Transcript – Starting Young, these entrepreneurs see opportunity in a recession
These entrepreneurs see opportunity in a recession
By Glenn Ritt – Editor/Co-Publisher Plymouth County Business
Shea Baker and Matti Ulvila on why they joined the South Shore Young Professionals:
“You don’t meet the people next door very easily any more. When you come into a community, it is difficult to organically meet people in your peer group. The Young Professionals give us a place to do that. Some people join golf clubs and other sports. This is another venue. It helps build your career and get established. That is invaluable. This is generation that is taking over and running businesses in the not so distant future. They need to make those connections and make that network.”
When’s the right time to start your own business? After a 40-year corporate career? Right out of college? When you just can’t stand your boss anymore?
Many never take the giant leap – not everyone’s bitten with that entrepreneurial spirit.
For Shea Baker and Matti Ulvila of 3thought, the time is now. Yes, in the middle of a severe recession. But they’re young; and they’ve never experienced an economic downturn before. So why not?
Fact is, the itch just kept getting stronger. When both recently settled on the South Shore, where they grew up and went to school together, Baker and Ulvila decided that if not now, it might never happen.
Sure, there are risks. But that’s where self-confidence and vision helps.
The first chapter of their story is actually playing out on Twitter. You can read daily installments there while they still work on their official Web site. You see, Baker and Ulvila are graphic artists, so they aren’t going to rush their online presence at www.3thoughtcreative.com, which at of press time was not yet live.
No ‘Under construction’ sign for them. Instead, you’ll encounter a friendly roadmap next to a large photo of an iPhone, with the following message:
We’d like to extend the offer to follow us on our creative adventure. ‘How, you may ask?’ Check out our Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/3thought. But, if that Twitter thing just isn’t gonna work for you, we invite you to pick up the phone or type up an email and we’ll be very happy to talk to you.
What does the name 3thought mean?
“3thought is what comes before ‘forethought.’ We wanted to inspire our clients and ourselves to be proactive in design and marketing efforts rather than reactionary. Additionally, it is the melding of three points of view (Baker’s, Ulvila’s and the client’s) and addressing the three sources of needs/wants (the client’s, the design firm’s and the audience/customer’s).”
Why start a business during a recession?
“Established businesses are failing right now,” said Baker. “Risks are equal for everybody. That makes this a great time to be thoughtfully bold,” she emphasized.
Why Twitter? What do Baker and Ulvila know that maybe some of their more senior business colleagues are missing?
We can actually follow them online every day as they discover the highs and lows of building a business.
Let’s take a peek at Twitter excerpts from a recent workday for Baker and Ulvila:
- Just got out of meet and greet with a potential client. She and Matt bonded over Star Trek and Lost. We’ll see what the future holds.
- 2 potential jobs in the matter of minutes! Monday must be our lucky day.
- Brainstorming logos for a new client at Friday’s. $5 sandwiches rock.
- Tweaking our WordPress Theme. Updating some blog posts.
Did they just report: ‘two potential jobs in a matter of minutes’? They must be doing something right.
A HISTORY TOGETHER
Ulvila began his graphics career with one of the first Macs in the 1980s, sitting down with a paint program as a child. His grandmother went to a salon below a design studio, and incessantly talked to the owner about how talented her grandson was. That was Shields Design Group of Pembroke (which later evolved into Shields Design Studio in downtown Plymouth), where he eventually became an intern during high school before heading off to Keene State College to study art and design. He eventually worked there full time and met Baker.
Before working at Shields and after attending Rochester Institute of Technology, Baker worked for a small firm in upstate New York that served a wide variety of clients including non-profits, tourism promotion agencies and universities.
Both firms they worked for were owned by entrepreneurs, so they are now hoping to target entrepreneurs and startups as well as small and medium companies looking to enhance their marketing efforts.
“We realize we are the same age as Mary Shields, the owner, was when she started her company,” says Ulvila, who has just turned 30. “We are mirror images of how she began her career.”
So why leave a place you like and a boss you respect?
“To have the freedom to pave your own path and carve out a name for yourself,” says Ulvila.
One thing they’re rather confident about: “Those companies who continue to invest in advertising come out of a recession stronger.”
Now, they must prove it.
“It’s about the independence to execute ideas you’ve had in your brain for years and take responsibility for them,” adds Baker. “If you mess up, you are responsible only to yourselves.”
You have to listen carefully to realize that these are level-headed professionals. It’s not just dreaming.
“We started by talking with friends and family members ho have started their own businesses and persevered through challenging times,” explained Baker. “We met with a leadership coach on Cape Cod, who owns a company called The Road Not Taken, inspired by the Robert Frost poem.”
That would be Brad Glass, who describes himself this way: “For over 30 years, I’ve provided leadership for individuals, teams and businesses – as a manager, as an educator, and as a coach. I offer a unique perspective on life, one that opens up a vast new territory of possibility for how you might live more meaningfully.”
That helped, said Baker. But so did “more practical” meetings with accountants, insurance experts, attorneys and other professionals.
Then, they started making lists. And they have continued to do so every day on Twitter, where they can collaborate online – whether Baker is in Arizona on vacation or back in Plymouth. In fact, 3thought can be as mobile and virtual as the partners wish it to be.
They also work to each other’s strengths – helped by the fact that they’ve known each other since they were teenagers. The day-to-day operations, the bookkeeping and paperwork are Baker’s responsibilities. Ulvila focuses on sales and networking.
“We each do some things better than the other,” he said. “No one person will have all the skills; but as a team, we can.”
They also keep things in perspective. “We know we are not ready for really big companies. We hope to thrive by working with smaller businesses at price points that make it appealing for them. Because we are a startup, we have little overhead,” said Baker.
Translation: For the time being, they are working out of their homes. But they represent one of fastest-growing segments of the South of Boston economy, thanks to telecommunications and highspeed networks.
Most significantly, they are experienced enough to know it is all about cash flow. Their intent is to avoid debt. “Maybe in three to six months, we will look for office space,” said Ulvila.
“Besides, we both recently purchased homes in Plymouth.”
In fact, they actually used first-time homebuyer credits as seed money for their business.
They both grew up here; so, their decision to build a professional career in the same place – especially for two people so engaged in new-world thinking… What gives?
“Because Plymouth now isn’t the same Plymouth where we grew up,” said Ulvila.
Notice something called Plymouth Rock Studios, where their marketers and graphic artists are actually developing a daily video narrative on the Web – a new form of multi-media and integrated communication akin to 3thought’s approach – albeit with far more resources behind it.
“Too many signs are pointing in right direction,” said Baker, speaking on more than one plane about both their own business and the karma hovering over Plymouth itself.
THE WEB WORLD
So when is their Web site going to emerge from behind the Twitter thicket?
Ulvila: “It’s evolving. And it won’t be one-dimensional. It will evolve around a blog. And we will continue to microblog at places like Twitter. We also will look to get other people and partners involved online. It’s about community. We want it to be a place to start dialogues about design, to educate other designers to get a start; to bring clients along to work with.”
Baker: “The Web site is more than an identity. It’s a workplace, a collaborative laboratory, a resource. We will take advantage of technology to be efficient and cutting edge. That’s why an iPhone is on the home page. You can do almost anything from an iPhone. You can invoice. You can track time spent on projects. You can connect with clients 24/7. We are constantly connected.”
Meanwhile, their narrative continues. It’s about transparency. “You know what you get when you come on board,” said Ulvila. “It’s about relationship building rather than a single sale. It’s about a level of trust. No secrets.”
“We want our clients to be organically a part of our world,” adds Baker.