Wildfire 2018: CEMarketing

CEMarketing is one of the latest startups coming out of The Garage that allows businesses to gain access to budding student marketers who can curate and manage all their marketing, social media needs and other project launches.

The Garage sat down with CEMarketing founder, Kristen Sanders (SESP ‘19), to learn more about CEMarketing and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does CEMarketing do?

Kristen: We strongly believe that people need other people to succeed, and from that ideology, we decided to create a new marketing company to help businesses, entrepreneurs, and student content creators. We’re a design agency, a marketing agency, and a consulting agency, all in one. We mainly work with businesses and have a database of student content creators- videographers, photographers, graphic designers, copywriters-  and we work together to help make marketing strategies more accessible for everyone. The business is really founded on my core value system, which are accessibility, community, and creativity. There are so many ways to make technology a force for change and use it to make businesses come to life. I’ve always believed that marketing strategy is all about being your authentic self, and you don’t do that by posting stock photos. You do that by posting either curated content of other people and their experiences, or your own experiences.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Kristen: I’ve always wanted to do something in marketing and have been creating art my entire life. I was a freelancer for years, and it was really hard for me to get a paid internship, as most in digital agencies are unpaid. On the flip side, in the summer of last year, I was walking down the street outside my house and I saw this restaurant called Ovo Frito Café. I realized I couldn’t find them online, even though we were living in 2017! I contacted them and told them that I couldn’t find them or their menu anywhere online. From that I started to see that there was a need on both sides for a marketing platform- for businesses who just didn’t have the time or resources to create content for themselves, but also for students like me who’ve taken an interest to creative work and direction, but didn’t have the opportunities to work with real companies.

Who do you have as part of your team?

Kristen: I have two sides to my team. The first, as you know, is the team of content creators and we have almost 40 of them now. In terms of the C-suite, we have marketing strategists who take the content that’s been created and then they make sense of it all. Rachel Cantor and I will mainly be working on that this summer. Brian Meng will also be joining us this summer- he’s extremely talented and will be our resident photographer and videographer. We’re also looking at interacting technology with user centered experience inside an actual storefront, instead of just the traditional online presence. There’s this joke in the startup world that everything should be “X but better”. We’ve really embraced that and we are creating new technologies and applications where we can have an in-store tablet that will let our clients understand their customers better. This would also help the customer review their experience with our clients immediately in store versus going online on Yelp and writing something hours or days after the interaction.

What’s the biggest failure that your startup has faced, and what have you learned from it?

Kristen: I think the biggest failure we’ve ever faced was when we were not building systems to handle the volume of work we were getting. As a marketing company if anything ever goes out and there’s a mistake on it, that is a really big failure because our clients are depending on us to make sure that everything is perfect. So there was a time when we had this client, and we had this big strategy plan for them. It was going great, except we didn’t have materials from them to continue our marketing strategy. We began to deviate from strategy and in doing that, I think the things that we put out just weren’t as nice or put together. And that taught me that if you’re not ready to push go and if you don’t have all the resources that you need to complete your work, it’s ok to push pause.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Kristen: There are a couple of entrepreneurs whose books or articles I have read as I was going through my entrepreneurship journey. Reading articles by Arianna Huffington, Peter Thiel, and Bell Hooks have been really interesting on the level of my personal brand. As a black woman, I was really inspired by Jackie Aina, who was one of the first women that I saw on YouTube who was able to turn her personal story into a strong brand. And of course Beyoncé- she got rid of her managers, and she started managing her own content. The way that she managed all this was really inspiring.

On the local level- Neal Sales-Griffin, the CEO of Codenow, was one of the first people that I spoke to about my business, and I remember he was the first person who told me that I would be fine and that I should pursue starting CEM. Heather Aranyi (Lyric Opera) is another professor here that has greatly impacted me through her support. Both her and Genevieve Thiers, Founder of Sittercity, are inspiring because they’ve been able to continue being a creative while also being a successful entrepreneur at the same time.

What has The Garage done for you and what do you want to gain out of the Wildfire program?

Kristen: I think the most impactful thing for me has been the office hours and the ability to run ideas by the mentors here at The Garage. Melissa and Billy were the first people I had met to talk about my startup idea, and what business model I should follow.

By the end of Wildfire, we want to have built out a client list, and have done a lot of case studies and research. I’m also looking to gain access to a community of entrepreneurs and understand what they are going through, and how I can use their experience and expertise to improve the business. Finally, we plan to launch on other college campuses as well, starting with The University of Chicago.

You can get in touch with CEMarketing by email, or check out their website.


This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.