5 crazy things that founders have done to brand their startups


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.

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.

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.

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.

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