Year 1, Part 1: Looking Back

By Steven Duque

Happy 1st birthday, Momba!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full year since Momba started making her way into the world. As I reflect on how far we’ve come — and how far we have yet to go — I find myself feeling a deep sense of gratitude. A deep, sincere thanks to everyone — our customers, host schools, partners and vendors, student entrepreneurs, mentors, friends and supporters — who have helped us along the way this past year with their patronage, belief in what we do, advice and hard work. The road thus far has been full of ups and downs, and as we’ve made our way forward, it’s been invigorating to know that we’ve started to make an impact, that our mission and methods have resonated among our first customers, and that we still have much left to learn and do.

Looking BackYear One


Questions, answers & icebergs. Around this time last year, we started our journey with an attempt to validate a hunch (based on personal experience) that there was a real need among university residential communities that Momba could address. What we found was encouraging: college students do, indeed, find themselves needing and wanting items essential to their well-being, personal care and dorm life after nearby stores are closed or seem too far away. Not only that, but they’re also much more likely  (3x) to go to an in-dorm machine to buy these items than a 24/7 convenience or personal care store.

And so, we began assembling an initial set of products, armed with validation that there’s a real problem to address and feedback that allowed us to hone in on our initial product mix. Since then, we’ve learned that the initial information we collected only scraped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing and refining our understanding of our customers’ preferences for things they want and need. Simple wants and needs, it seems, aren’t always simple. As we find and learn new ways to discover and look at more of the iceberg, we’ve come to expect that many of our discoveries have only led to more questions. Thankfully, we love learning!


Momba's success has been because of the people who have helped her become real along the way

Momba’s success thus far has been due to the wonderful people who have helped her along the way.

People, people, people. From the beginning, Momba has received a tremendous amount of help, reminding us again and again that any business — regardless of how high or low the tech it requires — lives, dies and pushes forward because of the people who invest their time, effort, capital and talents into realizing it. From crafting what Momba looks like, to learning about the vending industry and vending machines, to being granted our first locations for Momba machines, we’ve had the good fortune of receiving help from an incredible assortment of kind, talented people who have generously given us their time, trust and effort to make our ever-evolving vision of Momba a reality.

I’m truly sorry I won’t mention everyone who has helped along the way, but I prefer not to attempt it because I’m certain that both the length of the post and inadvertent omissions would be offensive to multiple people on multiple levels.


Sifting through ideas

Choosing what ideas to pursue has been an exercise in discipline.

Customer experience & tech with purpose. As a bootstrapped business with its eyes set on building sustainable growth over the long-haul, we’ve adopted a disciplined approach to whittling down and executing on the many good ideas and the hundreds (thousands?) of bad ones that have come to us over the past year. Our guiding principles can be boiled down to one question: will this improve our customers’ experience? We continue to believe that our future lies in delighting Momba’s customers with our work, and continually strive to make each interaction with Momba feel more like an experience and less of a transaction.


Stupid Technology

We take a non-frivolous approach to our utilization of technology – e.g., no solar-powered flashlights.

We certainly use and continue to explore non-frivolous use of technology to enable and empower us as we pursue this lofty goal. And, as you’ll find in Part 2 of this post, “Looking Forward” (coming soon), there’s more in store for the road ahead. But we’ll never let technology get in the way of our real focus: our customers. Over the course of the past year, we’ve sometimes found that using older “social” media — e.g., a quick phone call and/or a physical note — have had profound effects on the relationships we’ve formed with members of communities we serve. Whether a Facebook post, a tweet or a piece of paper taped to a Momba machine, we’ll continue doing our best to serve our customers.

Feedback | Old Media + New Media

One of our favorite interactions from the past year took place over an interesting mix of both older and newer means of communications.


Work in Progress | Momba

Momba has been – and ever will be – a work-in-progress.

Feedback, improvements & constant learning. Needless to say, we haven’t done everything right over the past year, and each mistake we’ve made has offered us a new lesson to take to heart. Thankfully, the learning curve was and continues to be steepened by customers’ feedback, to which we listen closely while learning more every day about the importance of separating signal from noise. As a small startup with (what we hope is) a big idea, one of the greatest gifts we can receive from customers, beyond patronage, is feedback. Ideas, we’ve learned, are a dime a dozen. It’s the solid execution and impact of the solid execution of the good ideas that truly make a difference.

 Closing Thoughts

Of course, there’s plenty more I could talk about: the hot summer days packaging products in our first storage area, the cold nights working out in the garage this past winter (see video below), and the blood, sweat and tears (quite literally). But, for me at least, that’s not what has defined this past year of working on Momba. Instead, it’s been about the questions that lead to more questions, the people who make it all possible, our attempts to find the most appropriate solutions to problems that we’ve identified, and the unrelenting desire our on part to continue improving and learning.

Thanks again, everyone — I’m looking forward to the road ahead! Stay tuned for the follow-up: “Year 1, Part 2: Looking Ahead”!

You can get in touch with me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or email. Please follow Momba on Twitter, and connect with us on Facebook and/or Google+

Jobs, Profits & Compassion: Momba, a 21st Century Business

By Heather Duque 

Building Sandcastles - Momba - College Vending Machines - Heather Duque

What we’re trying to do

Before Steven and I knew that we would start Momba, like a lot of new couples, we had a lot of long discussions about our lifetime goals. We also talked a lot about the challenges young people face in today’s economic environment and potential solutions to move our country forward. Our beliefs and goals — and so, the company we’ve started — have a lot to do with who we are and how we were raised.

Dream Big - Momba - College Vending - Heather Duque

Where we’re coming from

We both come from families where dreaming big was encouraged and hard work was practiced. Steven and I are both extremely hard workers, and we believe that, with enough hard work, anything is possible for us to achieve.

We also come from families where compassion for others was encouraged. My grandmother, a young girl during the Depression, told me that her mother always gave food to hungry women and men who asked her for help, knowing what it was like to be in need herself. Continue reading

Launch Day: Momba’s first machines at Harvard featured in Forbes

Forbes featured the Momba launch today: “New ‘Momba’ Vending Machines Going Onto Harvard Campus to Promote Safety, Convenience.”

Here’s a snippet:

There’s a large house less than an hour north of Boston where history and innovation are melding into one. Owner Steven Duque is in the two-story, three-car garage attached to the 312-year-old house, wearing a Harvard ball cap and goggles, and using a wood router for the first time. He’s customizing a special vending machine that will be used to make college students’ lives easier and safer.


Momba is coming to life.

Created with his wife, Heather, the first of two Momba machines was placed on Harvard’s campus Monday morning in the Quincy House dorm, where Steven lived as a student. Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh also lived in Quincy House in the 1990s, most notably managing the Quincy House Grille and selling burgers to students in the dorm. The second Momba machine will be placed in Harvard Yard, the oldest and center part of campus.


The machines hold essentials like toothbrushes, shampoo, phone chargers, red cups and ping pong balls. The basics that can be purchased at a convenience store will be in the vending machines, allowing students to get their needs without needing to leave campus. They’ll be able to pay with cash, debit, credit and campus currency. It’s a way for students to stay safe, clean and empowered. Momba’s looking out for her kids, even after they’ve left home.

[Continue reading on]

The first Momba machine will be placed on campus this afternoon. For a full press release from today’s launch, click here.

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