UnderBelly: Turning a zine into an app – American Bandito Podcast S05E05

UnderBelly: Turning a zine into an app – American Bandito Podcast S05E05


by now I had actually been executing my
idea of selling collectables online and buying more to sell and I was selling
quite a few it was kind of fun really but I was doing this and working on
making the show planning promotional things to do and there were still little
things that needed to be done in the train car I couldn’t do them all during
the day cuz I’m still working my job and I need to keep creating stuff I could
still do this the way I always have been but I was trying to step up the number
of things that I do and up my game as far as making this something that could
be sustainable possibly because if I was gonna execute all of these things to try
I needed to do more so I hired a paid intern he’s gonna get college credit for
helping and after interviewing him there were a lot of skills that he had that
were actually gonna be kind of helpful down the road but for right now I need
to get more money coming in so the first thing he’s gonna help out with is
cataloging all my collectibles so weighing them and taking pictures and
setting them up for shipping and stuff like that another thing that I learned
for the store front side of the business I follow this guy on YouTube who’s
actually in like northern Wisconsin and he talks about how he does stuff like
this on his YouTube channel and one episode that he posted was him going to
a shop that was going out of business and buying the display racks and things
like that from them after I saw that Mary Jo and I were walking down State
Street getting the coffee and I just happened to see a going-out-of-business
sign in a shop window across the street we went inside and the woman said that
she was retiring after 60 years of doing this thing so we asked her about buying
some of the display racks and she actually gave us a great deal on them
now we actually have a few more things to build out the space it was a really
interesting coincidence if I had never seen that video I would never have
thought to do that. I’m Tom Ray and this is American Bandito after moving those racks onto the train
car I actually had to run to go to an interview at a local coffee shop with
the people that I meet today i’m olivia wisdom the founder and CEO of underbelly
I’m Elizabeth wisdom and I am the director of underbelly from time to time
I do a nearby local search on Instagram just to see if there’s any interesting
artwork that’s being posted in the Madison area and I try to find new
things to check out I can’t remember exactly but I think that’s how I
discovered underbelly one thing I thought was interesting was that they
would post messages in their Instagram stories about stuff that was happening
around town so when we met I asked Olivia if she could explain all of what
underbelly does we are a startup we’re launching our app in June and we
provided recommendations to local inclusive businesses and offbeat events
it’s more of kind of non-traditional venues smaller organizations that it
might get easier to get lost within Facebook or isthmus it’s hard to find so
those are kind of events we highlight as well as the local inclusive businesses
is kind of the core ultimately we want to be able to provide personalized
recommendations so the idea would be that how you navigate Madison and what
you’re interested in here that when you visit Chicago or Detroit or New York
that we can provide recommendations like what’s happening where you should go or
where you might be interested in while you’re in those cities so that’s our
future or what we’re building to and we took a very non-traditional routes
especially in the startup world to kind of start getting our name out there and
start kind of doing what we’re interested in and that was we created a
weekly zine now the zine is at a print zine or is it an online zine because I
found out about you from Instagram we are a printed zine we do post digitally
as well mainly it’s a 200 print every week we have about 20 drop-off points
around town on each zine highlights we usually try to get at least two visual
artists ideally we like to include it like a poetry or a short story we
highlight either a local business organization or an individual who’s kind
of trying to do something interesting in the community and then we
highlighted events of that week when did this get started zena’s really well
they’re out for ten weeks into the weekly zine that was kind of a
spur-of-the-moment decision I was meeting with actually people who print
our zine chroma press and I went to them for a very more like a one-off project
that I was interested in what was the project we’re trying to print drink
coins like bowling alleys small town bars like when you can get a drink cheap
but it’s like valid for one good free drink and like they’re like very popular
in like old school bowling alley is like my hometown bowling alley has it and
sort of like it’d be fun to do a throwback and like if you find an
underbelly drink chip you get a free drink somewhere so that was the original
plan was because they do printing on like all things and then talking with
them we basically by the end of the conversation decided that we were gonna
have a weekly zine and I came home to Liz and was like hey great meeting we’re
gonna do a weekly zine and then so your reaction was like you didn’t know if she
was going out there to do that no by no means I was like oh are we like okay
first tell me what are you talking about what Savion oh you had no idea we had no
idea she was like you know that thing you brought home when you were in Denver
yeah that’s a zine and I’m like okay we can work with that
that’s cool I’m like what is this going to have what is this gonna entail and we
knew from the get-go that we wanted to have the highlighted events but we had
no idea for like layout structure any what we really wanted to like achieve
entirely with it but then about three weeks and we finally got into it like
our groove of being like okay we really want to be able to highlight artists and
give them a voice and you know allow them to have a platform on something
that’s a little bit more like mass-produced cuz 200 prints of a you
know small local artist they can’t always get that we want to be able to
give that voice to you in that platform it gives them a little bit more of a
stretch rather than just being able to have one individual print at an art
gallery so they’re able to reach a little bit more audiences that way but
our interaction with the artists and like finding them it’s been know like
our own connections and our own network as well as going to different events
just kind of like spreading the word about underbelly and I mean like you’re
an artist awesome here’s the zine that we’re doing if you’d like to contribute
we want to be able to showcase you like I had mentioned I found them just using
Instagram and they were talking about an app they were working on so I wondered
what made them choose to expand into making an app well there’s certain
features about that just pair well with an app versus a website so we do a
website it provides our weekly calendar it has the recommendations for local
businesses it already had a bit of the personalization like there’s a quiz in
there that you fill out as you know prompts you is like five questions and
it kind of gives you a list of places around Madison but it’s a little clunky
the way that the way that we envision the app being used is that it’s easier
to sort through events that you don’t have just a giant list of events that
it’s much easier to that you can see it further out that a we can advance that
you can create a profile and save things so if you’re interested in an event you
can come back to it there are things such as like if you’re now if you’re out
and about wandering Madison you can pull up the app and see what’s close to me
which right that’s not feasible with a website so is more of the fact that
there’s just certain features that we think are gonna make it really actually
useful beyond just being a resource from people who are busy in the city for the
first time we started off as what we thought was a travel app and kind of
really pivoted to we’re targeting locals this is an app for UT for Madisonians to
use and that if you’re visiting Madison you find us great because there’s a ton
of really interesting things on it but really our marketing and our reach goes
to local people how are you going about that I mean you were sitting at home
you’re an art director she comes home and says we’re gonna build a zine now
you’re making an app I mean neither of you programmers right that’s the other
thing so we so basically the zine was a very let’s do this that sounds like this
is on brand but it’s very kind of alternative and interesting and
non-traditional and we kind of what we had kind of embraced with the underbelly
but with that being said that was not part of the kind of rollout plan we had
no real marketing strategy we had some we we knew about social media and events
and stuff like that and we wanted we knew we want to do a guerilla marketing
so we’ve been building that just under a year now but we do have a development
team so I had we’ve brought on developer last year he was super early
on when we still didn’t have a name for the app we didn’t have really idea of
what we were it was pivoted from a very different startup
and so pivoting to this and then kind of it thought he fell in line with what our
interests are what his expertise are what he sees for a kind of a future
really just kind of fit in line but with that being said it wasn’t until about
six weeks ago we brought on three more developers so now we have a team of two
front-end developers and two back-end developers that are working closely with
us basically it was the decision that say that we’re more of the you know
about it give them everything in the realm of of design in terms of working
with them for layout what I think navigation that sort of stuff so I can
give them ideas I’m not a designer I’m not even the artist so like having a
weekly zine having all like this is very outside my wheelhouse and I’m just very
fortunate to have amazingly talented people on my team who can when I suggest
something like we’ll make it work and that there they also trust me enough to
be like this is this is frickin crazy like most people when I told them we
were launched a weekly zine on top of building an app they’re like weekly
douche that’s a lot of work G are you sure you
wanna do weekly and it just felt it was one of those of it feels right we need
to make a splash a monthly Dean’s not gonna make a splash around Madison if
we’re gonna do it let’s do it and that’s kind of but kind of the route we’ve
taken with everything is if we’re gonna do it let’s do it I get that sitting
around and thinking about it is one thing but doing it I find at least for
me is more a way to learn what really works and what doesn’t and then I can
change it up if it doesn’t work so yeah I dig that they jumped in and said heck
with it weekly printed zine so with that how are
they doing it but how many people do you have actually putting content into the
Zenon well ranges we have the two artists ideally we highlight visual
artists and then one some sort of written artist but then the rest of it
is us but it has been a great partnership with from oppressed because
they have highlighted so many like ways that we can
use color and just like change the dynamic of digital art by in the print
form because the to Emily and Maggie they’re incredible artists as well and
there’s have like such a great vision and understand our vision like in the
first few weeks those are really pivotal times of being able to understand how to
work with these printers like like the actual physical printers like the raizou
printer like how do you actually work with those like what worked like what
aesthetic works best to be able to get our point across and so they had a lot
of really great contributions to altering the artwork and then we
eventually kind of built a system and a design for ourselves the system it is
not is it’s like very specific very vague like we have a list of themes
which are words and we they are always intentionally vague so like we’ve had
Rome we’ve had ride collide mash grow so I kind of you can go any direction and
basically we just play just try to list as many different situations that we can
use that word so for like and we give that as well to our artists so we
encourage artists we either reach out to artists that we kind of feel or on theme
and that’s through just like now with our Instagram that has been super
helpful like following a bunch of artists working with them so like when I
have a theme I there’s certain artists that automatically cat trigger my mind
and then I reach out to them directly and I’m like hey I think this would fit
really well for this theme the other thing is we’ve artists reaching out to
us and then they’re more interested in creating original pieces for a specific
theme but we do that because it does allow for the most fun and most
interesting scenes in the sense that they feel random but then there’s this
really faint line that ties them all together as well as it
us to kind of lead a direction usually it goes if something makes us laugh it’s
entering the scene like if we can throw something that is so absurd but still on
top on theme we’re like okay that’s a winner putting out a physical zine cost
money in time and so does building an app so how are they affording to do all
this we did receive a grant specifically that was helped to get our app launched
and to for our marketing where was a grant from I’m Joann
they’re great they specifically work with women and entrepreneurs and people
have colored for any business that is potentially scalable they really want to
work with you to make that happen and so they provide grant small grants to kind
of give you that that foot on to to launch which has been a it’s been a
saving grace because we would not be able to do even though come up we work
with so closely with the promo press and it’s not you know it’s super reasonable
doing 15 weeks of it is just it adds up quickly what was your experience like
writing the grant the doyen was actually pretty it’s they try to make it they
don’t want to make it complicated for you they really do want to just empower
you to to be able to be that foothold to help you achieve this passion or this
dream that is a business so for that they don’t make it as complicated or as
convoluted to some I’ve definitely read some grants where it’s just they
pigeon-holed you or it’s it’s very pretty easy Apple not in the easy
application process you really have to describe what you’re using the money for
and where your vision is how you can expand in they do have criteria of what
you have to meet but they lay it out in a way that’s really approachable it
takes it takes several hours and you know but you can save it and come back
and all that good stuff that actually like helps ask me like okay what are we
what is our goal of underbelly what like what is our five-year plan and so like I
feel like that was kind of like the point that it pivoted of being like okay
cool this is this is a real new startup for us like I said I discovered
underbelly searching local posts on Instagram but of course that isn’t the
way that they plan on people finding out about them Olivia tells me what they’ve
been doing so far honestly we don’t I do as much as need that neither of us are
kind of like Wizards at social media the first like
six months was really us trying to figure out like what does underbelly
look and feel like and within the scope of social media within the scope of our
website in all of that and we finally kind of got a we finally have a vibe I
would say that we finally have an aesthetic like this is what we this is
when you see us do like okay I get it but mostly what we do is we just try to
follow people that wear it like follow businesses that were supporting every
day on our stories and this is something that’s been quite popular surprisingly
we highlight roughly three events that are happening each day and we usually
just like hey these are what this is the time it said this is where it’s at and
then we always just tag whoever’s kind of hosting the event and supporting it
and that’s been a great way to kind of just extend our networks because
surprisingly probably 30% of businesses and artists and musicians Reshard the
story and since it also fits a very specific style that has extended our
network kind of tenfold from what we otherwise would have had other than that
we have great partnerships and like relationship it’s majestic in the high
noon so we’ve been fortunate enough to give be able to offer like ticket
giveaways so that we do a little bit of promotion with that but that’s really
when we have things that we can give people we promote it promote it just
through your network or do you actually like do paid promotion small paid from
promotion like $2 you didn’t move we’re bootstrapping this definitely the goal
you know is to however in the next two months figure out what our next game
plan for financing underbelly because we understand as a startup that it’s going
to take some time to really build our network which is why we’ve been doing
more specifically like the zine and these events is that we don’t want to be
an app that you just have on your phone and forget about we want to be something
that if you have us you love us oh that made me realize that the app would need
to be hosted and usage and data and downloads that adds up to the cost the
traffic of people using an app and its functionality is a whole different
factor to put into a budget how much do you think your cost will be to host an
app I mean that’s a different thing than having a website
services it’s quite affordable these days now that might change if suddenly
we get like 5,000 downloads here in Madison and we have people using it
constantly because then it just takes more servers and more it just takes more
space but it’s pretty affordable provided that you aren’t outsourcing
your development that’s when it really starts adding up really quickly is when
you have a developer that you’re paying it’s not part of your team because of
all of the maintenance that’s required having that many users are like how do
you plan do after the grants are done yeah how do we make money yeah that’s
fair that’s always that’s so we have a kind of a couple different routes that
we’re planning on going the first is having premium business accounts which
is different sounds I dislike the name cuz it sounds similar to the Yelp ads
but the difference is that it’s gonna be giving businesses more access to users
who are interested in them so ideally businesses can then promote their events
directly on the app on their business accounts they can promote their happy
hours they can talk about if they’re when their patio goes out or if their
hours change or I’ll be a way for businesses actually will reach the users
who are interested in them in a much more direct manner so that’s kind of the
one direction is having those additional accounts that we’re kind of we’re hope
we’re working closely with businesses to actually build features that they’re
looking for versus just kind of creating features and be like hey you want this
the other is that we really think that because we’re diving the personalization
side of things we’re quantifying aesthetic figuring out why do people
like certain restaurants why do certain businesses feel one way why is it that
Nashville and merchants are both cocktail bars on the square and they
serve small plates but they’re very different restaurants and they’re both
very Madison but very serving very different crowds and if you don’t know
that then your experience and Madison changes drastically if you go to one
versus the other so our hope is that we can then start identifying trends of hey
I’m a coffee I’m building a coffee shop and I really
want it to be a place where people sit down and work what sort of features do I
need to include is it having just a ton of outlets is the most important that
you have a bunch of without seeding what are these things so
that way even saw identifying these trends to be able to work with cities
and work with developers to really help build local businesses that not just
survive but thrive in these communities so then basically becoming consultants
to cities and developers to kind of help support the local community is what
we’re our ultimate goal to build off of the question about how people will
discover underbelly what do they think would appeal to most people about what
they’re doing I think there’s two sides of it I think people really relate to
the idea of trying like they understand the pain of trying to find local
businesses that they want whether it’s heat while you’re around navigating a
part of town that you don’t know or if it’s you’re in a whole new city with no
one that you know that idea of wanting to support the local community but
having no idea how to do it or having no idea how to identify a local chain
versus a small mom-and-pop diner that pain I like that struggle for that
people have I think that resonates and then the other side is I think that they
get what we’re trying to do for like the also like just the art side of things I
think people understand they appreciate the fact that we are we lean in to kind
of this absurdity this playful fun brand that we’re playing with and this idea of
like supporting we’re supporting cool shit like it’s kind of these offbeat
weird communities that can kind of come together and we try to kind of really
dive into that with our social media with our website and if that’s a mix of
this mixed media feel like real photos mix but this really graphic feel mix
with a zine I think people don’t see that in like the tech world especially I
think they’re really used to this really like clean minimalist almost anti design
design where it’s a ton of white space very clean lines and people are really
used to that and we’re kind of coming through and being like no we’re gonna do
our own thing and have fun with it and so I think people really relate to that
and enjoy that hey I might not get that joke but I appreciate the fact that
you’re even making a joke I would say that people I think they’re really
striving for community and I think that they’re getting that I think with the
zine we really have delved into that a lot but there
able to recognize like hey this isn’t just them creating this like this is an
artist who is writing this who is contributing to this and so they’re like
okay like they have like a sense of like authenticity knowing that like they
actually are doing what they’re say before doing or what they want to
eventually be doing and so I think that we’re gaining a great credibility with
the network here in Madison because they’re able to recognize us and we’re
you know leaving what we so I think it’s been a great way to bring us all
together and we frequently talk about how you know apps feel very disconnected
and like you’re just like viewing a screen and then it like transports you
someplace and I think that’s what people want to see and I think that’s been a
really great revelation within our trying to navigate what it means to be
like a part of the community as well as an this broad app that he mentioned
wants to be a part of all communities they’d really like to know what they
could do to improve it so go to their website at exploreunderbelly.io if
you’re enjoying this podcast head on over to my site at Americanbandito.com/subscribe where you can sign up for the mailing list and find all the
links of the other stuff that I’m doing online or even if you just have a
question I’d like to contact me about something that’s Americanbandito.com/subscribe the music for this show is by my band Lorenzo’s Music thanks for
listening and until the next episode so long

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