From startup to successful

What two Milwaukee business leaders have learned

Jalem Getz

Erica Conway

Jalem Getz and Erica Conway are two of Milwaukee’s most respected – and innovative – business leaders. Conway is co-owner of C2, a creative talent staffing firm and certified Adobe® training center, and Getz started Wantable, a paid style subscription website for men and women.

As long-time business owners, they’ve taken their companies beyond the startup phase. What have they learned along the way? Here are some of their top lessons.

Harness the power of the pivot

Conway first joined C2 in 2000, when it was still called MacPros. But the September 11 terror attacks decimated its customer base, driving Conway and her team to re-evaluate their plans. “We began to talk about what MacPros would need to look like to survive,” she says. Through those conversations, she and her brother decided to buy the company from the former owners, rename it C2, move to downtown Milwaukee, and become an Adobe authorized training center. These radical decisions were a critical turning point for the business, allowing them to grow their clientele and take advantage of emerging trends in the marketplace.

Getz has mastered the art of pivoting. He calls himself a “serial entrepreneur” who’s started three businesses over the last 20 years. His first pivot came when he co-founded Buyseasons, an online costume retailer, after owning retail franchise stores. After taking over full ownership, Buyseasons became the largest employer in New Berlin and its global market share attracted the attention of a large media company, which acquired his business.

Getz started Wantable in 2012 and, in 2017, it was named by Inc. Magazine the fastest-growing company in Milwaukee and third fastest-growing company in Wisconsin. Last year the company saw 60 percent growth in employees and 80 percent growth in revenue.

Remember your bigger mission

Growing a new company or developing an innovative business model are exciting experiences that can deliver incredible financial successes. But Conway says that not all success can – or should – be measured in dollars. That’s why she participates in programs such as SPARC, a growth-training program for Milwaukee businesses that want to scale up. “It’s been a really nice partnership from a networking standpoint, but also because it is a nice tie-in to what the creative industry is trying to do here in Milwaukee,” she says.

Embrace the ups and downs…

Both Getz and Conway have weathered challenges – including the 2008 Great Recession – through their entrepreneurial lives, and both say that accepting these challenges and building resilience is part of building a successful business beyond the startup phase. “If I look over my 20+ year career, we’ve had lots of highs, but we’ve had a few lows. And as much as we try to reduce and minimize the lowest points of the business cycle, they do come,” Getz says.

…Find the right partners to weather these challenges

Finding financial partners who trust your vision and align with your mission is critical to the long-term success of any business. Many owners might see approaching a bank for financing as a difficult hurdle to cross before they can expand. But Getz says building relationships with the right financial partner has been a key investment in his company’s explosive growth.

“Having a trustworthy partner that will celebrate you when things are great, but will also be there with a helping hand when things are not as perfect is extremely important,” says Getz.

Conway agrees, pointing to a time last year that her small business banker helped C2 with financing. “He was my Johnny-on-the-spot. He did whatever needed to be done…It was great,” she says.

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