‘Welcome to Granite Valley’
Recent college graduates from New Ipswich embark on start-up ventures
Matthew Guruge, left, and Tyler Hurst of New Ipswich are recent college graduates who want to help other entrepreneurs succeed. "Welcome to Granite Valley — that’s what we have decided to call New Hampshire," Guruge says. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Matthew Guruge and Tyler Hurst of New Ipswich are small town, childhood friends with big dreams. Although they just graduated from college, the 22-year-old business partners aren’t new to the working world. Guruge, who sees himself as the outgoing frontman of the two, has already served as CEO of his first company, and he and Hurst are set to launch another.
Guruge and Hurst met each other in the first grade at Central School in New Ipswich. They went on to attend Saint Bernard’s Central Catholic High School in Fitchburg, Mass., graduating together in 2010. From there, Guruge attended Wheaton College, where he majored in English, and Hurst went to Southern New Hampshire University, where he studied graphic design.
Guruge is undaunted by the challenge of carving out a career for himself in this post-recession economy, and says that helping others achieve their dream of entrepreneurship is what’s driving him.
Q. How does an English major at Wheaton College end up in the world of marketing, consulting and fast-paced business transactions?
A. Great question. It was a slow transition. I went into school planning on being a lawyer, which was why I majored in English in the first place. By the end of my sophomore year, I knew I couldn’t do three more years of tedious work, but I liked my English classes so I decided to stick with it.
It was that summer that I discovered the stock market and became fascinated with trading and business research. By the middle of my junior year I was day trading 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day and managing a quarter of a million dollars for various clients.
That summer, I took a position at the New Hampshire Business Review because my mom wouldn’t let me take a position in finance. She didn’t think I should be working behind a desk my whole life. So, I was trading stocks and writing stories, when during an interview Leonard LaPadula, president and founder of Advanced Sports Logic, a fantasy football software company, interrupted me to ask what the heck I was doing as a journalist. After a short conversation, he asked me to present to him on a full company re-brand the following Monday. It was Friday afternoon.
So, Tyler and I spent a sleepless weekend putting together a presentation. During the presentation, Leonard explained how his vice president of marketing, Rick Wolf, diametrically opposed the marketing strategy we were proposing. He believed you should market to people with fear, telling them if they don’t get the product they may lose, while we believed we should market the product to people based on competitiveness, telling them that it will give them a better chance to win. I went on a five minute impromptu speech about how people play to win, not to not lose, essentially risking the entire initiative in one go.
At the end of the speech I looked a way for a second and looked back to see Leonard’s fist extended across the table. I pounded it and he asked, “Do you want stock options?” as he got up. We were hired.
The next day we got a call from one of his friends who had heard about our presentation and wanted to work with us. Before we knew it, we had six clients. We had a business.
When we got back to school, Nishon Radhakrishnan and Harrison Bramhall, the co-founders of Tints, asked to meet with us for marketing help. After sitting down with them, they offered me the position of chief executive officer. Tyler and I both thought it was a great opportunity to hone our marketing skills, so we put the marketing consulting company on the back burner and hopped on the Tints team full-time.
Now that we are probably going to be taking a step back from Tints we will be bringing back the consulting company under the name, Flint and Foster.
So, to sum it all up, I sort of fell into business with my best friend just on happenstance. I got lucky, a lot.
Q. Tell us about your work with Tints — the sunglasses company you joined while still in college. What did you learn, what were your successes?
A. First of all, I learned how little I knew. Being the CEO of a quickly expanding start-up, while you are full-time student, is a hectic and intense situation. The most important thing I learned at Tints was how to lead a team to collectively move toward one single objective. In theory this would seem to be a simple task, but in practice it proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the business.
The second major thing I learned was organization. When I got to the company there were only three people working for it. By the time I left, there were 16 people involved in some aspect not including our brand ambassadors, photographers and models that I added. Believe it or not, everyone reported to me directly, which meant that I had to keep everything in order. Learning how to organize all of the people and align each person correctly was an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience. Moreover, I also learned how to balance product development, finance, marketing and operations such that they were consistent with our overall objectives.
I think my greatest successes within the company really boiled down to business growth and branding. When I got to the company it had less than $ 20,000 in revenue and was unable to move inventory. As of May 31, the company was on target to do between $200, 000 to $300,000 and we could not keep product in inventory long enough to get in more shipments. I had quickly brought the company up to its initial manufacturing potential.
On the branding side, I oversaw the design and introduction of the Elephant logo, increased social media presence and interaction, and partnered with various key businesses, celebrities and websites.
Overall, I think my greatest success was taking the company from a humble start-up to a viable company with the potential for long-term profitability.
Q. You’ve said your contract to continue as CEO with Tints is currently up in the air. But you have several other ventures pending. Tell us about them.
A. Tyler and I will be launching a full stack marketing, consulting and design firm called Flint and Foster, which will in the short-term act in a traditional sense, but will grow to become a sort of business incubator, acting as a one-stop shop for start-ups, providing legal, financial, marketing and sales guidance. The company will be launching within the week and has already garnered a client list.
The company, itself, will also be launching some smaller-cap start-ups with some of the people that Tyler and I have formed close relationships to throughout our business endeavors. The first company that the Flint and Foster will most likely help launch will be a custom plastics company with a concentration in data center plastics.
We are in talks about launching two other companies, whose initiators would like to keep their ideas under wraps.
Essentially, Tyler will be leading Flint and Foster forward, as the CEO, in the traditional sense, while I will be working to partner with other talented young entrepreneurs to launch disruptive and lean companies.
Q. You and your partner, Tyler Hurst, are currently working out of your homes in New Ipswich. What are the advantages of doing so, and what are the challenges?
A. Well the biggest advantages to having a home office is no rent. We actually have an incredible loft-style office space in my attic that my dad had renovated when he worked as a consultant and author out of the house.
The major challenge with a home office is you can’t really bring clients to your offices. It would be kind of awkward to bring potential clients through my home first before we actually reached the attic.
Q. What are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. I would really like to help disrupt stagnant markets with innovative and creative start-ups. In five years I would like Flint and Foster be able to provide start-ups with all of the services necessary to get started without having to put out a great deal or any capital at all. Within this plan, I would like to be working one-on-one with other entrepreneurs, especially from a strategy and vision perspective.
The goal really is to make leaving your job and starting a company of your own feasible, easy and fun.
Q. How did growing up in the Monadnock region prepare you for your career as an entrepreneur/consultant?
A. One of the most important life experiences I had that helped prepare me for my career was playing on The Monadnock Mountaineers football team in ’06 and ’07, the year the midget team won the state championship. I was fortunate enough to play under some remarkable coaches and play with an incredible group of guys. I have always looked back on starting football late in the game, and having a great deal of success with it, as a pivotal contributor to my work ethic.
Our coaches on those two teams trained us extremely hard and I learned at a young age that hard work and sacrifice can directly lead to success. Those lessons still color my understanding and approach to hard work.
Q. What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs, seeking to enter the business world? What’s it really like out there and how does one survive and thrive in the current economic environment?
A. As far as advice goes: Just do it. You’ll never know what will work or won’t work till you try, so the best thing I can tell people to do is get a prototype or first iteration of the product and service out there and see how people react. Build from there.
Start-up life is fast and hectic and most people you work with or come in contact with want to see the value your company adds to them. I would say the start-up culture is open and amiable if you have a good story, positive attitude, and can demonstrate a concrete added value to others. If you can do that, I think the climate is actually really open to start-ups, especially from a consumer perspective. Would you rather buy $200 Ray-Bans from an Italian conglomerate or buy glasses at almost the same quality from a local start-up for $25?
I would say that the key to thriving in the current economic environment is providing a distinct value added or disrupting a stagnant market, or simply being different and innovative where others aren’t.
I think with the growth of the Silicon Valley and the move of many talented millennials to pursue start-ups, either as founders or early employees, instead of taking jobs at larger corporations, coupled with consumers being more educated, more empowered (because of technological developments) and more likely to look for unique American-made products or American-run companies is shifting the overall economic paradigm to a more start-up friendly/small business-pro environment.
Q. How do you see yourself in the business world, what do you want to accomplish? What do you and other graduates have to offer that’s new and different?
I see myself in the business world as a young, creative, driven and irreverent entrepreneur. I hope to disrupt the status quo of stagnant markets, shake things up. I want to help to bring innovation, creativity, idealism and imagination back to areas that have been stifled by profit-centered thinking.
I think our generation overall is incredibly tech-savvy because we grew up during a tech-boom and it is filled with young, talented minds that are fully concentrated on obtaining the standard 9-5 careers. I think the combination of this has helped to create a generation, filled with creativity and passion, who can help companies thrive in a changing economic environment.
For more information, email Guruge at firstname.lastname@example.org.