A Startup’s Information to Launching Faculty Ambassador Packages


For brand spanking new shopper startups focusing on younger individuals, some of the common advertising and marketing methods is an on-campus pupil ambassador program. Family names like Tinder, Bumble, and Crimson Bull leveraged these applications efficiently within the early days (and nonetheless as we speak) to develop their manufacturers throughout the nation, and as we speak’s era of startups proceed to construct on this playbook. When performed proper, faculty ambassador applications are a low price approach to purchase customers, generate buzz, and kickstart the community results that result in huge development and adoption.

In actual fact, I actually was an entrepreneur in faculty who tried utilizing an envoy program on campus as our main go-to-market (GTM) technique for my startup, Cling. Whereas Cling in the end failed (partially because of launching in the course of the pandemic), I realized a number of classes alongside the best way on what works for a school ambassador program – and what doesn’t. 

Once I joined a16z as a part of the buyer go-to-market staff, I acquired a number of questions from startups and types about the way to launch and develop a profitable faculty ambassador program, so I began speaking with the campus administrators and leads for different ambassador applications. Primarily based alone expertise constructing Cling and analysis with each established manufacturers like Bumble, Grubhub and Discord and startups like Fizz and Sidechat, here’s a newbie’s information on faculty ambassador applications for shopper startups. I’ll cowl the what and why, when to launch a school ambassador program, the way to get began and metrics for achievement, incentive buildings, and extra.

The Fundamentals: The What and Why of Faculty Ambassador Packages

A school ambassador program enlists influential college students on a school campus to advertise your model and product to their friends. Ambassador applications are a superb means to make use of a school campus to kickstart community results inside a bunch of like-minded goal customers with probably decrease prices than different methods like digital promoting. Certainly, faculty campuses are pure environments for creating, testing, and rising shopper merchandise.

A school ambassador program is in the end, although, a consumer acquisition technique that takes benefit of this shopper conduct petri dish. Model activation methods utilized by these ambassadors can catalyze phrase of mouth (WOM) sharing on campus, main the product to search out its customers. Different advantages of school ambassador applications embody model publicity (an envoy’s core goal is to indicate off the model to their friends by each digital and bodily activations) and decreasing buyer acquisition prices (CAC) over the long term.

Whereas many sorts of startups may presumably leverage a school ambassador program, these three sorts are notably well-suited to the dynamics of school campuses:

  • New social platforms: Community results are important to the fast development of a brand new social platform, and an envoy program is a superb catalyst, notably when focusing on the entire particular social teams on a campus. Whereas it didn’t leverage a school ambassador program, Fb famously began by focusing on faculty college students. Newer examples embody BeReal, Sidechat, and TikTok.
  • Ecommerce startups: Ambassadors can distribute affiliate codes and publish on their social channels about your merchandise. And with the rise of reside procuring, ambassadors may even be sellers themselves. Although not completely for school college students, the REVOLVE Ambassador program is a superb instance of utilizing an envoy program to distribute affiliate codes. One other instance is Curtsy.
  • Marketplaces: Marketplaces can leverage related activation strategies as ecommerce startups by ambassadors for brand spanking new demand acquisition. Examples embody: Grubhub, duffl, and Snackpass.

When to Launch? (Trace: After Product-Market Match)

An envoy program is an effective way to have interaction college students and leverage these dynamics to develop model consciousness of your product – IF you could have proven there’s a want and want for what you might be constructing inside an outlined target market.

A important level to acknowledge is that if you happen to don’t but have product-market match inside your goal demographic (particularly if it’s college-age college students), an envoy program is just not prone to drive retention and long-term utilization. As a substitute, it’s extra prone to drive a number of preliminary new customers who then churn out of the product as a result of it doesn’t but meet their wants – burning by a number of your core viewers and making it tougher to win them over later. 

There isn’t any advertising and marketing technique that can repair a product that its core viewers received’t use! As a substitute, leverage a smaller, tight group of school college students in numerous micro teams to check your product and offer you insightful suggestions in your beta earlier than leaping right into a wider, extra deliberate ambassador launch. 

One approach to know you’re able to launch a school ambassador program is after hitting key retention benchmarks. Earlier than leveraging development channels and bringing their product to a school campus, Sean Rad, cofounder of Tinder, mentioned in an interview in 2014 that inside every week of launching Tinder with a pair hundred of customers, that they had a 99.5% every day retention charge. From there, they took the product to varsity campuses to additional experiment. In fact, many profitable merchandise won’t ever have a 99.5% every day retention charge, however it’s necessary to have a transparent sense of what a very good retention charge is to your product. 

Some key inquiries to ask your self earlier than you determine to plan and execute on a school ambassador program:

  • Do I’ve a bunch of beta customers which can be persistently utilizing my product? Are my consumer retention numbers displaying that that is the case?
  • Is my product receiving optimistic suggestions on the consumer expertise and interface? 
  • Do our core focused demographics align with a school campus?
  • Do now we have the technical staff/infrastructure to make fixes on the product because the consumer base expands?

Methods to Get Began

Your enterprise is prepared to absorb an inflow of recent customers that it’s prone to retain, and also you’re prepared  to arrange your program. The three inquiries to ask subsequent are: which campus do you begin on; what are your targets; and what are the traits to your preliminary set of ambassadors. 

Select Your Campus

Completely different merchandise are higher suited to various kinds of faculty campuses. In case you are a pupil entrepreneur, I like to recommend you focus by yourself campus, as you realize the panorama higher than anybody.

Key Inquiries to Ask Your self When Selecting a Campus

  • How are social teams on campus perceived? Particularly, are there Greek Life organizations in good standing on the faculty?  
  • How do the actual seasons have an effect on the social surroundings? Ought to I plan my launch round a specific time of the 12 months?
  • What are the most important social gatherings on campus? How can my ambassadors associate with these occasions?
    • Each faculty has a important occasion in the course of the 12 months that each pupil gathers to have fun/or attend. Whether or not it’s a welcome week, spring week, or charity gathering, college students are certain to be social throughout this time.
    • Instance: In Boston yearly, the Beanpot hockey event attracts college students from the realm to return and watch their faculties compete (BU, Northeastern, Boston Faculty, Harvard). At an occasion like this, an envoy activation could possibly be used to not solely additional have interaction Boston College college students, but additionally to introduce your startup to the opposite competing faculties, as nicely.

One technique is to focus on infiltrating one explicit faculty in a metropolis with a number of faculties (suppose Boston, Washington D.C, LA). Consider it as an envoy program beta check: observe what works and what doesn’t on one campus earlier than increasing. Every faculty might have a barely completely different playbook because of various social dynamics. Be prepared to adapt your technique as your program expands. Your ambassadors are certain to have associates in related social teams at different faculties; this is a wonderful approach to get private referrals to develop your online business!

Whereas COVID-19 and faculty restrictions contributed to the digitization of many college students’ expertise over the previous couple of years, the present panorama has allowed for faculties to reopen. Remember to be updated on what’s allowed and never on sure campuses, as going in opposition to faculty restrictions can put your model and ambassadors in danger.

Outline Your Targets:

When evaluating what targets you wish to set to your ambassador program to attain, first perceive the core metrics of your product and which of these an envoy program is almost definitely to maneuver. Examples embody:

  • Model engagement (for social channels specifically: variety of feedback, likes, shares)
  • Downloads/new customers
  • Decreased CAC (usually by a rise in “direct” or non-attributed new customers)

For these final two, you might not have the ability to straight attribute them, relying on the sort of activations you’re doing, however you may nonetheless observe a correlated uptick in downloads or discount in CAC when you could have activations in progress together with your campus ambassadors. Consider these metrics on a weekly and month-to-month foundation, in addition to on the time construction of the college (e.g. quarters, trimesters, semesters, and many others).

Whereas these lagging metrics are important for your online business success, there are additionally main metrics to measure the success of an envoy program extra straight and instantly. Relying in your techniques, listed below are some widespread metrics to see if this system is working:

  • Model consciousness 
  • Elevated social following to your model
  • Occasion turnout
  • Ambassador churn:
    • Are college students who nonetheless have time left in class persevering with as an envoy? Extra retention = increased ambassador satisfaction.
    • Discover what share of non-graduating college students return as ambassadors or refer a brand new rent.

Establish and Rent Your Ambassadors

Not all faculty college students would be the proper match to be an envoy. Listed below are some key inquiries to ask your self earlier than recruiting your first ambassadors:

  • What are the traits of my perfect consumer? And who’s almost definitely to have the ability to join with that viewers? (e.g. if you happen to have been constructing a tutoring product, your perfect consumer will probably be somebody who prioritizes faculty. What kind of on campus ambassador is somebody who prioritizes faculty prone to hearken to? Somebody who’s persistently on the dean’s checklist)
  • Who’s perceived as trusted by their friends?
  • Do our attainable ambassadors have a powerful on-line presence (and followers who’re additionally perfect customers)?

When you’re prepared to start recruiting, your first rent will probably be your Campus Lead Ambassador. Your lead ambassador ought to know the ins and outs on campus and needs to be chargeable for serving to you join with the teams who’ve probably the most affect on campus. This individual will probably be your main level of contact for all actions on campus, however ought to nonetheless be a pupil. 

  • Tasks of the campus lead
    • Assist supply and rent ambassadors
    • Delegate duties and monitor completion
    • Handle finances
  • Qualities to search for in your campus lead and ambassadors:
    • Management expertise
    • Sturdy group expertise
    • Naturally social and charismatic
  • Pattern interview questions:
    • Have you ever held management roles in your on campus group?
    • How would you describe your digital presence?
    • What would you do on campus to develop consciousness of our product?

Work together with your lead ambassador on campus on the preliminary hiring plan. The variety of ambassadors you rent will depend upon how massive the college is and what number of main teams of affect there are to cowl who’re particular possible customers of your product. 

Understanding the methods through which completely different teams join is tribal data to college students on campus. You do not want an envoy in each main group on campus, however your ambassadors have to have a approach to get in contact with every. One campus lead, with two to a few ambassadors, possible provides you adequate contact factors to get to all the scholar teams it’s good to get began. Whilst you can publish job descriptions or software pages for the roles, private referrals are one of the simplest ways to get to the suitable individuals.

Sample College Ambassador Program Structure

Examples of teams on faculty campuses that could possibly be focused for an envoy program: 

  • Golf equipment: Each faculty campus has an abundance of hyper-targeted golf equipment of passionate followers. For instance, Discord focused Pc Science and Gaming golf equipment to get them on board. 
  • Greek Life: Greek Life organizations have been the some of the common locations for ambassador applications to be launched. The benefit of most fraternities and sororities is that almost all all reside collectively in a central location, that means communication and interplay is frequent. Moreover, fraternities and sororities are continuously socializing with one another. This community has the social infrastructure in place to unfold the phrase on a product. 
  • Athletics: Relying on the college, athletes have an incredible quantity of affect on campus, however up till 2021, they have been unable to receives a commission. Now because of NCAA adjustments of their laws, athletes will be compensated and could possibly be focused as paid faculty ambassadors. Reminder: These athletes can have sturdy affect, however perceive they have already got a full time job as a student-athlete and are much less prone to have time to spare.

In the event you’re not at present a pupil, as a way to discover these organizations, search for your faculty’s pupil actions workplace web page on-line. Nearly each faculty can have a full listing of pupil organizations (together with Greek Life) and the principle level of contact (for instance, try USC’s web page). Many additionally will hyperlink to their social pages, which is usually a extra dependable approach to get in contact.

Incentivizing Your Ambassadors

Whilst you is perhaps centered on what faculty ambassadors can do to your product, it’s extra necessary that you consider it from their perspective: what do they get from being your ambassador? Some widespread incentives for ambassadors embody:

Model affiliation: At first, an envoy that loves your product and genuinely needs to share it with their associates is the best! You need your ambassadors to really feel proud to be selling your product to their viewers as a result of the affinity gives them with social capital. An ex-Discord Ambassador shared that he felt incentivized to convey extra college students on the platform purely due to how a lot he beloved Discord and that extra individuals wanted to take pleasure in the advantages.

Resume-building: Faculty campuses are full of fierce competitors for high jobs as soon as graduating. Whereas most college students give attention to simply getting the perfect internship for that specific summer time, working as a model ambassador for a sizzling startup is usually a distinctive and beneficial expertise that may assist them land a coveted internship or job later. 

Entry to advantages: Give your ambassadors entry to early variations of the product to make them really feel extra linked by unique entry. In case you are constructing an ecommerce startup, give your ambassadors free/discounted merchandise. In the event you’re constructing a social app, maybe they get just a few extra invitations handy out than the common consumer or the flexibility to strive a brand new characteristic earlier than anybody else. 

For instance, ecommerce startup Curtsy marketed of their job description: “All members get 20% off every part on Curtsy (excluding our weekly sale model or class) and welcome credit score to make use of on our web site. Winners of competitions obtain present playing cards. You’ll additionally get a personalised distinctive referral code to share with your mates & group!” 

Group constructing/social or skilled networking: Most faculty college students aren’t taught the way to construct an expert community, and your faculty ambassador program will be one other affiliation group that helps them construct connections for all times after faculty. Work to create a powerful sense of group, bringing your ambassadors collectively in social settings. The courting platform Bumble holds ex-ambassador occasions even after they graduate from the college. Given most faculty ambassadors received’t convert to full time staff after commencement, Bumble created a post-grad group the place there are networking occasions, wellness retreats, and distinctive job alternatives.

Fizz, a debit card for college students that helps construct credit score, hosts ambassadors for a “quarterly occasion with traders, founders, private finance specialists & extra”.

Incomes cash: In case you are paying your ambassadors (which isn’t a requirement), there are a number of pay buildings which were profitable for established manufacturers. The widespread thread between all of them is fastidiously preserving monitor of the duties accomplished.

  • Pay by process accomplished: assign weekly duties and pay your ambassadors after picture proof of completion (Bumble)
  • Hourly pay: have ambassadors log hours (Crimson Bull)
  • Weekly stipend for attaining targets with bonuses (Discord)
  • Money rewards per consumer obtain or referral (Sidechat)

Methods to Construction Your Program

Size: Maintain your ambassador applications to a semester/quarters size to be sure that the ambassadors you could have are persistently engaged and don’t merely fade out. Permit them to reapply and encourage them to take action. A significant downside ambassador applications face is the fixed churn of scholars to busy schedules or commencement. Leverage your greatest graduating ambassadors to assist discover their very own replacements. In my expertise, many who joined a school ambassador program have been direct referrals from people already on the firm.

Ask for suggestions out of your ambassadors, those who go away and those who come again. How may their expertise have been higher? Would they’ve needed extra path or extra autonomy? How may they’ve been higher incentivized?

Coaching: Crucial element to coaching your ambassadors is ensuring they’re able to clearly talk what your product does. In case your ambassadors are unable to talk clearly in your worth proposition, the mission and goal will get misplaced in translation. 

Maintain Zoom conferences together with your ambassadors to apply till they will clearly articulate. Your ambassadors will get requested many questions and are anticipated by customers to know the solutions. Put one other means, consider the questions that you just as a founder are continuously requested to make clear – your ambassadors will get the identical ones! Have an lively group messaging thread (Slack, Discord, Whatsapp, iMessage, and many others) so your ambassadors all the time have an open line to ask questions. 

Create a playbook to your ambassadors to confer with. Playbooks present a simple and clear means to your ambassadors to know their tasks, apply the worth proposition, and reply FAQ’s. Leverage your greatest ambassadors to assist refine your playbook as soon as you start to launch at different faculties.

Talk your metrics/expectations clearly to your ambassadors and maintain weekly syncs to verify they’re on monitor. Maintain your ambassadors accountable to those metrics!

Funds: How a lot total spend you allocate towards your ambassador program is determined by what you suppose the perfect advertising and marketing channel for your online business could also be. If your online business is make-or-break on faculty pupil acquisition, lean extra closely into funding the ambassador program vs different advertising and marketing channels. 

Inside your ambassador program finances, completely different activation methods have completely different prices. If the last word purpose is to spur phrase of mouth, be artistic with decrease finances advertising and marketing choices that get college students speaking about your product.

One other framework for setting your faculty ambassador program finances is to benchmark it in opposition to different paid acquisition prices and your total CAC. Say you’re an ecommerce startup and calculate your CAC to be $75. By having faculty ambassadors hand out flyers with credit score towards the product for $50, you may purchase customers extra cheaply, assuming the prices of the credit score, your ambassador’s time, and printing out the flyers all comes beneath $75.

Kinds of Ambassador Actions and Activations

So what do faculty ambassadors really do to get the phrase out about your model? I prefer to bucket them in three alternative ways, with every having extra distinct benefits relying in your finances and the kind of firm you’re constructing. Prioritize what you’re feeling is greatest to your product.

For all of those activation classes, you will need to “Know Thy Campus”, and hearken to the tribal data of your ambassadors. Encourage your ambassadors to be artistic and suppose exterior the field of how they will join/get the eye of scholars. It could possibly be one thing so simple as handing out pizza slices from the perfect pie store everybody raves about, encouraging debate between the perfect sandwich locations on campus on Twitter, or raffling off VIP live performance tickets when a serious artist comes into city. Together with nice meals or free drinks with model activations is all the time a powerful approach to have interaction faculty college students!

Digital Activations:

Finest for: ecommerce startups, decrease finances

Social posts attain faculty campuses and pupil teams at scale, given posts are simply shared and engaged with. That is additionally probably the most budget-friendly possibility. Be delicate to the truth that digital identities are necessary to varsity college students, and suggesting too many posts on social media will be counterproductive (as soon as a month is an effective goal). Be sure to have a full-time staff member chargeable for the model’s social media account, so when followers of your ambassador come to your web page, they see extra related content material and keep. 

  • Submit photos on Instagram with firm – related hashtags
  • Create distinctive TikToks tied to model
  • Submit distinctive affiliate codes to obtain product reductions. 

Ex: Grubhub’s “Campus Tastemakers” program provides ambassadors rewards for posting content material of their orders from eating places round campus.

Sponsored Occasions:

Finest for: new social platforms, bigger finances

Sponsoring occasions are typically a dearer ambassador activation however are nice for making a enjoyable surroundings to have interaction potential customers. Occasions are vulnerable to pumping up inorganic downloads (college students who obtain the app purely for “free entry/drink”) however nonetheless they will nonetheless create model recognition. To drive attendees, promote competitions between organizations in order that whoever brings in probably the most downloads/gross sales will get a reward.

For instance, Bumble gave their ambassadors a finances to prepare a bar occasion to spice up downloads. Everybody who attended the occasion first needed to present the individual on the door that that they had downloaded the app and made an account. On condition that some individuals had already downloaded the app, the staff measured success by what number of drink tickets that they had handed out on the door. Whereas some individuals downloaded the app purely to get into an occasion with their associates, if somebody who attended the occasion finally needed to make use of a courting app, that they had had a Bumble expertise and it was prepared on their cellphone.

IRL Activations:

Finest for: all!

“In actual life” (IRL) on-campus activations are an effective way to have a direct, private reference to the viewers you are attempting to succeed in with out the formality of a giant occasion. Mainly, place your ambassadors in a well-liked location the place college students are going to be anyhow and have an excuse to your ambassadors to talk with their friends. For instance, social platform, Sidechat, had tables round campus handing out cookies for everybody that downloaded the app. You’ll be able to converse straight with potential prospects, get on the spot suggestions, and reply any questions they could have.


What’s the distinction between an envoy program and an influencer program?

Whereas they share a number of widespread techniques, ambassador and influencer applications in the end have completely different playbooks and completely different targets. Isa Lampson, former Bumble ambassador and ambassador lead for Nate describes it this fashion: . Ambassador applications go straight to an outlined, focused viewers, in order that you realize your advertising and marketing efforts are reaching the suitable people. Influencer content material is being unfold to a much wider and fewer particular viewers. With an influencer advertising and marketing technique, she famous, your purpose must be particular as a way to see the worth, given how costly they are often. 

I don’t have the finances to pay my ambassadors. Can I nonetheless function an envoy program?

Sure! Whereas many applications supply direct monetary incentives to particular person ambassadors, college students will be motivated by a wide range of components. Given these college students received’t be getting cash, it’s then important to design this system in a means that emphasizes the advantages of what they’re getting out of this system.

I’m unsure when precisely my product goes to be prepared. Ought to I nonetheless plan my program?

It’s all the time good to be planning forward and taking notes on what sorts of methods and techniques may work in your circumstance, however it’s higher to attend to launch an envoy program vs go too early.

Particularly, if you happen to’re contemplating launching your product with an envoy program, bear in mind: launch dates are arduous to handle in the perfect of circumstances, and it turns into much more difficult when you could have a set of school ambassadors ready on you on the similar time. 

Set affordable expectations to your ambassadors and customers, and ensure to sync together with your tech staff persistently in order that launch dates aren’t pushed again after planning infrastructure was put into place. Slipping in your launch date a number of instances can injury your fame and waste a hype cycle of a pre-launch product. Be sure the product can deal with scale when customers be a part of!


These tips are supposed to assist founders get began with a fundamental framework for the way to construction  a school ambassador program. However the perfect faculty ambassador applications are those that get artistic; there’s not one set playbook a startup has to observe to achieve success!

Thanks to Isabella Lampson, Maya Malde, Shaina Zafar and Noorie Dhingra, Sean Doherty, and Thomas Yee for sharing their valued expertise with me for this information!


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