I am a Chicago-based TEDx speaker and entrepreneur with a love for making things simple. As the CEO of Martin Creative, I've spent over 20 years constantly improving myself to learn more about business, marketing, and leadership. A seasoned entrepreneur, I help companies use digital products to build real-world communities.
To do this myself, I founded a professional networking group called The Entrepreneur's Workshop. With access to over 3,000 people I've helped to put on monthly events that promote new skills and in-person connections.
I've served as a mentor & judge for Google Startup Weekend events and worked directly with students through DePaul University's entrepreneurship program. An international speaker, I've given presentations at conferences, colleges, dev schools, high schools, business workshops, and recently served as the commencement speaker for The Art Institute Chicago Graduation Ceremony.
My book, 6-Week Cycles, pushes for a better work environment which allows employees to work for six weeks and take off for two weeks. This ideas around culture, productivity, and design has been featured on Fox News, WCIU, WGN Radio, and more.
I do this to fight against a world that has de-prioritized the value of real life interactions. Instead of experiencing the world around us, we resort to digital connections. We use apps. Apps intentionally designed as a sort of digital nicotine to keep us hooked, to help drive ad revenue and increase profits.
And there's....there's something magical that happens when people come together in the real world. I don't know exactly what it is, but I feel that great things are possible with real-life interactions in more real-world communities.Schedule a Call
I didn’t know I was beginning my business career when I formed my first band in high school. I just really liked playing music with my friends and loved hanging out with people at shows. There was something about having all these people together that was special. It went from community to friends to family.
We loved what we did and we didn't want it to stop. We wanted to make money by performing for people. So we treated it like a business and had all the marketing problems of a big organization. Visibility, attendance, innovation — on top of recording, touring, and even HR. To get more people out at the shows, I started to learn HTML/CSS. It was a straightforward formula. Band + Website = Attendance
When the band fell apart, I went back to college. Since I already knew how to code, now I wanted to know how to design. I was fortunate enough to be part of an incredible group of hardworking, dedicated classmates at The Illinois Institute of Art. Many of us are still close friends today and have held positions at Blizzard Entertainment (makers of “World of Warcraft"), Digital Kitchen (who won an Emmy for their intro to “Dexter"), Basecamp, Sprout Social, and more.
Through positions at the American Society of Safety Engineers and Cars.com, I got a taste of corporate life. I remember sitting at my desk the day after New Year’s and realizing I didn’t have another day off of work until the end of May. It felt like the company didn’t care what I accomplished, they only cared that my butt was sitting in that desk from 9am - 5pm every. damn. weekday. So I left.
For 2.5 years I got the taste of startup life heading the web design department for Fieldglass Inc. A few years after my departure, they would go on to become the first privately held tech company in Chicago to sell for a billion dollars.
I left the world of working for other people to create the environment I wanted. As a freelancer, I had learned what it took to bring in clients and guide projects through the full lifecycle—alone. Now, launching Martin Creative, I was ready to take my ideas and apply them to a team.
We created systems and processes. We continually evaluated what worked and what was causing problems or breakdowns in communication. Our internship program helped take multiple people with no prior website development knowledge and help them to get jobs as developers in the industry. In 2015 my team worked with 51 different clients on over 113 various projects, almost tripling our revenue from the previous year.
One of these projects was for a food tour in Chicago; a weird, still young, but an up-and-coming industry. I began to explore the idea of creating a website as a Saas product. Similar to a Squarespace or GoDaddy, only more niche, and with more directions to help people out. We built the first version of Tour & Event Websites and began on-boarding people to our new platform.
Since my early days as a musician, I loved to create. My dream was to have a team that could build out all of the ideas I had in my head. I formed Pikaia Digital LLC as the parent company for my, hopefully, new digital product empire. By October 2016 Pikaia had its first breakthrough. A Canadian based ticketing company acquired our pre-packaged website product out of Toronto.
These days my team and I still work to improve our first product while pushing full speed ahead on our sophomore effort, the Q. Which, this…this is the big one for me. This is the one that has the chance of changing the world.
I look back to my earliest days in the band and what I loved most — bringing people together. Then I look around at people forced into their phones, away from real-world interactions. The Q is meant to bring those experiences back. To help people understand when & where things are happening in the real world. To go out, meet a new friend, and maybe even change your life.
I want to help create happiness in people’s lives. To help other people find the same sense of community to friendship to family that I discovered.
That’s my mission. That’s what I’m doing. What are you doing?
I wouldn’t be capable of doing what I do without the help of a lot of amazing people in my life. Shaun Thomas and Aaron Ranger have been the hardest working team and I couldn't be more happy to have gone through all of this with both of them.
Thank you to my family — you truly inspire me. Thank you to my girlfriend Ashley, Siobhan Lally, Casey Clark, Conrad Kozuch and my friends over at Cultivate Advisors, Jeremy Mitchell and the team at EzTix, Shane Kost with Chicago Food Planet, Michael "Lil' Swimmer" Rostenbach, Robi Bare at Bare Design, Justin Breen at BrEpic, Jim Interlandi at Virtual General Counsel, John Zoppi with Method Engine, the community team over at WeWork National Building, Andy Mau at Lionheart Financial, Benjamin Ritter at Live For Yourself, Sheila Peterson from Life Elemental, Angela Vitzthum at SpotHero, Mig Reyes at Sprout Social, Vince Carone, Krista DeCoux at Amazon, Shanelle Mullin at Shopify, Alex Birkett at Hubspot, Jim Plachy at Good Beer Hunting, Denise Nitterhouse and Patrick Murphy with DePaul University, Alexandra Busenitz, Denny Jovic, Mike Larson, Jim Klug, Jenn Gramuglia, The Barones, the SYHAG team, Alex Shibicky, Benjamin Warsinske, Dan Bert, The Peterson Brothers, Matt Pittman, Dan & George Castady, and the countless friends who have helped by working for me, listening to me rant, or offering some guiding advice.