Meet Jason Therrien, founder of Thunder Tech, an integrated marketing agency that combines advertising, public relations, design and digital marketing.
When and how did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I started thunder::tech while I was in college at John Carroll University. It started off as something I enjoyed doing, plus I was tired of watching my roommates watch reruns on TV.
I was fortunate to grow up in an entrepreneurial household, so I learned the value of work early on. When I went off to college, I was fortunate to learn how to build and market websites through summer jobs and internships. I was able to parlay that into a business during college and then make the leap after graduation into building a full-time business.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for thunder::tech has never stopped evolving. It started with web marketing because it’s what I had the opportunity to learn, but I wanted to add other marketing services to help clients too. As soon as clients asked for more, we started offering other marketing services by the end of the first year. We keep evolving as marketing does, so the idea keeps changing.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
I was surprised by how challenging and interesting selling would be. It’s part science, part art and definitely not for everyone. But without sales, there’d be no business.
What resources/organizations here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
When I graduated from John Carroll I took advantage of a great alumni network to find guidance and learn from mentors. Also, I became a member of the JCU Entrepreneurs Association, which has also helped me grow through the years. I reached out and developed relationships with a number of people, many of whom have become valuable mentors and friends.
Where have you turned to find capital to grow your company and which institutions have provided it?
To put it simply, we have grown through bootstrapping. I was 20 years old when I first started the business, so no one was going to lend me money. The company has been built on cash flow and applying a conservative fiscal policy.
Where did you find your first employee?
My first employee was someone who I freelanced work to while at John Carroll University. My second employee is still with us. It’s been amazing to watch him grow into a management role over nine years with the agency.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Cleveland?
There are businesses of all sizes and industries here. Cleveland is also so close to so many other geographic markets that it’s easy to expand into other regions. After client travel throughout the United States, I have come to respect the Midwestern culture and work ethic even more. Cleveland is a well-networked town, so if you consistently provide a good service, word will travel. Of course, the opposite is true too.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Network!! Some may call Cleveland a small town, but I call it a well-networked town. There’s three degrees of Cleveland. The sooner you figure out the circles of people you need to know, the faster you can get going.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
It’s interesting how far you can go to provide customer service. We’ve made deliveries hundreds of miles away, busted a car window in a locked car to make a meeting, tracked down two stolen laptops, and had far too many interesting happy hours and company trips to put it all in writing…
What inspires you?
My family. My teammates. Great clients. Big ideas.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
I admire companies large and small that are trailblazers. I admire founders who march to the beat of their own drum and play by their own rules. I have matured professionally to stop chasing shiny brands. It’s the people behind them that make them great -- or make them a pain to deal with. I admire those who get things done and move their companies ahead despite the odds.
What’s next for you and your company?
Continued steady growth and geographic expansion. I’m continually amazed at where client referrals will take us. I never expected to have significant clients on the West Coast, but through a couple of referrals in the past year, we have them and are looking at expansion options there and on the East Coast too. In 2011, we made more new position hires than in any other year previous, and in 2012 we expect to exceed that. We’ve been very fortunate to find clients that bring us in as part of their team and have grown their business with us, even through the recession.