Corporate or Start up? St. Louis is a great place for young professionals whether you’re starting your career in an established company or starting your business from scratch. The Regional Business Council and Lab 1500 are hosting a casual professional networking event to bring together young professionals from both the established corporate world and the start-up scene in St. Louis on Thursday, April 24 from 5:30-7:30pm.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Regional Business Council Young Professional Network member Sam Coffey to discuss St. Louis small business and start-ups as a young professional.
A native of St. Louis, Sam Coffey is co-owner of First Punch Film Production LLC and The Fortune Teller Bar LLC. Sam has over a decade of management experience and has worked as a producer for the last six years. A busy man, Sam has maintained a great sense of humor and keen insight into the St. Louis business world, which both shine through in the below interview.
1. As co-owner of two local businesses, you wear many hats. How would you introduce yourself to a YPN member?
Hi I’m Sam. I see you work at Wells Fargo. Your company probably has one of the coolest brands in the business. What area of Saint Louis do you live in? Oh really? I love North County. My girlfriend, Kelsey, was raised in North County so I appreciate that region for creating such respectful and beautiful people.:)
I live and work in South Saint Louis City. I co-own a film production company and bar on Cherokee Street. My film production company is called First Punch Film Production and we specialize in commercial animated work as well as many other forms of visual storytelling for commercial brands and concept development for television networks. I serve on the Board Of Directors for a Not For Profit Radio Station, KDHX, am a proud member of the YPN’s Leadership 100, and spend many hours contributing to the art, music and community development scene particularly pertaining to Cherokee Street and other art driven communities.
2. What makes St. Louis a great city for an entrepreneur?
I really can’t stress enough that the cost of living in Saint Louis is as good as it gets. It’s a city so hungry for progressive growth that government, business and community leaders across the region work hard to find ways to say yes and promote the growth of new industries like emerging technologies in bio tech, tech startups like Greetabl, and even reality television shows like Discovery’s “Salvage City” (wink wink).
There are some challenges to opening a business in Saint Louis; however, most of those challenges have really great people on the other end. We may not be completely streamlined down at City Hall, but there are fantastic people who work there that are usually really happy to help. I’ve met so many great people like Robert Porter in in the business assistance center, Ann Chance in the special events office, even the excise commissioner himself is a really nice guy. Saint Louis is in the Midwest. And for those of us that are from here, we know that it’s relationships that make the world go round. And for those of you new to the area or looking to move here, fear not. Once you get your momentum going, there is an excellent engine in this city to support you and help you grow. And no one really cares where you went to high school, unless of course you went to the school that took away the championship from us 20 years ago. Other than that, it’s no problem
3. Why did you choose the film production and bar industries?
I can’t take credit for either one. They both chose me in a lot of ways. Four years ago an old friend, Carson Minow, came to me and asked me if wanted to start a film production company. I was swinging hammers at the time as a carpenter. Having worked with her several years earlier on a film project, I thought it might be fun. And I was right! The next thing you knew one of my oldest and most talented friends, Ryan Frank, was on board and we were off. Our model has evolved over the years, but the one thing that’s never changed is our ability to work well together and constantly try new things.
It wasn’t an old friend that caused me to go into the bar business. It was an old sign. Yup, it was an actual sign. After moving into an abandoned storefront on Cherokee Street, I went to work and removed the plywood from the upper front facade. Behind it was a sign that read “The Fortune Teller Bar”. So I did what any sane man would do and called my buddy, Matt Thenhaus, who knew a lot more than me about the bar business. A couple years later enters Kristin Dennis with a keen intellect for brands and business and the next thing you knew we had a bar.
4. What are the advantages of this form of business ownership?
Both businesses allow me to be creative. A friend told me recently that the difference between us and our competition was that we are creative people trying to be business people instead of business people trying to be creative. You can hire the business side far easier than you can hire the creative side. The life of an entrepreneur is very time consuming. It’s so time consuming that you have to almost build your social life into your business life. The diversity of my two industries allows me great networking opportunities to learn, work and have fun.
5. How did you obtain the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
I learned the skills required to run my businesses by working with people that are much smarter than me. I have a pretty good grasp on the things that I’m good at and the things that I’m terrible at. So I work hard to go into business and work with people that excel in the areas that I lack the skillset . I learn new things and meet new people everyday and it’s those people and experiences that teach me how to run a business.
6. Whom do you seek advice from for your business? Do you have a mentor? If so please explain the importance of mentors to our YPNs.
I have met several people through the YPN. I have made both personal and professional relationships that I value deeply. It was the support of the RBC and the YPN that gave me the confidence to join the board of KDHX. I have sought advice from several YPN members as well as RBC business leaders and members that have provided me with invaluable business and even life advise. A couple of years ago I attended a dinner with the YPN’s Leadership 100 where they paired members with business leaders. At my table was a man named Ed Hillhouse who ran the East West Gateway Council. Just last summer I needed special permission to get some filmmakers from LA permission to shoot on the Metrolink. I pulled out Ed’s business card and gave him a call. He was happy to help and the end result was a beautiful film made with Grade A actors and a film that will air worldwide and opening with the Metrolink.
7. Why do your customers select you over your competitors?
Customers select me over my competitors because we build a relationship together. Whether I’m selling you animation, beer, or a cardboard box, it’s important for us to establish a relationship. I like knowing my customers and sitting down for a beer with them. In today’s world, more and more services are provided by faceless algorithms and “streamlined” websites. When you do business with me, you get me, not an animated me, unless of course you’re seeing our animated e-xmas card!
8. Do you have any advice for fellow YPN members?
The best advice I could give to any YPN member is: Don’t be afraid to ask. Katie Kaufman is the manager of the YPN and she answers emails, texts, and phone calls faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s really incredible actually. Seriously all you have to do is ask. If you are looking for a mentor, board position, or even media training, it’s sort of like a one stop shop.
9. Is there anything more you would like share about entrepreneurship and the YPN?
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind in this town. If you see something you don’t like, chances are you’re not alone and there are people out there that will listen and help where they can. Just keep in mind that if you want to point out areas that need improvement, it’s also a good idea to highlight some things that are right about our city too. And it also never hurts to follow up a complaint with a potential solution.
We hope you will join us at 1500 Washington Ave. on Thursday, April 24, 2014 for this business casual networking event. Beverages and snacks will be provided.
This event is hosted in collaboration between the Regional Business Council and Lab1500. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TODAY!