Fitzgerald Council, CEO and Founder Pathos Digital, spoke with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about the process of launching a marketing company, the importance of tapping into Connecticut startup resources, and how he hopes his business can add value to the community.
NAN PRICE: When and why did you start your company?
FITZGERALD COUNCIL: I officially started in 2016. However, the concept started around 2012. I took a few years to do some due diligence and make sure I knew as much as I could before I took the leap.
I had spent about six years in the retail space, so I was very familiar with customer service. I was already coming from a creative background and I’ve always been good with the sales part of things.
To me, a business model was a huge concept that was very intimidating, so I did a lot of reading and research and developed self-taught concepts.
I also asked a lot of questions. At networking events, I’d engage in conversations with people I considered more successful than me. I’d try to absorb as much information as I could.
NAN: Is your first startup? Did you always want to have your own company?
FITZGERALD: Yes, this is my first startup. Launching a company wasn’t always something I had in mind. One thing led to another, which led to me saying: You need to just do it yourself.
NAN: When did you have that “aha” moment?
FITZGERALD: In 2015, when I was living in downtown Hartford, I was doing side projects building websites, doing social media, and throwing events. I kept seeing one trend, which was a lack of communication. There was no cohesive branding or messaging with business owners or at events.
The dissonance wasn’t because the business owner was offering a bad product or service, or the event wasn’t run well. It was caused by a lack of communication, a lack of branding, a lack of consistency with branding, and a lack of preemptive thought in terms of thinking about how someone was going to experience an event, service, or product.
Around that time, I was encouraged and began researching how to do everything I was doing—how to integrate the creative and business branding—and figure out if I could make a business out of it. I started Pathos Digital a couple months later in 2016.
NAN: Let’s talk a little bit about the startup evolution. You have other people working for you. What has that experience been like?
FITZGERALD: When I first started, I was doing everything myself. I realized I need help. I wanted to bring in a sales person, a creative, and a technical person. It was difficult because I was in the process of learning how to run a business while I was running a business. I didn’t have the time to mentor or develop someone else. I needed people who had their own strengths.
So, I had a not-so-great experience at first. The consistency of the work wasn’t good and there wasn’t a good communication system. All of this was because I didn’t have the right processes in place.
NAN: What did you learn from that experience?
FITZGERALD: After a few months working like that, I decided to retract from that model. I implemented more of a subcontracting model instead of employing in-house, where I would hire people per project. I took the subcontracting approach because it was more flexible, and I could curate the work better and keep the quality more consistent. Now I have people I work with pretty much all the time. I’ve established relationships.
Through trial and error, I realized if you’re doing things on a whim without certain systems in place—whether it’s onboarding a client, making partnerships, creating a referral program, or developing a community outreach program—you can find yourself right back where you started and end up going in circles.
What I’ve seen with businesses is the more successful ones have better systems in place. With my own business, I noticed nothing was really progressing until I realized if I systemized things I could benefit from the results. If something isn’t working, I can see where in the system that something is breaking up.
NAN: According to your website, Pathos Digital is “run by millennials.” How do you think that sets you apart from the competition?
FITZGERALD: I put that in our bio because marketing and branding through social media has become part of a lifestyle. The business environment and the work environment have changed. So, the innovation has been woven into the millennial lifestyle.
In the past, branding and marketing were more segmented. We’re in a Renaissance kind of time now with technology, where we have to try multiple approaches because there’s so much to learn. That’s just a part of the millennial culture. We understand certain concepts about branding almost subconsciously. I think the reason why millennials have an advantage is because it’s been woven into our culture.
NAN: Your site also notes Pathos Digital is “Helping Connecticut businesses market smarter.” How so?
FITZGERALD: Earlier I was talking about the dissonance I would encounter. I was noticing business owners would hire a photographer, a graphic designer, and a copywriter. But they didn’t necessarily all work together. I kept noticing this pattern repeat. There was a huge efficiency leak between communication and having a consistent workflow.
And I noticed with other agencies downtown, there were either creative agencies that focused on storytelling and video or agencies run by retired corporate people who were in the data analysis and results field. They were more focused on ad management, scaling, and paid traffic. I kept seeing these two extremes and I saw, especially in Connecticut, that when businesses reached out, they go to one or other extreme.
That helped us develop our mission statement: “Where creativity meets purpose.” Creativity can have structure to it. And structure can be creative. Pathos Digital can help Connecticut businesses by providing that balance.
NAN: Are all your clients in Connecticut?
NAN: What is your niche? Do you work with a specific industry?
FITZGERALD: That’s an interesting question. It’s changed a little bit. We started with food services, gyms, and one-off projects where the clients were general market service providers. Now we’ve niched into more healthcare clients. We’ve been in that field for about a year or so.
We still work with other industries. We never deny people unless were not a good fit for them in terms of what we can offer. But for the most part, we try to have a proficiency in a certain area. And we’ve noticed in the healthcare industry the services we can provide have a better return on investment for that market.
NAN: Aside from funding, can you tell us about any startup challenges you encountered?
FITZGERALD: For me it would be utilizing startup resources. They were right in front of my face! I just didn’t look hard enough to find them. I didn’t really tap into Hartford-area startup resources until the second year of my business. It wasn’t until I’d already established the business that people began telling me about tools like reSET and Innovation Destination Hartford. I remembering thinking: Those things exist? That’s so cool!
NAN: As a marketing company how are you marketing?
FITZGERALD: Earlier on, that was another challenge. When you’re learning how to be a business while being a business, you can lose sight of your own house.
I was investing so much time into clients, I wasn’t marketing myself. Then we weren’t getting as many leads and earning more clients and referrals. I remember thinking: Why is that? The answer was obvious: We weren’t really doing any outreach.
NAN: So, how do you address that?
FITZGERALD: That’s all a part of my motivation behind getting involved in more community-based activities, because it’s a win-win situation.
Looking toward the future, I want to try to build a platform in which Pathos Digital can provide value that directly impacts the surrounding community and local businesses, which people can then use to do the same for others. Doing that directly in the community, we’re indirectly and vicariously advertising ourselves. That’s the strategy I’m trying to work on right now.
I want to create a community in which businesses or those who want to build a business in this area can access information. It doesn’t have to be monetary. I want to provide free information that can help people perhaps through mentorship or courses.
It would be for people like me when I was starting out. Instead of doing hours of research wading through good and bad information, I think there’s a way to better present helpful information to startups and entrepreneurs. Because I think advertising and marketing shouldn’t be a closeted thing.
And for me, providing transparency and providing value to my clients is a good thing. If a client learns how to do something as well as we know how to do something, we did our job. That’s the aspiration.
Learn more about Pathos Digital