Matt has built a fan business using content marketing to sell travel experiences to a millennial demographic. Very cool!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where did you grow up and in what kind of background?
Matt Wilson: I grew up in upstate New York. I grew up in a little tiny town called Stormville New York. It’s about 60 minutes outside of New York. It’s not really that close to the city where there was much happening yet. It wasn’t extremely rural. I just started being an enterprising young man whether it was mowing lawns or picking golf balls out of the local ponds. Selling them on eBay was my first online business. That really ignited the passion for entrepreneurship. Baseball cards would probably be the other thing that I was really passionate about when I was younger.
Sramana Mitra: How did that lead to where we are today?
Matt Wilson: I went to business school. I sold my landscaping business before I went to college. I went to Bryant University. I realized when I got there that there weren’t a lot of resources for entrepreneurs because the school was very focused on corporate finance and accounting. Startup communities hadn’t really taken off. There weren’t a lot of resources online at that time, so I started asking around.
Why aren’t there any classes on entrepreneurship? What if I don’t want to wear a suit for the rest of my life? Jack Welch came and spoke. I got up and said, “You have touched on entrepreneurship three or four times in your presentation. What do you think of Bryant University having a major or minor in entrepreneurship?” The response that I got was you should have gone to Babson.
As an entrepreneur and an innovator and as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer, we started the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization on campus and ended up establishing the degree. We won a lot of national awards through the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. We brought in many other famous speakers. We were able to change the culture of the university in a way that was so profound that people, all of a sudden, showed a lot of interest in entrepreneurship.
As investment banking has gone out of style a little bit, entrepreneurship and startups have really taken over as the way that young people make something of themselves. In five years’ time, we went from absolutely no major and minor in entrepreneurship to having the number one major in the entire university. It was pretty cool to see an institution completely change the culture. It was really fun.
Sramana Mitra: Just a little detail, where is Bryant University geographically?
Matt Wilson: Rhode Island.
Sramana Mitra: What time period are we talking?
Matt Wilson: This was between 2004 and 2008. That’s when I graduated, during the economic downturn.