Meet the Iowa company that makes swag for startups nationwide

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Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 5:04 pm, Tue Mar 25, 2014.

BrandSquid produces custom goods for startups, including launch kits, T-shirts and stickers.

Two years after landing a branding partnership with New York startup Foursquare, Sam Schill (left) of Sigler Companies is ready to unveil his employer's new endeavor focused on startups: BrandSquid.

The new entity, which launched in early December, aims to help up-and-coming tech companies get branded swag, such as stickers and T-shirts, into the hands of their users. But the focus is on narrowing the process to their unique needs.

"Startups are kind of scrappy. They're lean, they don't have a ton of money," Schill said. "Even if they do have a bunch of venture capital, they still only have a certain amount for things like marketing."

Now BrandSquid handles the creation and distribution of custom goods for more than 100 clients, including Facebook, Pinterest, RunKeeper and TechStars.

"We love working with startup companies," Schill says. "We like the idea of meeting these small teams and watching them grow, and being part of that process."

Sigler's flexibility to scale with brands actually helped Schill get one of their biggest clients, Foursquare, and sparked the original conversations about BrandSquid. After hearing Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley speak at Big Omaha 2010, Schill and his coworkers wanted to verify their offices as a check-in location.

"At that time they were manually calling people to verify venues," Schill says. "I'm sitting there in our web department and one of our web guys answers the phone and it's Foursquare."

Beyond verifying the location, Foursquare needed someone to produce promotional materials for a branding campaign they were running. Schill made the deal happen, and now every Foursquare "Check in Here" window cling (right) flows through Sigler's offices.

"At the time, they were kind of the darling of the startup community in New York, and really all over," Schill said. "Through the work we did for Foursquare, we got a lot of referrals from people saying 'who did your store?' and 'who makes your stuff?'. "

Companies lined up for Schill's expertise, and BrandSquid evolved as a way to meet their needs. "I don't know if it's just that we're all inundated by email and Twitter, but actually having something that you can hold onto and keep as a touchpoint is so important," Schill says.

Crafting a successful touchpoint depends on the brand. For example, BrandSquid handles the printing and distribution for all of GetGlue's stickers, which are awarded to users that check into different TV shows and movies. Pinterest, on the other hand, asked BrandSquid to help them venture into the realm of tangible products through Jessica Hische's artwork, so they launched a storefront for the pinner's prints.

Schill said that right now, BrandSquid's biggest competition comes from companies like Zazzle and CafePress, which offer custom T-shirt services. However, BrandSquid stands out by also offering in-house marketing guidance, design resources and fulfillment capabilities.

"We want to hear about how you want to grow, and then we'll make some targeted recommendations rather than just ordering something," Schill said. "We're going to tell you 'don't spend money on that thing,' or 'don't spend money at all.' We’re a more strategic option."

In the coming year, Schill will spend a lot of time traveling to events like South by Southwest Interactive and Big Omaha to make new connections. He also plans on meeting with venture capital firms that see BrandSquid as a resource for their companies.

"Being from Iowa I didn't think I was going to get the chance to bounce around to Manhattan and San Francisco and everywhere else," Schill said. "It's fun to be at all these fast growing companies—in their office space—and being a small part of how they grow is very cool."

 

Credits: Screenshot from brandsquid.com. Sam Schill photo by Anna Jones and Phillip Harder / Thinc Iowa. Foursquare photo by Nuccia Faccenda on Flickr.

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