How a local television personality used his past experiences to create a successful startup
You may recognize his face from the DIY Network series Bath Crashers, but these days Studio/E member Matt Muenster is spending his time crashing the local production industry. He and his two fellow managing partners, Sarah Sundahl and Linda Elmquist, run SPOKE612, a Twin Cities-based production company that focuses on crafting memorable stories. Together, the trio produced hundreds of Bath Crashers episodes, and just last year they took their expertise outside of the television network to create their production company and work with companies on their digital content needs.
While highly experienced, Matt and his partners had a lot of learning to do while launching their startup — an endeavor none of them had taken on before. But with time under their belts working in all roles of production, plus great contacts all over the country, they were able to launch a successful and growing company. And the best part is? They started with what they had instead of being paralyzed thinking about what they needed.
Here Matt talks about the difficulties that come with launching a startup, how to create content that engages, and advice for folks looking to start a business.
Studio/E: Why did you decide to branch off and become an entrepreneur?
Matt: We got really good at telling stories after many years of working on the show, but it was creatively stifling because it was a renovation tale. We found that the model we built to tell the renovation story could apply to just about any scenario because it’s an agile and efficient model. It was a hard business not to start up. It would have made zero sense not to start this business.
Studio/E: Did you face any problemsdeciding who to launch a business with?
Matt: No. I love my team and wouldn’t swap out a single member. We don’t work without each other. We can, but together we’re a well-oiled machine. We can offer a lot more than most other three-person production companies, too, because we’re agile, we make decisions quickly and we don’t stall. And we learned all of this on the show’s time.
Studio/E: What challenges have you faced growing a startup?
Matt: I want our process to be fun for the client and for us, and I want to do it differently. The last thing I want to do is build another “me too” company. I think that’s the challenge for any company — being just another “me too.” The difficulty is finding a niche without ruling any opportunities out. I want to show mobility, flexibility and aptitude, but I don’t want to sell ourselves short, either, because there is a lot that we can do.
Studio/E: How do you create content that engages?
Matt: It gets difficult when a company asks us to tell their brand story and then becomes disappointed if we don’t spit their name at the customers every 10 seconds in a video. The new era of content, advertising and brand building has a certain subtleness to it. Viewers and customers are savvy, and if they feel like you’re condescending or making them feel stupid, they will move on. So we try to tell interesting stories while keeping the advertising subtle.
Studio/E: What part of the startup process brings you joy?
Matt: I love the team that I worked with on Bath Crashers and had the unique opportunity to keep that team together for the entirety of the 12 seasons of the show. It’s been cool to take something we were doing for someone else and make it our own thing. At the end of the day, I can’t do something I don’t love, and I love this.
Studio/E: What advice do you have for folks aspiring to build a startup?
Matt: Set aside your pride. Your initial idea might not be your best or final idea. Have the wisdom to let go of your own ideas, even if you love them.
Know your thing. There’s a spirit of innovation that isn’t necessarily reinventing the wheel; it’s pulling the camera back far enough to figure out how you can do your thing a little better. You need to know inside and out what it is that you do, then do it really well. Make sure your success is measurable and documentable so you can build a reputation. Also, learn and learn and learn.
Get clear on your value. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? What are you bringing to the world? Be the authority on your thing and make sure people know that you’re the authority.
You need not have been a part of hundreds of television episodes to launch a production company if that is your desire. Like Matt and his partners, you’d be well-suited to take a scan of what you already have (think experiences, skills and relationships) and take small actions from there. You never know — you just may be crashing an industry of your own if you operate with asset-based thinking like that.
Description: A production company that tells stories and makes creative digital content.
Employees: Three managing partners
Matt’s Desire: To be the voice of reason in the room.
Studio/E Competency: Current Means — Asset-based thinking that enables you to focus and use what you have right now to get your ideas into action quickly.