Award-winning student startup aims to revolutionize brand deals


A computer science and economics duo has created a software company that streamlines the influencer brand deal process.

We live in an age where marketing is no longer concentrated in advertising departments’ drafting rooms and funneled through television programs or billboards. Today’s advertisement can be brought to us by a single person and a phone camera—TikTok star Charli D’Amelio regularly garners millions of views for companies just by recording herself using their products—and it’s revolutionizing the way that brands reach their target audiences.  

There’s one problem: these brand deals can take months to materialize, and market trends aren’t about to wait patiently.  

While browsing LinkedIn one day, USC Dornsife economics major Nick Hensel reached out to his friend, Devin Martin, a USC Viterbi double computer science and business administration major, to talk about this problem. An idea formed: What if they could find a way to automate an influencer brand deal? 

One thing led to another, and the pair founded Pickle. The startup, named after the ‘pickle’ that brands often find themselves in when trying to manage all their different deals, aims to automate the lion’s share of the work involved with managing a network of influencers. In spring 2022, they won the Marshall Greif Center’s New Venture Seed Competition, the largest venture competition on campus, placing 1st out of more than 300 USC startups.   

An Excess of Excel

The startup’s web header boasts: “Say goodbye to spreadsheets.”  

Instead, the marketing tool integrates the analytics from the five major social media platforms (YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter and Twitch) into an easy-to-use database that’s always up to date. This means companies save time and effort when collecting analytics or pitching to influencers; deals that take months can be done in weeks or less.   

In particular, Pickle is going after a specific problem endemic to bigger brands: an enormous, encumbering number of spreadsheets. Hensel became acquainted with these bigger brands when he founded his brand partnership startup, Division Media, back in 2020.  

“We started to realize that these brands were spending millions of dollars a month on influencer marketing, but they were not using any software,” Hensel said. “Everything was done manually. All their data was handled on Excel spreadsheets.” 

Existing software on the market can help with collecting a creator’s analytics but fares poorly when dealing with the massive amounts of traffic pulled by larger influencers like Jake Paul or Charlie D’Amelio.  

“We’re coming in and building Pickle specifically for that segment of really big brands or talent agencies, because there’s so little tech out there for them,” Hensel said. “It’s a pretty antiquated business, and we’re trying to help them out.” 

Read the Nick and Devin’s Story