Benjamin Benichou is CEO and founder of both Unrated Media and Abstr_ct. After studying Fashion Design and Marketing at ESMOD in Paris, he’s built a street culture publication with over 175,000 fans on Facebook and developed a chatbot solution called Abstr_ct to deliver content directly to fans.
Can you explain your design career thus far and how your journey has led you to the creation of Abstr_ct?
I’ve been in the media industry for more than 10 years now. I started a street culture and lifestyle publication called Be Street back in France in 2008. It started as a fanzine and quickly grew to be the leading publication of it’s kind in France. Back then, we didn’t have Hypebeast, Highsnobiety or Complex; these companies were just starting out.
In 2015, we moved to the United States to expand our business. With tons of gigantic media corporations such as VICE already in place, we realized that Be Street was no longer the right fit for the U.S.’s highly competitive market. So we started thinking… how can we start again within the same industry, but with a new approach? How can we help our readers and the people we want to reach by giving them the right content at the right time?
We asked ourselves…Where do they go to find their inspiration? How do they consume content?
The funny thing is, we discovered two important facts: The first was that they didn’t really go on traditional websites anymore. They didn’t go on blogs or care to spend time searching on Google. They simply didn’t have the time for that, especially during their studies.
The second thing was that the students were frustrated about social media in general.
They believed that Facebook and even Instagram have too much information. Too much content. It was very hard for them to discover valuable content in all of this noise.
How did you pioneer the solution?
When we were asking them “How do you find new content?” They all responded that they were creating small groups on Messenger and WhatsApp with 10 to 15 friends where they could easily share news, information and helpful tips with each other. For example, they’d share things like cool art shows they were going to see or say things like, “You should check out this artist!” or, “You should read this book,” etc.
Even so, they found that this approach was limited to the knowledge of their friends and was still lacking something. They wanted more.
So the students basically built their own small community?
Exactly. And so we started to think… How can we be their “new friend” that knows everything about art, design, photography and just cool stuff that’s happening around them?
How can we provide content straight through their messaging apps since that’s how they prefer to consume new information? This is how Abstr_ct came to fruition.
We already knew how to access talented artists and curate great content (something we’d been doing for a very long time). Instead, it was more of a question of how to deliver that information in the most efficient way.
We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel but instead just go to where the users are.
There’s a big shift right now from social media to messaging apps. Looking around, we were actually pretty surprised that no one had done this before. I feel like it’s because it’s still early days for the whole chatbot market. There are lots of companies using chatbots for customer service, but there aren’t many media platforms tailoring their content and user experience through the Messaging app.
What is Unrated Media and what is your role in the company?
Unrated is a curated media platform, creative network, and production company based in Los Angeles and Paris. We offer a holistic and contemporary approach to design and creative consulting with an international network of talents. It’s our lifestyle business, 100% bootstrapped and independent. Abstr_ct is our startup focused on the future of media, conversational experiences and bot solutions.
So Abstract is solely dedicated to the chatbot side of everything?
Exactly. We have our own Abstr_ct product. This is the one you’ll probably try out and it’s dedicated to empowering and inspiring the next wave of creatives.
We also have what we call Abstr_ct Lab. Abstr_ct Lab is our integrated creative studio dedicated to designing and developing virtual agents for brands. You know, finding the right concepts, implementing the right strategy and developing the right features to power the solution.
What does the design process look like at Abstr_ct? How long does it take something to grow from an idea to a fully implemented feature?
I think the great thing with the chatbot is that it’s pretty fast. Coming up with an idea and then building a prototype using a solution like Botsociety. I personally am a very strong believer in the lean startup approach. You build something pretty fast, you deliver it, you show it to the user, you get their feedback, and then you improve.
For us, we try to hold out as long as we can until we are sure that a product is right. We make sure that it’s working good enough for everyone so that we can eventually put more gas on the fire.
What is something that has surprised you since beginning to work in this space?
I think realizing the high amount of engagement you can receive from using a chatbot is mindblowing. Things like opening a conversation and clicking through it have seen outstanding engagement rates.
I also feel that we’re at the beginning of a huge shift in media where content can be generated by AI and machine learning, so the possibilities are endless.
I’m sure in the future I will be even more blown away by how technology shapes the way we interact and engage with information, and I’m excited to be one of the first to hop onto that train.