Thursday, May 19, 2022
HomeVenture CapitalA Startup's Information to Launching Faculty Ambassador Packages

A Startup’s Information to Launching Faculty Ambassador Packages

For brand spanking new shopper startups concentrating on younger individuals, one of the crucial standard advertising methods is an on-campus scholar ambassador program. Family names like Tinder, Bumble, and Crimson Bull leveraged these packages efficiently within the early days (and nonetheless as we speak) to develop their manufacturers throughout the nation, and as we speak’s technology of startups proceed to construct on this playbook. When accomplished proper, school ambassador packages are a low value method to purchase customers, generate buzz, and kickstart the community results that result in huge development and adoption.

In actual fact, I actually was an entrepreneur in school who tried utilizing an envoy program on campus as our main go-to-market (GTM) technique for my startup, Cling. Whereas Cling finally failed (partly resulting from launching in the midst of the pandemic), I discovered quite a lot of classes alongside the way in which on what works for a university ambassador program – and what doesn’t. 

After I joined a16z as a part of the patron go-to-market group, I acquired quite a lot of questions from startups and types about learn how to launch and develop a profitable school ambassador program, so I began speaking with the campus administrators and leads for different ambassador packages. Based mostly by myself expertise constructing Cling and analysis with each established manufacturers like Bumble, Grubhub and Discord and startups like Fizz and Sidechat, here’s a newbie’s information on school ambassador packages for shopper startups. I’ll cowl the what and why, when to launch a university ambassador program, learn how to get began and metrics for fulfillment, incentive constructions, and extra.

The Fundamentals: The What and Why of Faculty Ambassador Packages

A school ambassador program enlists influential college students on a university campus to advertise your model and product to their friends. Ambassador packages are a superb method to make use of a university campus to kickstart community results inside a gaggle of like-minded goal customers with doubtlessly decrease prices than different methods like digital promoting. Certainly, school campuses are pure environments for creating, testing, and rising shopper merchandise.

A school ambassador program is finally, although, a consumer acquisition technique that takes benefit of this shopper conduct petri dish. Model activation methods utilized by these ambassadors can catalyze phrase of mouth (WOM) sharing on campus, main the product to seek out its customers. Different advantages of faculty ambassador packages embody model publicity (an envoy’s core goal is to indicate off the model to their friends by means of each digital and bodily activations) and reducing buyer acquisition prices (CAC) over the long term.

Whereas many sorts of startups might probably leverage a university ambassador program, these three sorts are notably well-suited to the dynamics of faculty campuses:

  • New social platforms: Community results are important to the speedy development of a brand new social platform, and an envoy program is a superb catalyst, notably when concentrating on the entire particular social teams on a campus. Whereas it didn’t leverage a university ambassador program, Fb famously began by concentrating on school college students. Newer examples embody BeReal, Sidechat, and TikTok.
  • Ecommerce startups: Ambassadors can distribute affiliate codes and submit on their social channels about your merchandise. And with the rise of dwell procuring, ambassadors may even be sellers themselves. Although not solely for faculty college students, the REVOLVE Ambassador program is a superb instance of utilizing an envoy program to distribute affiliate codes. One other instance is Curtsy.
  • Marketplaces: Marketplaces can leverage related activation strategies as ecommerce startups by means of ambassadors for brand spanking new demand acquisition. Examples embody: Grubhub, duffl, and Snackpass.

When to Launch? (Trace: After Product-Market Match)

An envoy program is an effective way to have interaction college students and leverage these dynamics to develop model consciousness of your product – IF you have got proven there’s a want and want for what you’re constructing inside an outlined audience.

A vital level to acknowledge is that in the event you don’t but have product-market match inside your goal demographic (particularly if it’s college-age college students), an envoy program is just not prone to drive retention and long-term utilization. As an alternative, it’s extra prone to drive quite a lot of preliminary new customers who then churn out of the product as a result of it doesn’t but meet their wants – burning by means of quite a lot of your core viewers and making it more durable to win them over later. 

There is no such thing as a advertising technique that may repair a product that its core viewers received’t use! As an alternative, leverage a smaller, tight group of faculty college students in several micro teams to check your product and offer you insightful suggestions in your beta earlier than leaping right into a wider, extra deliberate ambassador launch. 

One method to know you’re able to launch a university ambassador program is after hitting key retention benchmarks. Earlier than leveraging development channels and bringing their product to a school campus, Sean Rad, cofounder of Tinder, mentioned in an interview in 2014 that inside every week of launching Tinder with a pair hundred of customers, that they had a 99.5% every day retention charge. From there, they took the product to varsity campuses to additional experiment. After all, many profitable merchandise won’t ever have a 99.5% every day retention charge, but it surely’s essential to have a transparent sense of what retention charge is to your product. 

Some key inquiries to ask your self earlier than you determine to plan and execute on a university ambassador program:

  • Do I’ve a gaggle of beta customers which are persistently utilizing my product? Are my consumer retention numbers exhibiting that that is the case?
  • Is my product receiving optimistic suggestions on the consumer expertise and interface? 
  • Do our core focused demographics align with a university campus?
  • Do we’ve the technical group/infrastructure to make fixes on the product because the consumer base expands?

Get Began

Your enterprise is prepared to soak up an inflow of latest customers that it’s prone to retain, and also you’re prepared  to arrange your program. The three inquiries to ask subsequent are: which campus do you begin on; what are your targets; and what are the traits to your preliminary set of ambassadors. 

Select Your Campus

Totally different merchandise are higher suited to several types of school campuses. In case you are a scholar entrepreneur, I like to recommend you focus by yourself campus, as you realize the panorama higher than anybody.

Key Inquiries to Ask Your self When Selecting a Campus

  • How are social teams on campus perceived? Particularly, are there Greek Life organizations in good standing on the faculty?  
  • How do the actual seasons have an effect on the social surroundings? Ought to I plan my launch round a selected time of the 12 months?
  • What are the biggest social gatherings on campus? How can my ambassadors accomplice with these occasions?
    • Each faculty has a essential occasion throughout the 12 months that each scholar gathers to rejoice/or attend. Whether or not it’s a welcome week, spring week, or charity gathering, college students are positive to be social throughout this time.
    • Instance: In Boston yearly, the Beanpot hockey match attracts college students from the world to return and watch their faculties compete (BU, Northeastern, Boston Faculty, Harvard). At an occasion like this, an envoy activation might be used to not solely additional interact Boston College college students, but in addition to introduce your startup to the opposite competing faculties, as nicely.

One technique is to focus on infiltrating one explicit faculty in a metropolis with a number of faculties (assume Boston, Washington D.C, LA). Consider it as an envoy program beta check: observe what works and what doesn’t on one campus earlier than increasing. Every faculty could have a barely completely different playbook resulting from various social dynamics. Be prepared to adapt your technique as your program expands. Your ambassadors are positive to have associates in related social teams at different faculties; this is a wonderful method to get private referrals to develop your enterprise!

Whereas COVID-19 and faculty restrictions contributed to the digitization of many college students’ expertise over the previous couple of years, the present panorama has allowed for faculties to reopen. Make sure to be updated on what’s allowed and never on sure campuses, as going in opposition to faculty restrictions can put your model and ambassadors in danger.

Outline Your Objectives:

When evaluating what targets you wish to set to your ambassador program to realize, first perceive the core metrics of your product and which of these an envoy program is almost definitely to maneuver. Examples embody:

  • Model engagement (for social channels particularly: variety of feedback, likes, shares)
  • Downloads/new customers
  • Decreased CAC (usually by means of a rise in “direct” or non-attributed new customers)

For these final two, you might not be capable of straight attribute them, relying on the form of activations you’re doing, however you’ll be able to nonetheless observe a correlated uptick in downloads or discount in CAC when you have got activations in progress along with your campus ambassadors. Consider these metrics on a weekly and month-to-month foundation, in addition to on the time construction of the varsity (e.g. quarters, trimesters, semesters, and many others).

Whereas these lagging metrics are vital for your enterprise success, there are additionally main metrics to measure the success of an envoy program extra straight and instantly. Relying in your techniques, listed below are some widespread metrics to see if this system is working:

  • Model consciousness 
  • Elevated social following to your model
  • Occasion turnout
  • Ambassador churn:
    • Are college students who nonetheless have time left in class persevering with as an envoy? Extra retention = larger ambassador satisfaction.
    • Discover what share of non-graduating college students return as ambassadors or refer a brand new rent.

Determine and Rent Your Ambassadors

Not all school college students would be the proper match to be an envoy. Listed below are some key inquiries to ask your self earlier than recruiting your first ambassadors:

  • What are the traits of my preferrred consumer? And who’s almost definitely to have the ability to join with that viewers? (e.g. in the event you have been constructing a tutoring product, your preferrred consumer will likely be somebody who prioritizes faculty. What sort of on campus ambassador is somebody who prioritizes faculty prone to take heed to? Somebody who’s persistently on the dean’s listing)
  • Who’s perceived as trusted by their friends?
  • Do our attainable ambassadors have a powerful on-line presence (and followers who’re additionally preferrred customers)?

When you’re prepared to start recruiting, your first rent will likely be your Campus Lead Ambassador. Your lead ambassador ought to know the ins and outs on campus and needs to be answerable for serving to you join with the teams who’ve essentially the most affect on campus. This individual will likely be your main level of contact for all actions on campus, however ought to nonetheless be a scholar. 

  • Obligations of the campus lead
    • Assist supply and rent ambassadors
    • Delegate duties and observe completion
    • Handle funds
  • Qualities to search for in your campus lead and ambassadors:
    • Management expertise
    • Sturdy group abilities
    • Naturally social and charismatic
  • Pattern interview questions:
    • Have you ever held management roles in your on campus group?
    • How would you describe your digital presence?
    • What would you do on campus to develop consciousness of our product?

Work along with your lead ambassador on campus on the preliminary hiring plan. The variety of ambassadors you rent will depend upon how massive the varsity is and what number of main teams of affect there are to cowl who’re particular doubtless customers of your product. 

Understanding the methods wherein completely different teams join is tribal data to college students on campus. You do not want an envoy in each main group on campus, however your ambassadors have to have a method to get in contact with every. One campus lead, with two to 3 ambassadors, doubtless offers you sufficient contact factors to get to all the coed teams you must get began. Whilst you can submit job descriptions or software pages for the roles, private referrals are the easiest way to get to the suitable individuals.

Sample College Ambassador Program Structure

Examples of teams on school campuses that might be focused for an envoy program: 

  • Golf equipment: Each school campus has an abundance of hyper-targeted golf equipment of passionate followers. For instance, Discord focused Laptop Science and Gaming golf equipment to get them on board. 
  • Greek Life: Greek Life organizations have been the one of the crucial standard locations for ambassador packages to be launched. The benefit of most fraternities and sororities is that almost all all dwell collectively in a central location, which means communication and interplay is frequent. Moreover, fraternities and sororities are continuously socializing with one another. This community has the social infrastructure in place to unfold the phrase on a product. 
  • Athletics: Relying on the varsity, athletes have an amazing quantity of affect on campus, however up till 2021, they have been unable to receives a commission. Now resulting from NCAA modifications of their laws, athletes will be compensated and might be focused as paid school ambassadors. Reminder: These athletes can have robust affect, however perceive they have already got a full time job as a student-athlete and are much less prone to have time to spare.

In the event you’re not at present a scholar, to be able to discover these organizations, search for your faculty’s scholar actions workplace web page on-line. Virtually each faculty could have a full listing of scholar organizations (together with Greek Life) and the principle level of contact (for instance, try USC’s web page). Many additionally will hyperlink to their social pages, which is usually a extra dependable method to get in contact.

Incentivizing Your Ambassadors

Whilst you may be centered on what school ambassadors can do to your product, it’s extra essential that you concentrate on it from their perspective: what do they get from being your ambassador? Some widespread incentives for ambassadors embody:

Model affiliation: Firstly, an envoy that loves your product and genuinely needs to share it with their associates is the best! You need your ambassadors to really feel proud to be selling your product to their viewers as a result of the affinity gives them with social capital. An ex-Discord Ambassador shared that he felt incentivized to convey extra college students on the platform purely due to how a lot he liked Discord and that extra individuals wanted to get pleasure from the advantages.

Resume-building: Faculty campuses are stuffed with fierce competitors for prime jobs as soon as graduating. Whereas most college students give attention to simply getting the perfect internship for that specific summer time, working as a model ambassador for a scorching startup is usually a distinctive and worthwhile expertise that may assist them land a coveted internship or job later. 

Entry to advantages: Give your ambassadors entry to early variations of the product to make them really feel extra related by means of unique entry. In case you are constructing an ecommerce startup, give your ambassadors free/discounted merchandise. In the event you’re constructing a social app, maybe they get just a few extra invitations handy out than the typical consumer or the flexibility to attempt a brand new characteristic earlier than anybody else. 

For instance, ecommerce startup Curtsy marketed of their job description: “All members get 20% off all the pieces on Curtsy (excluding our weekly sale model or class) and welcome credit score to make use of on our website. Winners of competitions obtain reward playing cards. You’ll additionally get a personalised distinctive referral code to share with your mates & neighborhood!” 

Neighborhood constructing/social or skilled networking: Most school college students aren’t taught learn how to construct an expert community, and your school ambassador program will be one other affiliation group that helps them construct connections for all times after school. Work to create a powerful sense of neighborhood, bringing your ambassadors collectively in social settings. The relationship platform Bumble holds ex-ambassador occasions even after they graduate from the varsity. Given most school ambassadors received’t convert to full time staff after commencement, Bumble created a post-grad neighborhood the place there are networking occasions, wellness retreats, and distinctive job alternatives.

Fizz, a debit card for college kids that helps construct credit score, hosts ambassadors for a “quarterly occasion with buyers, founders, private finance consultants & extra”.

Incomes cash: In case you are paying your ambassadors (which isn’t a requirement), there are a number of pay constructions which were profitable for established manufacturers. The widespread thread between all of them is fastidiously conserving observe of the duties accomplished.

  • Pay by process accomplished: assign weekly duties and pay your ambassadors after photograph proof of completion (Bumble)
  • Hourly pay: have ambassadors log hours (Crimson Bull)
  • Weekly stipend for attaining targets with bonuses (Discord)
  • Money rewards per consumer obtain or referral (Sidechat)

Construction Your Program

Size: Hold your ambassador packages to a semester/quarters size to guarantee that the ambassadors you have got are persistently engaged and don’t merely fade out. Permit them to reapply and encourage them to take action. A significant downside ambassador packages face is the fixed churn of scholars to busy schedules or commencement. Leverage your greatest graduating ambassadors to assist discover their very own replacements. In my expertise, many who joined a university ambassador program have been direct referrals from people already on the firm.

Ask for suggestions out of your ambassadors, those who depart and those who come again. How might their expertise have been higher? Would they’ve needed extra path or extra autonomy? How might they’ve been higher incentivized?

Coaching: Crucial part to coaching your ambassadors is ensuring they’re able to clearly talk what your product does. In case your ambassadors are unable to talk clearly in your worth proposition, the mission and function will get misplaced in translation. 

Maintain Zoom conferences along with your ambassadors to apply till they’ll clearly articulate. Your ambassadors will get requested many questions and are anticipated by customers to know the solutions. Put one other method, consider the questions that you simply as a founder are continuously requested to make clear – your ambassadors will get the identical ones! Have an energetic group messaging thread (Slack, Discord, Whatsapp, iMessage, and many others) so your ambassadors all the time have an open line to ask questions. 

Create a playbook to your ambassadors to consult with. Playbooks present a simple and clear method to your ambassadors to grasp their tasks, apply the worth proposition, and reply FAQ’s. Leverage your greatest ambassadors to assist refine your playbook as soon as you start to launch at different faculties.

Talk your metrics/expectations clearly to your ambassadors and maintain weekly syncs to ensure they’re on observe. Maintain your ambassadors accountable to those metrics!

Finances: How a lot general spend you allocate towards your ambassador program relies on what you assume the perfect advertising channel for your enterprise could also be. If your enterprise is make-or-break on school scholar acquisition, lean extra closely into funding the ambassador program vs different advertising channels. 

Inside your ambassador program funds, completely different activation methods have completely different prices. If the final word purpose is to spur phrase of mouth, be inventive with decrease funds advertising choices that get college students speaking about your product.

One other framework for setting your school ambassador program funds is to benchmark it in opposition to different paid acquisition prices and your general CAC. Say you’re an ecommerce startup and calculate your CAC to be $75. By having school ambassadors hand out flyers with credit score towards the product for $50, you might purchase customers extra cheaply, assuming the prices of the credit score, your ambassador’s time, and printing out the flyers all comes beneath $75.

Kinds of Ambassador Actions and Activations

So what do school ambassadors really do to get the phrase out about your model? I wish to bucket them in three other ways, with every having extra distinct benefits relying in your funds and the kind of firm you’re constructing. Prioritize what you are feeling is greatest to your product.

For all of those activation classes, it is very important “Know Thy Campus”, and take heed to the tribal data of your ambassadors. Encourage your ambassadors to be inventive and assume outdoors the field of how they’ll join/get the eye of scholars. It might be one thing so simple as handing out pizza slices from the perfect pie store everybody raves about, encouraging debate between the perfect sandwich locations on campus on Twitter, or raffling off VIP live performance tickets when a significant artist comes into city. Together with nice meals or free drinks with model activations is all the time a powerful method to interact school college students!

Digital Activations:

Greatest for: ecommerce startups, decrease funds

Social posts attain school campuses and scholar teams at scale, given posts are simply shared and engaged with. That is additionally essentially the most budget-friendly possibility. Be delicate to the truth that digital identities are essential to varsity college students, and suggesting too many posts on social media will be counterproductive (as soon as a month is an effective goal). Be certain that to have a full-time group member answerable for the model’s social media account, so when followers of your ambassador come to your web page, they see extra related content material and keep. 

  • Publish photos on Instagram with firm – related hashtags
  • Create distinctive TikToks tied to model
  • Publish distinctive affiliate codes to obtain product reductions. 

Ex: Grubhub’s “Campus Tastemakers” program offers ambassadors rewards for posting content material of their orders from eating places round campus.

Sponsored Occasions:

Greatest for: new social platforms, bigger funds

Sponsoring occasions are usually a costlier ambassador activation however are nice for making a enjoyable surroundings to have interaction potential customers. Occasions are liable to pumping up inorganic downloads (college students who obtain the app purely for “free entry/drink”) however nonetheless they’ll nonetheless create model recognition. To drive attendees, promote competitions between organizations in order that whoever brings in essentially the most downloads/gross sales will get a reward.

For instance, Bumble gave their ambassadors a funds to prepare a bar occasion to spice up downloads. Everybody who attended the occasion first needed to present the individual on the door that that they had downloaded the app and made an account. On condition that some individuals had already downloaded the app, the group measured success by what number of drink tickets that they had handed out on the door. Whereas some individuals downloaded the app purely to get into an occasion with their associates, if somebody who attended the occasion finally needed to make use of a relationship app, that they had had a Bumble expertise and it was prepared on their telephone.

IRL Activations:

Greatest for: all!

“In actual life” (IRL) on-campus activations are an effective way to have a direct, private reference to the viewers you are attempting to achieve with out the formality of a big occasion. Mainly, place your ambassadors in a preferred location the place college students are going to be anyhow and have an excuse to your ambassadors to talk with their friends. For instance, social platform, Sidechat, had tables round campus handing out cookies for everybody that downloaded the app. You’ll be able to communicate straight with potential prospects, get on the spot suggestions, and reply any questions they might have.


What’s the distinction between an envoy program and an influencer program?

Whereas they share quite a lot of widespread techniques, ambassador and influencer packages finally have completely different playbooks and completely different targets. Isa Lampson, former Bumble ambassador and ambassador lead for Nate describes it this fashion: . Ambassador packages go straight to an outlined, focused viewers, in order that you realize your advertising efforts are reaching the suitable people. Influencer content material is being unfold to a much wider and fewer particular viewers. With an influencer advertising technique, she famous, your purpose must be particular to be able to see the worth, given how costly they are often. 

I don’t have the funds to pay my ambassadors. Can I nonetheless function an envoy program?

Sure! Whereas many packages provide direct monetary incentives to particular person ambassadors, college students will be motivated by a wide range of elements. Given these college students received’t be creating wealth, it’s then vital to design this system in a method that emphasizes the advantages of what they’re getting out of this system.

I’m undecided when precisely my product goes to be prepared. Ought to I nonetheless plan my program?

It’s all the time good to be planning forward and taking notes on what sorts of methods and techniques may work in your circumstance, but it surely’s higher to attend to launch an envoy program vs go too early.

Particularly, in the event you’re contemplating launching your product with an envoy program, bear in mind: launch dates are laborious to handle in the perfect of circumstances, and it turns into much more difficult when you have got a set of faculty ambassadors ready on you on the similar time. 

Set cheap expectations to your ambassadors and customers, and ensure to sync along with your tech group persistently in order that launch dates aren’t pushed again after planning infrastructure was put into place. Slipping in your launch date a number of instances can harm your popularity and waste a hype cycle of a pre-launch product. Be certain that the product can deal with scale when customers be part of!


These tips are supposed to assist founders get began with a fundamental framework for learn how to construction  a university ambassador program. However the perfect school ambassador packages are those that get inventive; there’s not one set playbook a startup has to observe to achieve success!

Thanks to Isabella Lampson, Maya Malde, Shaina Zafar and Noorie Dhingra, Sean Doherty, and Thomas Yee for sharing their valued expertise with me for this information!


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