Marie Chevrier has qualms with the street corner brand ambassador.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever received a sample on a street corner but typically, we hand you (something) but we don’t really know who you are or if you’re really within our target market,” she explains. “Then you take the sample, walk away and we lose touch with you – that’s always been something that bothered me.”
But despite early suspicions handing out samples to, for the most part, ambivalent consumers was a broken model, she constantly found herself working in the sphere in some way or another over the past half decade. First, while working at a marketing agency in Toronto. Then at a Venture Capital firm working with a subscription box doling out product samples. And finally, while hired as a consultant working with a baby brand scheming up ways to market to moms.
She decided it was time for a change. Not a career change, but a disruption of the sphere itself.
In 2013, Marie began funneling all her doubts surrounding the sampling process and lost metrics into Sampler – a software as a service tool (SaaS) that helps brands and online retailers distribute product samples and gift cards online using the power of peer recommendation.
“Now, two and a half years later, we have about 150 clients including L’Oreal and (snack company) Mondelēz who have Ritz crackers and Oreo,” says Marie. “It’s been a cool ride.”
The company recently won the Power Up Challenge hosted by Multiplicity, a Toronto-based not-for-profit group focused on fostering the startup ecosystem.
“It was thirty startups pitching their idea, the winner actually took home a bunch of different services,” she says adding that part of those services was a consulting package from Deloitte. “Having the opportunity to work directly with this massive firm, helping us do some deep research market research on our industry and specifically tackling some of our most urgent challenges – that’s pretty cool as a small startup.”
They’ve also gotten a lift from other branches of the Toronto startup ecosystem including $1,000,000 in financing from MaRS’ Investment Accelerator Fund, Export Development Canada, and Ryerson Futures as well as grants from Ontario Centres of Excellence.
“We milk every single opportunity that Toronto has for us and we’ve been very lucky,” says Marie. “There’s so many of these programs and competitions and ways for you to get free PR, for a lack of a better word.”
But not all of the support is sanctioned or tied to business incubation.
“I have a good list of people of entrepreneurs I can confidently call knowing that they’re one year, two years or three or four or five years ahead of me… and say ‘hey, tell me everything about raising a Series A because you just did that last month,’ ” she says, “It’s pretty cool because just to see how the ecosystem has grown, it’s in all these different stages.”
Sampler is currently opening an office for sales and marketing in New York and trying to build off the momentum of the past three years.
“It’s crazy, but you’ve just got to keep going – as entrepreneurs I think we’re pretty hard on ourselves we rarely look back, we are just constantly looking forward at the uphill battle,” she says. “But the best way for me to remind myself of what I’ve accomplished is to look back at companies that I may mentor that are six months to a year in… that’s a really good reminder.”