. I love that book. It's very good especially in this like super or, you know, I guess maybe I'm projecting a little, this is my life, but this super, like super fragmented like kind of reality that we live in right now. Like we talked before we got on air. We've got the kids running around, we've got, you know virtual kindergarten trying to do the business stuff. We're doing house stuff and everything too. And it's just like, you're getting pulled in a million directions. It used to be easy, go to the office, you think about work stuff, right? - Yeah. - It's not that easy. (Nail Laughing) - No, not at all. - So, yeah "Deep Work" definitely worth a read. - Yeah, I would definitely wanna check it out. - Yeah. All right, well, I am gonna let you go and this would be the time where we usually would shake hands. So we've taken it just a little wave at the end of these. Thank you very much for giving the time. - Thanks for having me Neil. This was wonderful. - Yeah, it was awesome insights. So I really appreciate it and anybody who has consumed this episode and wants to see more, you can go to smarterbusinesspodcast.com and you can see the full catalog. And if you liked this, please review or share this episode. Thank you. (dramatic music)