Guest post by Jeffrey Peden, Founder & CEO, CraveLabs.
As one of the residents of Dogpatch Labs in Cambridge, CraveLabs was fortunate to be invited into a special Dogpatch-only session of the Marketing Hackathon program, created last year by the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange. MITX-Up, as the initiative is called, pairs pre-screened startup companies with a team of hand-selected marketing specialists for an evening of high-bandwidth hacking on each startup's go-to-market plan. This “instant mentorship” program is an amazing example of the pay-it-forward culture being built in Boston, with volunteers from across industries and verticals coming together to help give a leg up to our startups. Since there can at times be more programs for startups in Boston during any given week than there are hours to attend them, making it tough to decide which to pick, I offered to chronicle our experience with MITX Up to shine some light on what I've found to be one of the best programs available.
Our experience started with an invite from Debi Kleiman, President of MITX, and a recommendation from Dogpatch's EIR Gus Weber that this was a great opportunity for the startups in our community. The invitation included a link to a rather detailed application form, similar in length and content to the applications for any startup accelerator program. While yet another application can seem daunting for time-crunched entrepreneurs, putting in some quality time with the application is worth the effort, since the answers to these questions are used to their fullest to help MITX make the program great.
Behind the scenes, MITX coordinators first review the applications to determine which members of the MITX community of professional marketers would be the best fit for each company. Because of the breadth and depth of the MITX organization, they are able to bring to your team a well-curated group of 4-5 individuals with relevant experience in whatever it is that your startup is doing.
For CraveLabs, the expertise went beyond marketing into a bus dev and strategy team. Since we're focused on "reinventing advertising for local businesses,” our group was stacked with industry-specific experts ranging from a recovering entrepreneur who’s now an owner/operator of a couple of big-name fast-casual dining franchises, to an advertising sales maven with over a decade of experience in local media. Sprinkle in some corporate communications and PR, and local guerrilla marketing gurus, and you've got a pretty good picture of the kind of firepower brought to the table by MITX to help. For other teams, there was a similar level of focus, whether it was on green-tech or financial services.
Again, detail in the application about your business and challenges is critical in having a great experience with MITX-Up, because the team members really do their homework before the event to get an understanding of your company, space, and how your competitors might be positioned. After all, they have only two hours to help you—and they strive to make the most of it. Our volunteer team of Tracy, John, Peter and Mike had a great general sense of what CraveLabs was up to before the event started.
The event itself starts with a quick overview and some networking over food & beer, and then quickly gets into mating the startups with their pre-selected teams. Each team breaks off into a conference room and gets to work for the next 2 hours. After going around the table and having each person introduce themselves, the startups give a 10-15 minute refresher/overview of their product and positioning.
The next 2 hours or so are spent going into detail on particular challenges of each business. In our case, I focused on 2 primary issues: how to coordinate efforts in selling to local SMBs with both direct and channel based sales, and how to align a PR strategy. As we went through these issues, I would get more questions from the team and briefly dive deeper into specific aspects of CraveLabs (e.g. explaining our revenue model in more detail). Note: if you're not comfortable sharing lots of detail about your startup, you're not going to get as much from this program.
At the end of the night, I had collected dozens of specific, tangible suggestions that will supplement the help we get from our part-time CMO—stretching our resources with a quick-hit “virtual team.” I shudder to think what this might have cost in getting outside restaurant and media sales experts to review our plan and come up with a similar set of suggestions, or convening a focus group. Not only that, but we also had a great time and made some great new friends!
Regardless of stage, market, or level of marketing sophistication, the MITX Up Marketing Hackathons are a great way to give a quick boost to your startup with two free hours of concentrated help from industry professionals. Since MITX offers them periodically, be on the lookout or contact the MITX team to find out how you can take part in the next one.
(Note from MITX: Currently, MITX Up marketing hackathons are arranged through accelerator programs in Greater Boston such as MassChallenge, TechStars, Dogpatch Labs and CriticalMass. As the program grows, we will open it up further. For now, only startups that are part of an established accelerator program are eligible to participate.)