Fortress Consulting Group President Joel Mathew always knew he wanted to start a business from a very early age. With a degree in operations management and information systems and years of advertising experience in radio and television with Comcast and CBS, Joel saw the need in the market for an agency that bridged the gap between digital and traditional media. He knew starting a firm with the technical expertise of a web services company and the creativity of an advertising agency would have a great impact on his clients.
What is your background?
“I went to school as a computer science major at Northern, and when I took my first programming class, I realized I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk coding all day. As much as I didn’t want to be a career programmer, I always valued it and this experience proved to be very useful in the early days of FCG when I had to develop some of the first projects myself. Where my passion truly lies is in creating new ideas and strategies for our clients and interacting with them on a daily basis. When I started the company, it was really the advertising and marketing side that carried us the first year. The second year was search engine optimization and other digital services. The third year it was web design and development. In our fourth year of business, it was app design. Every year we’ve gotten stronger in a new area and adapted really well to the needs of the market.”
Who is the Fortress team?
“We’ve had some good growth over the past few years and that’s all due to the team that we have in place. I’m really proud of the people I work with, and I’m inspired daily by their creativity and perseverance through any problem. I really wanted to create a team atmosphere where each person is accountable and valued, and I feel like we’ve done a good job establishing that. I love the competitive nature of sports, and I take that same approach with work where we’re all on a team together striving for a common goal that’s achieved by hard work and passion.”
What are Fortress’ specialties?
“We love the clients that come to us with an idea but aren’t sure how to execute it. One example that I love to showcase that really tells a good story of what we do is one of our real estate clients. This client came to us with an idea for creating an upscale real estate brand in Chicago that would help generate more leads, put him on the map, and help sell more property. We started off creating the company name and doing all of the branding work. From there we built a really beautiful, engaging website where we then did SEO on. Within 4 months, we had him on page 1 in Google and, within the first year and a half, he sold more than 4 million dollars in property through leads coming from his site. This started off as just an idea, evolved into more and more responsibility for us, and ultimately new ways to help grow a business. We love the partnerships that start off as one seemingly simple task and then grow into larger projects that include services on both the advertising / marketing end and also the digital side of our company. Ultimately, our specialty is in building brands for our clients through our diverse areas of expertise.”
How is Fortress funded?
“When I started the business, I challenged myself to not put a dollar of my own money into it and not accept any outside funding. I wanted it to grow on it’s own organically from the very first project. I wanted everything to be generated by the company and stay in the company. That’s why we try to keep our overhead as low as possible—we don’t have too much expense other than office, payroll and marketing, and everything we do goes back into the business.”
What are Fortress’ goals?
“I want Fortress to be known for doing amazing work with amazing people all over the world.”
Where does the name “Fortress” come from?
“The Fortress name came from a verse in the Bible that I like a lot. It’s from Psalms 62:6 and it says ‘God is our rock and our fortress. I will never be shaken.’ This verse means a lot to me in that I’m not doing this alone or for myself. I feel that the Fortress name really represents strength and stability and the values that our company stands on.”
What lessons have you learned from starting your own company?
“It’s hard to just say one, but there is something that stands out. Every day is a learning process and that is an exciting thing about being an entrepreneur and running a company. Even when you feel like you’ve figured something out or you’ve had a good week or month or quarter or year, there’s always some curve ball you’re trying to work through. But the biggest lesson I learned from very early on is to respect and appreciate money. Working for someone else or working for a big corporation and getting paid every two weeks, you just take it for granted. You think it’s this never ending fountain of funds, and you can go out and do whatever you want because you know you’ll get more money in two weeks. Starting a business showed me just how hard it is to make money and not take it for granted. At the same time though, I don’t put making money as the number one goal. The goal is to do great work for our clients and money is just a byproduct of doing great work that you love.”
Any advice for future entrepreneurs?
“I still consider myself new after four years in business, but my advice would be to just do it. Jump into it. Put your all into it and don’t half ass it. Because you will surprise yourself—how resilient you are and what you are capable of. Don’t worry about five years from now or 10 years from now. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, but you do have to get started.”