Founded by Marc D'Amelio with $1,000

In launching Madsoul, an urban streetwear label, in 2000, Marc D'Amelio raised guerrilla marketing to an art form. Take, for example, his sticker campaign. D'Amelio figured out that if he signed up for a United Parcel Service account, he was entitled to an unlimited supply of blank UPS labels. If he bought a Tektronix printer, he was entitled to free black ink. So he signed on with both companies and began printing stickers by the thousands and distributing them at concerts and art festivals around New York City, where Madsoul is based. "If you can't afford to do a $100,000 billboard, and you can't even afford to do a $20,000 print advertisement, you gotta figure out other ways," he says.

D'Amelio also promoted Madsoul through mix tapes of hip-hop music, on the theory that pretty much everybody will take a free album. He discovered that record labels would usually give him the rights to unreleased tracks for free (they saw it as easy publicity), as long as he agreed to mix well-known rappers and brand-new artists on the same album. Between songs, D'Amelio would have the artists record promos like, "Don't forget to check Madsoul out." "It's a great way to convey your brand message," he says. "Ten little commercials to tell people where to buy the product." The cost to him was $1 per tape.

Scoring His First Sale

  1. The Target
    The first customer Marc D'Amelio went after was a big one: the New York Knicks. He knew a buyer at the team from his previous job as a clothing sales rep.
  2. The Setup
    D'Amelio asked a screen printer to create sample T-shirts for him for free. In return, he promised the company the contract if he closed the deal.
  3. The Sale
    The Knicks' buyer loved the shirts, and ordered 3,000 to sell at Madison Square Garden for a total of $30,000.
  4. The Terms
    D'Amelio returned to the screen printer and offered to pay $15,000 for the run, but only after the Knicks paid him. The vendor agreed.
  5. The Lesson
    As Madsoul grew, D'Amelio continued to emphasize its tiny size when trying to collect from customers. "You don't pay us, people don't get paid," he told them.

Decent Exposure

D'Amelio traded clothes for some advertising in a small hip-hop magazine. With other magazines, he says he was always willing to talk to advertising sales reps, but he pushed to get the line coverage in the editorial pages before agreeing to advertise.

Design Within Reach

The graffiti artists who did Madsoul's graphics weren't used to getting paid for their art. So they were thrilled when D'Amelio offered them a choice of a 10 percent royalty on each T-shirt sold or a flat fee up to $500.