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A Future Built On Our Past

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Around this time seven years ago, the idea of The Brandery was just starting to come to life. We didn’t have a building to call home. We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any employees. But we had our pitch deck and we were just crazy enough to think we could make this thing happen.

In other words, we were just like the startups that we one day hoped to help.

Seven years later, 66 startups have graduated from The Brandery, raised over $130 million in funding, and we have been consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country. And in that time, the landscape of entrepreneurship and accelerator programs has changed. And it is time for us to change with it.

Many people do not realize it, but the underlying legal structure of The Brandery is based upon a 501©3, the mission of which is to support entrepreneurship in Cincinnati and the Midwest. Since day one, everyone involved in The Brandery has been involved because of that mission. The equity that we receive from startups in exchange for their participation in The Brandery does not go to investors. Instead, it sits in an endowment that we hope to use in the support of entrepreneurs.

I write that because in 2010, the city that The Brandery calls home was a very different place for entrepreneurs. There was no #StartupCincy as a rallying cry for the region. Aspiring founders didn’t have role models like EBTH, Dotloop, Assurex, or Modulus to show them the way. Cintrifuse did not exist and Union Hall was not the home of our hustle. As such, we viewed The Brandery as the opportunity to be an injection of talent into our ecosystem. It could be a reason for local entrepreneurs like Chris Bergman of FamilyTech to jump into the tech startup world. It could be a reason for entrepreneurs like Jim Fisher of Roadtrippers to move to Cincinnati sight unseen. We wanted it to be a reason to believe that Cincinnati and the Midwest could be a destination for startups – and the Venture Capitalists that invest in them.

We are a long way from ringing the bell and declaring success in that mission. But we have made amazing strides. As we move into 2017, The Brandery is refining the focus of the accelerator program in order to do our part in better helping entrepreneurs. As our announcement stated in early March, we are focusing the 2017 class (and beyond) on digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that give these brands a new way to reach consumers.

In many ways, our future is about us doubling down on our past. We are called The Brandery because we believed (and still do) that the skills of building a brand could be as valuable for tech startups as they could be for large consumer packaged goods. We also believed that we could uniquely involve mentors from the halls of large CPG companies who were leading their organization’s efforts in embracing digital marketing and marketing tech. Those two premises still hold true today and even more so as we sharpen our focus.

The other reason that I am excited about this sharpened focus is the impact it will have on the founders as they go through the program and become alumni. Every year, I am asked the question of what helps a company achieve success in The Brandery. And every year, my answer is the same: the companies that help others the most are the ones that succeed the most themselves. This continues after Demo Day where the founders who give the most back to the Brandery community are the ones who continue to shine. With this new focus, every startup in the class will be complementary in same way. They might be able to partner together with a consumer brand serving as a customer to a marketing tech startup. Or they will be able to share best practices on B2B customer acquisition or user retention for digitally native vertical brands.

We have come a long way in seven years, but I look forward to seeing how much further we go thanks to the startups that join The Brandery family in the years to come.

Dave Knox is the co-founder of The Brandery, Managing Director of WPP Ventures, and author of the newly released book Predicting The Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips .

Why You Need the Brandery Agency Partnership: Spicefire & Goodwipes

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve been telling you all about our sharpened focus on Digitally-Native Full Stack Products (CPG are part of that) & startups that support these kind of companies (both large and small) for our 2017 cohort. If you haven’t had a chance to read over our thought process behind this shift, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago when we made the announcement.

As our General Manager Tony Alexander said in his blog post earlier this week, “While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.” To illustrate this point, we’re going to share some of the success stories of Brandery alumni who fit into the categories of companies we’re looking for.

Meet Goodwipes, graduates of Brandery’s 2016 cohort. They are serious about being clean.

Charlie, Maria, and Sam: Team Goodwipes

Goodwipes had already sold 1 million body wipes at independent retailers and on Amazon when they came to Cincinnati last June on a mission to refine their brand and strengthen their company. Each company in our accelerator is paired 1-to-1 with a world-class creative agency, of which there is a high concentration in Cincinnati ( aka BrandHub, USA ) is one of the most significant reasons Goodwipes applied to The Brandery. We spoke to Sam Nebel, Co-Founder of Goodwipes, for his thoughts on why The Brandery’s program is so uniquely suited to help a CPG company.

Goodwipes worked with Spicefire to create a brand as fresh as their products. “They did nothing but GIVE, GIVE, GIVE”, Sam says. “Time, energy, attention, passion, experience, knowledge and patience. They shared. They worked with us through seemingly simple, yet extraordinarily arduous critical thinking exercises to define Goodwipes as it is today: a modern, better-for-you take on wet wipes that empowers people to do more, feel good, and live clean. We could not be happier with Jason Hargis and the Spicefire team. I’m talking endless hours of their busy time they gave us. If you understand how an agency works, time is money, and they spent extra time working with Goodwipes. It was really humbling and incredible to be given so much time and energy by such a talented group.”

The Goodwipes Branding Case Study

Goodwipes's Branding, Pre-Brandery

With the majority of Goodwipes’ sales occurring online, having a slick brand and packaging wasn’t nearly as important to them; with their goal of appearing on more brick-and-mortar shelves, it was more important to create eye-popping visuals that would appeal to customers looking up and down the personal care aisle. The Spicefire team helped to create a beautiful, modern look for their packaging, which also carried over to their advertising and web presence.





Spicefire’s collaboration and work with Goodwipes is just one reason we’re excited about our 2017 program; our agency partners have always yielded fantastic work no matter the type of startup we’ve paired them with, but now that we’re looking to work with more consumer-facing brands and the technologies that support them, the Brandery Agency Partnership should prove to be even more successful.

Sam wanted us to publish his personal number so that anyone interested in talking about applying to The Brandery could call him – we are going to spare him, but we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the 2017 application process. Contact us at info@brandery.org!

Mistakes Were Made

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$130,000,000+ raised by our companies.
Over 400 jobs created.
A Top-10 accelerator in the US.

There are a lot of great stats that I often use when talking about The Brandery. However, if you’ve ever heard one of my talks before, you know that the most important statistic to me is this one:

100% of our participant companies said the program was worth it.

No doubt this remains true today. That said, I’ll be the first to admit we are hanging on to that 100% by the skin of our teeth.

The Brandery team has done a lot of thinking on how to get better in 2017. Our conclusions are that we have slipped in two main areas: type of company selected to be in the program and the stage that company was at when chosen.

When The Brandery was started in 2010, the goal was to bring great talent to Cincinnati. That’s why, in every class, most of the teams come from outside the city. The initial thesis was to choose consumer-facing, high growth companies but we quickly created a lot of wiggle room there to accommodate talented founders over any other factor. I don’t necessarily think that was a bad decision, but we certainly lost focus on other variables. A talented round peg can succeed in spite of the square hole, but it’s not exactly ideally sustainable.

After many years of great results, and a particularly great 2015, we got over-zealous in thinking we could move the needle for anyone we brought in. While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. See here for more about the types of companies we are going after in 2017. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.

We also overestimated our ability to take early teams and will them over the line to funding (as we have in years past). Historically, we average close to $2MM in funding per company, but out of the gate in 2016, our alumni did not find great success fundraising. Some of this is the function of the environment, but a lot is on us as well. The current state of venture funding requires significant traction to raise a proper seed round. What was needed to raise an A Round in 2012 you now need for the seed. This means we need to find talented teams that have already hit that product-market fit, raised a bit of money, and are looking to get to that next level. It’s almost impossible to get a small team with just a barebones MVP there in the span of a 16-week accelerator program.

If there was another miss it was simply around expectation setting. Past performance is no guarantee of future results but we didn’t do a great job of correcting the expectation that, as with past Brandery classes, a good majority of our companies would be able to raise a round of funding soon after Demo Day. We need to do better in preparing our companies for the reality of what comes after they leave us.

Running a startup is all about building, testing, refining – and repeating. I look at The Brandery in the same way. We can’t get better unless we’re honest with ourselves about where we fell short. Will our sharpened focus work? I think it will, but the only way to find out for sure is to dive in. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2017 – and learning even more.

We’ve seen a lot of accelerators shut down in 2016/17. It is a tough model if you have lulls/gaps. That said, we’re going to continue to be a strong pillar of the StartupCincy ecosystem for many years to come. Our drive to learn, evolve, and grow is the reason why. I welcome anyone and everyone to help us continue to get better!

Build Your Best Brand in Cincinnati

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Prior to announcing our sharpened focus for 2017, I spoke with several of our closest mentors, investors, and supporters to share the news with them and get their thoughts. Overwhelmingly, their responses sounded something like the following:

“It’s about time.”
“What took you so long?”
“This is a no-brainer.”

While there are various reasons this focus didn’t happen sooner, we’re all excited about the new direction. In the minds of most everyone in The Brandery network, our decision to recruit and invest in digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that support them was a long overdue one. However, a lot of folks outside our network may be wondering why this is; after all, what’s so special about a midwestern city like Cincinnati compared to similar business ecosystems on the west and east coasts?

Cincinnati is BrandHUB USA

More than anywhere else in the country, businesses here are equipped to build better brands. It started with Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Macy’s establishing their headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. For a long time, these powerhouses developed incredibly strong internal organizations devoted to understanding their consumers, and thus built tremendous brand loyalty. Over time, these professionals went on to build independent agencies, consulting firms, and think-tanks dedicated to consumer marketing and branding. Today, Greater Cincinnati is home to more than 200 consumer product companies and upwards of 60,000 industry professionals, as well as several globally-renowned agencies. Nowhere else in the country can you find more consumer branding expertise per capita than right here in Cincinnati.

When The Brandery started in 2010, our goal was to leverage this unique and unfair advantage in developing the next great tech-enabled startups. Since 2010, we’ve paired each of our startups with an elite branding agency located here. These are agencies comprised of highly-talented professionals working with globally-recognized brands one day – then working with the young & hungry startups within our cohort the next.

It doesn’t stop with our agency partnerships; data science and analytics firms like Quotient (formerly Coupons.com), 84.51, The Nielsen Company, and others have all chosen to operate in Cincinnati because of the wealth of talent and customers they can find here. Many of our mentors work within these organizations, providing our startups with an intimate, insider’s knowledge of consumer understanding.

To be clear, branding is only one part of the equation. After all, what good is a solid brand and great customers if you can’t reach them? Being located in Cincinnati means easy access to 25 of the largest metro regions, over half of all US manufacturing establishments, and half of the US population. This is a major reason why Amazon is building their $1.5 billion Prime Air hub here, and why major logistics operations are locating here every month. This growth is perfect for small and up-and-coming retailers who may not be selling in brick-and-mortar yet and appreciate the ability to ship their products out quickly and efficiently.

If you’re a startup building the next great consumer brand or tech to support these brands, Cincinnati is the best place you can be. With more than 60,000 branding, marketing, and design experts within reach, The Brandery will help you accelerate your startup to success.