Editor’s Note: In honor of 10 years of the IDS program at the iSchool, Alexandra Archambault will be leading you through a 10-episode podcast series. Each episode highlights a different successful startup company from the program.
Alexandra: This week I traveled to a quaint office in Downtown Syracuse to talk to Scott Friedberg and learn all about his social media and digital signage company. While they started at Syracuse University, Gilded Social has grown their company to span around the country.
What is Gilded Social?
Scott: Our digital marketing business is very much local. Most of our clients are within a 30 mile radius. Our digital signage business is predominately a national business, working with companies all across the country in all different industries.
Starting On A Different Path
Alexandra: Despite their current success, the business model of Gilded Social has morphed greatly since they started in the Sandbox.
Scott: I started the company with a family friend of mine (my best friends cousin). He was a freshman at Syracuse and I was a sophomore. We met at a coffee shop on Marshall Street, and we started talking about some business ideas we both had. The initial aspects of this business was totally his idea, what we started out trying to do was to solve a problem we felt traditional advertising had.
Basically we felt traditional advertising lacked a captive audience and also lacked the ability to determine who saw the ads. What we wanted to do was create a network of tablet size screens in restrooms, in the stalls and above urinals. We wanted to use a motion sensor to only serve ads when people were going to see it. We had all these statistics about the effectiveness of restroom advertising, because it was going on in Europe and Canada.
The Student Sandbox program is where we started out with our business idea! We must’ve pitched it a hundred times leading up to that. When we went out trying to sell that concept to businesses in the area, it just wasn’t really resonating with them. I guess they just didn’t want some brand new company installing screens in their bathroom, and I don’t really blame them. We ended up slightly tweaking that idea and doing more traditional signage within actually businesses rather than the restrooms. We came up with the unique model that shortly after J.Michael Shoes let us work with them.
What’s a Digital Signage Company Do?
Alexandra: If you’re a little geeky like me, and always wanting a little more information, you may be wondering right now “What does a social media and digital signage company do?” Scott kindly explained it to me like this.
Scott: Gilded Social is two main services. One is an evolution of what we started out doing, full service digital signage. All the way from identifying where the screens will be going in a business, rolling them out all them out to locations all across the country, designing custom content based on whatever messages they’re trying to get out to their customers and employees, to of course supporting the product when questions and difficulties arise. Support is of course is something we really pride ourselves on. We believe that great customer service is the key to long term relationships with customers. Our customer service is probably one of our core competencies.
On the other side is our digital marketing service, which is a bit more of a local business. The core of that is going on site to our customer businesses and creating photo and video content, posting on their relevant social media channels, managing their audience growth, and community management. Community management is growing their following, responding to comments, and using strategies we have to continuously grow their following. We also manage their advertising budget and manage their reputation.
Who Are Your Clients?
Alexandra: If you’re curious where you can see Gilded Social’s work in the real world, the answer is all over the country!
Scott: On the digital signage side one of our first big accounts is Fleet Feet Sports. They’re one of the largest running shoe retailers in the country. They have over 150 locations and we have screens in all their locations. We’ve been working with them for several years and that was and still is a really exciting deal for us. This account was actually one that I got when I was in the Entrepreneurship Engagement Scholarship Program in the iSchool. That was the point where the business became real and they’re still a really strong customer of ours.
On the local side, we just did a campaign with Cafe Kubal. They’re pursuing a new location at Upstate University Hospital and we created a campaign that targeted every single employee and staff member at Upstate on Facebook. We basically saturated every single one, and our campaign was “Cafe Kubal: Just What the Doctor Ordered,” and it was a graphic that showed a doctor or nurse with an IV drip of coffee going into them. That was a really cool campaign.
What’s Your Advice For Young Entrepreneurs?
Alexandra: When it comes to being an entrepreneur, Scott wouldn’t trade it for the world. But he did have some advice for anyone just starting out.
Scott: When you’re starting out you have this advantage of not knowing how hard it’s going to be. I think it’s really good for them to not know how hard it’s going to be so you can get really good and really passionate about it. Once you realize how hard it’s going to be (which hits you really quick) hopefully the passion you developed and the desire to get to where you think you’re going to go can push you through the tough times. I think the naivety of starting out is really important and it shouldn’t be ruined for anybody. For the most part you’re not going to have that over night success (most people don’t). It takes patience, persistence, hard work, and tough times to push through to get where you want to go.