True branding can be a bewildering challenge for many managers: either they don’t completely understand the strategic benefits of authentic branding, and/or they assume that branding simply consists of a name, logo and proprietary graphics. And most certainly don’t realize the full potential for applying relevant branding principles to improve their marketing and communication practices, especially when faced with new competition, changing customer preferences or other market-based trends.
We’ve all heard the stories of people dropping out of college to work on their startups, living on their friends’ couches, or eating ramen every day for a month. Some ambitious entrepreneurs take this to the next level, going the extra mile to make their businesses successful and brand themselves well in order to reap the benefits later in the game.
We have brought to you 9 such crazy things that founders have done to brand their startups. So, read on:
1. The founder of Instacart used a six-pack of beer to get the attention of an accelerator partner
Instacart is an American company that operates as a same-day grocery delivery service. Customers select groceries through a web application from various retailers and delivered by a personal shopper. As of 2017, Instacart only has operations and services in the United States. The founder of the grocery delivery service valued at approximately USD 3.4 billion dollars today, had once had to use a six-pack of beer to get the attention of an accelerator partner. Although it’s known for delivering groceries extremely quickly — the fastest delivery was just under 12 minutes — founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta wasn’t always so prompt with deadlines. Mehta applied to Y Combinator, a startup seed accelerator, two months after the deadline passed. In order to get the attention of Garry Tan, one of the YC founders, Mehta decided to send him a six-pack of beer delivered from Instacart. Half an hour later, he got a call from Tan. Mehta recalls,
“I’m not sure if it was the beer talking, but he asked me to come to the YC headquarters the next day to meet the partners,”
2. The founder of The Muse was banned from Gmail for spamming potential customers
During the days that nobody had heard about “The Muse”- a site that offers career advice and job opportunities, now features major companies like Facebook and McKinsey & Co., cofounder Kathryn Minshew knew word of mouth would be critical. And hence, she used Gmail to pull a list of everyone she’d ever emailed into Excel and started messaging them all — until she was interpreted as a spammer and Google shut down her email account. She once mentioned,
“We didn’t have a penny to spend to jumpstart the process, so I decided to email my network and ask them to spread the news.”
3. The founders of Reddit created tons of fake accounts
Reddit, known as the “Front Page of the Internet,” is a site based on user-generated news links. But when it launched in 2005, it had so few visitors that the co-founders operated multiple fake user accounts and responded to themselves to give the semblance of traffic. Furthermore, since the founders owned all the fake accounts, they could build the tone and shape the discourse and direction of the site. As the real user base grew, they were able to abandon the fake accounts.
4. The founders of AirBnB got their initial funding by selling their own brand of cereal
AirBnB, the service that in today’s date helps people rent out their rooms to travelers across the globe was once struggling to find investors. In its early days, angel investors were wary about investing in it. To raise money, the co-founders sold their own breakfast cereals. They purchased huge quantities of bulk cereal, pasted together cardboard boxes, and branded them as limited-edition, politics-themed cereals called Obama O’s, Cap’n McCain, and Breakfast of Change.
In two months, they sold 800 of them for USD 40 each and earned more than USD 30,000. Apparently, they made great sales on their Obama cereal but had to eat the McCain cereal to stay alive.
5. The founders of Warby Parker bought an old yellow school bus and traveled across the country
Warby Parker, a brand that sells designer eye-wear at a lower cost, started when one of the co-founders, Dave Gilboa, lost his USD 700 glasses on a backpacking trip and couldn’t afford to replace them.
To attract media attention early on, the team bought an old yellow school bus, traveled across the U.S., and created a mobile store called The Warby Parker Class Trip. Since they knew half of their traffic was from word of mouth, they wanted to make strong impressions in person. Since it launched in early 2010, the brand has sold 1 million pairs of glasses.
6. The founders of PayPal gave out free money
Online payment service PayPal now makes transactions totaling more than USD 315.3 million per day. But when the company first started out, the founders paid new users USD 10 to join, and even more money for referring their friends. It operated at a huge loss to get traffic, but it paid off when they hit 1 million users in just over a year of existence.
7. The founder of Salesforce went to extremes with his marketing stunts
Salesforce, a cloud computing company, is ranked by Forbes as the most innovative company in America. Although the company is primarily recognized for its business strategy, its frontman Marc Benioff is just as creative.
He hired fake protesters to disrupt their biggest rival’s conference and commandeered all the taxis at the event to deliver a 45-minute pitch about his own product. In another instance, he cancelled his keynote at the Oracle Conference and drew crowds to his own speech at a nearby restaurant. Furthermore, Benioff once did a standup routine with a German accent during an interview and even got in trouble for featuring the Dalai Lama on a poster that said, “There is no software on the path to enlightenment.” He also throws crazy parties with up to 90,000 guests, where he invites musicians like Metallica, MC Hammer, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and business leaders like Richard Branson and Tony Robbins.
8. Watsi’s marketing chief enlisted a bouncer to ask everyone at the bar to vote for her non-profit in a competition
Watsi, a global funding platform for medical treatments, raised USD 3 million for patients in 20 countries after only a year and half of operation. Watsi was in the running for USD 10,000 from Huffington Post’s IgniteGood Impact Challenge. The team had been working at Watsi as volunteers for over a year as a part-time passion project on the side, and they couldn’t manage it without operational funding anymore. During the last hour of the competition, Watsi was neck in neck with its competitor. Watsi’s marketing cheif Grace Garey mentions,
“We were desperate to get the money so we could grow the organization and provide healthcare to more people,”
She further added,
“I was about to have a heart attack seeing the money slip away,” says Garey. “I was at a bar with my friends, and I started asking everyone around us to pull out their phones and vote for Watsi, including the bouncer.”
9. The founder of Pinterest personally wrote to thousands of users
Popular social media site Pinterest now has millions of users worldwide. However, things were not the same always. At first, Pinterest’s community was so small that cofounder Ben Silberman personally wrote to the first 7,000 people who joined the site to ask them what they thought about it. Today, he attributes Pinterest’s usefulness to collecting so much input and feedback from the users.
Hope you enjoyed the read. We will soon return with many more stories like this. Till then do keep watching this space.