Something that became part of my responsibilities at my last startup (read: doer of allthethings)* involved managing all of the swag. Swag to send to our users, swag for our employees, swag to give to our investors to thank them for giving us money to buy swag with?!, swag to hand out at conferences… you name it, I had a vendor and a vector art file for it.
This “magic knowledge” of how to make swag happen from concept to completion for hundreds of hoodies, water bottles, Patagonia nano puff jackets, etched beer mugs, custom backpacks, $1 mini notebooks, stickers, t-shirts, etc. caused excitement amid the chaos that is startup land. I’d post recommendations in responses to email and Slack messages asking for advice. This prompted me to do the proper Bay Area tech employee / Millennial thing and write a Medium post about it. Because of course.
I love to buy local when I can—not to be pretentious but because local small business owners are some of the most hardworking, incredible people to work with and I love supporting them. They all support each other, too. Stay tuned at the end of the post for a handful of non-Bay Area vendors, but if you’re in San Francisco, I love these guys:
Social Imprints provides career opportunities and a living wage to people who need a second chance. At least 80% of their workforce are from at-risk populations, like those who were formerly incarcerated, recovering addicts, struggling financially / on public assistance, Veterans, or have low levels of education. Their mission is to empower their employees with training and experience. I’ve always had incredible experiences with them and would recommend them any day to anyone for any project.
We used them for t-shirts and hoodies (#startuplife) but they do all kinds of stuff. Check out their website to learn more about their story and products.
These guys are great for personal projects and gifts (stickers · referral code). I love that they remain completely independent and bootstrapped: they have no outside investors, and don’t owe anything to anyone beyond their customers. They don’t ever intend to change this.
I highly recommend Rickshaw Bagworks. We worked with them to create custom backpacks for our employees. This was so cool! I got to design a pattern for the inner liner fabric and also got to watch it get printed on an awesome fabric printer! They do lower-priced accessories as well.
Here’s the mockup I designed, and the finished product:
Types of swag
Not into custom backpacks, or just want to order something online? Check this shortlist for three options that work well for multiple scenarios.
The “famous” $1 (okay, more like $1.35–1.89) mini, Moleskine-esque notebooks that we bring to most conferences and events are always a hit. Our CEO and founder gets so excited every time he talks about them. You can get them from Myron Business Gifts. My contact there is Richard Smith. He can be reached at (877) 658–4650 Ext:3378 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Richard is great to work with—very responsive and willing to work within a variety of budgets, weird quantities, and very specific shipping needs.
Nice water bottles can be overdone, but they work. They’re great for travel. Who wants to pay $5 for a Dasani at an airport to go with your sad $13 cheese sandwich? (Nothing wrong with either cheese or sandwiches, but you know what I’m talking about). Just make sure to arrive at the airport with an empty water bottle so TSA doesn’t get to keep your cool swag and/or to avoid everyone in line behind you giving you the death stare.
Water bottles: Save the planet, don’t pay airport prices, stay hydrated, profit. Maybe book an aisle seat to help with all of the side effects of hydration. I like the Camelbak I got at DeveloperWeek SF.
Alas, the lowest common denominator in the world of Stuff We All Get. Well-designed stickers (and sometimes patches — Heroku does these) are hot commodities at events. I’ve always enjoyed working with StickerMule: their team is always easy to work with, their prices are affordable, and their product is good. They stand by their work and will redo/replace ASAP if you’re not happy with your order. I have an invite code here.
We’ve also ordered custom beer mugs with our company logo etched in, but we worked with vendors in the Czech Republic for those as part of the grand opening of our Prague office. I’d be willing to bet that those are a bit pricey if you order from a US vendor. Merchology is a good vendor for lots of branded apparel and gifts and will price match other offers you find online. We did custom Patagonia nano puff jackets with our logo embroidered on the sleeve—the ultimate tech outfit.
For examples of what the cool kids are doing, I am a huge fan of the swag that Slack and GitHub offer — well-designed swag goes a long way for brand recognition! Social Imprints does a lot of great stuff for companies like Airbnb, Pinterest, and Lyft.
If you’re looking for some killer swag, a little internet research can go a long way here. If you’re in the Bay Area, check out SFMade. Their mission is to build and support a vibrant manufacturing sector in San Francisco that sustains companies producing locally-made products, encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and creates employment opportunities for a diverse local workforce. Who can’t get behind that?!
What are your thoughts on swag? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? Let me know in the comments or let’s chat on Twitter.
* My official titles at my last startup were Product Designer, Product Marketing Manager, and now Product Manager, but were informally a lot of other things. #startuplife