Startup Gets the Party Started

SpareFoot brought the crowd to its feet at its "Spare Beats" dance party, held in Austin last year at the South by Southwest festival (SXSW), an annual event widely considered to be the ultimate breeding ground for new music, independent films and emerging technologies. SpareFoot, based in Austin, is an online marketplace for self-storage facilities, founded in 2008 by two UCLA students. It now employs 74 people.

"People at SXSW are looking for a good time. We decided the best way for us to get our name out there was to throw a party," says Jenny Zhang, junior editor at SpareFoot. Spare Beats was an all-day party that went into the evening hours. It featured a variety of local and nationally known DJs, as well as dinner and drinks for the packed audience, which included SpareFoot employees and friends, investors and journalists.

"One of our main goals was to show we are a fun, dynamic and wacky company, despite the fact that we're in an industry that may be perceived as boring," says Zhang. This was SpareFoot's first appearance at the festival, which Zhang calls a "mecca for startups." The company marketed the event as a crazy, day-to-night party, and encouraged people to hydrate before they arrived. The event drew a capacity crowd and generated 42 PR mentions with links, 261 Twitter mentions, 46 Facebook mentions and 9,290 RSVPs, according to a blog post by Rachel Greenfield, SpareFoot marketing manager and editor of The Storage Facilitator.

They distributed logoed T-shirts and mini SpareFoot tape-measure keychains to Spare Beats party guests. "Branded items are a perk of being our customer," says Zhang, who says the company typically offers branded items at trade shows and other promotional and networking events.

SpareFoot T-shirts and towels are popular giveaways at self-storage trade shows, which number 10 or more a year. Zhang says these shows are great networking opportunities. "We're about to enter trade show season again, so we're preparing to distribute even more swag this time around," she says. The company is currently distributing logoed can coolers at shows including ISS World Expo and other trade shows around the country.

Earlier this year, SpareFoot sponsored a "Declutter SpareFoot's Swag Closet" on its Facebook page. The company gave away its signature tee and towels to anyone who asked, and if recipients tweeted a picture of themselves wearing the swag, they were entered in a contest to win a $100 Visa gift card.

The company is not afraid to toe, or perhaps even cross the line when selecting promotional merchandise. In January they sent out a calendar featuring employees to about 300 customers. "It was a scandalous storage pin-up calendar. It was definitely weird and completely inappropriate, and we love the reactions – from horrified to gleeful – that we've gotten so far," says Zhang. The calendar was so popular, the company had to order more copies.

The takeaway, according to Zhang, is that the industry of self-storage doesn't immediately seem exciting or fun. "But the truth is we have a blast doing what we do, and we try to make the rest of the industry, as well as the public, see that. We're a tech startup in Austin, after all – it's in our blood!"

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