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From Corporate to Startups: My First Year at The Brandery

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When I left Toyota in 2015, I wasn’t entirely sure about what my next step would be- I just knew that no matter where I landed, I wanted to make an impact. After my first year as Program Manager of a nationally-recognized accelerator, I can honestly say I feel like I’ve accomplished just that. The Brandery consists of just 3 full-time employees, which means there’s always a lot to do, and plenty of ways to make a difference. I learned a lot last year, especially from the standpoint of being new to the tech startup scene. I present to you 10 key learnings that are hopefully not so generic to the point of boredom, yet general enough that you can apply these points to your day-to-day, regardless of what you do for a living.

  1. The Importance of Initiative. There’s a difference between being a go-getter and being a go-fer. If you’re waiting for someone to give you something to do, you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. Take the lead on projects. Actually see things through to completion. Don’t join the all-too swelled ranks of the all talk, no action army.
  2. Learn from as many people as possible. People always ask me: “If the accelerator only runs for sixteen weeks, what are you doing the rest of the time?” Fair question, and one I would have asked a year ago. I’ll tell you what I spent the vast majority of my first two months doing: meeting people. Not just any people, mind you- I spent mornings, afternoons, and evenings chatting with Brandery staff, alumni, mentors, investors, community partners, and anyone else even remotely associated with StartupCincy in an effort to learn as much as possible about what the accelerator has gotten right, but more importantly, what it could do better. And with every person I talked to, that was one more connection, one more dot that I could call on during the program to help our newest class.
  3. Learn just enough to be dangerous, not an expert. Listen, I’m no startup wizard, nor do I claim to be. I’m a former automotive engineer with an MBA who just happens to enjoy program management (sick, I know). When I first started at the Brandery, I was “assigned” a stack of books to read to immerse myself in the startup scene. Zero to One, Startup Communities, Venture Deals, The Lean Startup- I made sure to read them, but I definitely could have done with the Cliff’s Notes. Here’s what I recommend doing instead: get Flipboard and start following the heavy hitters like Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, First Round Review, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. Save the articles that mean the most to you, or ones you think your cohort or colleagues may find interesting. Hell, show some initiative (see 1.) and Slack it over to them immediately. These articles will serve as great jumping off points for conversation and insightful feedback when you have 1:1 time with your startups.
  4. Organization is imperative. I can’t emphasize this one enough, folks. When you’re not in program, you’ll think you’ve got everything under control with your 25–30 emails per day. Inbox Zero? Fat chance once you hit Day 1. From there on out, you’ll be responsible for ensuring each of your companies are getting what they need to succeed daily, and as Program Manager, you’re the first point of contact most of the time. There are several ways of accomplishing this: Slack is a great tool, as is Trello, whose bandwagon I have yet to hop on. Nope, this PM uses the tried and true notebook and three-ring binder to stay on top of things. I (try to) make a checklist each morning consisting of the top ten things I need to get done (prioritized by deadline, ease of completion, and whether I like whoever I’m doing it for- kidding).
  5. Communication, Communication, Communication. With an ever-bountiful inbox comes the potential to forget to respond to people on a timely basis. This is something I struggled with early on, and have only now been able to barely get control of. Block out time during your day to respond to emails- whether it’s a detailed response or a short “I’ll get back to you on this tomorrow”, the punctual reply will show respect for the other person.
  6. There is no task beneath you. Odds are you won’t have the luxury of a large staff that can cater to your every whim (and if you do, congratulations- don’t blow it). This means that you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty more often than you would have thought. I worked with our Office Manager a number of times to help set up events, our Demo Day, and even our lunches. Don’t think that just because you’re the Program Manager, you’re exempt from this stuff. Subscribe to the “all boats rise” mentality and be a team player.
  7. Realize that your startups’ wins are your wins. Never have I ever taken credit for someone else’s work; I refuse to do that and will always acknowledge and recognize an individual or group’s work. However, as a Program Manager, you’re tasked with providing your cohort with a quality curriculum, meaningful connections, and resources that will help them succeed. You’ll know you’ve done a good job when you get a “thank you” or when your founders tell you that they’ve reached a new milestone because of something you were able to provide or be a part of. Don’t be ashamed of feeling good about these moments. Finding individual wins as a PM may be difficult, but the ability to connect your startups’ successes to something you had a hand in makes the job all the more worthwhile.
  8. Still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work. I’ll admit, this one was tough at times. As a Program Manager, you may feel that the success of your startups rests solely on your shoulders, and because of that, you need to be there for them 24/7. This isn’t the case. Sure, there will be days (and nights) where you’ll scramble to provide a time-sensitive response or connection, but for the most part, you have to remember that your startups are adults (for the most part) and are ultimately responsible for their own success. In my case, 2016 was a challenging first year- not only did I pivot from corporate to startups, but I also got married a few weeks after our Demo Day. You can imagine the work it takes to not only manage a cohort but plan a wedding at the same time. For me, I made the decision to put my personal life ahead of work when I could. This meant not being able to support as many social/community events as I may have wanted to or felt obligated to, but at the end of the day, my personal relationships are far more important than my professional relationships.
  9. Do your research. If you’re an old pro when it comes to your industry, this may not be as relevant. However, for me, leaving the automotive world and joining the tech startup scene left me with no understanding of the industry. Luckily, my GM didn’t hesitate throwing me into the fire- I met with VCs, sponsors, agencies, and startups almost immediately, not knowing what the hell they were talking about. ARR? Cap tables? Investment thesis? I was overwhelmed almost every day, early on. Reading the books in #3 helped, but so did simple research ahead of my meetings. LinkedIn is a great resource, as are the websites for whoever you’re meeting with or talking about. Please, please don’t “fake it til you make it.” BS is easy to sniff out, especially when you’re speaking with seasoned veterans of the startup community.
  10. Be an advocate for your community. This may not be as important for established ecosystems like the Bay Area or New York City, but for startup communities in the midwest, you have to work twice as hard to ensure your environment is in the same conversation/train of thought for founders, investors, media, and sponsors. This isn’t always easy, and it certainly take a village, but you can do plenty as an individual. Write a blog. Tweet. Share stories. Reach out to universities, high schools, middle schools, and summer camps, and build a presence at those levels. Share with your audience the wins and good news, but also share the bad news- people can learn from both. Don’t always paint a rosy picture, but do maintain a relentless optimism about where your community is headed. Meet challenges head on, and commit to bettering an aspect of your community. Work with other dedicated individuals to do this. It will be hard at first, but when you get that first win under your belt, you’ll be further motivated to do more.

With our 2017 program beginning in mid-June (applications open now, by the way), I’ll be reflecting on these ten points daily. Last year, I struggled with finding a balance between the creative, open-ended nature of startups and my structured, Japanese-influenced drive for efficiency and performance. My goal this year is to find that balance and give our founders what they need to thrive, during our program and beyond. If you have any advice to impart, don’t hesitate to reach me!

Alumni Series: Why Choose The Brandery?

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If you’re in the process of applying to The Brandery’s 2016 accelerator program, you might be doing a lot of research to try and figure out whether The Brandery is the right fit for your company, or even trying to decide between more than one accelerator. We get it – there’s a lot to consider!

During this time, we’ve asked a few of our alumni to chime in with their perspective about why they picked The Brandery, how it helped them, and ultimately why they decided to grow in Cincinnati.

Meet ChoreMonster (class of 2011):

ChoreMonster makes chores fun by engaging and rewarding your kids!
Kids earn points by completing chores to use towards rewards like an hour of video games or a camping trip. Parents get an easy-to-use tool that takes the tension out of household chores. Kids also earn tickets to the Monster Carnival for each chore completed, where they can win and collect our monsters. With ChoreMonster, your kids will beg to do their chores!

Why did you choose The Brandery over another accelerator? Why did you feel The Brandery was right for you?

We chose the Brandery due to their incredible network of mentors and advisors. The Brandery taught us how to navigate the waters of venture capital as well as how to work with marketing agencies on a regular basis. It gave us the opportunity to explore and validate our concept amidst valued feedback, which led to better iterations toward launch.

In what way do you think going through The Brandery’s accelerator program helped your company the most?

I think The Brandery continues to help our company on a regular basis. It enabled us to grow a network of investors and mentors that we still rely on regularly for advice and feedback.

Why did you choose to grow your company in Cincinnati?

The people! Cincinnati has the best people in the world. This city is filled with authentic, kind human beings that are very willing to help however they can. It has become a vibrant startup ecosystem anchored by the efforts of the Brandery.

HackOTR is Coming

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It’s that time of year again. The air smells fresh, the sound of Reds’ home runs can be heard from Great American Ball Park, and the sight of a bunch of brainiacs heading into 1411 Vine Street to compete in an all-out mental brawl fills the streets. Yes, it’s that time of year again: time for the one and only HackOTR to make its way back to The Brandery. We’re bringing back the basics of the event—awesome sponsors, shiny prizes, experienced mentors—while offering new hacks and hosting a brilliant group of hackers ready to work and binge-drink Redbull for twenty-four straight hours (just kidding about that Redbull part… we also have Mountain Dew and coffee).

For the tech-savvy, one new hack offers a hardware-based objective to those who believe they can handle the challenge. Not familiar with coding or working much with programming? No problem, we’ve got another type of challenge tailored for the business-oriented minds. Our marketing and design challenge will allow product marketers and designers to get just as involved as everyone else without even having to write one line of code.

Last time’s hackers were able to walk out of The Brandery office with more than just a smile on their face. Strap from The Brandery’s Class of 2014 led a side-hack last year and awarded one winning team with Pebble smartwatches for their ingenuity. Other hackers from last year won Frameri sunglasses, Dell computers, and even three months of office space in Cintrifuse (check out the full article on everyone’s success). This time around, similar prizes will be offered by both sponsors and teams from The Class of 2015; and although goodies like these might be enough to entice some to take part in the event, the real reward comes from providing and receiving valuable input from a rare hacking holiday that only comes around once in a blue moon.

Hackers who survive the twenty-four hour gauntlet of grinding may continue their work with The Brandery or one of the companies from the Class of ’15. Aman Tsegai—coding expert and now Technology Intern for The Brandery—participated in the last hackathon and created some work that was so impressive The Brandery just had to have him. The start-ups from the Class of 2015 are always looking for new faces to join their team (internships, part-time, or full-time), which is one of the best prizes the event can offer.



If you’re interested in attending or even participating in the event, here’s some quick info to get you started:

What: HackOTR offers the opportunity of creating small projects that can make a big difference within a friendly yet competitive atmosphere that fosters intellectual growth. Teams from The Brandery’s Class of 2015 Brandery itself, and others will be challenging hackers to complete core hacks and side hacks, or objective-based competitions where hackers will create what they can imagine in the time they are given. These objectives can range from being marketing/design based or purely technological, but it’s up to the hackers themselves to decide exactly what type of project they want to work on and what they wish to create.

Who: Anyone. Well, almost anyone. We’re looking for people who are genuinely interested in grinding out work for a full twenty-four hour day but having a blast while doing so. You don’t need to be a programmer, start-up aficionado, or even a graduate from college. All you need is some enthusiasm, creativity for making something great, and a focused mind (a few cups of coffee might help too). Tickets are sold and divided into three categories: Product Marketer, Visual/UX Designer, and Developer. Whether you’re someone looking for a team to join or bringing a full squad of your own, we’ll welcome your interest and input.

When: The event check-in officially begins Friday, August 7th at 4:00 PM and continues onward until Saturday, August 8th at 5:00 PM.

Where: HackOTR takes place in The Brandery office on 1411 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Why: Well, why not? We’ve had immense success in the past and truly believe this kind of opportunity offers an experience that local Cincinnatians have come to love and learn from.

We hope to see you hacking soon! If you’re interested in getting even more information about HackOTR, check out its website and FAQ’s here or email Jess for any questions not already answered on the site.

Guest Post: 8 Similarities Between Rock Bands and Startups

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[Editor’s Note: This post is part of a new blog series in which our graduates and partners share their perspectives on startups. Thanks to Eron Bucciarelli-Tieger, CEO and co-founder of MusicPlay Analytics, for this post. Prior to founding MusicPlay Analytics, Eron was the drummer of the platinum-selling rock band, Hawthorne Heights. Follow Eron on Twitter.]

There are dozens of startup analogies out there. It’s human nature to relate new stuff to old stuff. While I, like everyone else, know sports, I won’t fall into that cliche. It just so happens that the “stuff” I know most is music. Prior to founding the company I now run, I was a professional musician for ten years, so it’s only natural for me to view startup “stuff” through the lens of a musician. Since everyone likes their stuff presented in list form, I now present to you, “8 Similarities Between Bands and Startups”:

1 – Team Matters

People come together to form bands because they share a collective musical vision. With startups, it’s not much different. Instead of musical passion, it’s product vision. Regardless of the reason and situation, not having the right group of people can have dire consequences early on. Before record deals and funding can happen, everyone needs to pull their weight with little immediate reward. Not having the right people prevents you from creating a good product (or song). More importantly, not having committed people will lead to everything falling apart the second disaster strikes; your van breaks down in the middle of a poorly attended tour or your app doesn’t get accepted to the app store. Everyone has to wear multiple hats early on. You might be the singer, but you’re also the booking agent. You might be the CEO, but you’re also the head of marketing and HR. It’s all about talent and work ethic. If ever those two aren’t balanced properly, the band or company will fail.

2 – Starving Artist/Starving Entrepreneur

Seriously, what’s the difference? When you’re starting off, it doesn’t make a difference whether you’re writing a song or writing code – you’re not making any money (or very little). What matters is you’re chasing some sort of dream, and not eating regularly is simply a casualty of that pursuit. The best art comes out of a place of hardship. It’s only when you’re down and out that you really push yourself. Ever wonder how a band’s first album can be so good and their latest be such crap? Struggle = genius. Comfort = garbage. It’s only the truly gifted songwriters and businesses that are able to replicate this inspiration or find other inspiration with equal passion that end up having repeatable success.

3 – It’s All Legos

Writing a song or coming up with a business idea follow the same creative thought process as playing with those amazing plastic blocks as a kid. Both begin with an idea, it gets fleshed out and eventually released upon the world. Business planning can easily be substituted for jamming, hacking/iterating for recording and launching for distribution. Those are all different terms for the same process. A rose by any other name…

4 – Content Is King

A product is a product, (whether it’s a song or an app). That’s not a Dr Seuss limerick. As the creator of a song or a business, you get to dictate the terms under which your product goes to market. It’s only the ratio between desperation and buzz that leads to companies and bands getting good/bad deals (assuming the product is great). Labels and VC wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. It’s hard to invest in nothing and make money on it. Remember that.

5 – Pour Some… Money On Me

Startups need money to grow. Musicians need money to promote themselves. There are always a few exceptions in both worlds, but “Bootstrapping" and “Doing-It-Yourself” are synonyms and can only get you so far. At some point, you need money from an investor to take things to the next level (whatever that may be).

6 – All That Glitters Is (Not) Gold

Most startups fail, most bands fail. When I started my musical journey, only 1% of all CDs released sold more than 1,000 copies (in a year). Of that 1%, only a small handful were fortunate to sell 500,000+ copies (a measure of success at that time). These are somewhat antiquated metrics for success in today’s music environment, but the percentages closely mirror the percentage of companies receiving VC. In reality, securing funding doesn’t equal success, but not having funding most often leads to failure.

7 – Investment Does NOT Equal Success

Getting a record deal doesn’t guarantee sold out arena tours in your future. Likewise, VC doesn’t guarantee you’ll be the next Über or Facebook. Funding simply opens up new opportunities. It’s up to you to walk through those doors as they open. No one is giving out piggyback rides.

And lastly…

8 – Personnel

  • CEO is the lead singer (generally). They are the visionary, the creative director, and responsible for the company’s culture or the band’s gimmick. Sometimes, they’re just the public face.
  • CTO/CPO is the lead guitarist or songwriter. Without a good product, a company is going to fail. Without good songs, a band will fail.
  • COO is the drummer. Drummers and COOs are usually the ones holding things together (okay, I’m biased). 9 times out of 10, the drummer is the “business guy” in the band. They do all the work and get none of the credit.
  • The head of logistics/supply chain is the bassist. You never notice when everything is going alright, but when the bass player drops, out everyone panics. You don’t think about the ability to ship your product to market, but if that channel is severed you’ll freak out.
  • CMO is the rhythm guitarist. They’re great to have but they’re not always necessary when you’re starting up.

If you want to check out Eron’s company, go to musicplayanalytics.com. If you want to check out Eron’s biggest hit, Ohio Is For Lovers, download here.

Resource Roundup: 11 ways to meet like-minded entrepreneurs in Cincinnati

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Wherever you are, we think you should surround yourself with people who will inspire you, push you, and advise you on building your business. In Cincinnati, there are so many ways to find people like you in the entrepreneurial scene.

Here are some of our favorite Meetups in the Cincinnati area:

1. Side Project Cincinnati
What: An initiative of Brandery graduate Roadtrippers, Side Project Cincinnati is your way to share your ideas, find collaborators, and fuel your creativity in a safe place. And beer… there is always beer. Read more about the Roadtrippers team’s side projects in Soapbox.
Next Meetup: November 11

2. Girl Develop It
What: It’s no secret tech skews male. GDI is aiming to tip back the scales by teaching women to code. Build sweet websites with awesome people. No questions are off-limits.
Next Meetup: Drinkup on October 1 for anyone interested in learning more, Intro to Web Concepts on October 8

3. User Enjoyment / UX Meetup
What: The User Enjoyment Meetup is for anyone who wants to make their users’ experience better. Our entrepreneurs love it as a place to get feedback on their products, but these UX enthusiasts discuss everything from usability testing to typography to lean development.

4. Startup Grind
What: Yeah, you got us. We’re the organizers of this one. But it’s just because we think it’s such a great initiative. There are over 125 cities in 55 countries with a Startup Grind chapter, and Cincinnati’s is growing each and every month. We bring in a prominent figure in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to talk about their highs and lows and tips for aspiring entrepreneurs as they go through “the grind.”
Next Meetup: The founders of The Launch Werks, Matt Anthony and Noel Gauthier, will talk about their experiences in the wonderful world of physical products on September 30.

5. QC Merge Drinkup
What: Discuss all things web and technology over a couple of drinks. These Meetups are a great place to network, too. We’ve had a couple of our companies find employees— and even co-founders— at these monthly gatherings.
Next Meetup: Drinkup on October 2 at Japp’s

6. Lean Startup Circle
What: This group focuses on the practices of The Lean Startup movement. If you’re an entrepreneur or wantrepreneur exploring new ways to launch, evolve, or grow your business, join the group.
Next Meetup: Traction Book: Skype interview with Justin Mares on October 9

And a few more specific ones, when you’re looking to expand your knowledge and skill set:

7. Smart Home Meetup

8. Search Engine Optimization Meetup

9. Wearable Developers Meetup

10. Node.js Meetup

11. Startup Finance & Accounting

BONUS (thanks, @joshowens!): Meteor Cincinnati Meetup

This post is part of a series in which we’re highlighting local resources for entrepreneurs. If there are any we miss or you wish existed, let us know!

Brandery Storytime: FlightCar

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Quick Facts


Company: FlightCar
Brandery Class: 2012
Launched: 2013
Total Raised: Over $6M
Locations: 3, SFO, BOS, and LAX
Cars Rented Out: Over 5,000



It’s just another day in 2012. Rujul Zaparde and Kevin Petrovic are sitting at Panera Bread, enjoying their last few months of high school. It’s March, and Rujul and Kevin already have their acceptance letters to Harvard and Princeton, respectively. Rujul mentions to the well-traveled Kevin that he’d recently read an article about a startup called Airbnb. They start discussing, and an idea emerges.

“If people are willing to share their most valuable asset, their house, why wouldn’t they be willling to share their second most valuable asset, their car?” Rujul asks Kevin. People could drop off their cars at the airport with them instead of parking in long-term parking at the airport, and visitors that needed to rent cars could just use the bank of cars they already had. It would save everyone involved money.

The story would be great if they instantly started drawing up plans for their startup, building their business, and raising capital. But that’s not how it goes.

“We thought it was a terrible idea and ignored it for about a month.”

Kevin and Rujul had known each other for about ten years through school, and had already started a non-profit together, called Drinking Water for India, that brings safe drinking water to rural areas of India.
A month or so later, the idea came up again. It didn’t seem so terrible anymore. Rujul and Kevin decided to investigate its potential. At this point, they didn’t know what an accelerator was, let alone think they would be at one in two months.
They began doing some research and, as Rujul puts it, “began asking dumb questions.” Some of this research led them to learn that accelerators exist, and The Brandery seemed like a good option for them. The application deadline was the next day.

They applied, and after picking up their developer, Shri, from MIT, the guys flew to Cincinnati for their interview. “We saw their application and that they were three guys from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and thought, ‘okay, well that is interesting,’” explained GM Mike Bott. “So we invited them to come interview as a finalist. We offered Google Hangout as an option, but they said they would rather come in person. They asked if they could come interview on a Friday for some reason, and on the way back from the airport— obviously at this point we had realized they were a lot younger than their application had alluded— we asked them why they needed to interview on a Friday. Rujul said, ‘Well, Kevin’s high school graduation is tomorrow. We thought you would take us more seriously if we showed up in person.’ They knew they really had to sell themselves.”

Ultimately, FlightCar was accepted to The Brandery’s 2012 class, making them the youngest co-founders in any class, at 17. In June, they ditched their plans for an Ivy League education, poached their developer from MIT, and moved to Cincinnati to tap their idea.

“We were just excited to meet mentors and be around people that thought we deserved $20k.”


Rujul, Kevin, and Shri showed up to The Brandery with the idea, the name, FlightCar, and a logo that “looked like a car with a shark fin on top of it— it was bad.” Right away, they got to work trying to find parking lots to use for the launch of their car sharing service. It was hard. To add to that, they were beginning to tackle the critical issue of acquiring insurance for the vehicles they would be renting out. About five weeks into the program at The Brandery, they were told that it couldn’t be done. Insurance would be impossible. Should they just shut down? Why would anyone lend their car to a stranger without insurance?

Meanwhile, FlightCar’s agency partner, Landor, was hard at work on their brand.

“They could not have done a better job. Landor was excellent in helping us figure out how to present ourselves. It wasn’t just a logo and a color scheme, which they did give us, but it’s a lot more than that. The concrete stuff was great, but what they really helped us out with was actually creating a brand. We didn’t understand A) what a brand was or B) what our brand was. The tagline, the tone of voice we use, that is all attributed directly to Landor.”

By the end of the program, Rujul, Kevin, and Shri had built a working prototype, established viable markets, acquired early investors, and done the impossible right before Demo Day, had insurance committed. They were prepped to launch.

What happened next?


After FlightCar graduated from The Brandery, they faced more challenges. Investors wanted to see traction, and they didn’t have it yet. They had all the tools to launch, but didn’t have the capital to secure parking lots. This was FlightCar’s “trough of sorrow.” They went from October to December trying to fundraise with no traction. They had the connections from The Brandery, but nothing was lining up. After four tedious months, they raised their first round and were able to launch in their first city, San Francisco.

A few months later, FlightCar applied (again on the last day that applications were open) to Y Combinator and was accepted. They were still scaling, still finding the numbers, and YC helped them through that process while they kept fundraising. FlightCar began to take off— they received tons of press and raised their series A in 14 days. And then they got sued.

The City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against FlightCar that suggested they be subject to the same fees that the rental car companies have to pay the airport for being on airport property. FlightCar is not located on airport property, but the city argues that they should pay since they are using their customers. They handled the lawsuit with class and kept pressing on.

Today, FlightCar is in San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles, with other cities coming very soon.

How did The Brandery help FlightCar?

“If we hadn’t gone to The Brandery, I don’t think we could have gone through with any of this. I 100% wouldn’t have changed our decision to go through the program. You’re in one location with [GM Mike Bott] and all the other companies who get to know you so well. You can walk 25 feet and get any question you have answered and walk back to your desk and think about their answer. We just had so many questions and it is the absolute best way to get all of those questions answered. That was the number one thing for us. That, and everyone was there all the time, which is unlike other accelerators. Most people even work on Saturdays, which helps you stay on track with the other companies. You saw everyone every day. The Brandery holds your hand a lot more that other accelerators, which is a good thing. We needed that.”



Rujul’s advice to future Brandery companies?

“Use the program as much as you can. Work seven days a week. Take things in stride and focus on what you need to get done.”

Apply to The Brandery now.

Why Should Startups Create Epic Content?

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Startups have to claw their way to the top. We know that. Even with a good idea, successful startups have to cut through millions of distractions to become noticed.

And even when you do get noticed, how are you going to reel them in? Why should your customer choose you over your competitor? Why should they trust you? Why should they tell their friends about you?

Is it because your product is genuinely superior to every other one in the market? Maybe. Probably not. It’s about the brand. It’s about how people perceive your brand. And it’s about content. If you’re a startup without a content marketing strategy, build one.

So what’s content marketing? The simple definition we like by the Content Marketing Institute is, “It’s owning media, not renting it.”

In this post, we focus primarily on blogs, but keep in mind that content can be created just about anywhere these days, and new platforms are being created all the time. This phenomenal infographic from Marketo outlines 20 different mediums for content you can consider.

Here’s some suggestions on what to focus on when crafting your content marketing strategy.

Be a thought leader.


Simply put, writing blog posts that are centered on your industry without directly selling your product will help your business. We know content helps you in search (re: clawing your way to the top), and insightful articles that have never-before-seen ideas in them are, by nature, going to get more shares. Say you are creating an app that will locate and help you review and locate processed cheese puffs all over the world. Maybe you could conduct an interview with a cheese puff tester, ask a manufacturer what brand of high fructose corn syrup she uses, or talk to the distribution manager about where they sell the most cheese puffs per capita. Then create an infographic about it. You could research snack food consumption and how it makes people happier. Write it up and package it for the Internet to read. Stop selling and tell the story. Think about it—if you find an article that you enjoy, challenges you, or that you disagree with, you are more likely to share it with a friend, tweet it, or bookmark it. More shares and more search results means more traffic to your site.

Be human.


It’s great to constantly write about cheese puffs and only cheese puffs if your business is exclusively an e-newsletter about cheese puffs. But every once in a while, your readers and your consumers want to know about you. They want to know that someone’s heart is invested in the brand they support. Creating some original content that defines your personality, tells the audience how you met your co-founder, or what your personal favorite brands of cheese puffs are can make your company as a whole more relatable. Be as approachable as possible, and leave the technical jargon in the test kitchen. No one wants to read a blog written by a robot, but these posts won’t directly help scale your business either. Your customers are rarely startups. Find the balance that keeps the focus on your industry without distancing yourself from the customer.

Be receptive.


Content marketing is a two-way street. Don’t push, push, push to your consumer and never listen when they finally begin to interact. Have public conversations in the comment section of your YouTube video. Follow people back on Twitter every now and then. Ask for feedback on your latest podcast. And then adjust your content. If no one wanted to read your last post about what kind of plastic is used in cheese puff packaging, don’t write about what kind of lids they use next week. It’s okay to experiment, but take a hint when you have decreased interactions on a specific topic. As Brandery alum James Dickerson told our current startups, “Focus on one topic and see if anyone gives a crap. Write epic shit.”

Dedicating a little more time each week to create content can pay off big time. We’re obviously just scratching the surface here. You can dig deep into SEO and content working in tandem, examining your demographics to narrow down the best topics to focus on, or optimizing the time you’ll release your content. The list is long. What have you discovered are the best practices for your startup or small business?

Photo courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.

Accelerator Update: Week 5

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Can you believe it’s already week five of our accelerator program? Yeah, neither can we.

The momentum is picking up. The companies are coming in earlier and staying later as many of them launch their alpha and beta products. Final company branding is being nailed down. Websites are being fleshed out.

Each week of the program is focused on a different area of building a startup to help keep everyone working quickly and thoroughly. So far, we’ve completed “Branding for Startups,” “Design and Consumer Understanding,” “Founders’ Advice,” and “Defining and Building Your Product.” This week is focused on “Building Your Business Model.” We bring in experts in each of the fields to share their thoughts, lead workshops, and sit down and talk with each of the companies to try to address their specific needs. As General Manager Mike Bott says, “Each company is a slice of Swiss cheese. We want to help them fill in the holes.”

Last week, we had professional photographer Zackariah Cole join us to take some shots of the space, each company, and the Brandery co-founders. He did a phenomenal job. We’re pretty obsessed with his photos. It’s always been hard to capture what our space looks like, but Zack nailed it.








There’s been such terrific progress with all ten companies in such little time. It’s hard to grasp how hard the teams have been working. We want to share the excitement with you. Here are a couple companies that are killing it right now (we’ll update you on a few more next week):

Accrew is an all-in-one accountant collaboration tool. It enhances your current software to allow clients and their accountants to communicate seamlessly and give feedback through an interactive dashboard. Their team is made up of Craig, Ryan W., and Ryan B. from Columbus, three accountants that started a firm called Upsourced Accounting together. We’re lovin’ on Accrew’s Modern Accountant Blog these days, and they are holding two events at the Brandery in the near future. Come learn more about the co-founders, their business, and the changing accounting landscape. You can find more information and Eventbrite sign up for Accrew’s events in their blog.



Craig and Ryan B., two of the three co-founders of Accrew


Chalky is a duo of Stanford sophomores that wants to help high school students get into college and help college students succeed in their education and beyond. Operating in stealth mode until now, Chalky has created a peer-to-peer mentoring system for students. They’ve been crazy busy building out their site and system in the last few weeks and we love what they’ve accomplished so far. You can sign up for Chalky’s private beta here.



Charlie and Isaac, co-founders of Chalky


Looking for updates on our graduates? Don’t worry, they’re coming soon! Lots of exciting things have been happening for our grads. Did we mention that Brandery alum FlightCar is coming to the Brandery for the August edition of Startup Grind? Don’t miss it!

All images in this post courtesy of Zackariah Cole Photography.

Brand in a Day Recap

Each year, the startups in our accelerator program are paired up with some of the most talented and renowned design firms in Cincinnati for the duration of the program. On Friday, June 28th, our startups were paired up with their agency partners for the first time at the POSSIBLE office for our first-ever Brand in a Day event. The agencies brought between two and five experts in their respective fields, from CMOs and CEOs to User Experience Designers and Copywriters. The teams attempted to revamp whatever it is about the startups’ brand that isn’t clicking, whether that was a logo, company name, brand manifesto, tagline, or mood board. The brands will continue to work with their agencies and evolve up until Demo Day on October 2nd, but Brand in a Day was their accelerator within the accelerator to give them a jumpstart. Here are the startup-agency partnerships (some companies are still operating in “Stealth Mode”):

1. Hyperquake and Stealth #1
2. POSSIBLE and Stealth #2
3. Rockfish and Stealth #3
4. Resource and Stealth #4
5. LPK and Stealth #5
6. Empower MediaMarketing and Dónde
7. Rocket Science + Design and DWLLR
8. GoDutch and Awesomatic
9. We Have Become Vikings and Co-Ed Supply
10. gyro and Accrew

We had a spectacular setting for the entire day at POSSIBLE’S office: sprawling views of the Ohio River and Paul Brown Stadium were framed by a crystal-clear blue sky. And with the conference rooms at POSSIBLE named after inspirations like “Jobs,” “Gandhi,” and “Seinfeld,” Brand in a Day was bound to be a success.

Some of the most astounding visual transformations came in the form of new typefaces, logos, and color schemes, but each team came to a better understanding of their brand identity through the agencies’ expertise and guidance. Some wrote brand manifestos defining who they want to be as a company, some drew hierarchies of need to further define for whom they were building the product, and some talked to create better team dynamics and facilitate agency work in the future. Regardless of the tangible deliverables that the agencies chose to focus on, each team got a solid start on their agency-startup relationship. At noon when they came to present their deliverables, the progress in just four hours was incredible. The collaboration, brainpower, and creativity that our agencies poured into the Brandery companies on Friday were truly remarkable.

After the presentations, the teams’ workspaces were littered with the remnants of their hard work: post-it notes, large and small, whiteboards covered in brainstorming activities, empty coffee cups and soda cans. Feeling exhausted, but accomplished, the teams retreated back to the Brandery to—you guessed it—get back to work.

Meet the Mentors: Joe Medved, SoftBank Capital

1. Tell us about yourself! Who are you and how are you involved with the Brandery?

I am a Partner at SoftBank Capital, a venture capital fund focused on mobile applications, social media, ecommerce, online advertising, gaming, and cloud computing. I have been a mentor at the Brandery since its inception. Dave Knox, who had been a great mentor to companies in our portfolio, encouraged me to join the program when it launched.

2. Why are you passionate about the startup community in Cincinnati?

I grew up in New Hampshire but my parents both came from Cleveland, so I have personal ties to Ohio and great fondness for Cincinnati (except when the Bengals are playing the Browns). Dave, JB, Rob and Bryan laid out a vision that would leverage Cincinnati’s industry leading consumer companies and wealth of design talent. The timing was perfect given the evolution of the web, as open source solutions and utility computing leveled the playing field a bit on the infrastructure side, enabling a new wave of innovation at the application layer. Great branding and design, which the Brandery and Cincinnati represent, are the key elements to differentiation at this layer of the stack.

3. As a specialist in investments and venture capital, what is your biggest piece of advice for applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs?

One of the most important things an entrepreneur does in his or her company’s infancy, is to hire the right people to build their team. The same diligence that is put into the recruiting and hiring process should be applied when selecting mentors and investors. Having the guidance of Mike and the team at the Brandery can help entrepreneurs identify the mentors and investment partners that are optimal for their business goals and culture.

4. If you started a company, what would it be?

Many of the greatest startups, particularly on the enterprise side, are built by people that are attempting to solve a problem they’ve experienced firsthand. Being a VC is an incredible job, but one pain point in the job is email. We network with an extraordinary number of people in order to help our portfolio companies and identify new entrepreneurs to back. I am constantly behind on email and feel bad about responding slowly. My dream company would be one that completely disrupts email with a more efficient form of communication.

5. What are your goals for the Brandery as a mentor?

My goal is to share my perspective in areas where I have significant experience and to help make connections with experts in areas where I don’t. One of the things that I learned early on as a VC, from my partners who had decades of experience operating and investing, was to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a mentor. Just because you help control a lot of investment dollars, people may assume you’re an expert on every facet of being a startup, or worse off, you may believe it yourself! Our team has investors from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from sales to product to tech to finance. We aim to leverage those talents across our portfolio, and I try to take the same approach to my mentorship role at the Brandery.

My goal as a mentor representing SoftBank Capital is also for us to find great companies to invest in, which we did recently with FlightCar. I mentored the team at the Brandery, and we are thrilled to be investors in the company. The Brandery helped the brilliant young team at FlightCar craft a powerful brand message that is clearly resonating in the market.

For more information about Joe Medved or any of our mentors, visit www.brandery.org/mentors!

Meet the Founders: Rob McDonald

The Brandery has decided to feature more of our companies, mentors and founders! Please take this opportunity to learn more about one of our co-founders, Rob McDonald!

1. Tell us about yourself! Who are you and how are you involved with the Brandery?

I’m Rob. I’m a Co-Founder of The Brandery. I’m also an attorney at a local law firm called Taft Stettinius and Hollister, LLP. Prior to attending law school, I worked in advertising for TBWA\Chiat\Day, so I have an odd mix of marketing, venture capital, and law experience. As my co-founders sometimes joke, I’m the co-founder that makes sure that no one gets in trouble and that we are doing everything by the book. In all seriousness though, all of the co-founders are pretty good about trading off responsibilities between each other based on capacity. So, my role is ever changing but includes working with the companies on a daily basis, assisting our Brandery team to manage our day-to-day operational needs, and thinking strategically about what The Brandery should be doing.

2. Why are you passionate about the startup community here in Cincinnati?

When I moved to Cincinnati in 2009 it was clear that we had a problem; smart young professionals were fleeing. I thought that if The Brandery could be successful in fostering a high-tech start-up community in Cincinnati, there would be a palpable energy that would not only stop young people from fleeing Cincinnati, but also draw top talent to Cincinnati. Dave and JB convinced me when we all first met that we had the ability to reverse the course locally. I’ve said it before but 3 years removed from when we launched The Brandery and I feel like we are the precipice of something pretty special. I think this must be how the Napa vineyards felt in the 1970’s. They thought they could take on the French and create world class wines. I feel like we can take on the coasts. We have some start-ups that are proving this.

3. What is your biggest piece of advice for applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Tough question. I regret that I likely have too much advice for applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs. The one major learning for me over the last three years has been to focus on people, not ideas. In our first year, we really focused more heavily on ideas (i.e. What idea does the applicant have?). In year 2, we focused more on team (i.e. Who is on the team?). In year 3, we started to get even smarter and focused on the team and the idea (i.e. Does the team have the capacity to execute the idea?). Now, I think we have gotten relatively good at selecting teams that have the capability and grit to create a business. The term grit has been used quite a bit in education recently, but it is absolutely necessary for entrepreneurs as well. Suffice to say, my one piece of advice would be to build out an incredible team that has the skills to execute the idea.

4. If you started a company, what would it be (does not need to be a serious answer)?

I would start a business accelerator and call it The Brandery. Just kidding. Everyday I think of 100 new businesses I want to start. Last night, I really wanted to start a company to create machines to fold my laundry for me. Kidding again, but seriously, how useful would that be!

5. What are your goals for the Brandery?

Our long term goal has always been to make the Brandery a self-sustaining community. We need the Brandery to remain a powderkeg of innovation and we need it to be built to last for several decades. I think the concept of having successful Brandery graduates fueling future Brandery graduates decade over decade is a powerful vision. So far, so good.

Have additional questions for Rob? Email us at autumn@brandery.org!

OFFF Returns to Cincinnati

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World-famous creative conference, OFFF, will return to Cincinnati on March 6 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.  The event, first held in Cincinnati in 2011, was founded in Barcelona and is recognized as being an innovative, informative, and inspiring design conference.

OFFF garnered such a positive response from attendees in 2011 that the organizers have, once again, named Cincinnati as the conference’s exclusive U.S. location.  The event will include presentations from James Paterson, Onur Senturk, James Victore, Sara Blake, Jon Burgerman, Brendan Dawes, Ramon Escolá and Multitouch Barcelona.  James Victore is best known for his animation visual effects work on movies, such as Dark Knight Rises and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

OFFF is a mecca for creative professionals, including designers, innovators, creative thinkers, and entrepreneurs.  The conference exposes them, not only to high-quality curated content, but also to a network of peers, mentors, and potential business partners.

OFFF Cincy


The conference was held at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2011, but is being moved to the Aronoff Center to allow for more participants.  This year’s conference will be available to approximately 400 attendees.

Don’t miss out on this awesome opportunity!  Get your tickets now at cincinnatiarts.org!