INTERVIEW: Jesse Fowler on the importance of respect and effort when building a business

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Jesse is a seriously smart dude, and built a web design / development company from the ground up within the past five years. Join me as I ask him a bit about how he got started, how he’s grown his business, and the advice he has for others trying to do the same thing!

Jesse:              Welcome everyone to Portland Headlight, Portland, Maine. Beautiful lighthouse behind us here, with Mendel.

Mendel:          Yep, there’s the headlight.

Jesse:             And I’m Jesse.

Mendel:          We’re here making sure that the ships don’t crash into the side of the coast here, right?

Jesse:              Yeah, it’s pretty useful.

Mendel:          Actually, that’s what that lighthouse is doing. So, so, so, this is a weird one today because we’re on this like, you can’t see it, but we’re on this rock. We’re just kind of standing here out in the middle of nowhere.

Jesse:              Really awkwardly standing here.

Mendel:          Yeah. You’ve lived in Maine all your life?

Jesse:              Yes, yup.

Mendel:          OK. And you’ve lived around this area all your life?

Jesse:              Yup, give or take fifty miles, but many different schools in this general one spot.

Mendel:          OK. Tell me about how you started building businesses and when you started doing that?

Jesse:              Uh, well, that goes really far back. Um, I was thinking the other day, when I was about seven we started doing, you know, door to door sales in front of school, that sort of thing. I started my own farm stand when I was fifth grade, uh, kept doing things like that until I was in high school and instead of going to college I was actually able to open a gas station bait tackle shop locally.

Mendel:          Alright, OK, hold on. You opened a bait and tackle shop?

Jesse:              Yep.

Mendel:          OK, so what—why were you so excited or so passionate about creating businesses? Clearly most people – you said you were in high school?

Jesse:              Yeah, I was still in high school at the time.

Mendel:          So clearly most people that are in high school are not opening bait and tackle shops so why did you decide to do that?

Jesse:              Especially went you don’t fish.

Mendel:          Yeah, OK, that’s even stranger.

Jesse:              I did it mainly because, I just, I like working, that’s a really big thing to me so it kind of feels a natural fit. I really like the community, already I’d been living there for 4 or 5 years. Uh, got to meet a lot of the people through that and help them, even if it was just, you know, pick out a fishing pole, tell them where the fish are at that time. Uh, it’s all about the community to me. I really like that part of where the business was located and, of course, making money and working nine months a year and going and travelling was a lot of fun as well.

Mendel:          Yeah, OK.

Jesse:              Great experience.

Mendel:          So, so you’ve always been building businesses but, uh, that was high school and you’re cl-clearly not in high school anymore. In fact, —

Jesse:              Thanks.

Mendel:          — maybe it’s been a few years since then. What did you do in between high school and, uh, starting OSC web designs.

Jesse:              Um, there were a lot of businesses in the middle. Uh, so I did the gas station for three to four years. Left there, ended up opening a few more shops downtown orange beach which is a very touristy area. Uh, had a great spot, the business failed horribly.

Mendel:          OK.

Jesse:              Got out of there. Uh, almost went bankrupt so that’s my failure story.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              Ended up finding some other people ran a restaurant, Lobster Pound ice-cream shop for someone else and when I joined on he said – I came to him with a proposal of I’ll work for commission, just give me a percentage of what we make –

Mendel:          Uh-huh.

Jesse:              To prove that I’m a good worker –

Mendel:          Right.

Jesse:              He said you don’t want that, last year we lost 30,000 dollars so unless you want to pay me to work, uh, but, he did give the position, paid me and we turned that around and we profited that year by quite a bit so he was very happy, um, and then from there I decided earning $100 a week was no longer my forte –

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              — even though I actually really like it. I had a daughter and I felt that being home with family was more important –

Mendel:          OK.

Jesse:              — so I kind of shifted gears, then was kind of finally able to take the step into OSC, just giving it a shot, and four years later –

Mendel:          So would you call it a bit of a lifestyle business?

Jesse:              What I’m in now?

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              Is definitely, yeah.

Mendel:          OK.

Jesse:              That’s exactly what it is.

Mendel:          How did you kind of launch yourself into the web from, um, where you were at doing kind of random businesses?

Jesse:              Uh, well, originally when I was probably 14-16 somewhere near, I was doing websites, um, with frames and everything else, uh, and I had a passion for it, I really liked it but there weren’t any colleges to go to school for —

Mendel:          Mmhm.

Jesse:              — and that kind of felt like you had to go to college, um, so I had this past love for it, uh, and then I ended up working for my dad, that was in the middle there. Um, he had a website, came to me and said: “Jesse, you know computers, right? Why don’t you just build us a website?”

Mendel:          What? Like, how it happens with everybody right?

Jesse:              Every single person, yeah.

Mendel:          You know how to fix – Oh by the way, you know how to fix my, uh, anti-virus right, too?

Jesse:              Right, yeah, that’s what kind of transition. I did that with him for a while before finally going out on my own.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              So that’s kind of how it all came back around.

Mendel:          Interesting. What helped you make OSC web design even better when you first started in based on your experience from when you were younger?

Jesse:              Yeah, I don’t think it was in the very beginning but I realised it more as I started talking to people. Um, a lot of websites go online and they’re just there to be informational, they’re not really there to convert.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              They’re not set up that way and I think the past experience, you know, taking businesses that were failing and turning them into something good helped me realise that, you know, if you’re going to invest money you need to make money back, so, —

Mendel:          Mmm.

Jesse:              — how do we position your products in a way that helps customers, uh, by maybe creating content around it, marketing their blog what-have-you, that encourages our customers to come back, buy more things and get the most out of the return.

Mendel:          So a lot of people start a business but they start it because they made a website for their friend or, or, for somebody that they, um, work for, or did it on the side for a family member of something like that and then they maybe except less than they should accept for that –

Jesse:              Yup.

Mendel:          — that business and so you started off knowing that you needed to accept a certain amount of, uh, re-revenue for each unit that you sold and was it, was it that mechanised at that point, or –?

Jesse:              No, no, not at all. It was definitely the route I think every web designer has gone which is, um, “hey, you’re my friend, I need someone in my portfolio—

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              I’ll give it to you at half price of my $35 an hour, um, so you do whatever you can to get some things in your portfolio and then you start building it up, get more confidence and that’s what I – I talked to people even yesterday at, uh, working in Maine, this lady who, she said “Yeah, I do a website three, four hundred dollars” and I just looked at her and I said “stop, just stop, ‘cos it’s not helping you, you know you can charge more, and the reason you charge more is to create more value. You know, don’t just charge ‘em more to charge ‘em more, but that’s something you need to learn over time.

Mendel:          Ok, so –

Jesse:              It took me time.

Mendel:          OK, so, how do you, how do you create more value then? So, what, uh, what advice would you give somebody like, like her, like the person who came up to you yesterday when they’re charging four or five hundred dollars for a website, how do you create more value in that?

Jesse:              I feel that when you undercut, eventually you’re going to – the client will keep asking you for things, they’re going to say “what about doing this one more thing, one more thing” and you’re going to say “well, I’m only charging you $400”.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              You know so if you charge the right amount up front, you can build all of that into it and then, along with marketing, giving them the Facebook, just whatever, social media, helping them blog, creating a plan for ‘em.

Mendel:          Mmm.

Jesse:              Whatever you can do to create that value and help encourage them to keep going with it.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              This isn’t a one time, build your website, call me back in two years and I’ll build it again.

Mendel:          Right.

Jesse:              Uh, I think that way is broken and we need to keep building upon that website.

Mendel:          So, do you do service contracts, do you do retainers, do you do any of that stuff or -?

Jesse:              We definitely do. A lot of our websites that we get are the one and done it seems, um, but we are encouraging them to do more, even if it’s on their own –

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              Even if it’s is creating their own content, and that’s why, you know, we put out our blog, to just try and give them marketing tips. Uh, to me, if someone comes to our website and never buys from us, I’m OK with that as long as they can take something away and go market their business better. To me, that’s a success.

Mendel:          You started your business four and a half years ago, now things, things are going alright.

Jesse:              Yep, OK Graham.

Mendel:          Um, business is growing so what are, what are some things that helped you to grow the business between, um, you know, your first step out into web development and now?

Jesse:              Uh, a lot of it came word of mouth in the beginning.

Mendel:          Got it.

Jesse:              A lot of delivering something that people are very happy with and then staying with them, doing some of the retainer base to keep them happy, along that way and they lead you to someone else who leads you to someone else, could lead you to someone else. Just keeping them happy. We just did some wedding, uh, invites and everything else for one of our clients because she was so happy with our design of her website.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              And to me, that’s a huge complement. I mean, she’s a wedding, uh, planner.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              That’s what she does for a living, she could find someone but she loved our design so much, she wanted to make us part of that.

Mendel:          That’s cool. Alright, so one last question for you and that is [pause], if you could, if you could give one piece of advice in one sentence, or a compound sentence, or whatever, if you could give one piece of advice to the people watching this, how to be better at life, how to be better at building a business for the first time, or growing a business, what is that piece of advice?

Jesse:              Uh, thought about this.  It’s two words and I’ll expand on it. Respect and effort.

Mendel:          OK.

Jesse:              Respect everyone, regardless, no matter what and, uh, you always put 100% of your effort, you know. That’s something my dad taught me when I was real young and I got like a C on a report card.  He said “I don’t care if it’s a C as long as you tried your damnedest to get there”.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              “You know, I’d rather have that than an A+ and you didn’t even care”.

Mendel:          Yeah.

Jesse:              So effort is a huge thing.

Mendel:          Cool.

Jesse:              Respect everyone.

Mendel:          Sweet.

Jesse:              Well, Jessie, thanks a lot.

Mendel:          So, uh, we should

Jesse:              How are we doing this?

Mendel:          We just look at it really creepy, like we’re – just like big eyes or something and then go towards it, you know. Like ahhhh, yeah, yeah.



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