Tag Archives: branding

Entrepreneur Profile: Wisconsin Relic Founder Bryon Shannon

Note: This post is the first in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.”  These posts will focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine.

Bryon Shannon is the founder of Wisconsin Relic, an apparel company that he started in January 2009.  Bryon graduated with a degree in Management and Real Estate from the University of Wisconsin‘s business school and started Wisconsin Relic while he was still a student.  He describes Wisconsin Relic as:

Wisconsin Relic is an apparel company that I started in January 2009.  It is a creative, colorful brand centered on shirt slogans that resonate with young people in Wisconsin. We sell clothing on our website, www.wisconsinrelic.com, as well as through stores such as the University Bookstore in Madison and Milwaukee.  Wisconsin Relic is a lifestyle brand providing premium quality apparel that celebrates the Midwest and its young pioneers.  We sell vintage, organic and Wisconsin Relic original tees at numerous outlets, as well as on WisconsinRelic.com.

Here are a few of Bryon’s shirts:

Nathan Lustig: How did you come up with the idea for Wisconsin Relic and why did you start the business?

Bryon Shannon: I got sick of walking around campus and seeing red and white Wisconsin t-shirts.  I knew I could design some pretty cool tees for kids in the state that would be more interesting than the traditional red and white Wisconsin shirts.  I’d consider myself a very creative and trend-savvy person and keep up to date on social culture through print media and online blogs, so I thought that I could do something based around Wisconsin.

NL: Did you have any experience before you started Wisconsin Relic?

BS: I didn’t have much experience starting a business, but during school, I had attended case study training at the Harvard Business School and competed in an entrepreneurship competition at the London School of Economics.  I got to travel to London and compete alongside other people interested in entrepreneurship and it was a good learning experience.

I had also worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and was a consultant to Fair Indigo Clothing Company and had done some graphic design and marketing for brands and had done a some modeling as well.  Earlier in college, I was the branch manager for a college focused magazine and newspaper that was just breaking into the UW market and I was a founding member of my frat.  Overall, I had a good foundation before I started Wisconsin Relic.

NL: Many founders of startups have some sort of an “ah-ha moment” either when they first get the idea for their company or after they’ve been in business that makes the business work.  Did yo have one and what was it?

BS: My biggest ah-ha moment was during Mifflin! (NL note: The Mifflin Street Block Party is an alcohol-fueled campus-wide block party that occurs each spring right before finals) Imagine an intelligent revelation coming from Mifflin, suprising!

Tons of people were coming to our website to buy Mifflin Street Block Party tees and that really helped raise awareness for our company and brand.

NL: So you had some initial success, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome starting Wisconsin Relic?

BS: Managing money. You always assume that when you get a big sale you’ll make alot of money. When the University Bookstore ordered 300+ shirts, we got really excited, and then realized we needed to print and give them 300 shirts, and we weren’t going to get paid for a month, so cash flow all of a sudden became an issue. The hardest thing is having enough free cash on the side for the company and knowing what is a good investment for the company and what isn’t.

NL: Do you have any funny stories or amusing anecdotes about starting or running the company?  Do people ask you “when are you going to get a real job?”

BS: Haha, that question is most frequent question I hear these days. My great uncle owned his own sign company and said people always think being your own boss is easy because you can get away working just half a day. To that he said, “yes and I have to pick out what 12 hours that’s going to be.” Just shows that owning your own company is way more difficult than getting a “real job” which sometimes makes real jobs tempting, but sometimes not as rewarding in the end.

Funniest anectdote is getting called by Pabst Blue Ribbon’s Legal Deptartment with a threat to sue if we do not stop selling our Mifflin tee (It was inspired by the PBR logo). They laid off once they found out we were a student company, but it did make for a fun “limited edition” shirt.

NL: What is the most fun part of running your company?  The least?

BS: Being your own boss and being your own boss. You can do whatever you want, and make your business something you are really proud of and connect with, but also, there is no paycheck and no one above you telling you to get up and do something when it gets rough, so there is alot of responsibility.

NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?

BS: Financially Allen Dines at the University’s Office of Corporate Relations, and the Student Business Incubator for grants and office space respectively. Also my parents for helping fulfill online orders and supporting my ideas.

NL: What are three websites you check everyday?

BS: nyt.com, concreteloop.com, everyoneisfamous.com, hypem.com

NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?

BS: As Richard Branson said, “Screw it, just do it,” and then stick with it. It is so difficult to actually bring yourself to action, and then once you do, you will encounter so much opposition, so many obsticles that you want to toss the business sometimes, so you’ll need alot of determination.

NL: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.  Do you have any other interesting stories, facts, advice to share?

BS: No problem.  I’d tell people to join networks, ie. Capital Entrepreneurs, and share ideas and resources. It makes business easier and more interesting.

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Black Friday: Advertising Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I wrote about advertising, so seeing as it’s Black Friday and millions of Americans woke up early (or stayed up all night) to go shopping at ungodly hours, I thought I’d write a little about some of the current campaigns that motivated Americans to shop.  First, the bad.

AT&T has been in a battle with Verizon for mobile phone dominance for the past few years.  Verizon still has more subscribers and a bigger network, although AT&T has closed the gap and even taken the lead in some areas.  AT&T’s launch of the iPhone has been a huge boost for AT&T, but lately Verizon has been hitting back.  They launched a commercial that shows two maps of the US, one showing Verizon’s 3G coverage and the other showing AT&T’s 3G coverage.

ATT&T wrote an open letter trying to explain the situation, but they also created their own commercial to show that they too offer service in most of America.  It sounds like a good idea, but for me, the commercial fails.  It opens with Luke Wilson standing on a map of America saying that he got postcards from people all over the US who are able to use AT&T’s network.  Wilson reads off tons of cities and tosses the postcards where the cities are on the map.  Pretty soon, the entire map is covered in postcards.  It might be a cool idea, but they picked Luke Wilson.  As the viewer, I immediately think, “why couldn’t you get Owen Wilson?”  Is AT&T really the second most famous Wilson brother and Verizon is Owen, the big movie star?  It’s almost too perfect since AT&T is playing second fiddle to Verizon and had enough of an inferiority complex to respond to Verizon’s national 3G coverage map with an open letter to consumers.  At least they didn’t pick Andrew Wilson to be their spokespan.  Then people would think they were US Cellular.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjwBHqa6lZI

Sears has always had fairly tame advertisements around the holidays an this year isn’t any different.  Their ads are actually fairly good until the end, when they show their 2009 Christmas slogan.  Their slogan is “More Values, More Christmas.”  It hardly seems right to equate buying more things with more Christmas.  Wal-Mart does the same thing with their slogan “Christmas Costs Less at Wal-Mart.”  It seems wrong to me to equate being able to buy more things with “more Christmas.”  I’m not even going at this from religious perspective, simply a materialistic one.  Both stores are equating buying more things with being happier.  It’s a good message for the stores’ bottom line, but not for everyone else.

Finally, the last of the bad.  Kopps Custard, a local institution in the Milwaukee area used to have a billboard on I43 that showed the flavor of the day.  It let you know if you should take a right turn when you got off the highway or continue to your destination.  If it was a good flavor, you got off and got custard.  If it was bad, you continued on.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped because the billboard showed Tiramisu, Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate or Grasshopper Fudge.  It was a great ad because it motivated people to change behavior and buy.  You can now follow Kopps on Twitter, but it’s just not the same.

Now, onto the good.  This year, Best Buy sent out their Black Friday circular in newspapers around the country, just like they did in other years.  The only difference was that in heavily Muslim areas, they included a bubble at the top that said “Happy Eid Al Ahda.” Eid Al Ahda is a holiday celebrated by Muslims that runs from Friday until Sunday.  Predictably, Best Buy’s decision has drawn criticism from some right wing Christians, including some who want to boycott the store.  I think this is yet another manufactured issue and commend Best Buy for using some innovative marketing to try to tap into an underrepresented market.  As an aside, I also laugh at companies that refuse to mention Christmas in their holiday ads.

Happy Thanksgiving and if you are shopping today, good luck finding those deals.  Remember, door busters don’t mean that you should literally bust the door down.

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Mozy: Branding Gone Right

In my last post, I talked about the state of Wisconsin and its branding gone wrong.  I wanted to use this post to show an example of a company with excellent branding and customer relations: mozy.com.

Mozy is an online data backup company that stores and protects files on your hard drive.  Here’s how it works.  You sign up for an unlimited storage plan for $4.95 per month and install the Mozy client onto your computer.  You tell Mozy what you want to back up and then the application does the rest.  The client runs in the background when you start up and shut down your computer, saving any files that have been modified in the interim.  If you computer dies, is stolen or somehow gets damaged, you can load the Mozy client onto your new machine and have your data back in as little as three hours.

There are a myriad of online backup companies, but I think Mozy has the best branding and advertising (I use Mozy to backup my computer).  Check out their homepage and see if you agree.  

I wanted to focus on an email they sent to their customers last week.  Its simply brilliant.  Here is the email:

Monthly Newsletter – April 2009

Flight 1549

 

 

Flight 1549Paul Jorgensen had just come from a meeting at Goldman Sachs when he boarded US Airways Flight 1549. He sat down in seat 1A next to the window, pulled out his notebook to capture of few thoughts, then put it away and prepared for takeoff.

Seated one row behind Jorgensen was Bill Wiley, also traveling for business with a computer onboard the plane. In fact, he brought a couple of notebooks with him. But he, like Jorgensen and all passengers, abandoned his personal belongings and focused on saving his life when the plane crash-landed into the Hudson River.

Both men had been backing up regularly. The difference is Jorgenson backed up online with Mozy, and Wiley backed up his two computers to thumb drives. Jorgensen retrieved his data back from Mozy, but Wiley lost 250 GB of his employer’s information. The stories were detailed in USA Today and ComputerWorld.

In moments of disaster, those who use Mozy are able to focus on other things than backup without the fear of losing their data. At Mozy, we’re grateful that all passengers on Flight 1549 were in the hands of such an skillful crew and were able to return to their loved ones without any loss of life or significant injury. 

Be safe,
Devin Knighton
Mozy.com

 

This story is the perfect example of a sticky message.  Most Americans know about the crash landing in the Hudson.  Everyone can picture what they would do if they were in a similar situation and everyone can picture what they would feel like if they did not have Mozy to protect their data.  This email is another piece of brilliant marketing from Mozy.

“Live Like You Mean It” – Branding Gone Wrong

Live like you Mean It.  

That is the new slogan for the state of Wisconsin.  Apparently “America’s Dairyland” was not good enough.  The new slogan cost $50,000 of taxpayer money and it wasn’t even original: Bacardi trademarked it and has used it as a slogan to sell rum.  Motivational speakers use it as book titles, marketers put it on baby bibs, and high-minded college kids use it to discuss what they would like to do after graduation.

Its boring, unoriginal and very debatable whether Wisconsinites “live like they mean it” or if tourists are supposed to come to Wisconsin with that goal in mind.  Either way, it is a weak effort.  Wisconsin could have crowd surfed its way to a better slogan; It probably would have been better than Live Like you Mean It and wouldn’t have cost $50,000.

It brings up three rules that should should make sure to follow when they are trying to brand themselves:

  1. Do your due diligence to make sure your brand does not evoke other, unrelated products. (If it were Wisconsin and beer or brandy rather than Wisconsin and rum it might make sense)
  2. Be creative, not boring
  3. Don’t waste cash on something you could do yourself