Sidewalk chalk and the power of low budget guerrilla marketing (ep 58)

Marketing our business in the early days came with a significant set of challenges.

We didn’t have any money and what little we did have we spent on a beat up cargo van (yeah really bad but thats me and I was proud) on craigslist for $1500 so we could haul the stuff to and from the farmer’s pole barn we rented in exchange for farm labor a few weeks later.

So how did we reach our customers?

We had a major advantage in that we knew exactly where our customers were. We knew where they lived. We knew where they hung out. We knew where they walked to class.

We thought about standing there and handing out flyers as they walked to class but that would be too time consuming and we couldn’t possibly reach enough people.

So we decided to go buy a few $4 boxes of sidewalk chalk and put some billboards all over campus. Like this. And this. And might as well advertise for employees while we’re at it.

Instead of drawing a big elaborate drawing in one high traffic area we took the simple volume approach. About 75 text ads all around campus could be put down in about 2 hours.

So my partner and I did this ourselves. I literally wore out two pairs of jeans the first season doing this because each time I knelt down to write one my knee would rub the concrete. April and May is the rainy season so each time it would rain we would go out and do it again.

When we launched in Boston in 2013 we bought this beautiful truck on the south side of Chicago for $2200. Two days later I filled it with supplies and drove it to Boston and lived there on my girlfriend’s (now wife) couch for two months. I covered that entire city with chalk ads. Tufts. Harvard (they kicked me off in 2 seconds). Northeastern. Emerson. MIT. BU. Brandeis. I was everywhere with boxes of chalk on boxes of chalk. 4 weeks straight of chalking 8 hours a day.

It worked amazingly. We got 1000 customers the first year in Boston and overflowed our warehouse and had to get more space at the last second. We filled that one up too. My wife even had to help.

The next year we went to a few more locations and chalked the heck out of them too. Then a few more.

People laugh when I include chalk in my little startup inspiration stories. But honestly I credit that tactic to really allowing us to grow and build up a fairly large customer base quickly.

I hope this inspires you to get out and do some guerrilla marketing that your competitors aren’t doing. It works.

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About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship. 

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