Originally Written in October 2017
What an eventful first 5 or so months it’s been starting SwagUp! If you don’t know who we are or what we do (why would you??), SwagUp makes packs of custom swag for companies to give to employees, clients, out to event attendees, etc. But to know how we got here, let’s go back to March.
I had always loved startups and followed them closely and had the opportunity to do this even more so while working (briefly) at a VC firm in NYC, and while I had no plans to get back into printing I felt that a huge opportunity was presenting itself.
You start a company and what are some of the first things you do? Buy a domain and get a logo created…and then you have your logo created and you can’t help yourself but put it on some swag. But no one company stood out to me as the startup swag company.
It seemed that if you could dedicate yourself to focusing on startups, speaking their language, and tailoring a product to their needs, you could really start to stand out.
But why startups? Most would say the big money is with the established companies, and that’s partially true, but there were a few qualities about focusing on startups that I really liked:
- Startup funding had been at an all-time high
- Startups are new and therefore usually don’t have pre-existing relationships with vendors allowing you to more easily acquire them
- As the startups you work with begin to grow, their swag needs grow as well, leading us to grow with them
- No one was doing a good job of targeting, and catering to the needs of, startups
- Making connections with startup founders could lead to lots of other great opportunities (events, investments, etc.)
- All startups love swag!
I had seen what Moo did for business cards and what StickerMule had accomplished with stickers and I wanted to bring that to the world of swag, particularly for startups. I wanted to create a fun, young brand, with good design, that would be memorable, had no fancy printing jargon and hidden fees, that was simple to understand and didn’t drown people in a product catalog with hundreds of thousands of different SKUs. Something that was so different than the impersonal mass-scale printing companies that have been dominating the industry.
So we set out to create a company on the following pillars
- Curated Selection
- Only Offer High-Quality Items
- Easy/Fun UI/UX
- Targeted Marketing and Partnerships
- Friendly service of people who understand your business
So, on a whim, one night in March, my former partner and I launched startupswag.co. It was nothing more than a WIX site and a Typeform, but those pillars outlined above where there form the start. A few Facebook and Google ads later and we began acquiring customers within the first week, our Typeform even being filled out by silicon valley shining star, Soylent. In just a month, over 100 companies had approached us to inquire about our swag. Our brand was resonating with people.
A couple of months in, my partner and I began to have a different vision for the business, and the value that we were each contributing to the business.
You see, the biggest order we had gotten at the time was from a company called Uncharted Play (look them up they do awesome work producing off-the-grid energy). What UP wanted us to do for them was to create swag bags/packs for their employees. These were uniform assortments of swag on a per person basis. For example, we would make a tote bag, water bottle, notebook, hoodie, t-shirt, and sticker for each employee.
To me, this seemed like a real opportunity. It was much easier for a company to justify $85/employee or customer on swag then dump $10k into just a bulk assortment of items. And the best part, no one was catering to this huge need form companies.
You want to make packs of swag? You have to get the box form one company, the stickers form another, the water bottles form another, and then manually put all of this stuff together. To me, it didn’t seem enough to just focus on startups, we needed something that made us truly unique.
This was the void we’d fill in the market!
So on an 11 pm run one May night in NJ, I decided I wanted to go a different direction and start SwagUp.com, focusing exclusively on helping companies create custom packs of swag by curating all of their favorite items. No more need to manually put these together.
And since we made that switch things have 🚀 It’s been so much fun seeing the response we’ve been getting, whether it be from companies/startups who have been waiting for something like SwagUp to come around, industry veterans who want to get in on our innovative approach, or ASI, the central body of the promotional products industry, who interviewed us due to our new take on things (due out soon).
We’ve begun doing work some really amazing startups, such as Zesty (healthy office catering), Labdoor (3rd party supplement ratings and reviews), and even the television network, Fox.
Additionally, we’ve begun to see a big need for warehousing and fulfillment of the swag that we produce for the companies we work with, so that is becoming a big segment of our business.
Our new website is currently under construction and is going to totally transform the experience for our customers and take a lot of the load off of the shoulders of us on the back end.
Lastly, we are working on forming an exclusive manufacturing partnership with a company in Texas that will allow us to drive down our costs a bunch, streamline our production and fulfillment process, and allow us to handle low quantity orders without incurring extra costs (essential when dealing with startup clients).
As you can tell, there are lots of exciting things going on right now for us at SwagUp. We have come along way in just 5 short months. When you identify a product-market fit, it starts to get really fun. Time to grow :)