An Instagram influencer, Arii, with 2,6 million followers has posted (now deleted) how she failed to launch her online clothing brand which she needed to only sell 36 t-shirts online to kick start. Despite her millions of followers on Instagram she couldn't convince a mere 0.00001% of them to buy her t-shirts which raises questions about whether her followers are bots or humans but more importantly, whether likes and comments are a good signal for online sales.

What is really interesting is that she really believed that people liking her Instagram posts about her clothing line and commenting on them would translate into sales. Despite her catchy Instagram username which could easily rank among some of the top 2019 Instagram names that are marketable, Arii still couldn't get the t-shirt brand off the ground.

"In order for them to order and make my products (even to keep working with them) I have to sell at least 36 pieces (knowing I've became super irrelevant, I already knew it was gonna be hard) but I was getting such good feedback that people loved it & were gonna buy it. No one has kept their word so now company won't be able to send out the orders to the people who actually bought shit and it breaks my heart," she said.

Arii's now deleted Instagram post.

Lessons for startups

The story of Arii is not unique to outside Africa only. Many so-called influencers across the continent who have amassed many online followers fail to monetize their brands and followings beyond getting freebies from brands and the occasional brand endorsement deal. Many fail to understand, it seems, that it takes much more to building a business than just crafting an aesthetically pleasing online brand that others can associate with.

There is also some lessons for African startups in Arii's story.

The first lesson is that startups must focus on the processes involved in building their businesses. Experiment with product development and marketing, run customer interviews to determine the problems you can solve for customers.

Secondly, and more importantly, just like Arii, startups need to stop focussing on vanity metrics like number of followers, trending on social media, views, likes, RTs etc. and focus on the real things that keep their businesses afloat like sales.

Perhaps this is a signal that the whole influencer culture is about to burst, or maybe Arii just bought her followers (bots).

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