By Nancy Dahlberg
Michael Martocci, the founder and CEO of the fast-growing startup SwagUp, is one #MiamiTech transplant already putting down roots.
A couple of months ago, Martocci moved down here from New Jersey, where SwagUp is based, just before the floodgates seemingly were opened by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s tweets and dozens of VCs and founders began arriving for extended stays – and potentially permanently -- from NYC and the Valley.
Yet Martocci was already pretty sure his move would work out permanently. That’s because he had been going back and forth for a few years because his girlfriend and CMO, Helen Rankin, is from Fort Lauderdale. She had connections with South Florida startups, and SwagUp even set up a small office in Broward pre-pandemic and hired a CTO from Weston, Dak Gonzalez. That office closed as the pandemic hit and everyone went remote.
Martocci went back to New Jersey to open SwagUp’s new 40,000 square-foot warehouse, “but by September, we decided to come down to Florida full time.”
Last month, SwagUp’s Miami team moved into a large office space in Ironside in Little Haiti, and Martocci has since hired four more South Florida techies. The team now numbers 10 in South Florida, and there is ample space for around 20 to 25 even without expanding the square footage.
“We're always going to be a remote culture, but especially on the tech side and creative, it's very advantageous to have people working together and in the same space whiteboarding things out,” said Martocci, who is also condo hunting. “We will wait until COVID dies down to fully bring in people, but we’re excited to continue to build out the presence.”
Martocci can continue the lease after a year but for now he is exploring his options, such as downtown Miami. “It also depends on how much great talent we can find down here as well.”
So far so good on that front.
In addition to Martocci and Rankin, the team in Miami includes a product management director, UI/UX designers, a lead backend engineer, another developer, a head of sales, and a customer success team member. Employees came from Chewy, JetBlue, Autonation and other companies. “And then our CTO is back and forth, between here and Atlanta. They're mostly tech-related positions, they are all high value positions,” he said.
Martocci founded SwagUp in mid-2017. The idea sprang from a side hustle in college, selling flags and t-shirts to frats. After dropping out of school, he did marketing and branding for an NFL veteran’s brand and then joined a VC firm for a few months before launching SwagUp.
“Being around all these startups, I got a sense of how much they care about employee experience and culture and brand building. But there wasn't a swag company that resonated with startups, and it’s a $30 billion industry. … We’re like, let's make swag really simple and frictionless for startups.”
One of its first orders was for 100 swag boxes. “So we're thinking if we can just bundle this up and productize this and make it really simple for companies to build out these boxes, then we're going to grow really quickly. And that's what happened.”
SwagUp became a one-stop shop for high-quality swag, including for design, ordering, packing, shipping, warehousing, etc. “We tried to look at every reason why [customers] would want to use somebody else, and just eliminated that kind of situation.”
SwagUp generated $3 million in sales in the first 18 months, and then built a tech team to scale the process. Since then, it has more than 10Xed those revenues.
The tech team is now 40 to 45 people, and SwagUp employs about 110 people in total. “We've worked with over 2.000 companies at this point, a lot of which are the top VC-backed startups. We work with Fortune 100 companies as well,” Martocci said.
Swag welcome boxes haves an important place in our new remote world, he says. How do you give new remote employees that same kind of touch point and culture feel that they might have had in the office? “We're getting these physical items in people's hands on day one, and it kind of connects them.”
Still, quality is key, Martocci said. “People don't want to wear the shirt just because of the company logo, it's got to be shirt or a backpack or a bottle that they would have used either way. They want stuff that's going to last, they want stuff that they care about, and they want it from brands that they like. We do a lot with retail brands like Marine Layer and Allbirds.”
Interesting swag requests? One company wanted a custom Bird scooter. Martocci said. Logoed Airpods are very popular, especially with VCs. Masks, of course, are a hit, and SwagUp also sends a lot of desk plants.
Martocci sees the team continuing to grow in South Florida, and he wants to encourage more New York/New Jersey team members, such as in sales and marketing, to come down.
His thoughts on Miami tech?
“The talented people are just as talented as in any other city, there's just not as many of them. But there's also less competition. if you're in San Francisco, sure, there are really great developers or designers, but they have 300 high quality companies that they can go work for, whereas in Miami, we're a very attractive opportunity and employer.”
He thinks the angel capital community – that source of high-risk capital very early on -- needs to develop down here. “So it's more risk averse here now but you're starting to see some of the outsiders come in and hopefully they initiate some of that and then it's a chain reaction.”
He thinks Miami should be a magnet for creatives like UI/UX designers, which are in super high demand.
“This is a much more interesting city for a person like that than San Francisco. It fits their mentality,” he said. But growing the community has to be done in stages."
“You’ve got to get high-risk capital, you have to get designers, and then the developers follow, the founders follow, and you also have to get people to stay,” he said. For SwagUp, the more people they hire down here, the more embedded they are.
“If you’re not setting in roots, then you can leave at any time,” said Martocci. Reflecting on the flood of newcomers, he said, “What can we do to help them stay? Can we get them invested in some local companies quickly, can we get them some local talent on their teams and build those connections with the city??”
Martocci seems sold -- New York is gloomy and cold.
In Miami, “I love that everyone's very healthy and there are lots of activities you can do,” he said. “It's a much more balanced place to build a business.”
Photos: At top of post, SwagUp CEO Michael Martocci, center, with CMO Helen Rankin and CTO Dak Gonzalez. Photos provided by SwagUp.
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