Standing Out in His Field
Myke Connolly, known to some as Mr. Stinky Cakes, is a serial entrepreneur who has always understood — and always preached — the power of marketing. His latest venture is a business that brings that message to light, figuratively but also quite literally. Stand Out Truck has now attracted clients ranging from parents of high-school graduates to the local shop to President Biden — or at least one of his marketing teams. The goal is to make this a national brand, and he’s well down that road.
Myke Connolly says the e-mail found its way into his inbox around 2 that Monday afternoon.
The firm handling some marketing and promotion work for the Biden administration wanted to know if Connolly and his team at Stand Out Truck could have one of his vehicles — pickup trucks outfitted to carry digital wording and imaging — in New Hampshire the next day to present a message promoting the president’s Build Back Better plan of action.
The quick answer, as it almost always is with such inquiries, was ‘yes.’
By early that evening, the message “Better Roads. Better Bridges. Better Jobs. — Brought to you by Joe Biden” — complete with a picture of the 46th president — had been readied, and before dawn the next morning, a crew was on its way to the Granite State.
“We spent some time in Manchester, then we went to Woodstock, where the president spoke in front of that bridge, and then we went back to Manchester, and then back to Springfield — it was an eight-hour campaign,” he noted, adding that, other than the name on the account, this was much like most of his gigs to date.
The assignment from the Biden camp gives Connolly and Stand Out Truck (SOT) a new and impressive top line for its growing list of clients, and a new example of how quickly the company can respond to client needs and present a message to an intended audience.
And since this serial entrepreneur known to some as ‘Mr. Stinky Cakes’ launched this venture just as the pandemic was arriving in this region (more on that later), there have been all kinds of messages — and all kinds of audiences.
In that first category, there’s been everything from birthday wishes and congratulations to a high-school or college graduate to last-minute messages from political candidates; from invites to a pitch contest to welcome messages from a bank with a new branch in the neighborhood. The audiences, meanwhile, have ranged from families to groups attending a VFW-sponsored car show to cities and counties, as in New Hampshire.
And while the concept is gathering speed, as well as clients, Connolly believes he’s just getting started. Indeed, while he has one eye on the present and his two trucks on the road, his other is on the future and prospects for taking the business to the regional and even national levels, with perhaps licensing options (there’s already one of those in place) and franchising.
“The goal is to build a national brand — eventually, I want to take my company public,” he said, adding that he’s building for the long term and striving for steady growth.
Meanwhile, Connolly, 39, lives by what he encourages his clients to do — aggressively marketing his business. He said the Biden camp found him not by accident, but because he’s visible and always promoting what he does. And he advises businesses — and those politicians — to do the same; indeed, Stand Out Truck is an offshoot, or expansion, of a marketing business he started called Launch and Stand Out Agency. That’s the same title he put on a book he wrote in 2013.
“We make ourselves so visible and so accessible, we have some high-profile people that reach out to us all the time,” he explained, he said, adding that his business model is all about getting a message across — figuratively, but, in the case of his trucks, also quite literally.
“The goal is to build a national brand — eventually, I want to take my company public.”
And this new venture is the culmination of three decades (yes, he started when he was in grammar school) of being in business and marketing himself and his products and services.
“I always tell people … it’s not the truck,” he said. “It’s everything behind it; that’s why it works.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Connolly about his latest venture, a lifetime (almost) of entrepreneurship, and how, in his words, he’s marketing “in slow motion.”
Seeing His Name in Lights
Connolly’s relatively new mailing address is a small suite in the Venture X complex — a co-working space — in Holyoke. Along one wall of that space is a collection of more than 100 photos of his Stand Out Trucks in action.
The wall is almost entirely full, and these framed images speak to just how far this venture has come in almost two years. And as he talked, Connolly kept gesturing … to the Biden assignment. To his message to an employee enjoying a birthday — “his phone was ringing all day because people were seeing the truck.” To at least a half-dozen political candidates and their messages. To several corporate clients with various messages. To high-school graduates … the list goes on.
The road to filling that wall has been a long one, with a number of twists and turns.
As noted earlier, Connolly is a serial entrepreneur. He’s been in business and marketing, and also studying business and marketing, to some extent since he was 9.
Connolly grew up in the Bahamas and spent a lot of his time with his stepfather, who owned a pest-control business. He remembers a lot about those days, but especially what he saw on the coffee tables and TVs of clients, especially the wealthy ones. The coffee tables boasted business magazines, and the TVs had shows with the stock-market crawler at the bottom.
“I would go home and watch the TV show with the ticker,” he recalled. “I understood nothing, but I knew enough to know that all these successful people were doing the same thing — and watching that ticker — so there had to be something to that.”
While watching, he did a lot of reading and learned about successful entrepreneurs like Yankee Candle founder Mike Kittredge, Vermont Teddy Bear founder John Sortino, and many others — stories he said he could understand as a young person and draw inspiration from.
When, in 2008, he started his first business, Stinky Cakes, which offered practical gifts to new parents such as cakes shaped from diapers (hence the name), he would call on Kittredge, Sortino, and some of the others to talk about marketing, brand building, and much more.
“In month two, they started canceling graduations. So I said, ‘forget about selling ad space to businesses … I’m just going to go celebrate all these kids that I know.’ I turned it into a graduation truck.”
“These guys were in my phone; when I had questions, I would call them,” he told BusinessWest. “And that’s why I encourage kids today to read and to learn about entrepreneurs, and to reach out to them; truly successful people always want to find a way to help.”
As for marketing, Connolly says he’s been doing that since he was 9, when he would take some of the candy his grandmother would bring back from trips to Florida and sell it to classmates in school.
“I had flavors, like Jolly Ranchers, that the school store didn’t have,” he explained. “I didn’t know it was marketing at the time, but I started giving the candy to kids in my class. That’s how simple marketing is — showing people that would buy what you have that you have what they want.”
As a result of his success in business and marketing, Connolly was asked to do some teaching, guest lecturing, and mentoring of young entrepreneurs by groups like Valley Venture Mentors and EforAll Holyoke.
He focuses heavily on building credit, creating solid cash flow, and sound money management. “If you don’t know how to manage your money, none of this will ever work,” he said. “I say, ‘you can be making $1 million a year, but it you’re spending $1.5 million … then you’re in big trouble.’”
One course he’s taught is called the “100 Grand Plan,” which, as that name suggests, advises those taking it on how to make their first $100,000. Among the keys to doing so, and one that is often overlooked, is marketing.
“In order to make money, you have to understand marketing, but no matter how much we laid it out and taught them, some of them just didn’t get it,” he told BusinessWest. “So some of them started asking me to do their marketing for them.”
This led to the creation of the Launch and Stand Out agency, he went on, adding that one of his clients wanted to feature children on billboards across the country and hired him to do some of the buying of space on those boards.
This experience prompted him to want become part of what’s known as the ‘out-of-home’ advertising business, and, specifically, digital billboards — in this case, ones that move.
“I had a group of really intelligent engineers put together the truck … and we just started,” he said, joking that he could have bought two Ferraris for what he spent on the trucks and the related equipment.
The Road to Success
A big component of any business venture is timing, said Connolly, adding that, with Stand Out Truck, his was awful. For the most part, anyway.
He launched on March 9, 2020, a carefully chosen date that coincides with the death (in 1997) of rapper Biggie Smalls. Unfortunately, it also coincided with the arrival of COVID-19. Indeed, just as he was putting his trucks on the road, the state and most all businesses were shutting down, and people across the region were hunkering down.
It was a tough time to start, but Connelly, again practicing what he preaches — in lectures to college students, advice to young entrepreneurs, and also in the book he wrote called Launch and Stand Out — made sure he started out with enough capital to withstand what he expected would be a few soft months of getting his name and product out and building up the business.
Business turned out to even softer than he anticipated. But he was helped by some of those connections he made teaching and lecturing in area colleges.
“In month two, they started canceling graduations,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘forget about selling ad space to businesses … I’m just going to go celebrate all these kids that I know.’ I turned it into a graduation truck.”
Elaborating, he said he essentially covered half the cost of hiring one of his trucks to celebrate a graduate himself, charging the rest to families looking for a unique way to honor a son or daughter not able to walk across a stage to pick up a diploma.
“I made it super affordable,” he recalled. “Kids were being celebrated on the truck for $75, and that included photography, editing the photos, everything; we gave them something really special. We probably did more than 500 of those.”
Since that adventurous start, the company has been steadily building its client base, which now includes everything from the local pizza shop to national brands (Texas Roadhouse, for example) to the president, and the goal is the same with all of them — to help get the message out, but in a unique and somewhat powerful way.
The concept caught the attention of PeoplesBank, which first used one of Connolly’s trucks to drive applications to the EforAll Holyoke class last spring. The bank used the company for its own business for the opening of a branch in West Hartford, hiring SOT to generate awareness around the banking-center location prior to its official opening, and also to appear at the grand-opening party and a nearby ‘build day’ undertaken in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity in Hartford.
“Mychal is a ‘hustler’ in the very best sense of the word,” said Matt Bannister, senior vice president of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility for the bank. “He has endless energy and enthusiasm, tremendous work ethic, and a strong focus on getting results for his customers. The SOT allows us to bring our message to places it might not ordinarily reach, and the quality of the images on the truck is a good representation of the brand.”
Moving forward, Connolly, who now boasts a team of 10, including designers, drivers, and those managing the equipment, wants to earn more testimonials like that. With them, he believes his goal of taking the company national — and eventually going public — are perhaps within reach.
“Some people think we’re a guy with a truck. We’re not — we’re a startup, and we’re looking to build the right way,” he said, adding that, while there are digital billboards in virtually every market, his concept is relatively unique. Meanwhile, he brings strong marketing experience to the table that can help clients create a strategy, not merely a message on wheels.
“I’m not just a guy with a truck — I’ve been doing marketing since I was 9 years old,” he went on. “I love marketing, and I respect the craft of marketing, and I love giving that to my clients. It’s not just about putting a picture on a truck and driving around.”
To a Higher Gear
In addition to all those framed pictures of his trucks in action, Connolly’s office also sports a small sign that serves to inform and inspire both his students and himself.
It features numbers breaking down what $1 million a year in revenue equates to, as in … $83,333 a month, $19,230 a week, and $2,739 a day. There’s then a poignant tagline: ‘Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.’
Connolly has lived by that credo all his life, and Stand Out Truck is the latest example. He doesn’t know where he can go with this concept, but he’s allowing himself to think, and dream, big.
That’s the message he drives home to his students and mentees, and now … well, he’s driving home all kinds of messages. And, in doing so, writing another stirring chapter in the book that is his life.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]