VPA student Michael Paris ’20 talks about the power of user-centered design and joining Techstars Atlanta

Michael Paris

Michael Paris ’20 VPA, Communications Design (CMD), and co-founder of PowerSpike, the leading influencer marketing and analytics platform for live streaming, had a memorable summer.  The student startup he co-founded with Angelo Damiano ’18, Whitman School of Management (Marketing Management / Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises) won a combined investment of $500,000 by The Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball, Techstars Atlanta – in partnership with Cox Enterprises, Dorm Room Fund, and other outside investors.  In addition, he spent the summer working on the venture as part of the prestigious Techstars Atlanta startup accelerator.

PowerSpike utilizes innovative marketplace and AI technology to help livestreaming influencers find and develop relationships with potential sponsors and allow brands to sponsor streamers to accelerate business growth with live streaming influencer marketing.  The platform allows streamers to apply to sponsorships from their favorite brands and provides them with a secure method of receiving payment for their work. For brands and marketers, the platform serves as a tool they can use to discover and hire new influencers and save time when communicating and managing existing talent.

User-centered product design is at the heart of PowerSpike’s appeal to both streamers and brands.  Since launching PowerSpike’s open beta in early 2017, over 8,000 live streaming content creators with a combined audience of 20+ million viewers have signed up to receive sponsorships, and prominent brands such as Soylent, Camp Mobile, and Creative Labs have signed up to connect with streamers and build their live streaming influencer marketing programs. “Designing experiences for users is not limited to building a successful digital interface,” says Paris.  “People are going to develop a perception of your product before they even use it, so it’s important to treat every stage of interaction with the end user in mind.”

Simplicity is key.  “If your product isn’t easy to use then everything else doesn’t matter,” Paris adds. “We face this problem all the time when designing new features. There are many startups out there with new cutting-edge technology, but they fail to grow because their product is hard to use. As a product designer, you have to learn how to take inherently complex systems, and turn them into simple experiences for the user.”

Paris credits his experience in VPA for helping him design the PowerSpike platform through the lens of users. “Getting feedback and observing how people interact with your product is key to user-centered design, he notes.  “Making sure you get input from all types of people, but also knowing how to weigh that information is essential to figuring out what your users actually want. When you make assumptions without research and testing, the wrong decision is often made.”

As PowerSpike is a marketplace, the platform that Paris helped develop addresses two types of customers on each side of the transaction. “I’ve come to understand that there is no one size fits all’ experience for all potential customers,” he says. “You should focus on who your core customers are, and then build great experiences for them first. You aren’t going to solve everyone’s problems. But regardless of who you’re targeting, you want to offer something that is both appealing and practical. “

Balancing roles in a startup requires agility and iteration. “You have to play many different roles in the early stages of a startup, but you’ll quickly find where your interests and strengths lie,” he observes. “I’m a creative person, and early on I took an interest in the design of our product. In the beginning, I experimented a lot, and made many mistakes. The VPA’s Communications Design program has been the perfect platform to help me grow as a designer. I’m learning how to create a successful brand, work with clients, and come up with creative ideas. I’m thankful for everything that the School of Design has allowed me to bring to the table at PowerSpike.”

Paris returns to Syracuse University this semester, and will continue to pursue his degree while working on the venture.  “Balancing work at a startup and school is very challenging. Without the support of Rebecca Kelly, Roderick Martinez, and the rest of the CMD faculty, it would have been impossible to continue to do both. Their support for entrepreneurship has helped me to take advantage of this opportunity, and for this, I’m very grateful.”

Paris and Damiano launched PowerSpike as undergraduate students at Syracuse University working with the Blackstone LaunchPad at SU Libraries, the Couri Hatchery at the Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship, and other Syracuse University innovation ecosystem partners.

“PowerSpike sits at the intersection between two massive trends– the rise of influencer marketing as a key component of a brand’s marketing mix and the explosive growth of video game live streaming. We invested in PowerSpike because we believe AJ and Michael have the grit and tenacity to take full advantage of this unique opportunity,” said Michael Cohn, MD Techstars Atlanta.

Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars announced earlier this year that they are teaming to supercharge Blackstone LaunchPad, the preeminent campus-based entrepreneurship program.  Beginning in 2018, Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, will provide Blackstone LaunchPad participants access to their network of over 10,000 mentors, invitations to signature events, and access to world-renowned content and startup services.  In addition, Techstars will help student entrepreneurs navigate the complex landscape of fundraising, job placement, and recruitment.

PowerSpike is the just the second company in the Blackstone LaunchPad global network to be accepted into Techstars.  “PowerSpike and SparkCharge are perfect examples of the transformational impact that Blackstone envisions Techstars will have on our LaunchPad program,” says Alisha Slye, global director of Blackstone LaunchPad. “Their content, mentorship and network will provide expanded access for more LaunchPad ventures to grow and scale. Blackstone applauds Syracuse University’s leadership and commitment to entrepreneurship in our growing global LaunchPad network.”

About PowerSpike: PowerSpike is the leading influencer marketing and analytics platform for Twitch, providing influencer sponsorship and management solutions and fan insights for the esports space. PowerSpike was founded in 2015 by a group of former livestreamers and content creators.

About Techstars: Techstars is a leading global startup accelerator and investment program supporting over 1500 companies with more than $5B in total funding. Through the Techstars Worldwide Entrepreneur Network, founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars Atlanta is sponsored by Cox Enterprises – a leading communications, media and automotive services company. Located in the epicenter of startup activity in the Southeast, Techstars Atlanta serves to provide entrepreneurs with resources to build meaningful enterprise technology companies and enduring consumer brands.