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// Simple Strat
Ali Schwanke has always loved creating and building things. From a young age, her passion for selling and marketing has been a natural extension of who she is, whether she was selling ideas to her siblings, concepts to her parents, or products for her high school fundraiser.
While she didn’t have much exposure to entrepreneurship when she was growing up, she says she’s always been a hustler.
“I used to go door to door, selling greeting cards when I was in elementary school,” she says. “I always wanted to earn money and be in charge of the outcomes. In that case, I wanted to sell enough cards and stationary to earn a microscope!”
Ali says learning has always come easy, so to combat the boredom she’s always had a side hustle of some sort, from a cake decorating business with a friend in high school, to raising and selling organic produce at the farmer’s market, to a photography studio after college. Through these side hustles, she says she learned basic business skills, marketing in the “real-world” and the opportunity to express her creativity and make things happen. As an example, in her cake decorating business when she was 17, she had a customer request to make a Busch Light themed cake. While that seems like an easy task to find a picture of a beer can, without the breadth of the Internet as it is today, and being underage, Ali was forced to be innovative.
“My friend and I thought there were probably beer cans in the ditch on the country roads! So, we simply drove around until we found a Busch Light can we could use to inspire our cake creation. Needless to say, it turned out amazing!”
While she may not have recognized it as “entrepreneurship” at the time, it was clear that Ali would one day start her own business.
After graduating from college, Ali started working in a variety of marketing roles from in-house to agency, but always found herself working a side hustle. These side hustles, combined with learning from the people she worked for, taught Ali a lot of lessons that would prove to be helpful as she started her business.
“You’re not going to be able to avoid failure,” she explains. “The sooner you can get on board with that, you can start trying things. So much of business is the school of hard knocks and just being ok with building the plane as you’re flying it.”
Through a Startup Weekend event in 2012, she learned she could pitch a concept, build a prototype and gain beta customers in a short amount of time (plus….she was on a team with fellow Pipeline member Keith Fix!). She fell in love with this process and started working on an app for gyms to hire and manage substitute instructors. According to Ali, the app had a ton of interest from both gym owners and instructors. However, it had one fatal flaw — no one wanted to pay for it!
Ali, pictured in the center, participating in the Startup weekend.
Wanting to dig deeper, Ali quit her full time marketing job and started consulting to try to fund the app. While the app didn’t take off, her services company did. After consulting for a few years and building out CMO services, she launched Simple Strat in 2016. Simple Strat simplifies content marketing for B2B companies and hubspot consulting for organizations in a variety of industries. In addition, her team had poured a lot of resources and innovation efforts into a SaaS platform to help marketers better build, plan, and manage their marketing strategy. However, the year 2020 and a variety of economic challenges that came with it led her to put the development on hold in order to capitalize on other opportunities brought forth by the pandemic.
“I’ve never really thought that much about being a woman entrepreneur or how it plays into my role,” she says. “However, I realize I have a lot to do to pay it forward. "
As a woman in the marketing tech space, Ali is often the lone female in many entrepreneur and technology led conversations. But that’s not an issue for Ali.
“I’ve never really thought that much about being a woman entrepreneur or how it plays into my role,” she says. “However, I realize I have a lot to do to pay it forward. This year’s International Women's Day made me think about the women who have come before me. It’s only because of them that I do not see my gender as a limitation. I know I need to do more to empower other women to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship, and I certainly want to contribute in a bigger way.”
Simple Strat has grown its top line revenue about 20% each year since inception. Even with such strong business growth, Ali says being an entrepreneur is hard and can often times feel isolating.
“I’ve struggled a lot my whole life as being different. I guess I march to the beat of my own drum. If there’s one fundamental flaw that I wrestle with daily — it’s the nagging question of: “What’s wrong with me?”
Ali says she thinks a lot of entrepreneurs identify with the feeling of being different, which she channels as her strength and confidence.
When she’s not running a business, she’s also a mom to two sons ages 16 and 8, and wants to remind them and others that you’re always growing up, and you are always becoming the next/best version of yourself.
“So much of our young life is dominated by focusing on ‘what you want to be when you grow up’ but no one tells you that you’re never fully grown up. You’re always becoming the next thing.”
When she launched Simple Strat, Ali sought out to be a distinguished leader in the marketing industry. She feels like she has done that in her geographic region and now wants to extend that nationally.
“I want to be a strong voice for our generation of someone who has shaped the discipline of marketing in the next 30 years. The way that Simple Strat drives all of their business is through their own marketing channels, which should be standard but is actually very unique for a service-led company. Customers say ‘the way that I found you is how I want customers to find us.’ It’s really powerful because they feel like they know us by the time they get to the table.”
Marketing can be a critical and successful business component and strategy, when done right, which is why Ali deeply believes in continuous learning. She has considered the idea of enrolling in an MBA program or obtaining a masters in psychology because so much of what she does is around how people think and matching a customer's journey to that thinking style.
In her spare time, she loves running, spending time with her family, training her new german shepherd puppy, and baking cakes and cookies!
Be sure to check out the Simple Strat HubSpot Hacks YouTube channel. Simple Strat simplifies stand-out content marketing for B2B tech companies and HubSpot setup and management for teams across industries. If you could use these services, please visit Simple Strat. You can also follow Simple Strat on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Ali and her husband Bryce, and their two kids live in Nebraska. You can connect with Ali by sending her a message on LinkedIn. Ali completed her Pipeline Fellowship year in 2018 and is now an active Member of the organization.