Starting a business can be daunting enough, particularly in a down economy. But the economy did not stand in the way of the Rampant Creative Group’s founders.
In fact, so much has been in their favor, including limited expenses by working out of a home instead of a storefront and a strong desire to be entrepreneurs, that the trio hasn’t looked back since starting their business in 2010.
(For instant updates about Maplewood and Brentwood, follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MaplewoodBrentwoodPatch)
Ben Triola, 26, director of operations; Carol Mertz, 25, creative director; and Dana Huth, 23, production coordinator, are the creative minds behind the Maplewood company that specializes in web design and development, graphic design, marketing and branding for small and medium businesses. In addition, the team has also started an event aggregator, Eventfeedstl.com, with a partner to promote events across St. Louis.
“If we can make this work right now during a tough economy, then we can really do this,” Triola said. “A lot of new businesses are starting up now, which means a lot of new business for us.”
Ken Harrington, managing director of The Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, said when the economy is down, it actually is a good time to start a business.
“The irony is that it’s harder to get money for financing, and so people tend to be more creative with less,” he said. “These new entrepreneurs have to be more disciplined, and when the money does come back, they have a good foundation to grow from.”
A company like Rampant Creative Group is a good example of this, said Harrington, because they are working out of their home, living frugally and right now do not have outside expenses like families to support.
“That’s entrepreneurism when you are bootstrapping it,” Harrington added. “Those who do something thoughtfully and around something they have a passion for often have a higher success rate.”
The three St. Louis-area natives have found Maplewood the ideal location for their business and enjoy the thriving business community. They are active in the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce and designed the organization’s website.
Harrington, an entrepreneur in his own right, said the trend of starting your own business in the St. Louis area is increasing and there are many outlets for support of new entrepreneurs. There are more than 15 incubators for entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area, and many other groups such as Innovate St. Louis, SCORE and all of the major universities offer everything from educational events to courses involving entrepreneurial studies, Harrington said.
Although many people may dream of heading to the West Coast for opportunities, he said the reality is the Midwest is more affordable and, thanks to technology, people can work from almost anywhere.
Harrington said entrepreneurs in communities like Maplewood that have a number of small business start-ups need to collaborate more broadly, and they’ll see their numbers continue to grow.
“Entrepreneurs tend to gravitate toward where there are other entrepreneurs, central locations, low costs and good social networks,” he added.
That is certainly what the Rampant Creative Group has found.
“I feel like there is plenty of room to have tech companies here, and we really want this to be a hub for other companies like us,” Triola said. “Since there are only a handful of us out there right now, we can really reach out to one another and create a dialogue. The Maplewood community is very important to us.”
All three agree that the Maplewood and St. Louis area provides them with a perfect backdrop to develop their business, but also to pursue their own interests that still link back to Rampant, such as developing personal websites, blogs and their first app for the iPhone and iPad, which stems from their shared loved of video games.
Triola, whose interests include business development and design, and Mertz, who started building websites for fun as a teenager, considered themselves kindred spirits while students at Webster University because of their similar interests in interactive media.
Huth’s own love of web design grew from her degree in interior design. Huth and Triola are a longtime couple and share a home in Maplewood, which also serves as the company’s office space.
“Working together has been fantastic for all of us,” Huth said. “We’re all ambitious and have found the pros of doing this outweigh any cons.”
Before making Rampant Creative Group their full-time careers, both Triola and Mertz said their work in other jobs was unfulfilling. When an opportunity by a former professor came along to work on a feature film, they jumped at the chance for a change, but then funding fell through, so they started the company along with Huth.
“Everything just came together for all of us at once,” Mertz said. “We found our niche, and we’re working with people we trust.”
The tagline, “We’re more than a Web Design Studio,” found on the company’s website, says it all about this trio of entrepreneurs, who are involved in a number of different projects combining their shared interests and passions in design and technology.
“Our biggest challenge sometimes is balancing the client work over our own interests,” Mertz said. Some of their personal projects include a web comic by Mertz described as a simple commentary on relationships, unepetitefleur.com, and a blog about chairs, www.fortheloveofchairs.com, by Huth.
“Developing websites for clients is where we make our money, but we are also very interested in app development for the iPhone and Android,” Triola said. “We just like creating things, and if we can sell it, that’s great, too.”
They are particularly proud of their first iPad and iPhone game called Stodgy Gents that they developed with Happy Badger Studios.
“My dream growing up was to make video games,” said Triola, who even teaches courses at local colleges on the subject. “Now with iPhone games, you can do that on a shoestring budget.”
The app the team created, which is free, already has more than 3,000 downloads. Although they don’t make money for the game itself, it was their opportunity to publish a title, Huth said.
“We’ve always wanted to make a game, so it’s a bit of a dream for us to have done it,” Huth said. “The goal wasn’t to strike it rich, but we do have an option for users to purchase additional items, so we do have the opportunity to make some money.”