How Mosea used partnerships to gain thousands of followers and raise $1M!
OK, so Aidan please tell me a little bit about your background before you started Mosea.
Sure. So before I started Mosea, I was at school in Kingston, Ontario, at Queen's University. In my second year at Queen's I co-founded an entertainment company called Revel Entertainment, which was an event management company. I was one of three co-founders there, and I was mainly in charge of marketing the events and handling the ticket sales amongst our team of promoters.
What sort of events were you doing?
We would rent out a club called Stages Nightclub, and we would put on parties. We would bring in big acts like Shaun Frank, Loud Luxury, Adventure Club, and these are all pretty famous DJs, and in our two years of business with Revel, we generated right around 90 grand. So that's what I was doing while at school. Revel was a job that my two friends and I kind of just picked up because it was something that we enjoyed, rather than the desperate need for cash, even though we were desperately in need of cash.
But the desire for cash is not really where it stemmed from. It was something that we were just doing for fun. When I graduated school, Luke, the CEO of Mosea, approached me and was telling me about this idea that he had. And so I joined him and Colin in September of 2019, and the three of us are now the three co-founders of Mosea. When I joined Mosea we didn't really have anything other than just an idea.
Right. So there was no app, no website, no logo, no colors, no name. It was just this idea and we had found these developers overseas in Eastern Europe and had sent this idea over to them. At that point I think we were being funded pretty much from a little bit of money that Luke had saved up, and that's sort of where the initial funding for the development came from.
What was the original idea behind Mosea?
Yeah, so the original idea was we wanted to create an app and we would partner with all these bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in different university towns. Essentially, on this app you could log in and pay your cover fee on the app and you could pay for drinks in advance. So rather than get into the bar and having to wait in line, you can already pay and just show that you've paid and go in using the app.
You would have been able to buy drinks and buy drinks for other people. It was kind of this utopic idea. But in practice it couldn't really work because there's kind of a ton of complications. One of the complications being that, when we approached these bar owners who own a ton of different bars, I forget exactly how many bars they owned, the main issue that we ran into was that they would say to us, “OK, this is a great idea, but you don't have any users, so we don't want to change our whole payment system for this app that has no users yet.”
So one of the bar owners that we talked to said to us that if we could garner ten thousand users in one given city, then he would be willing to try out the app and he might be willing to try out the payment system, because there would already be so many people on the app.
So we were left to go back to the drawing board and kind of figure out: OK, so how do we get ten thousand users? And then we came up with the idea of rather than the customer paying the bar, why don't we just let consumers pay each other? We don't really need to add the businesses into the mix and we can just create a platform where people pay one another. And that way people will download the app to pay one another.
Because I'm from Toronto, Canada, and we don't have any novel way to send money. Well, there's E transfer. But if you look down south at the states, they have Venmo, Cashup, Zelle, and all these kinds of cooler payment apps, while we're kind of stuck with e-transfer, which is a little bit archaic. It's been the same payment system for the past 10 years and it seems like the platform has rarely been updated. So we figured that there was definitely some opportunity to take some market share there.
So when did you get to that point? Did you stop building the app and take that to the bars and get your feedback or did you get the feedback first and pivot before you even started building?
Yeah, well, we had built a prototype for the original idea, for the “bars buying drinks” idea. We had never actually put serious cash into beginning to develop this app. So we were lucky to have caught ourselves before that. Otherwise it would have been a couple of thousand dollars down the drain. But yeah, we are fortunate enough that we spoke to the bars before and did our homework beforehand and realized that, “OK, maybe this isn't the exact idea that we want to roll with”.
It was in a similar direction, but it wasn't the exact idea. We still wanted to target university towns and students, because I graduated from university not too long ago, so I still understand university life. I understand how to market to Gen Zs, how to market to students. I understand that much better than how to market to the professional class and all the older generations, just because I am the demographic that we are targeting.
So then with that pivot with Mosea, is that where the app is today or did you pivot again.
Yeah. With some minor tweaks, it's generally where the app is. So I guess to take you down our timeline here. We built out an app which was mainly for what we'd call crowdsourcing. So for parties, for fundraisers, if you're selling tickets for a conference at school, you could use Mosea to create a campaign, invite all your friends and everybody could come on and pay right there.
You could set a ticket price or you could leave it up to a donation so people could pay what they want. And that was the sole function of our initial app. We released this app at the end of February, in 2020. Which is right when covid was declared a national emergency in Canada.
Perfect timing. What better timing to release an app where the main purpose is to have people gather in large settings. And now everybody can't leave their house. We were kind of left scratching our heads. Ultimately we decided to take down our original app, and this was for a few reasons. One being that there could be no use on it. Right? If we were promoting any use of it, we could get fined as a business.
So really, there was no use for it and no use for the foreseeable future. We had some update ideas we wanted to implement that were beyond just small feature updates. We wanted to redo the UI/UX and we wanted to add in some totally new functionality. So ultimately we decided to take the app down, noting that we still had a website that was live, but that was it.
So then over the beginning of the pandemic, we realized, “OK, we have this live website and it's just sitting there”, and there wasn’t too much for us to do, especially being on the business side of things. There weren't all that many business deals that could have been being done. So we decided to put our platform to use and we launched our first charity fundraiser.
We raised money for the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. We saw that they had been putting out a bunch of messages on social media, saying that they were struggling, that there was a rise in people who needed to eat at food banks and that they weren't receiving enough funding or donations. So we used our platform, we launched our fundraiser and on this first fundraiser we raised sixteen thousand dollars for them.
Amazing. What did you do next?
Yeah, it was great. On top of the money raised, three members of our team, myself, Luke, and then another member of our team at the time went and we volunteered, I think cumulatively we volunteered about 80 hours. So we were working there boxing food and that was a great success for us, for our first fundraiser.
So how did that work? You'd launched the app. Did people still have the app on their phones? Or did you have a waiting list on the landing page? I mean, how did you go from a bit of a pivot, looking for an opportunity, finding a charity that needed help to actually doing a fundraiser that raised sixteen thousand dollars?
Yeah. At this stage we had already released an app that people downloaded. People had it on their phones.
How many people had downloaded it? I'm just trying to get a sense of where you were at.
I think that we had about a thousand or twelve hundred downloads prior to doing the fundraiser. We had planned a bunch of parties, right before St. Patrick's Day at schools, right? There were a ton of kids who wanted to party. So we worked with students saying that we would sponsor the party. At this point, we had partnered with a couple other companies, so we could give the students products from our partners as well as some of our own merchandise, if they used our platform to raise money for their party.
Tell me about those partnerships a little bit, because that's also interesting. So right at the very beginning you leveraged partnerships to make the use of your app more appealing to help close the deal?
Yeah, yeah. That's something that we started doing quite early. And it's something that is still one of our biggest selling points to this day. Essentially how this would work is that we partner with several different consumer brands. So alcohol companies, food companies, cannabis companies, and we kind of created a little love triangle in the way that we function with these companies.
We have a bunch of brand ambassadors at schools across the country; last year we had ambassadors on eight campuses. This coming school year, we're looking to have brand ambassadors on about 15 to 20 campuses. The consumer brand companies would give us a certain amount of product, which we give to our brand ambassadors, who then distribute it to people who use our platform to raise money for their parties, socials, conferences, and activities. The brands benefit here because we require our brand ambassadors to post a certain amount of photos, videos, and stories on their social media and tag the company.
So these companies are getting impressions and tags on social media. They're also getting their product into the hands of students on campus. This is a huge struggle for a bunch of companies. They have this great product, but they don't know how to initially introduce it to people, especially university students. So I think that the best way to do that is to give out free samples and products.
Giving away free product always sounds so simple, but the hard part is getting it into the right hands, right?
Right. In our partnerships, we essentially act as a middleman in distributing product to the right people. All our brand ambassadors are vetted and interviewed. We know that they're influential and we know that they're going to parties and hosting parties. They have a lot of friends. They're going to be able to distribute this product well. So it really does work. We benefit from this because we're able to leverage this product to help introduce people to using our platform. And then obviously the students and brand ambassadors benefit because of the free product.
When we are distributing any alcohol or cannabis products, it is a little more work for us because we have to make sure every person we are giving product to is of legal age, so we have to check ID’s which makes things a bit longer, but it is well worth it.
Obviously, they had a need and you guys identified the need and you sort of approached them with the solution. How did you go about it? Did you have a pitch deck? Did you just call them up out of the blue? How did that go for you? How did you guys reach these brand partners?
Yeah, so this is quite early on when we started working with brands... or started trying to. We had the idea of partnering with brands as a means to gain users in our earliest stages.
This was still pre-covid, right?
Yeah, this is pre-covid. This was actually before we even had an app. We kind of had this idea, OK, if we get the product, then we can leverage that. We leverage it with the students to encourage downloading our app. We were always keen on making sure that every party involved was benefitting. We had the idea to partner with brands early, but we did not want to execute on the idea until we were certain that we would be able to provide solid value to the partnering company.
So whether it was any food or snack startups, alcohol companies, cannabis companies, merchandise companies, shirt companies, makeup companies. Any company that we could think of that we believed would be of interest to students. And we just started emailing as many people as possible. One thing that we found was that. There was not a high success rate on these emails, and that was mainly just because we really didn't have anything to show for in our emails, because we had never done this before. All we could do is promise that will help increase sales and exposure in university towns.
But we didn't have anything to really prove that. So we then took a step back and we made our own merchandise. We started making Mosea shirts, Mosea hats and we would go to school and we would find kids who are having parties, kids who were well known at school, and we’d give them merchandise to wear and take pictures in, and give them banners to put on their house.
So we started giving students all this Mosea gear and eventually at university campuses we built up a pretty strong brand where, now if you go up to Queen's University, for example, there are big Mosea banners on the houses on some of the most popular streets. People see our brand everywhere.
Then when we started reaching out to these companies again that we had originally reached out to, we started seeing better responses because people had been hearing our name.
So how we originally got our initial brand partnerships is just cold emailing. We actually went to a couple of breweries, we just went and we showed up. We wanted to just see who we could talk to there. Eventually, we signed contracts last school year with several alcohol companies to help with their product distribution at Canadian universities.
They gave us a certain amount of product. We would distribute some of the product to all our ambassadors, then store the rest until our brand ambassadors notified us of an upcoming event. And then we just bring all this product up to schools.
So you start off with the cold calling, but you need to build some value first and then you go back and you know, probably the first one was probably still the hardest. But once you have one or two, then it becomes a bit easier. You can say, hey, look what we're doing for these other guys.
So along comes covid and throws a big spanner in the works. You pivot, you pivot again. So two pivots so far, you go for the charity and you partner with the charity and you know, that's successful. You leverage the installed base that you have already and you raise $16,000. So what, what happens next?
Yeah, so I guess before the Toronto Daily Food Bank fundraiser we had raised a pre-seed round of a few hundred thousand dollars and that was right as we released our initial app in March. And then we did the fundraiser where we raised sixteen thousand dollars. I think it was about three or four months after the fundraiser, we decided we were ready to commit to our next raise.
This time around, we were able to raise just north of a million dollars. So this gave us quite a bit of runway. And this was with all the stresses of covid and you know, how everything was so locked down and unsure.
But luckily we were able to complete a raise, which put us in a good position to be able to commit to the development of our product and start planning out our marketing plans.
And you leveraged partnerships together. Absolutely. So how did the partnerships come into that?
Yeah. So the partnerships played a big role in several different ways. One way is that they played a massive factor in helping us build the brand that we built at schools. So even though we didn't have our app completely polished and ready to go, we were able to leverage our brand that we had worked so hard to build up at all these universities. And without our partnerships, building this cool brand would have taken a lot more time and money on our end. Also, by partnering with cool companies, it helped us legitimize our brand. Automatically by creating these partnerships with these cool alcohol companies, we would be portrayed as “on-brand” with them.
So by continuing to push our own merchandise, continuing to put our banners on these popular student houses, and continuing to strive in our partnerships with different student-oriented companies, we were able to have Mosea everywhere on campus. As students are constantly seeing our name and logo, it starts to make them associate university life with Mosea, so that was huge for us.
That’s the power of branding right?
Yeah, it's extremely powerful because, for example, on Aberdeen street at Queen's University; every St. Patrick's Day and every homecoming, there's thousands of kids that go to Aberdeen and we have banners on a bunch of different houses on Aberdeen Street. So when people associate these big parties with our brand, then when they see, OK, well this house on Aberdeen Street is having a party. They're using Mosea to collect money and they just made fifteen hundred dollars.
Why don't we go back to our house and do the exact same thing and then we can collect fifteen hundred dollars, and from there it's just a chain reaction. It almost becomes a “no-brainer”. Right. Once one house does it then it makes the other houses jealous and want to do it as well. So it really is the chain reaction.
And the fact that we partnered with all these extremely legitimate companies that were selling tons of product at the LCBOs and across Canada, then and our investors saw this and they said, OK, well, if these companies are going to trust these guys at Mosea, and they are going to be able to help sell their product, then I think that there's a bright future for Mosea.
That's a great story. That's awesome. And that is, you know, I mean we've actually covered a fair bit of ground here. There are so many takeaways. I think you've touched on a lot of things that's going to help a lot of people start early, do some outreach.
It doesn't matter. Just send some emails, you know, get started, talk to someone to learn a little bit and then find some value that you can prove it out. And then you basically leverage one into the other and then you leverage it into a million dollar raise. Congratulations. Yeah, I think that's really impressive.
Yeah, it was super exciting for us and also I guess just to go full circle with this whole thing. There are a lot of articles about these huge brands and how they completed their five hundred million dollars raise in this and that. It almost feels out of touch for a typical startup or just an average company. So I found that one thing that's been hugely helpful for me is speaking with other entrepreneurs, you know, other entrepreneurs who have started companies that might not yet be massively successful and closing hundred million dollar rounds. As a young entrepreneur, those are the people I can relate to the best.
Their company might not be a unicorn, but they're still wildly successful and smart. And you can learn from people's mistakes. I find it so much easier to relate to a startup, a startup based in Canada. There's tons of startups in Canada, so hopefully some other startups based in Canada or America or wherever, they'll be able to read something like this and it's a little more in touch and relative to them.
Yeah. And look, with partnerships, a lot of startups don't really think about sort of marketing partnerships, brand partnerships, surprisingly it's the big companies that do it. Starbucks, if you go on Starbucks, GoPro, etc. these big companies that have massive brands of their own can have as much of a digital ad spend as they want.
They still leverage partnerships because over time such a high value and familiar disconnect is, is that small business, whether they're startups or traditional small business, like a hairdresser, cake shop, whatever it is, they either do it by accident. They stumble into it. But I think it's the smaller businesses that really get the most benefit from this, particularly from a partner with a bigger, more established entity.
Yeah, for sure. I think it pays off financially, at least for us, getting the free product to distribute, that saves us a ton of money and then also just the credibility that it adds to your brand. If somebody has heard of Good Sunday but they've never heard of Mosea, then through that partnership, then we almost double our audience.
You're saying all the right things here double in your audience. Other people's audiences, you know, if they're targeting the same demographics that you are then it’s way more cost effective if you can borrow their audience, and use it to build your own rather than build your own by buying them through PPC advertising.
Have any partnerships gone south and you learned some hard lessons from?
Well, yes, but nothing too severe. We had a partnership that was in the works that didn't end up working out. And I think that, when working out these partnerships, It's important to keep in mind the interests and intentions of both companies. It's important to make sure that you're being fair and you're not trying to just take advantage. So I think that in order for any of these partnerships to work, they have to be mutually beneficial.
And if they're not, then in the long term, they just simply will not work out. They might work out for the short term. Maybe you get some free product here, but it won’t last. It's a lot smarter, in my opinion, to think long term and think, “OK, well, maybe take a little bit less this time and prove yourself before trying to go for the full treasure chest”.
Yeah, I'm a huge believer in that and trying to find some ways to find balance. There have been partnerships I've done when I had seemingly, very little to offer. They were five times as big. In that case you can get creative and, for example, for every time they tweet about you, you can tweet about them five times. I think the bigger brands actually also appreciate that.
Yeah, I also think that it's important for a smaller company or a startup that's trying to reach out to a bigger brand partner to understand their niche and understand their exact target demographic, because they're able to then leverage that over the big brands. These big brands might have a wider reach and they can touch on a bunch of different demographics. But if your company is able to specifically target one demographic really closely, then you're able to use that on the big brand and say, “hey, well, yeah, you're able to reach this audience, but we can really connect with them”.
So if, you know, even though you're not maybe that big yet, your niche demographic could be a totally new demographic that you can help a bigger brand connect with.
I agree. So do you have a favorite partner, one that you want to or two or three that you want to call out? That have been more creative with you guys or stand out in some way?
Well, everyone that we've worked with so far has been awesome, but. Yeah, I wouldn't say that I have one specific favorite, I think that everybody has been really good for us.
So I take it then, listening to all of this, that as you go forward, partnerships are going to continue to be a really big part of your marketing strategy.
Yeah, for sure.
If you had one message for the people reading this, what would you leave them with? One last thought about partnerships.
I think. Maybe, I don’t mean to repeat myself, but I think to be authentic in your partnerships and to make sure that you aren't trying to take advantage because people can see through that. So it's important to prove your worth and then from there, start to ask for more rather than asking for more and then trying to claw your way out and trying to prove from there because sometimes it takes a little while to be able to prove yourself.
And that's fine as long as the partnership is going to last, it won't if you try to take advantage early. So prove your worth early. And then from there you can start to ask for more from your partners.
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