A Brand Knew Perspective on Startup Incubation

By February 24, 2012

It takes about 15 minutes after your first whiff of tech startup success to receive the following proposition on weekly repeat:

I don’t have the money or expertise to turn my brilliant website idea into the next big thing, so I was wondering if you knew anyone who might build it for equity.

You don’t of course. Given the high volume or Zuckerberg-envy fueled ideas and low barriers to entry for creating their minimum viable prototype, any web developer or VC would be bonkers to back a founder unwilling to gather the necessary resources for getting it off the ground. No track record or traction? No dice. And that’s how it should be.

But what if you got far enough to understand where you should go next – dare I say, ‘pivot’ – just as you ran out of resources? Investors still don’t see the all-important traction necessary to jump in. Incubators are cliquey versions of the same, and your team could use some rounding out regardless. Somebody with an eye for scalable ideas on the brink of success must have the tools and talent to pull it off. That’s where Brand Knew has found its niche.

Founders Zach Suchin, 27, and Jason Schutzbank, 25, have already been building tech companies together for 9 years. Their first venture, College Tonight, quietly went public in 2009 followed by the creation of Brand Knew as a digital marketing agency. Competencies grew to include web design and development, and then a suite of social media engagement tools emerged from client needs. All of a sudden they had the freedom and chops to take on whatever project seemed appealing. A new model was born. Brand Knew indeed.

Suchin summarizes Brand Knew’s portfolio strategy as “We’re interested in companies that disrupt industries, big or small.  Usually, the simpler the idea, the better its chance of success. The key to our model is we incubate and accelerate while leaving passionate founders to operate.” Some of their more notable projects are:

  • Kosher Express – Ensuring that everyone in the US can keep kosher by delivering high quality kosher goods at the lowest prices on the internet. Kosher consumers had becomes increasingly underserved and dispersed, faced with few local options and outrageous prices, so the company compliments its e-commerce business by fostering an online community for sharing kosher recipes and traditions.
  • LikeIt.FM – Creating a way for artists to help fans request songs on the radio through Twitter, Facebook and (soon) banner ads. Clients include Ke$ha, Big Sean, Kanye, Lil Wayne and Drake. The company also aggregates and analyzes user demographics data, making it accessible to labels and talent management through a back-end portal included with each campaign.
  • Intercast – Pushing live-streaming (or pre-recorded) video onto any website at a set time for an online event experience that integrates real-time polling, live chat, Q&A and a one-click-buy option. The service is distributed in widget form, within Facebook pages or using banner ads as part of an existing media buy. Bridging the gap between production companies and media buying agencies, the company works with a wide range of political figures, non-profits, event marketers and corporate clients.

The majority of digital marketing and web development firms could use a bit of perspective from client side of the table, where dreams too-often lie on the shoulders of indifferent engineers, designers and strategy consultants. In a system where those who can’t do frequently leach without repercussions for project success, it’s nice to see somebody putting their virtual mouth where their actual wallet is.