Ali Schwanke burst onto Lincoln’s startup scene by winning Startup Weekend in 2013 with Exercise My Schedule, a tool to manage group fitness schedules. Today she is in her third year as founder, CEO and marketing strategist for Simple Strat, a Lincoln marketing strategy startup.
“I initially wanted to pour all my time into growing the Exercise My Schedule app, and did consulting to fund the work toward that,” Schwanke said. “I saw a lot more success on the consulting side, so I leaned into that instead.”
That success led Schwanke to consider expanding.
“With the intricacies you need to succeed in marketing, you need a multitude of talents not found in one person,” she said. “Bringing those on board and really going into the strategy and technology space allowed us to be positioned to talk about growth instead of just creative services.”
Schwanke started Simple Strat in January 2016, initially working out of space at Fuse Coworking.
“It was great to have space month to month as we got started,” Schwanke said. “We’ve moved into our own space now, but we still do things with Fuse. We sponsor the podcast studio there as well.”
The company’s offices are across the street from Fuse, still in the heart of the Haymarket District.
“We located in the Haymarket because of the energy and resources,” Schwanke said. “Not a day goes by that you don’t run into another founder and have a really energetic conversation on the corner of Eighth and P.”
Schwanke was asked what sets Simple Strat apart from competitors.
“There are a couple of things," she said. “First of all, there is a fierce dedication to strategy. We work with clients to go through a strategic development process that delves into many areas of their business, not just marketing.”
While that in itself is not necessarily unique, that approach coupled with marketing technology tools and platforms, led to a value proposition around growth.
“We’re a HubSpot Certified Agency Partner,” Schwanke said. “And we’re working on our own marketing and branding tools, helping agencies and clients better work together to grow their respective companies.”
Schwanke was selected as a Pipeline Entrepreneurs 2018 Fellow.
“Pipeline is a network of high-performing entrepreneurs who call the Midwest home, and normally a service agency wouldn’t be considered high growth,” she said. “But we have been building an MVP (minimum viable product) for a software component for the marketing space that’s not yet released, so we’re working hard this year to move in that direction and scale through tech. In Pipeline, it’s great to be around like-minded people who are farther in their journey.”
People in Pipeline know the demands of a startup.
“They know what it’s like to be scrambling to hit a deadline, working long hours,” Schwanke said. “It’s all about finding the right person to connect you to the answer. With a network like Pipeline and others in the Silicon Prairie, you’re a phone call or an e-mail away from those who have been there.”
Schwanke has been through the first Pipeline module.
“We’ve delved into customer discovery and validation so far,” she said. “We’re looking at how the market currently solves the problem, how our concept fits and who will buy it. It sounds a lot more straightforward than it actually is.”
As a woman-owned business, Simple Stat is very aware of diversity and inclusion in the startup space.
“There have been a number of initiatives in the last few years to better connect founders from a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “Programs like Ladies Who Launch connect women founders in the area, and there are many more like it that help facilitate growth from a diversity and inclusion standpoint.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Schwanke faces the challenge of balancing a growing business with family considerations.
“Work-life balance is just called life,” she said. “My husband and I are constantly re-evaluating and repositioning based on what we have in front of us. If you’re not challenged, you’re not growing.”
Positioning for growth is what Simple Strat is all about.
“Companies have discovered that the customers they are selling to now have the power,” Schwanke said. “When we can help position organizations, so they are top of mind through strategic inbound marketing, it’s more about being helpful and lending expertise than it is about marketing or sales.”