Year 1, Part 2: Looking Forward

By Steven Duque

Momba - The Road Ahead

The road ahead for Momba is long and bright.

As I look forward at the road ahead for Momba, I can’t help but be filled with excitement at all the wonderful things happening right now — and all the possibilities that have yet to be realized for our fledgling company. Before jumping into how we’re thinking about the future, though, I want to take this moment to say thanks again to all of our customers, partners and friends who have helped us get this far. None of this would be possible without your patronage, support and help, and we’re grateful for the generosity of spirit that we’ve seen across the board in our interactions with you.

Momba Fall 2013: Quality over Quantity

As a small startup with limited resources, we’ve made the choice to reinvest in quality over quantity.

Focusing on quality not quantity. As a small company with big ambitions, it’s often tempting to jump on every opportunity that comes our way. But, as a bootstrapped startup that intends to survive to continue serving our customers, we’ve had to make some hard decisions to focus on our mission of providing the best customer experience we can to university residents who turn to Momba to get things they need and want, when they need it, where they live. To that end, this fall, we’re focusing our limited resources on providing even higher quality services to our customers.

  • Momba Products on Display in Momba Machine

    After nearly a year of operation, we’ve begun to tailor the product mixes of individual Momba machines to patterns we saw in communities’ buying behaviors.

    Improving our product mix. Unlike most vending companies, we constantly reexamine our product mix for ways that we can improve — largely driven by direct customer feedback, sales data and anticipating seasonal needs. Basically, we think of ourselves more as a residential retailer that curates our products to our customers’ wants and needs and less of a vending machine company. To that end, this fall, we’ve expanded our product offerings dramatically, with the aim of leaning more heavily on product categories, like technology, that customers told us they want. Now you can get Jawbone Jamboxes in your school colors (we’re really excited about this partnership!), MacBook chargers, computer dongles, and improved phone chargers for iPhone 4, iPhone 5 and Android phones (really, any phone that will take micro-USB) in Momba machines. Beyond tech, we’ve also expanded the number of other dorm essentials we offer – e.g., stamps & envelopes, writing supplies (pens, pencils & highlighters), NatureMade multivitamins, and more! As always, we’d love to hear from you with ideas for things you need and want that we don’t currently serve (more on this to come).

    Momba 1st Year Pilot Communities

    Our current focus is on serving the pilot universities that entrusted us with serving their communities this past year.

  • Focusing on communities we’re currently serving. Until very recently, it was I who refilled and serviced all Momba machines (we’re currently operating 11 prototype machines across Harvard, Westfield State University, Boston University and UMass-Amherst), so you can imagine why we think carefully about each new machine we deploy. On top of that, in a world of zero-sum Momba resources, we’ve had to decide whether to expend our limited resources on new inventory and improved customer experiences or more of the same machines with the same product mix. Though hard at first, the choice was simple: our values helped guide us to re-invest in our initial pilot communities and continue striving to improve what we do and how we do it. As said before, our guiding principles can be boiled down to one question: will this improve our customers’ experience? And at this time, we believe that focusing on the communities we currently serve is the best way to do this.
Momba continues to innovate.

The continual pursuit of innovation is a defining characteristic of Momba and her team.

Continuing to Innovate. We believe that the continual improvement of the products, processes, services, technologies and ideas that we offer as solutions for our customers to conveniently and safely get what they want and need is not only critical to the success of Momba in the long-run, but is also an integral part of who we are as individuals. We are passionate about what we do, and push forward with the abiding belief that we can always do better.

  • Momba | MomBox | College Care Packages

    We’ve recently launched MomBox as a way to improve the customer experience of Momba machines by adding more value and convenience for our customers.

    Expanding the reach of Momba machines. In thinking about Momba machines and how our customers interact with them, we realized that it’s not always convenient to buy something you need and want at the exact moment that you see it. You have to carry your newly purchased item with you all day, unless you go back to your dorm to drop it off. And, ultimately, what you may really want is simply not having to think about buying that toothbrush and toothpaste every month. That’s why we’ve launched MomBox (still considering whether we’ll call it MombaBox – what do you think?), which enables students to get a little loving care from Momba delivered directly to their mailbox.

    Momba | Innovating Retail

    We are experimenting with QR codes in Momba machines as physical touchpoints that lead to more robust online experiences and options.

    Visitors to Momba machines can now scan QR codes next to the price labels of products that direct them to the product’s page on MomBox, where they can get it delivered to their mailbox as a deferred purchase and, in some cases, on a recurring schedule of their choice. As with Momba machines, we will give no less than 10% of the profits from each purchase to schools’ financial aid programs.

  • Momba | Early Sketches on Mobile Touchpoints

    An early sketch of how we’ve been thinking about different physical touchpoints that lead to more robust mobile experiences.

    A more robust customer experience, in-person and online. Some of you may recall that earlier this year we launched campus-specific Facebook hubs to provide an easy way to engage with our customers and provide Momba-related information for their campus. For one thing, we continue to iterate on the design of the Facebook hubs (see Harvard’s, WSU’s, BU’s & UMass-Amherst’s). More recently, though, we decided to create dedicated mobile sites for each campus that customers with mobile devices can visit by scanning a QR code in a Momba machine’s top-right display window or visiting their campus’ Momba mobile site URL (see  Harvard’s,  WSU’s,  BU’s  & UMass-Amherst’s). In the same vein, this past summer, we built the Momba Ideas Kitchen as a more social way for people to submit product ideas, vote on others’ ideas, and start idea communities centered on their nearby Momba machines (it’s basically a Momba-focused Digg).

Momba | Preparing for the Long Haul

We’re building Momba for the long haul.

Building our business for the long haul. We love the company we’ve built, and much of this past summer has been spent making decisions and taking actions that will enable Momba to survive and thrive. As most entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s certainly easier said than done. For us, it’s required Herculean efforts on our part – especially of Heather, my partner and wife, who was pregnant for most of the summer with our newborn daughter Aurora – to achieve the things we set out to achieve.

  • Deepening our relationship with Opportunity Works & building a team. You may recall that last year, we began working with an incredible organization called Opportunity Works on packaging of products that we thought could use a bit of “Mombafication” before serving them to our customers via Momba machines. Opportunity Works empowers individuals with developmental disabilities through jobs in packaging and shipping fulfillment, as well as enrichment programs. We couldn’t be prouder to work with them, and this past summer we laid the groundwork for deepening that relationship. Opportunity Works now houses Momba’s inventory, and is responsible for MomBox order fulfillment.
    Elliot Romeo

    Meet Elliot, Momba’s first servicing contractor.

    Separately, they also provided a referral for Elliot Romeo, who works full-time at Opportunity Works as specialized staff, and is now working with me to service and refill Momba machines. Working closely with Opportunity Works and Elliot are good examples of the steps we are taking to build a more durable, scalable business that aims to contribute to the communities in which we reside.

  • Accelerating our motion forward. We’re also proud to say that we’ve been accepted into and are now participating in the Fall 2013 cohort of Betaspring, a startup accelerator based in Providence, Rhode Island.
    Betaspring Office | Providence, Rhode Island | Momba

    Momba is proud to be a part of Betaspring’s Fall 2013 cohort. The people are great, the space is beautiful, and we’re excited to accelerate our business!

    This past week was our first week in the office, and we’ve been blown away by the quality of our fellow cohort members, the attention given to us by the Betaspring partners, and mentorship we’ll receive as we carve out our path forward. We’re loving being surrounded by such passionate, talented individuals, and we’ve already begun to benefit from the constructive feedback, positive environment, and creative energy that surrounds us. In case you’re wondering, our participation also means that we’ve temporarily relocated Momba HQ – and our lives – to Providence. I can’t express how grateful I am to Heather, as my partner and wife, and Aurora, as a newborn baby, for their patience, appetite for adventure and love. Without these, Momba and I would not be possible.

    Heather & Aurora Duque | Momba |  Betaspring Office

    Heather & Aurora in our Betaspring office in Providence, Rhode Island.

So that’s where Momba is today and where we’re headed for the foreseeable future! Thanks to those who made it through the entire post, and thanks for all of your support, warm thoughts and help as we push forward. Here’s to the road ahead!

PS – If you like what we’re doing, please share this post on Facebook and elsewhere. We really appreciate it!

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+

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+


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 Forbes.com]

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

Follow Momba on Twitter, and like Momba on Facebook.