Q: Did you found the company on your own?
A: Yes. I originally wrote my business plan with a friend because USM required, for the business plan competition, that you have a partner. So my friend was the first person to help me out with the company. Her role was helping out with some of the cold calling, but she was only working for me 10 hours a week. The first time I hired someone was an intern during the second year I was in business. They started working 40 hours a week as a designer, and from there I started hiring developers and project managers. Now we're up to six employees.
Q: What services does ibec provide?
A: We primarily are a website design and development company. So we'll work with businesses that have an existing website and are either dissatisfied because they're not being found on Google; or they're not getting any business from it; or they feel like it's outdated; or they're just not happy with it in general. And we'll work with them to revamp their site and then put together a plan for them to keep the website moving and keep it fresh.
Q: Where did you originally find funding for your startup?
A: All of it was just bootstrapping. In the industry that I'm in, you really just need your computer and your skill. Those can take you a long way. I got a grant for $4,200 from the Libra Future Fund, which allowed me to purchase my first computer and all the design software I need, as well as print my initial marketing materials.
Q: There are several other web design companies in the Portland area. Are there certain services ibec offers that other local businesses don't?
A: Basically, our philosophy at ibec is that once your website is done, it's really important not to forget about it and then revisit it three years later. It's important that you measure what is happening on the website, what new business you're getting from the website, and, if it's working poorly, develop strategies to improve it.
Our new "Fresh Insight" packages start at $100 a month, and we have quarterly reviews with businesses where we will do a full analysis of what is happening on their site. Then we will recommend changes for the company moving forward, whether it's search engine optimization, design, social media or online marketing.
We then use all those suggestions to create an outline where they can decide what is a priority moving forward. And we continue to have regular scheduled meetings where we stay on top of their website.
Q: Are most of your clients local?
A: About 70 percent of them are in Maine. Most of our clients are within driving distance. Back in November, we were named to Businessweek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs 25 and Under, and that really helped us get a lot of clients out of state. Just last month we went to California to visit a client who found us through Businessweek. Even through referrals it has been growing outside of Maine.
Q: In what ways have these recent accolades helped your business?
A: They have given us more exposure, as well as lent us more credibility. I think that being a young entrepreneur, you have to work a little harder to impress people because they think that you don't know what you're doing. Being recognized by some big names, and some local big names, has really helped get the word out about the company and make us a serious player in the industry.
Q: Do you feel Maine is good place to start a small business and expand?
A: We are definitely planning on staying in Portland. I like the quality of life here. I think there is good talent and lots of businesses that need our services. What we do we can do with companies from anywhere in the country or around the world. So I don't think our location is prohibiting us from growing or reaching companies outside of Maine.
Q: When did you first become interested in graphic design?
A: Well, I have always been interested in art. When I was in college, I began as a business major and started taking some art classes on the side as electives. And I decided that I really wanted art to be part of my career. So I started looking into different opportunities and commercial design seemed like something that would be smart for someone who wanted to be an artist and own a business.
I am originally from Massachusetts, and during college I did an internship at a design studio. That helped me understand what it was like to be on the business side of design.
Q: How did your education at USM prepare you for starting a business?
A: At USM I was at the art and entrepreneurial studies program, which was a really unique program because it educated me in both art and business. My senior year I wrote a business plan. That process was hugely helpful in getting started.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring young entrepreneur?
A: Number one, you have to be serious, dedicated and passionate about your goal. One of the things I remember always doing was making myself go to work every day from nine to five. I didn't have any clients so I had to make up things to do to keep myself busy. But having that discipline and the perseverance. It was really tough starting out but eventually it picks up and you get this snowball going. It's a lot of baby steps but you just need to have faith in yourself and believe in your dreams and eventually you'll get there.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of this job?
A: I always compare business to playing poker. You have to be lucky, you have to be strategic and you have to be risky. And I really like the feeling of knowing that the fate of the company is in my hands. I really want to grow it so I'm constantly thinking about what I can tweak and what I can change.
Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: email@example.com