2019 SVP Startup Profile: Rostock
Rostock (stylized with a lowercase r) is one of thirteen Babson startups presenting at Thursday, July 25th’s Summer Venture Showcase at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. Register to attend our showcase at bit.ly/2019svp!
In our current social media age, advertisers and marketers are being presented with innovative new channels for reaching customers. But in a crowded, competitive digital landscape, companies struggle to create authentic branding which stands out and truly resonates with customers. Some companies such as Apple and GoPro have found success by showcasing user-generated content, a term used to describe promotional content which is created authentically by customers. Alex Kennedy MBA ‘20, Zack Cutler MBA ‘20, and Chris St. Jean ‘20 have collaborated to develop rostock (formerly known as Complement Media), a platform which allows marketing professionals to efficiently source user-generated content. I spoke with the rostock team to learn about its progress in the Summer Venture Program. Here are the highlights of our interview:
How did you come together as a founding team?
Alex: I first met Zack because we really hit it off as classmates in the two-year MBA program at Babson. I started telling him about this business idea to leverage user-generated content for brands, to make their marketing more authentic, more relatable, and more human. Being involved with the Blank Center, I met Chris through the Butler Launch Pad programming.
Chris: One of my initiatives as a member of CODE, the undergraduate tech living community at Babson, was being part of a panel which held office hours so entrepreneurs could come to the Blank Center and ask tech questions. Alex came to one of the office hours sessions I was moderating and said, “I have this business idea; tell me how I’m going to do this!” The idea, which I thought sounded really cool, would evolve to become rostock. After the session, I reached out to Alex and we really hit it off.
Alex: Chris coming on to lead the development of our web application has been amazing. He has totally surpassed expectations, and I couldn’t be more excited that we’re actually executing this, building out our MVP (minimum viable product) during SVP (Summer Venture Program).
How did you start rostock? What specific experiences led you to pursue this venture?
Alex: We officially filed for an LLC in June, but the idea for rostock had been brewing for years. One of my original inspirations for rostock was watching the film Life in a Day. It’s a documentary film that was created by crowdsourcing video clips from the YouTube community, for the purpose of documenting what life was like around the world on one day in July 2010. The authenticity of the film really made an impact on me, and I thought, “Why couldn’t we do this for ads and make a deeper connection with our audiences?”
What activity or resource from SVP has helped you the most so far?
Chris: I’ve benefited from having people around me at SVP who can provide a lot of different points of view and feedback when I’m developing and coding. The community is the best resource that was provided to me.
Zack: The uptick in motivation from being around other driven people in SVP is pretty astounding.
Alex: Aside from the great community, I think the experts that SVP brings have been super valuable. Through SVP, we’ve met with different people who are experts in everything from branding to customer discovery to business development, each of whom taught us the right way to approach each facet of our business.
In what ways have your SVP peers and mentors supported you and your venture?
Alex: Our advisor Clynton Caines has been very helpful on multiple fronts. He’s a developer himself, which I know has been super helpful for Chris. When I showed him one of the videos we were working on for one of our clients, Clynton’s immediate reaction was pointing out that it was too long. That’s something that I was kind of thinking in the back of my head, but hearing it from him really confirmed the notion, which helped us pivot more towards shorter-form content based on the short attention spans of internet users. Our SVP peer Jack Rokous ‘20 from Maja graciously helped with the new logo design for rostock. We were just chatting, and because he’s a designer he was like “Yeah, let me try to whip some stuff together.” SVP Director Bob Stringer made a key introduction for me which has led to some exciting meetings with another startup.
What major milestones or accomplishments do you hope to achieve during your time in SVP? Or have you reached any already?
Alex: The big goal for this summer has been to build our minimum viable product, and we’ve already reached many smaller milestones towards a working MVP.
Zack: The key function of our MVP is being able to pull in content based on a search across several social platforms, and then allowing brands to filter, permission, save, and repurpose authentic content for their own marketing purposes.
Alex: Based on our initial customer discovery, our target user for the MVP is a brand marketer, a term which encapsulates anyone involved in marketing from social media managers to strategists to video producers. They will be able to log into rostock and quickly search and collect content to use in their marketing.
What is a valuable challenge or learning experience you have faced as founders?
Chris: I don’t know if I’d call it a challenge, but something we’ve had to get used to is that, as entrepreneurs, we are fully in charge of where rostock is going. There’s no one who can definitively tell us where to go with this, and that level of responsibility can be anxiety-inducing sometimes. So we have had to learn to become more confident in the choices we make about where exactly we go with what we’re building.
Alex: We’ve also learned to try to act more quickly as entrepreneurs, in any and all ways. Specifically Zack and I have a tendency towards analysis paralysis. I think we’re both inherently risk-averse, but entrepreneurship requires taking calculated risks which can be tough to swallow at times, but important for progress.
Zack: I’ve had to reprogram myself towards being comfortable acting without having all the information that I want to. One thing that I’ve learned about myself is that I am always hungry for more information, but unless you draw a line in the sand somewhere you never take action.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Or for yourselves at an earlier stage?
Chris: Be very passionate about your ideas, but at the same time listen to feedback. There’s absolutely a balance that can be achieved there; do not go too extreme in one direction or the other.
Alex: Just go for it! There are so many people out there with dreams and ideas, and the only thing holding you back from making them reality is yourself. It’s easier said than done, but if you have something that you love then what is there to lose by going for it? The worst case scenario is that you’re learning by doing something that you love, so I would say to dive in headfirst once you find what you love doing.
Where can we find rostock online?
If you enjoyed learning about rostock’s growth in SVP, check out some of our other SVP team profile blogs! To meet the entire SVP cohort and celebrate its progress, join us for the Summer Venture Showcase on Thursday, July 25th. RSVP at this link. We can’t wait to see you there!