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Located at OPO Startups, 3mbassy is a full service agency for startups who have less than 12 months under their belts. With a desire to help young companies gain enough traction to raise investment (or become revenue positive), they help new business founders strategize, design and market their 1.0 products.
Talk a little bit about your background? Did you always want to do marketing?
I found my calling as an entrepreneur shortly after high school graduation. I started by convincing my parents to invest in a screen printing press after I couldn’t find a budget-friendly company to print my band’s merchandise to sell at our concerts and on tour. I could then print our merchandise at cost and soon started selling those services to every band I could in St. Louis to pay my bills.
So I don’t have a formal college degree, but I did get a unique “learning by doing” education from the screen printing company and managing my band’s marketing and branding, finances, merchandise, tour booking, etc. Thankfully my parents agreed with this mindset and supported me 100% to follow my dreams, so I began to hustle, hustle, hustle.
After a few years, I transitioned to digital design and marketing and worked with clients like Warner Music Group and a number of startups. My interest for business strategy grew during that time, which is what lead to the birth of 3mbassy in 2013.
Tell me more about 3mbassy—and what’s up with the 3 as a backwards E?
As my design career progressed, I developed a passion (my wife would probably say obsession) for tech startups. I was fascinated by how companies were leveraging digital mediums to solve complex problems for consumers and businesses. There are no magic formulas to create a scalable business—they are often unpredictable and high risk in the early stages. There’s something about that I loved, and still love. It’s about being the underdog and beating the odds to solve a problem that’s worth solving…that’s what a startup is to me.
I wanted to be more involved with clients than just a designer—I wanted to add more value. Things like helping mold the business vision and strategy, identifying the best marketing funnels, using growth hacks to gain traction, best approach to attracting investors, etc. At that point 3mbassy transformed from a design studio to much more, and I believe our clients liked that we care so much about their survival.
The “3” instead of an “E” in our name is a combination of branding and URL availability I’d say. I always like the word “embassy” since it’s bold and big, but couldn’t find a good domain name that was available. To get a short URL, I had to get creative in the spelling and stumbled upon 3mbassy.com being available. I loved it since it stands out and gave us great opportunities to brand the “3” on our marketing collateral. Plus, when being listed alphabetically numbers always come first, which was a total plus when trying to stand out in a crowd.
What has been one of your most exciting clients or projects?
I enjoyed working with the team at SoloPro, which is a startup that’s building a marketplace for on-demand real estate agents and commission-free home buying. I am selective in which projects I take on, and this one had the foundation to create something amazing. Big market. Huge problem. Killer team.
SoloPro is rapidly growing the number of real estate agents and home buyers/sellers across the country who have already joined. The platform is extremely powerful and is evolving the way people buy and sell homes, which is exciting stuff! My role was leading product design of their web application and overall creative direction of the company. I expect nothing but big things coming from them in the future.
What did you learn as you were marketing and branding your own business that has benefited you as you help your clients?
Simply put, experience. The more projects you’re exposed to, the more takeaways you’ll have that may be useful in the future. What I have found is that the ideas you think will work don’t always work, but some of the ideas that seemed bad end up being a key breakthrough. For this reason, I think it’s critical to think outside of the box when branding and marketing startup businesses.
Tell your story. Set yourself apart. Try everything. Measure and repeat.
Can you speak to the importance of branding a product/service/app/company/etc.?
Branding and product design is more important than ever for startups. Whether you’re building a consumer or business product, you only have a few seconds to capture the user’s attention. The product needs to feel natural and intuitive for the best chance of user adoption, which ultimately leads to traction (revenue).
Every business has competitors—lots of them. Direct or indirect, launched or stealth mode, etc. What this means is that your potential customers have other options. It’s the founder’s job to do whatever it takes to differentiate themselves from the other players in the space. Be memorable. You want people to fall in love your project and think it’s a crime to not share it with their friends/colleagues/bosses.
How is your marketing different than a typical agency?
I think the main difference when working with someone like 3mbassy is that we’re startup enthusiasts and small in size. This means that we think like founders, function as an extension of the startup’s internal team, move very quickly and contribute in ways that a typical “agency for hire” may not be able to. We only work with startups who we believe in, along with being confident that we’re the perfect fit to make impact.
If you ask any of our clients, they’ll confirm that when kicking off a project most of our questions are related to the business vision and things that an investor may ask. To be valuable to the project, we have to be shoulder to shoulder with the founders and grasp their vision of the business. We want to see the startup succeed and create a bunch of jobs in St. Louis.
How has working at OPO impacted your business?
Randy Schilling got me set up with an office in his building (now the OPO Annex) before the renovation at the main OPO building even started. His efforts to jumpstart entrepreneurship in St. Charles has played a huge role into what’s happening now.
OPO Startups has been critical for me to grow 3mbassy along with maturing personally as an entrepreneur. Aside from the awesome community, I think it’s imperative to be surrounded by other people who act as a support system. OPO members are going through a similar journey and can be very motivating to keep you hustling or celebrate a victory with you. Entrepreneurship comes with a roller coaster ride of ups and downs along the way… and it’s impossible to do without a support system in place.
You’ve started another company since founding 3mbassy. Tell me more about that project. Was it a natural progression from 3mbassy or something completely new?
Working close and learning from my talented clients at 3mbassy, I got the bug to start my own tech startup that was separate from my service-based business. Last year I founded TenantLoop, a mobile and web application that makes communication seamless for property managers, tenants and maintenance teams. We make it easy for property managers to stay organized while giving tenants a new level of customer service.
The things I’ve learned from past projects at 3mbassy have played a huge role in TenantLoop’s traction so far. We’re currently beta testing with property managers in the Midwest.
And finally, do you have any advice—specific to early-stage startups—that they should consider when branding?
For early stage startups, it’s all about what to focus on to generate the most traction. I think branding plays a different role depending on what type of business you are (and who you’re selling to).
For consumer facing products, I am a fan of investing major resources into branding and public marketing materials from day one. When marketing to consumers, the overall brand and messaging needs to be personable, natural and shareable to set yourself up for exponential growth.
For B2B products, it may be worth investing more resources into a clean sales presentation and product demo video to help drive the sales funnel. When selling to business owners, it’s key to have a collateral feeling across all materials, but the messaging may be more direct about how you’ll help the business make more money or save money to close the deal.