We worked remotely on top of a U-Haul

We worked remotely on top of a U-Haul

Doug and I built Pragli, a virtual office for remote teams. And last week, we did our first marketing stunt to promote the product. We worked remotely on a U-Haul in San Francisco.

In this article, I cover:

  1. Why we decided to do a marketing stunt
  2. How we prepared for it
  3. What happened when we started working on top of the U-Haul
  4. The time and cash investment
  5. Our takeaways

Why we decided to do a marketing stunt

We've been building and marketing Pragli for the last 9 months as a bootstrapped company. As a new startup, we spend a lot of time experimenting with different marketing strategies. This was our first attempt at a “PR stunt.”

Our decision making process wasn't too complex. Doug and I spent some time generating a list of different stunt ideas and got super excited about working on top of a U-Haul in a busy area.

How we prepared for the stunt

Deciding on a U-Haul type

The most important task was deciding on the U-Haul type that we wanted.

Here were a few factors that were important in selecting a truck type:

  • Height: We wanted everyone on the street to see us immediately from a high position above other parked cars and traffic on the road (❌ cargo vans)
  • Rectangular form factor: Since we planned to put Pragli banners on the side of the trucks, we wanted a smooth rectangular surface to easily attach the banners. (❌ cargo vans)
  • Driving simplicity: We're pretty competent drivers, but maneuvering a 15' > truck in tight San Francisco streets seemed pretty stressful. (❌ 15', 17', 20', 26' trucks)

Given these constraints, the 10' truck was the natural choice. We rented the truck online from 10 AM on Thursday, February 6th  to 5 PM on Friday, February 7th.

Creating the banner marketing assets

Once we determined what U-Haul type we wanted to rent, we had to design and order the Pragli banners for the sides of the truck.

Looking at the U-Haul dimensions from their website, we determined that we'd need a  9' 11'' by 8' 7'' banner. We ended up ordering a banner that was 10' by 8' to keep it simple.

Here were a few factors that were important to us when designing the two banners:

  • Vibrant background: we wanted pedestrians to immediately look at the truck with an eye-catching background
  • Relevant tagline: we wanted a witty tagline that captured the specifics of the stunt and that we were building a product in the remote work space

After a few iterations, Doug made our final design with a yellow gradient background with the large tagline "Work from Anywhere" in the middle. You can check out our 10' by 8' banner Figma designs below.

Since we wanted to work at a desk on top of the U-Haul, we also decided to design a table throw. For that design, we wanted an aesthetically similar but straight-forward design that just defined our product - a "Virtual Office for Remote Teams."

Once we completed designs, we ordered two 10' by 8' Step and Repeat banners for the U-Haul sides and a table throw for the desk on top. They were delivered in a couple days to our house.

Determining a stunt location

This was the most consequential decision for our stunt. Here were a few factors that we used to evaluate locations to park the U-Haul.

  • Parking availability: we didn't want to gamble on finding a place to park minutes before we started the stunt. A location with ample parking was critical.
  • High foot traffic: this one is pretty obvious. We wanted as many people to see the stunt as possible.
  • Influencer density: we wanted many highly influential people to share the stunt with their network. This generally correlates with high foot traffic areas, but certainly not in all cases.

We were thinking of a few prominent locations like Salesforce Tower and Financial District, but ultimately we decided to do the stunt in South Park, San Francisco.

  • ✅ After visiting the location in the morning, we realized that the location has loads of prime parking places for a U-Haul
  • ✅ South Park has many VCs and technology professionals with massive Twitter followings. If a few happened to share our stunt, that could be big for us.
  • ❌ The foot traffic isn't spectacular in comparison to Salesforce Tower or Financial District, but we were nervous that getting parking nearby would be impossible.

Purchasing mounting supplies from Home Depot

The day before our stunt, we picked up the U-Haul near Candlestick Park and headed to the Home Depot in Colma to get the necessary materials to attach the banners to the side of the truck.

Here's the (very small) bill of materials:

  • 1x - Ratchet tie-down with 30' strap
  • 1x - 15' strap extension
  • 1x - 8' ladder to climb up the U-Haul
  • 8x - clamps

Our approach was to string the straps through the banners and wrap the two banners around the 32' (6' X 2 + 10' X 2) perimeter of the U-Haul. Then, we planned to tighten the straps around the U-Haul with the ratchet tie-down clamp.

For additional context, our Pragli banners had holes along the top and bottom that were large enough to string 2'' tie-down straps through them.

We strung the the tie-down strap and strap extension through both banners. We needed the strap extension since we needed at least 32' of length to get around the perimeter of the U-Haul.

Tie-down strap
Strap extension

Once the straps were strung through the banner, we climbed up onto the U-Haul to lay the connected banners along the perimeter of the U-Haul and tightened the strap ends together using the ratchet tie-down below.

Ratchet tie-down for tightening the ends

Here's what the U-Haul looked like at the end of our Home Depot preparation. The straps still needed to be tightened to remove the creases but the "skeleton" of the banners looked solid. 👍

Tragically, during the process of setting up the side banners, we realized that the roof of the U-Haul was supported only by flimsy sheet metal that likely wouldn't support the weight of two 150 pound coders. We could sit along the sides of the truck without breaking the internal support beams but definitely not in the middle.

U-Haul apparently didn't design their trucks for this particular scenario. Go figure. 🤷

Before heading back home, we bundled and clamped the banners to prevent them from flying around while we were driving.

What happened when we started the stunt

Even though we couldn't sit at a table on the U-Haul, we still decided to bring our table setup to add more flare to the stunt.

At 7 AM in the morning of the stunt, we gathered the following table materials to start working from the top of the U-Haul:

  • 1x - 4' foldable picnic table
  • 2x - foldable chairs
  • 1x - Pragli table throw

We then drove to South Park and parked the U-Haul in a prime parking space next to the park.

We then tightened the Pragli side banners with the ratchet tie-down and setup the table, Pragli table throw, and chairs on the U-Haul.

Et voila! Here was the final product.

Stunt Promotion

While we worked on the U-Haul for the next 5 hours, we aggressively promoted the product in the following channels:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • LinkedIn groups for remote workers (thanks, Mandy!)
  • Email outreach to influential people in our network (thanks, Victor!)
  • Intercom messages to Pragli users

Foot traffic

Sadly throughout the day, South Park didn't have nearly as much foot traffic as we thought it would have. Everyone passing by looked at the stunt, and a few people asked about the product that we were building. But, most of the conversations we were having were with VC/founder friends who happened to see us between meetings.

Foot traffic looked pretty similar to this throughout the day

Switching locations

When the clock struck 12 PM, we decided to move the U-Haul to an area with a lot more foot traffic (and more potential conversations/social shares). After driving the truck for 30 minutes around Financial District and SoMa, we found a prime spot with a ton of lunch time foot traffic at the intersection of Spear and Mission.

This was the lunch time crowd at Spear and Mission

We setup the truck again, omitting the table and chairs in the interest of time. Here's what the truck looked like at the new location.

At the new location, many more pedestrians noticed the stunt but still didn't stop to ask what we were doing or share it on their socials. We noticed an uptick in inbound traffic to our home page but we didn't see any meaningful increase in sign ups during that time.

Taking pictures in iconic San Francisco places

After the lunch time crowds dissipated, we decided to take the U-Haul to iconic San Francisco locations and take pictures for use in future social and email campaigns. Here are the three locations that we went to:

  • Alamo Square
  • Crissy Field
  • Twin Peaks
Alamo Square Painted Ladies

Returning the U-Haul

We wrapped up the day by removing the Pragli banners and returning the truck back to the U-Haul facility at Candlestick.

What the cost and time investment was

Cost breakdown

Material costs (Banner):

Material costs (Mounting)

  • 1x - $86.31 8' Aluminum ladder
  • 1x - $19.98 Ratchet tie-down + 30' strap extension
  • 1x - $19.98 15' strap extension
  • 8x - $1.00 Clamps

Rental costs (U-Haul)

  • $139.32 - Truck rental, including mileage

Total costs: $535.22 (spreadsheet, tab #1)

If we decide to do the same stunt again, we can reuse all the banner and mounting materials. Subsequent stunts should only cost $139.32 for the U-Haul rental fee.

Time breakdown

We had three phases of time investment: design preparation, truck preparation, and stunt execution.

  • Design preparation: Doug invested 4 hours into designing and ordering the table throw and two banners.
  • Truck preparation: Doug and I both spent 5 hours the day before the stunt (10 AM to 5 PM) to prepare the U-Haul
  • Stunt execution: Doug and I both spent 10 hours (7 AM to 5 PM) doing the stunt. Even though we intended to work during the stunt, the ergonomics on top of the U-Haul weren't great. Our productivity suffered from that.

Total man hours: 34 hours (spreadsheet, tab #2)

If we decide to do the same stunt again, we estimate that we can reduce the total time investment to 14 hours. The second time around:

  • We wouldn't have to design any assets (-4 hours)
  • We could more easily prepare the truck, since we've done it before (-6 hours)
  • We could figure out a way to make working on top of the U-Haul more ergonomic (-10 hours)

Results and Takeaways

🥁🥁🥁🥁

Expectations vs. reality

Our original hope with the stunt was that people would tweet us working on top the U-Haul, and the stunt would go viral. Viral interest would then translate into product sign ups.

That didn't happen. But, we got a healthy bump in impressions on Twitter and LinkedIn that increased our follower count.

Twitter impressions: 1,500 video impressions

LinkedIn impressions:  2,261 video impressions

Sign ups: no significant uptick on Friday (sign ups in later days may have been related to people seeing the stunt online)

Would we do this again?

Absolutely! Even though the stunt didn't go viral, we received so much positive feedback about it that we do believe there's a way to execute the stunt that generates more virality.

Here are a few modifications that we might make:

1. Notify influencers/press outlets beforehand: We didn't notify remote influencers or press outlets in our network until we started the stunt. If we had given them advance notice, they might have been more willing to share the event or write about us.

2. Target a high foot traffic area, not influencer density: South Park turned out to be a bust for foot traffic that day. We should have found a space to park near Salesforce Tower early in the morning and camped out for the entire day.

The below metered parking location on the northwest side of Salesforce tower looks promising...

Parking data courtesy of Spot Angels

3. Make it more funny or ridiculous: This is probably the most important modification that we want to make. Even though passers-by thought the U-Haul stunt was creative, it wasn't funny/ridiculous enough to share it on their socials.

One idea we have is to rent a U-Haul trailer and put a standing treadmill desk on it... But more work to do on that front. 🙃

General sentiment

Perhaps the most unexpected benefit of doing this stunt was my mindset shift. I feel more willing and excited to experiment with out-of-the-box distribution methods. 🧘🏽

And besides, I had a s%$t ton of fun working on this! I'm sure the second time around will be even more fun.

Have a remote team?

Doug and I built Pragli, as a virtual office for remote teams. Teams use Pragli every day to communicate faster and build closeness with each other. Maybe you can even use it while working remotely from a U-Haul? 🤷

Learn more here.

Behind-the-scenes video

We had plenty of video footage from the U-Haul stunt, so we created a behind-the-scenes video. Watch it below if you're interested. 🔥

Update... lol

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