Every entrepreneur’s path to startup success is different, but if you pay attention, you learn lessons along the way that can help others on their journey. My path led to cofounding a fast-growing global art activation agency that’s changing the way people relate and engage with brands, sports teams and other organizations in their communities. We bring people together around art, which fulfills a very basic human need.
I’ve always been interested in art. My parents collected it, and early on, I was drawn to street art, including graffiti and large-scale murals. As a psych major at Indiana University in 2015, I started taking photos of street art and posting it on social channels. I did this for several years as a hobby — it was the way I expressed my appreciation for local artists and shared my passion for art with friends.
After I graduated and moved to Chicago to begin my career, I discovered that city’s amazing art scene and the rich culture that surrounds it. I started an Instagram account to document the incredible art I saw. My job in sales wasn’t nearly as exciting as what I was discovering in the local art scene, which inspired me to think about ways I could live out my passion for art in a business context.
The idea for the company I eventually co-founded, Muros, began during a conversation over drinks with my co-founders, who were friends and colleagues at the time. I was the youngest and least experienced member of the group, but we all wanted to start a business that could make an impact and combine our entrepreneurial drive with an idea we could all get excited about.
As we bounced ideas around, Dave, now our CEO, asked me what I was passionate about. I told him street art and murals. Shortly after that, Muros was born. We defied the odds in some ways. We landed clients right away and quickly became a busy agency, offering a way for brands to make authentic connections through art.
Here are five lessons I learned along the way about starting a business:
1. Don’t wait until you have all your ducks in a row.
One of the keys to our success was that we just put our idea out there and pitched our services to as many potential clients as possible. Early success brought later success. We could have waited until we had every single process and strategy completely nailed down, but we would have missed opportunities if we had waited.
2. Scale as big and fast as possible.
A related but separate lesson is to grab as many opportunities as you can. Don’t be afraid to go big. When we started, we almost immediately booked three mural projects in the same week, which was a complicated thing to pull off as a new agency. But we put in the time and hard work to get it right, and that set the pace we needed.
3. Ask for help when you need it.
Even at the beginning, one big advantage we had as an agency was that we all have individual skillsets that complement each other’s areas of expertise. We also recognize each other’s strengths. My co-founders had a lot more business experience than I had, but I was the most familiar with the art scene. We ask each other for help all the time.
4. Learn from every project you take on.
One of our first projects unfolded like a dream: The finished work was identical to the digital form, it was completed early, and the client loved it. We staged another early outdoor project during a cold snap and discovered there was no electricity at the site, which we had to fix. It turned out great in the end, but it was more challenging. We learned valuable lessons from both of those projects.
5. Find a business that is adjacent to what you’re passionate about.
Because you’ll be on the clock 24/7 as an entrepreneur, it’s critical to love what you’re doing, or you can burn out fast. I was the street art guy in my co-founders group, but we all love art and sincerely believe in its ability to change the world. That passion for our mission keeps us going.
So, that’s how we founded a new company and found success. The product or service you provide as an entrepreneur might be in a completely different sector, but I believe these tips are universal. Everyone has heard the old saying: choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. I don’t buy that completely because being an entrepreneur is definitely hard work.
But there’s an art to authenticity, no matter what business you’re in. If you find a commercial opportunity around a concept that truly interests you, a group of friends with the right combination of experience and insight to work with, and you stay open-minded and willing to learn at every stage of the journey, you can put yourself on the right path to startup success.
Mateo Conner is a co-founder of Muros, a global art activation agency. In this role, Conner oversees projects with national sports teams, global brands and other businesses, while leading the artist relations efforts. Conner is passionate about street art and murals as well as positive collaboration.