Greg T. Spielberg

Tanning Streetwater (pt I): A Kosovan foothold

In Distribution, on facebook on March 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Besa Luci, a friend and Kosovan magazine editor helped me access a distant social circle.

I’m convinced that focusing on socially local people rather than geographically local ones is more important in building initial sw distribution. In a recent post, I explain why. But what about distant social circles? What about reaching the communities I don’t have access to but feel will enjoy Streetwater? Should I wait for them to find out about Streetwater on their own, or should I go after them? I think it’s important to go get them right away, for two reasons:

1) I want Streetwater to be tan from its inception.

2) I want Streetwater growing in multiple circles simultaneously rather than exclusively from my social center (family and friends I see frequently).

Tan is a Steve Stoute term he uses to describe the psychological makeup and tastes of a new generation. A Renaissance man, Stoute has managed Kid N Play, Nas, founded Translation Advertising and was recently inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement. His idea is that corporations shouldn’t break down young Americans – let’s say 40 and under – into racial boxes. Our cultural tastes are an expression of a diverse crowd; our tastes are tanned. (A good example of how a company communicates this is through the Chevy commercial in the New Yorker video below.)

Since I’m trying to build community rather than sell products, my approach to tan is a bit different. I need to consider how Streetwater looks to prospective members on Facebook, and a large part of how it looks is based on the nascent existing community. There are a few routes I could take. Nighclub method: Attract pretty women to become members and hope guys will follow. Country club method: Invite high-net-worth men and assume their families and other aspirational men will follow.

No and no. Instead, I want to hit a few socially diverse circles right off the bat. I want prospective members to see people in the Streetwater crew that are from different backgrounds, have different lifestyles, faces, names and perspectives. I want the crew to be tan. Immediately. While Stoute’s tan speaks to cultural tastes, my tan deals with community makeup. Here are two examples of how I acted on this concept to make it real.

Establishing a Kosovan foothold
Besa Luci was a year ahead of me at Mizzou grad school. I had heard her accent but couldn’t place it. She has great style, too – ballerina flats, skinny jeans, a peasant shirt and a handful of necklaces, which is a rare combination in Columbia MO. So when I approached her for the first time outside Lee Hills Hall, I said, “Are you Italian?” She laughed and said, “No, I’m from Kosovo.”

A few weeks later in the magazine lab, I asked her to tell me about Kosovo’s history, which becomes an explanation of Balkan history. I’ve always been intrigued that on one side of the Adriatic is Italy – a stable nation and internationally known cultural center. Meanwhile, the Adriatic’s east coast is comprised of a string of countries whose identities have always been in flux. In December, the express train between Belgrade and Sarajevo opened up for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that represents yet another regional healing process.

Kosovo itself only gained independence in 2008 (!!), an occasion Besa got to enjoy in New York City where she was finishing her Master’s project. Now, back in her hometown of Pristina, Besa is building a culture magazine geared toward the up-and-coming Kosovans enjoying national autonomy for the first time. This is beautiful, and from a distribution point of view, tapping Besa to recommend Streetwater to her friends is a monstrous triple crown:

1) I’m socially close to a cultural influencer, meaning she’ll follow through with the recommendation.

2) The cultural influencer gives me access to a distant social circle.

3) The distant social circle is part of a national culture that is forming its identity at the same time as Streetwater. We’re both startups.

Besa recommended Streetwater to friends, and as of March 21, a quarter of sw’s 250 members are Kosovan. Two weeks in, and Streetwater’s international; it’s culturally diverse. It’s tan. -G

More on Steve Stoute

Interview with Steve Stoute by Kelefa Sanneh, New Yorker (video)
A McKinsey of Pop Culture? by Tom Lowry, BusinessWeek (text)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part I) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part II) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)

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