New business ideas don’t find success without a solid support system. Having systems and workflows doing their thing behind the scenes can profoundly boost a business’s ability to get off the ground and—especially in the case of startups—to adapt as opportunities to innovate emerge.
When Michael Martocci set his entrepreneurial sights on the promotional products (AKA swag) industry and founded SwagUp (from his mom’s garage in New Jersey, naturally) he intended to build a swag provider for startups. But as an entrepreneur, he was constantly looking for new ideas and opportunities to innovate, and Trello made that possible.
While swag has evolved way beyond branded mugs and water bottles—think giant Jenga blocks and hoverboards (yes, hoverboards)—industry practices and vendor options have remained unchanged for years. “There are 20 or 30 companies that account for half of the revenue, and the other half is divided among about 30,000 companies,” Michael says.
This fragmentation makes for an unpleasant customer experience, to say the least. Some patrons have to work with multiple vendors to get the products they need, making the ordering process time-consuming, overly complicated, and disconnected. Others choose to hire marketing agencies to manage the ordering process, which is less painful but more expensive.
The realities of this flawed system crystalized for Michael when a company approached him asking for “a swag pack”—a collection of branded items—to distribute to new hires. It’s a very laborious process to get a pack done, and it made us think that if one customer needed our help in this way, there were others out there that did, too,” he says.
This realization led Michael to rethink his business approach and, ultimately, change course. Instead of ascribing to the cumbersome existing model, SwagUp would streamline the experience for customers, offering easy ordering and frictionless e-commerce experiences, in addition to design services and kit assembly. They’d handle storage, fulfillment, and shipping too. In essence, SwagUp would shoulder the logistical burden that had traditionally fallen to customers, doubling down on the value of a seamless experience.
In order to execute this ambitious pivot, Michael had to develop a system, quickly, that could manage the logistical and business workflows required to make his innovative idea a reality.
“The minute you go into a Trello board, you understand how it works. There’s not really a learning curve.”
“I tell people I started this company with Wix, Typeform, and Trello. These are three out-of-the-box tools that are easily accessible and, to a degree, free,” Michael says.
The first workflow Michael developed was a sales pipeline system to manage the entire customer lifecycle, from order submission to swag delivery. He chose Trello for its visual layout and process-driven design. He also knew it would be easy to train his employees on Trello—a key factor in getting his new initiative up and running fast. “The minute you go into a Trello board, you understand how it works,” Michael says. “There’s not really a learning curve.”
Michael automated aspects of his sales pipeline using Zapier to save even more time. When a customer submitted an order on SwagUp’s website, Zapier automated a Trello card, which in turn alerted SwagUp. The card was assigned to a designer, then passed to account management, and so forth. As cards moved across the Trello board, the team could visualize where each customer was in the process and what needed to happen next.
Once Michael saw how well Trello supported his sales process, he moved additional team workflows to the platform. He built an operations board to manage procurement and vendor orders. Swag fulfillment is heavy on details, and Trello served as a central location to monitor and manage those details. “We tracked everything in that board—the date we needed an item by, the colors—all of it,” Michael says.
“We had checklists in our cards to make sure we had all the information our ordering team needed to do its job.”
From the operations board, order requests were sent to vendors, triggering a fulfillment workflow. Vendors indicated on Trello cards whether they had accepted an order and when the order had shipped. Then, as SwagUp’s fulfillment workflow grew more robust, Michael began to see the value of Power-Ups—which add more functionality and integrations with other key business tools to any Trello board.
For six months, SwagUp operated on a free version of Trello, but Michael grew eager to build out its functionality, especially to include shipping information on their cards. The Package Tracker Power-Up attaches tracking numbers from shipments right to Trello cards providing up-to-date progress and delivery dates right in Trello. “We have hundreds of packages going in and out every day. It’s helpful to look at a card and see if a package has arrived or not and understand where it is,” he says.
“I don’t know any other way we could’ve done it. We wouldn’t have survived without Trello."
In a little over two years, an innovative business idea has become an innovative business, and Michael credits Trello for playing an essential role in that transformation. And the company’s investment in a new customer experience within a static industry is returning results: SwagUp has acquired 800 customers, is nearing its two-thousandth order, and projects its gross annual revenue will be between $8MM and $9MM in 2019.
“I don’t know any other way we could’ve done it. We wouldn’t have survived without Trello,” Michael says. “Not only did it unify our process and help everyone understand their role, but we were able to automate essential steps of the process so we could move a lot faster and grow to a multi-million dollar company with a team of ten.”
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