Tune into this episode to hear SwagUp founder and CEO Michael Martocci chat with Vincent Matano on his podcast, Operation Growth. Michael and Vincent talk about staying resourceful with an entrepreneurial mindset, making the decision to go all in with SwagUp, and the overlooked advantages of being a generalist.
If you’re interested in how embracing serendipity and hustling every day leads to your greatest opportunities, this episode’s for you. Let’s go #tothemoon!
Vince Matano (left) / Host of Operational Growth / Michael Martocci (right), CEO & Founder of SwagUp
💡 the big ideas:
- Why too many people wait for ‘permission’ and how that’s a mistake
- How entrepreneurship is like the floating doors in Monsters, Inc
- The free, no-code tech stack that supported SwagUp’s early days
- How SwagUp used the purple cow principle for viral growth
- Why culture is a decision you make on a daily basis
Vincent Matano is the host of the podcast Operation Growth. Each episode dives deep into the stories of the most inspiring and persistent individuals around us to explore what makes them tick. The ultimate goal? Growth.
- Listen to this episode on Operation Growth
- Get more big ideas from Vin on Spotify or iTunes
- Follow Vin on Twitter
- Follow Michael on Twitter
- Book recommendation: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
- Book recommendation: The One Thing by Gary Keller
🚀 get started:
Keep reading for a sneak preview of everything discussed in this podcast episode!
A chance meeting with Steve Weatherford
In December 2015, SwagUp founder and CEO Michael Martocci was still enrolled at William & Mary. It was the first day of winter break, and Michael was on a plane to Miami to help his dad with a travel road trip package for the Giants vs. Dolphins game.
Coincidentally, it was also Steve Weatherford’s first year out of the NFL.
“I met [Steve] for the first time that Saturday night at the party my Dad had thrown on the beach,” Michael says. “Steve was doing a meet and greet and talking to different fans and taking pictures and all that. And we just got to talking a little bit about working out and fitness and business.”
“He was kind of at a point in his life where he wanted to figure out what the next step was for him. He was out of the NFL but he was known in the NFL for being a very fit athlete, especially for someone who’s a punter. Punters are mostly super skinny, scrawny dudes and he kind of started that trend of kickers and punters starting to work out and get big.”
One thing led to another and all of a sudden Michael had a chance to workout with a NFL player known for killing it in the gym. “We basically set up to work out the next morning,” Michael says, “And just the minute we started lifting together, we’re talking about business. I wanted to talk about starting businesses and like what people are doing and stuff and he had ideas where he would take his career.”
“By the end of the workout I was basically like, I’ll just leave school,” Michael says, “If you are serious about doing something like this, let’s talk about it.”
A few days later, Michael and Steve returned to New Jersey, staying in touch via text, and continued working out together. “I was like driving an hour to go meet him at the gym but I was like, Why am I gonna pass up this chance to work out with a NFL player that has his shit together in terms of how to lift? I want to learn a lot from him.” The lift sessions and business conversations continued throughout winter break. Then it was time to go back to school.
This is where the story ends for most people. But for Michael, it was just the beginning.
“There’s a lot of people that will promise you things and say, Oh, I can do this for you. I can do that, why don’t you let me do this. […] For me it was like, I’m just going to start doing things. […] I’ll show that I’m dedicated and we’re just going to start generating results.”
— Michael Martocci, SwagUp Founder and CEO
“[Steve] never really said to do it, because he knew that my mom would be pissed (which she was), but I kind of just decided to take it upon myself,” Michael says, “I drove back to school, and the first day I went to the office of whatever, the admissions, I don’t even know what office it is. The registrar or something. And I just filled out a paper and just said, I’m out of here.” Michael had just taken his first steps off the beaten path.
From then on, it was all about resourcefulness and hustle.
When asked how he – a then 21 year old – was able to earn Steve’s trust with a business partnership, Michael says, “It wasn’t like upfront, we decided like, okay, you’re my business partner,” Michael says, “There’s a natural progression [of] overtime showing him value day in and day out.”
“There’s a lot of people that will promise you things and say, Oh, I can do this for you. I can do that, why don’t you let me do this. [It’s] like everyone’s waiting for permission to get the chance to do it. And they’re also overhyping, overpromising the fact that they can do something that they probably can’t.”
Michael saw it differently. “For me it was like, I’m just going to start doing things. I’m not going to get paid. I don’t care about you giving me a salary or anything, I’ll come to your house. I’ll show that I’m dedicated and we’re just going to start generating results.”
A little Wix website and a $10,000 order
A few months after working with Steve on Weatherford Fit, Michael wasn’t sure what was next. Then family friend Tom Sparico from Brand New Matter reached out.
“Tom was like, what are you up to now? He’d always follow along my journey with Steve and everything, and he always kind of spotted the potential in me growing up,” Michael says. “And he was just like, okay, you know, while you figure this out, why don’t you just come work with us at BNM ventures?”
It might have seemed like an unusual next step for the entrepreneur, but Michael knew he liked startups, and he knew he liked Tom, so he figured why not? He’d give it a shot. “It was a cool experience for a while there,” Michael says, “[But] I was always thinking like, what am I doing to do next? Like what is the next idea?”
Then Michael stumbled onto a gap in the market. “I was there with all the startups, and having a little bit of experience in promotional products and printing from college, I saw that there’s a huge opportunity within startups to focus on swag,” Michael says.
Employee engagement and brand building are huge parts of startup culture – so why wasn’t there a brand for that? “It was like all these old fashioned crappy websites and mom-and-pop print shops,” Michael says. “But there’s no brand that resonated with a startup company.”
To test the idea, Michael built a simple Wix website and launched it. No frills, just quality swag. “[I] bought a simple Google ad and Facebook ad,” Michael says, “[And just] started to get leads automatically, right out of the gate.”
Michael soon got his first major order: $10,000 for 100 swag packs. “It was like a tote bag filled with different items, like a sweatshirt and a jacket, and a notebook for all the new hires,” Michael says, “At the time, it was three times more than what we had done the month before.”
Swag packs, Michael realized, was what would set SwagUp apart from the competition. “It just seemed like such a great opportunity because of all the logistics around it. If you’re a company that wants to put together a swag pack, you have to find vendors for all the different products, you have to have a design team to design it, you have to have a packing assembly line… It’s just not feasible for companies to do it on their own.”
The importance of staying resourceful
After landing an order from Soylent, Michael knew he was onto something bigger than he had ever imagined. He left Brand New Matter and committed to SwagUp full time, bootstrapping SwagUp’s rapid growth to 8 figures in under three years.
Growing the company – and not his wallet – was an intentional choice. “There’s plenty of companies and plenty of people that are comfortable and happy just growing a business pretty steadily and you know, doing $2 million a year. $3 million a year. But we deliberately decided that we want to build something really big. That’s why we hired a CTO of one year in. […] We grew so quickly because we made the deliberate choice to continue to spend every dollar we make back in the business.”
Here’s the advice Michael would give a young person looking to get into entrepreneurism, whether they’re in school, or at their first job out of college and looking to make that next big jump: Don’t overthink it.
“When it comes down to it, it’s about resourcefulness,” Michael says, “People get tied down to ideas all the time. I think that’s the biggest mistake young kids make. They talk about ideas all the time. And they’ll tell you like, Oh, I came up with that idea first, and it doesn’t matter at all. Whether you came up with it, or he came up with it, at the end of the day, every idea has been thought about by somebody. There’s more than 6 billion people on the planet. To think that you have a unique idea amongst six billion people is crazy.”
Instead, Michael says to just take the first step. “Get in the habit of getting uncomfortable and also get in the habit of just doing the work every single day without complaining, without overthinking it. And one day you’ll look up and you’ll have built something you never could have imagined. […] What you’re going to learn in the process of doing it is so much more valuable than waiting for that perfect opportunity to start the perfect idea in the perfect environment.”
To get the full story of Michael’s experiences as an entrepreneur, check out the rest of this podcast at Operation Growth.
“Get in the habit of getting uncomfortable and also get in the habit of just doing the work every single day without complaining, without overthinking it. And one day you’ll look up and you’ll have built something you never could have imagined.” Michael Martocci, SwagUp Founder and CEO