By Steven Duque
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!