At its core, Columbus-based UQ Marketing builds brands at colleges across the country by hiring student influencers to represent their favorite brands on campus.
The key, according to UQ’s founders Leah Bell and Staci Hausch, is finding “Brand Builders,” students who are well connected, have several networks of friends and are truly fans of the brand they’re representing. As those students are the foundation of every program UQ builds, it’s essential to identify the right ones. And who better to do that than recent college graduates.
Probably no one, which makes Bell and Haush, who graduated in 2010 from Miami University and the University of Kentucky respectively, ideal for their line of work.
“We launched UQ Marketing, and committed to it full time, in March 2011,” says Bell. “The company came to be over a Skype conversation while I was living in Seattle and Staci in Columbus. We talked about the idea for months before launching and leaving our full time jobs.”
Hausch bought a one-way ticket to Seattle to meet up with Bell, they worked there for a month, and then drove to Columbus to headquarter their company here.
“Entrepreneur.com was actually running an Independence Day contest at the start of our road trip, so we entered and got second place!” says Hausch. “It was a great way to begin our cross-country trek.”
In the following interview, Bell and Hausch discuss what they learned while working in the corporate world, who has given them advice and support since they launched UQ, and why they’re happy to be working for themselves.
The Metropreneur : What inspired you to start UQ Marketing?
Leah Bell: I’ve always been entrepreneurial and knew I would start a company; UQ was the first idea I had that I could see myself doing long term. The whole premise behind UQ came from my experience as a brand ambassador myself in college. I experienced firsthand how other companies were running programs, and saw how it wasn’t working. I had my own T-shirt business in college, where I hired students to represent my company, and what made it successful was the management of the students.
[M]: You both spent a year in the corporate world. What kind of work did you do and how has that experience impacted the way you run your business?
Staci Hausch: I was working for Marketing Works as an account coordinator in Worthington right out of school. Working in an agency had such an impact on me. I learned everything from client service to billing to project management to creative writing, etc. I took everything from that experience and applied it to UQ. It;s been invaluable.
LB: I was in medical sales at Cardinal Health. I know how I was personally motivated in my job. That taught me how to manage and motivate our Brand Builders. I think it’s an advantage, too, to be so close in age to the college student. I know what keeps them working hard and what inspires them to go above and beyond because of my time in a sales role.
[M]: When you were getting the business off the ground, what resources −books, websites, organizations− did you find useful?
LB: LinkedIn was a great tool. I had been building my network all through college and the contacts I made there helped us land our first client.
SH: Sprouter was another great resource we turned to in the beginning. We could ask business questions to experienced entrepreneurs from around the globe.
[M]: Did you turn to any local role models or mentors for advice or input?
SH: I found a lot of support from the Marketing Works team −Brenda Stier, Sandy Fekete, and Stacy Wood− who taught me how to keep longstanding clients. Heather Whaling of Geben Communication also had some great entrepreneurial advice.
LB: Kevin Walsh was my manager when I interned at JPMorgan Chase. His advice helped us land our biggest account to date. My entrepreneurship professor, Mark Lacker, introduced us to our first client and Staci and I are working with his class this semester.
[M]: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far as business owners and how did you overcome it?
LB: Establishing trust among our student teams and letting go of control. We both want everything to be done a certain way and can be controlling at times. I’ve had to learn a lot of trust and patience.
[M]: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
SH: At the end of the day, we’re young business owners. Our success has been completely up to us. I love having the creative freedom as well as the opportunity to make my job whatever I want it to be. A lot of 23-year-olds don’t have that opportunity.
LB: I have worked for large companies and it is hard to see where you are really adding value. I love the feeling at the end of the day knowing I helped move the business forward and was really productive. When you own your own business, you can see the effect of every decision you make– good, bad and ugly. It has been the best learning experience I have had up to this point and is a very stressful, but rewarding, lifestyle.
[M]: What are your goals for UQ Marketing?
SH: We want to be a driving influence on college students’ purchasing decisions, whether that be their first car or what kind of laundry detergent they choose when Mom isn’t washing their clothes anymore. On the flipside of the coin, I want to provide a positive work experience for our Brand Builders. I love that we’re creating new opportunities for college students in a tough market.
LB: I want UQ to be the company that brands turn to when they really want to engage the college consumer. A lot of times, companies need help to make a lasting impression, especially when it comes to college kids.
I’ve always wanted to be a business professor one day. This is a nice balance of mentoring students while gaining business experience for myself. We’ve given our brand builders such relevant experience and love that, because of the work they’re doing for our clients, they’ll have a leg up when it comes to getting their first jobs.
[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?
SH: A lot of people ask us, “What’s a UQ?” We founded the company based on the fact that we have a high UQ, or University Quotient. The college consumer changes every year and it’s our job to know different college campuses, and the students that attend, inside and out.
To learn more about UQ Marketing, visit UQMarketing.com.