The following is a guest post from Startup Weekend Organizer and Associate Jace Lieberman. Jace and his mother, Andrea Lieberman, co-founded Biking Billboards together.
In August of 2010, I started my first company as a junior in high school, called Biking Billboards. As a 16-year old kid, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew I saw an opportunity, and I wanted to make something of it. Three years later, Biking Billboards is a major player in the advertising market in Seattle, and our reach extends to Portland, Park City and Austin. This experiment that interested me in 2010 was made a reality because of 2 things: myself, and my mother Andrea.
Biking Billboards started because my mom, Andrea Lieberman, needed to advertise for The Verdeaux, a condominium unit in the area, and was having trouble accessing her target market. One day, while driving by a local concert series, my mom rolled down her window and almost yelled, “Check out the Verdeaux Condos!” Of course my mother yelling from her car about these condos didn’t seem to be the most effective way to get the attention of these people. Our efforts to hire pedi-cab drivers to advertise hadn’t worked, so I proposed my own services. I built an A-frame sign out of plywood, cut apart our old Burley trailer, and mounted my homemade creation, complete with Verdeaux posters on either side.
What happened next was what inspired the start of our company. As I towed my makeshift design down the street, people commented and exclaimed how cool of a technique this bicycle advertising was. I must have gotten 15 people asking me how they could advertise on the back of my bike. We formed an LLC, and Biking Billboards was born.
Working on a company with my mother has been an interesting experience. Initially, I was afraid that the mother-son dynamic would take away from the legitimacy of our mission, but that proved to be the opposite: people were intrigued by what we were doing, and the family business turned out to be a talking point with new clients.
As we continued growing, Andrea and I shared the selling process and I recruited my friends to ride with me, even through Seattle’s cold winter months (which consists of 65% of the year). During this time, we developed our secret sauce: the Brand Ambassador. Our riders were a human extension of our clients; we could be their brand and directly interact with their customers. Through this process of discovery, we were able to solidify our own brand, and grow more effectively as a company. As I moved into my senior year and college applications, my mom took a firmer grasp of the reins and kept the momentum and energy behind the company, allowing me to focus.
This past year I’ve had the opportunity to take a gap year before attending university. I spent the fall working at TechStars Seattle, a local tech accelerator program, then moved onto Startup Weekend when the TechStars session wrapped up. I’ve gotten to live, learn, watch, and even help instruct some of the startups I’ve been around. I’ve seen over a hundred of companies start, dozens of companies fail, and several succeed big time (relatively). This experience has given me some perspective that I’m able to bring back to Biking Billboards, and implement some of what I’ve seen into our growth strategy.
Startup Weekend’s mission is to democratize entrepreneurship, by making the process, the tools and resources, and the network abundantly available in every community. I’ve been so inspired by this movement that I brought my mom to an event last fall, where she got to go through the motions of starting a company again, but with a new context, a new team, and a new idea. While working in one place, you can get caught up in details that can limit your view of the larger goal. At a Startup Weekend, even serial entrepreneurs with a lot of experience can learn and benefit from a new start.
Starting a company is an exciting venture that really ANYONE can do. It takes a team: people who work well together, an idea: something that has market validation, and a common motivation to make it happen. I’m proud to have started a company with my mom, who continues to push it forward and include me in the process. Happy Mothers’ Day!