Take The Leap And Figure It Out: An Interview With Matt Wilson, Under30Media
- By Rahul Varshneya
- January 17th, 2013
Matt Wilson is co-founder of Under30Media, the leading community for successful young people in entrepreneurship, personal finances, and careers. After using social media to land Under30CEO on MSNBC and BusinessWeek, he began building brands online including venture backed startups like Zaarly. Wilson’s passion for entrepreneurship began after leading Bryant University to becoming the world’s #1 entrepreneurs’ organization. Wilson is also a contributor at The Huffington Post and has keynoted to groups of over 1,000.
I’ve been reading Under30CEO for over a year now and some of the articles published on this network have helped me personally gain a lot of insights. Fascinated by the dedication of the network in helping aspiring entrepreneurs in their ventures, I went deep into the founders behind this community.
And that’s where Matt Wilson came onto my radar. A prolific personality, Matt gained my attention through his articles, specially this one. Following him for quite some time on Twitter, I couldn’t resist getting his insights on marketing a startup, for you.
Rahul Varshneya: Tell us about your journey – from idea to launch – with Under30CEO, talking specifically about mistakes, challenges, achievements.
Matt Wilson: Under30CEO, the good, the bad, and the UGLY… let’s go straight to the ugly because that’s where you learn from best. Under30CEO (our flagship), Under30Careers.com, Under30Finance.com, and our new travel brand Under30Experiences.com have been a hell of a challenge…
Under30CEO started as the worst business ever. We had no business model, and we didn’t really care. That’s what it means to be a startup right? We were determined to bootstrap and build it out of our parent’s basement. When Under30CEO hit rock bottom, so did the economy… my mom lost her home during the financial crisis, and we lost our headquarters.
I went to work digging ditches from 6 am to 6 pm with a crew of migrant laborers. To say the least, it was miserable… it was a major wake up call to say stop playing in internet land and build a real business.
Rahul Varshneya: How did you use the social media to land Under30CEO on MSNBC and BusinessWeek?
Matt Wilson: Under30CEO was born in the age of @GaryVee style Twitter hustle. We literally worked the social media airwaves trying to help every young entrepreneur on the planet. If they were out there, we reached out, and built our community. Spending 16 hours a day on Twitter is not a lot of fun, but we were passionate about the business, and knew that entrepreneurship among young people needed an online presence. Now, there are literally thousands of young entrepreneur blogs, and hundreds of those bloggers have now written for us.
Rahul Varshneya: What are the most important steps that startups must undertake to build their brands online (tips and tricks)?
Matt Wilson: Short answer–add value. We added value to every entrepreneur we came across, and now we add huge value to the brands who advertise on our sites. We have a valuable audience — young people who are making lifelong brand decisions for their business. If they are going to sign up for an American Express card we advise our readers on whether it’s right for them to make that decision.
If it is, they are going to keep that card for a long time, and that customer is worth a lot to AMEX. In the end, add value to every one who you communicate with or else you are wasting people’s time.
Rahul Varshneya: What are the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when building their company’s brand?
Matt Wilson: Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The “Under 30 entrepreneur” demographic is a relatively small one… and ugh, what happens when we turn 30?! (Like, we’ve never heard that question before…) Guess what, we target a very specific demographic — the young and the super ambitious, and the rest our audience sees that and wants to be part of that.
Now, hundreds of thousands of people read Under30CEO, and they aren’t all under 30, that’s for sure. If we tried to just be general small business advice, we would lose that flair, and that appeal our hardcore audience loves and whom the rest of the market wants to be like.
Rahul Varshneya: How important is building a personal brand as a leverage for one’s company?
Matt Wilson: Everyone should build their personal brand. Your goal doesn’t need to be to be famous and do interviews on RahulVarshneya.com, just figure out how to be known for being awesome at one single thing. Everyone has a brand, whether you intended to have one or not — good or bad, the people who know you have an image of you in their head.
Your goal should be to be in control of this. Think to yourself — what can I be best in the world at and develop that skill, and be known for that.
Rahul Varshneya: When building a technology venture, how does one choose the right technology platform for their product? What if the founder or co-founders are from non-technology background?
Matt Wilson: Ask an expert. Ask many experts… this is one of the most difficult things to figure out when you are launching a startup. BUT, don’t forget, as a wise person once said, only take advice from people who are willing to pay your bills. Choosing the wrong platform can be a very expensive mistake, so talk to people who have done it before, buy them coffee, better yet, buy them beers, and learn from their mistakes… and take it all with a grain of salt.
Rahul Varshneya: What are your greatest learnings as an entrepreneur; things that you would give as advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Matt Wilson: Young entrepreneurs? Take the leap and figure it out. You don’t even have to go full-time into entrepreneurship, but once you do, if your back is up against the wall, you’ll figure it out way faster. There is a reason I didn’t take some cushy job at a financial services job when my business and family was in trouble.
I put my back up against the wall, and said, “okay, now I need to figure this sh*t out because I’m way too smart to be digging ditches for a living.” If you chose not to risk everything, that’s cool too; moonlight your business at night, work your ass off, like a million hours a week, until you can quit your 9 to 5. Then, work another million hours a week, until you make it big.
Rahul Varshneya: Finally, who or what is your greatest inspiration?
Matt Wilson: I get a lot of inspiration from sports. I bring an athlete mentality into everything I do, and I do it competitively with a huge amount of passion. My three idols growing up as a kid are the three most passionate people in all of sports: Magic Johnson, Brett Favre, and Coach Tom Izzo.
These guys leave it all on the field, wear their emotions on their sleeve, and give 110% to their craft. When I’m dead and gone, I want people to say that I gave it all to something I love.