Originally from Shelby Township, MI, Matt Bernhardt, Founder and CEO of Vectra Digital, relocated to Florida to pursue a unique opportunity. How and when he moved to The Sunshine State says a lot about Bernhardt's entrepreneurial disposition and his appetite for adventure. Bernhardt shared the journey that ultimately led to the founding of Vectra Digital and some others companies along the way.
"Before I moved to Florida, I was working for my dad's company driving a truck," he said. "My aunt came to visit and brought her boyfriend with her. He owned a pressure washing business in Florida. We started talking about the business and he basically told me that if I was interested in learning the business that he would show me the ropes. I really did not like the Michigan weather and the opportunity in Florida sounded like a good one. About a month later, I decided to make the move. I ended up in Ft. Myers and started my own pressure washing business. Over time, that business morphed into a business that provided brick paver cleaning and sealing services."
The Entrepreneurial Journey
Bernhardt's next entrepreneurial venture came after receiving a phone call from a friend. He was looking for a partner to join a company that bought and sold vacant land to builders, developers and investors. Bernhardt called his father, who recommended he speak with a friend of his, who just retired as CEO of a major company. The retired CEO gave Bernhardt some great advice, but also expressed an interest in getting involved. Within two or three days of having that conversation, they prepared a business plan and got started. The partnership lasted for three years until 2007, when the market showed signs of heading in the wrong direction. It was around this time when Bernhardt met his wife and was inspired to launch his fourth venture.
"My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was so talented," Bernhardt said. "I encouraged her to start her own company. In 2007, we formed Stickboy Creative, with capabilities such as software development, mobile apps, custom programming and predictive analytics. Overtime, we started doing more work in the digital marketing space. Eventually it became too much of a mouthful to say we did software, applications and marketing. It sounded like we were trying to do too many things that weren't cohesive. We came to the conclusion that the marketing piece needed to have its own brand."
In the early part of 2016, Bernhardt founded Vectra Digital as a separate company to handle website design, reputation management, paid search, organic search, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) and more. Bernhardt and his team pride themselves on giving their customers honest advice and not pitching additional services. They are upfront about what digital marketing techniques will work and what won't work. According to Bernhardt, conversations between employees and clients are friendly and conversational. With a technical background, Vectra Digital's solutions are data and numbers driven. They can even create machine learning and artificial intelligence layers for better decision making. Customers can actually see the return on their investments.
"We develop cutting edge technology solutions based around marketing," he said. "We're doing things that other companies have thought of but can't do. We can come up with an idea and create it in a matter of weeks. We utilize predictive analysis based on historical marketing data. We can tell you six months from now where you're going to be. For example, if you increase your budget by a certain amount, this is the output you can expect."
Vectra Digital’s culture can be described as collaborative, honest, passionate, positive, drama-free and fun. To Bernhardt and his team, it's never about just doing the work. They want to have fun, but they also want to be the best at what they do. Everyone has the same mentality. Improving at everything, all the time, is front and center for the Vectra Digital team.
Notable Community Contributions
In terms of community support and philanthropic activities, Vectra Digital is involved with a local technology group called Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership. They give talks to high school students about careers in the digital marketing field. They do March of Dimes and support other local charities. On a personal level, Bernhardt spent some time on the board for the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership helping them to market their efforts to outside groups. He wants people to know that Florida is more than just tourism and real estate.
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
"It's unbelievable," he said. "To be such a young company and be recognized at a state-wide level, tells us that we're doing something right. It makes us proud of the work we're doing for our clients. It's one of those things you don't ever go into business thinking about, but when you're acknowledged, it's gratifying and makes you look back and see what you're accomplished. We're just grateful for the opportunity to be able to do what we do.
In terms of why we were selected, I'm hoping that the judges see that we're successful, but that we also focus on breeding positivity and a good mindset into our employees. We're not just looking to make a quick buck. Want to work with clients for years and do things differently than most agencies. My wife and I talk a lot about designing life and every part that's in it. Part of that includes how you treat your employees, clients and those that have helped you along the way. For us, that includes my parents for giving me the values I take into business, Charlie Caldwell who helped us get on track in the early stages of our business and Bob Gillis, the retired CEO I partnered with on the land acquisition business. These people taught us so many lessons."
Looking ahead, Bernhardt and his team are focused on developing an artificial intelligence marketing platform. They want to get that tool into the hands of other agencies and even individual companies to help them make better decisions on the dollars they're spending. They also want to grow in the franchise world and help more individual franchisees marketing their businesses. According to Bernhardt, there's a big gap between what the top marketing agencies are doing compared to the ones at the bottom. Most franchises are falling behind with their digital marketing efforts and he wants Vectra Digital to pick up the slack.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Bernhardt has some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "You should take the leap in order to take control of your life," he said. "When you go out on your own and start a business, you're taking the first step towards controlling your own life and not having to think about the 'what ifs'. Starting your own business allows you opportunities you wouldn't normally have. It's very stressful, but the rewards, gratification, confidence you gain and accomplishments make it worth it. Above all, be honest with yourself and others, always do the right thing, know your strengths and weaknesses and trust yourself. I always tell people there's nothing on this planet that someone else is doing that you can't do. It takes preparation, studying and fortitude, but anything is possible."
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