FourteenG is a West Hartford-based creative marketing agency staffed by entrepreneurs, designers, marketers, programmers. Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with the creative team about their journey as a startup and their goals to be more involved in the Hartford entrepreneurial ecosystem.
NAN PRICE: There’s a story behind how FourteenG came together.
ALYSSA YACONE: Gary and Michael started in their apartment, number 14G. I remember it was kind of a hub for friends and family who were becoming entrepreneurs. It was a place with great energy where everyone brainstormed about ideas they had for creating new businesses. We try to create that same vibe here in our office on Park Road in West Hartford.
GARY SHICK: I graduated a few years before my brother Michael. I had a 9-to-5 programming job at Travelers Insurance. I always knew I wanted to go off on my own and be an entrepreneur.
MICHAEL SHICK: I was studying graphic design and doing freelance throughout college. When I graduated, Gary and I merged our talents together. We launched FourteenG in 2012.
NP: When did you come on board Alyssa?
AY: The guys and I have been friends for a long time. We all grew up together in Bloomfield. About four years ago, I was a full-time employee with Access Health CT working in communications and marketing. I shared with FourteenG an opportunity for a project that involved enrolling the State of Connecticut in health care coverage. We built a very successful campaign. I came onboard full time with FourteenG after I left Access Health CT. That was a little over a year ago.
NP: So it’s just the three of you. Do you plan to expand and hire more people?
GS: Yes. We definitely want to continue to grow.
MS: We partnered with Pathways Academy of Technology & Design in East Hartford and brought in some interns about a year ago. Pathways has a great internship program. That was an amazing learning experience; working with high school kids gave us a different perspective.
NP: Did you tap into any other Connecticut startup or entrepreneurial resources or did you just kind of go for it?
GS: We’ve always talked with entrepreneurial coworkers and friends, but we haven’t used any formal resources. We haven’t taken advantage as much as we’d like to—we’re working on it. That’s how we found Innovation Destination Hartford.
One of our goals is to be more ingrained in Hartford, become a part of Hartford, and evolve with Hartford as it’s changing.
NP: What makes your startup marketing company unique?
GS: We tend to do things more organically, where we are building relationships and helping our clients build relationships with their clients. I would consider our style more grassroots marketing.
NP: What types of clients do you have?
AY: We work with everyone from nonprofits to small and mid-sized businesses. We have a special place in our heart for entrepreneurs and startups.
GS: Two of the startups we’ve worked with, BODYROC FIT LAB and Complexity, came to us from the very beginning. Those are relationships we really like to build because as they grow, we get to grow with them.
NP: I’ve interviewed BODYROC Founder Shaun Chambers. He’s a powerhouse—in more ways than one.
MS: One of things we love about Shaun is his energy. That’s something we can learn from, because his energy is so high. He’s very passionate. He’s a true example of having passion in your business.
NP: He’s a true example of an entrepreneur, too.
AY: Right. You kind of feed off of that energy. Those are the clients we really love working with—the ones who are passionate about their business and what they’re doing. Because when their energy is great, then we get excited and when we help them succeed, we succeed.
NP: How are you finding clients?
AY: Referrals is a big thing. A lot of networking and referrals. Also people find us online.
GS: Networking is definitely the strongest stream of clients. We also do a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) and digital and social media marketing, which has brought people in—it’s always nice when someone just calls us.
NP: With marketing companies—and startup marketing companies especially—you’re so busy marketing your clients, how do you remember to market yourself?
AY: We asked ourselves as we transitioned to becoming a marketing company: How does a marketing company market itself?
That was a challenge we faced in the very beginning. But, like I said, the referral thing has been huge and also just making sure we have an online presence.
GS: You have to be really intentional about setting time to market for yourself. Otherwise you’ll spend all your time on your clients.
AY: It’s about balancing everything.
NP: Balance is always key. Any business advice for other startups?
GS: The biggest advice I would give is to focus. There are a lot of distractions. But focusing allows you to have a direction for everything you do. When you have a focus, you have a goal, and that makes all the decisions easier. That’s what I would say we have learned.
Also, it’s important to establish your identity.
MS: Definitely having a focus and not just doing it for the money or just to be your own boss. If you have a real focus, like Gary said, all the decisions are just easier. Everything is really based off of that.
NP: And that seems to tie in with passion, which is a word I hear from a lot from entrepreneurs.
AY: Right. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s not going to work. You have to do what you love and the money will come later.
NP: Tell us something we don’t know about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or a startup.
AY: One thing was that I kind of joined FourteenG looking to escape the standard 9-to-5 and found that I end up working much longer and later! But, as an entrepreneur, the work I do is more rewarding to me at the end of the day.
GS: Something I’ve learned after meeting different entrepreneurs and people in business is that no one has it all figured out. It’s validating to know everyone is going through the same things and has the same insecurities.
NP: When you’re working with entrepreneurs and startups, everyone is sort of trying to find the right direction and the right fit.
GS: Right. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the outside looking in!
AY: It’s trial and error. It’s okay to make mistakes. You never really fail. You learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. If something doesn’t work, then the next time around you can try a different approach. That’s the business we’re in and the business we love.
MS: To piggyback off of that, especially working with Gary, I’ve learned it’s okay to not know and admit you don’t know something. We are at team. Starting out, I don’t think I was okay with not knowing things.
AY: One thing I love about our team is that we’ll figure it out together. We are constantly learning. We are constantly staying relevant and innovative.
NP: What about other future goals?
GS: The biggest thing with us is to become immersed in Hartford. There is a lot of change and a lot of opportunity. We want to be a part of it—that’s one of our goals, aside from the agency growing.
AY: There are tons of creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial people in Hartford. A lot of people have amazing ideas.
NP: So how do you plan to collaborate with those entrepreneurs and innovators?
MS: We are trying to tap into more of the Connecticut startup and entrepreneurial resources, network more, and meet more people.
NP: We talked about the importance of working with entrepreneurs and startups. As far as working with nonprofits and being involved in the community, why is that important to you?
GS: One thing we’ve always said about the opportunities in Hartford is: If it’s not us doing these things then who will it be? We are in a position to do good things, so if we are not going to do it, then who are the people who will?