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For this installment of “Meet Apsos” we moved mountains, crossed oceans and traveled halfway around the globe to gain exclusive access to the man himself: Apsos Media’s founder and CEO, Matthew Apsokardu.
Okay okay, so the whole mountains and oceans thing is slightly hyperbolic. In reality, we just had to wait a few rings for the man to answer a Facetime call. As far as head honcho’s go, Matt is a highly accessible guy (a handy trait when leading a team of remote workers from all over the globe) and was more than happy to divulge the details of his personal journey with us – a journey that would eventually turn into the story of how Apsos Media came to be.
Matt was born and raised on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania, a sizable suburb just outside of Philadelphia, where he remained through his formative years. For his primary education attended the Schuylkill Valley School District, eventually graduating from Schuylkill Valley High School in 2002.
A lifelong athlete, Matt began training in Okinawa Kenpo Karate, the first of multiple martial art forms he’d go on to study over the years, when he was just 11 years old. (Coincidentally, this passion for ancient fighting styles would one day play a role in the founding of Apsos, but more on that later.) In addition to his extensive martial arts training, Matt played four years on his high school tennis team after being persuaded to join by his favorite English teacher, who also happened to be the team’s coach.
PENN STATE PROUD
After high school, Matt intentionally stayed close to home while pursuing his higher education. He enrolled at nearby Penn State Schuylkill where he completed his freshman year before transferring to Penn State Berks as a sophomore. Following a brief stint as a geoscience major, Matt realized his greatest strengths may be better suited elsewhere and promptly made the switch to a professional writing major. Never one to waste an experience or abandon pursuits outright, Matt retained a minor in natural science following the switch.
It was through his new major, however, that he was unwittingly introduced to and trained in many of the skills and processes that would eventually become the foundation of his very own business. Among other things, the professional writing courses he took incorporated elements of content creation, document design, web design, public relations and advertising.
Prior to obtaining his BA, Matt completed an internship with the Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center at Nolde Forest State Park in Berks County, PA. It was here that he would put the aforementioned skill sets to use in a professional environment for the very first time, further foreshadowing things to come.
While his duties as an intern didn’t require anything of the sort, the soon-to-be-graduate volunteered to revamp some of the center’s outdated marketing materials. Despite being more confused than enthralled by his unusual proposal to bolster their image, the center agreed to let Matt have at it. The project ended up being a win for all involved. The center, who came around to the idea once it materialized, got to enjoy the fruits of Matt’s labor free of charge. Unpaid but not unrewarded, Matt got his first satisfied client and the invaluable experience of single-handedly spearheading a successful marketing campaign.
WEB 2.0 BOOM
Following his graduation from Penn State in 2007, Matt was faced with the loaded question of what to do next with his life. As it turns out, it was an ideal and exciting time to enter the world of online business and digital marketing. This was chiefly due to the Web 2.0 Boom, a period beginning in 2007-08 that was marked by the rise of various social media platforms and increased availability of Internet access. This shift in the landscape had businesses and young professionals flocking to the internet in droves to stake their claim in the rapidly expanding marketplace like miners in a digital gold rush.
The constant evolution and expansion of the technology itself, its potential applications and subsequent business opportunities caused a frenzied scramble to not only keep up with the innovations of others but to outpace them with your own. The unlimited potential and largely undefined parameters of online markets at the time created an air of Wild West lawlessness – an unconquered place where anything goes until Google says it doesn’t. Matt, as it turned out, thrived in this environment. He enjoyed the constant learning curve, as well as the organized chaos and sense of creative freedom that came from everything having to be figured out on the fly.
After putting out some applications, it was a burgeoning niche internet startup called Classic Wines that first took interest in the enthusiastic post-grad. The startup, which aimed to create a database/virtual hub for wine connoisseurs, was in desperate need of content writers – specifically ones with experience and expertise in search engine optimization.
While Matt was somewhat familiar with the relatively new practice of SEO at the time, he had virtually no prior experience with it. Nor was he a wine aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. Upon learning that he had secured an interview for the job, he hightailed it to Barnes & Noble’s and procured a copy of SEO For Dummies, then stopped by Wine & Spirits for several bottles of the former with which to educate himself.
Luckily, and likely thanks in no small part to his own due diligence, the position ended up being a great fit for Matt. Learning as much as possible along the way, he quickly excelled at his work and gradually took on more and more responsibilities with the growing startup. In addition to producing written content and performing on-site SEO, he also performed research tasks and did some graphic design work for the company.
Joining the ranks of such a young company had its advantages. In particular, Matt was able to see firsthand what it takes to build a business from the ground up. He was also able to contribute to the development of their brand in ways that he wouldn’t have been able to had he worked for a larger, more established brand. Witnessing and contributing to the startup stages of Classic Wines proved to be an invaluable learning experience, one that he would pull from years later when he started this company. For the time being however, Matt was content in his new role with a new company, eagerly navigating the vast, unexplored potential of a new marketplace.
FROM UNEMPLOYED TO SELF-EMPLOYED
Unfortunately, there was also a negative side to being with such a young company. In particular, the issue of job security came into play when Classic Wines, which Matt had been a part of for close to two years, lost its funding. Despite their best efforts in getting the company off the ground, the lack of financial means soon thereafter precipitated a shutdown. Their small team of dedicated employees was subsequently disbanded, leaving our future founder unemployed and hunting for work while living out of his childhood bedroom.
Luckily, while out of a job at this point, he never technically ran out of work, paid or otherwise. During his time at Classic Wines, Matt had begun teaching himself the ins and outs of all things digital marketing, a learning process that he continued after his time there had ended (and still continues to this day). In addition to improving his graphic design skills, he taught himself how to write code and started a blog that focused on his sustained love of martial arts through which he was able to experiment with different kinds of content and SEO strategies. He also regularly attended meet-ups and industry events in the Philadelphia area to learn more about his ever-evolving craft and make connections with other local businesses.
Through these networking opportunities, Matt was able to land work with two different companies in the area who needed help designing websites and building an online presence. This was around 2009-2010, when many companies had yet to divert any efforts toward doing business digitally. Growing ever more confident in his abilities within this arena, Matt combined his knowledge of writing, SEO and graphic design to craft these clients’ sites to the best of his abilities, proving himself to be worth their business. This would be Matt’s first foray into self employment and the freedom of working remotely, though it would still be some time before he thought to turn these types of opportunities into a full-fledged business.
Meanwhile, Matt’s martial arts blog, which he had been working on for a few years at this point purely for love of the subject, had actually gained some traction and amassed a substantial following within the online martial arts community. A great example of passion merging with profession, this eventually led to some new and exciting business opportunities for the up-and-coming blogger.
One company in particular, Karate Depot, reached out to Matt about having him review some of their products on his blog. At the time, he was more than happy to oblige in exchange for free samples of said products. It wasn’t long, however, before these exchanges materialized into an even bigger opportunity with said company. Looking to expand their brand’s presence via SEO and content creation, Karate Depot reserved Matt’s services in full by offering him an official position as their director of marketing. Unable to resist the allure of getting paid to do something he loved, Matt jumped at the opportunity and humbly accepted, putting aside the gig-based freelance work he had been doing up until that point.
While Karate Depot was based in New York, the majority of Matt’s work was to be done remotely, save a few meetings at headquarters here and there. This left Matt to figure out the logistics of working from home full time in a position that required him to communicate with multiple departments and other individuals on a daily basis. His success in doing so would later be applied to the structure of his own digitally based company. As marketing director, Matt was given more of a voice than in previous positions, as well as the freedom to take initiative and make decisions on his own – another experience that would come in handy for him later on down the road.
UNEMPLOYED TO SELF-EMPLOYED PT. 2
Unfortunately, Matt’s time at Karate Depot was cut short after less than two years when the company was bought out by a larger entity. This new company sought to take Karate Depot in a new direction by moving away from karate and focusing instead on MMA in an attempt to capitalize on the latter’s growing audience. In doing so, they also decided to take the marketing department in a new direction, effectively phasing Matt out of his job and splitting his duties up between several new hires.
Out of a job once more, Matt wasted no time getting back in touch with the 3-4 clients he had been doing web and marketing work for prior to Karate Depot. Luckily for him, all of these clients wanted to resume their services. Matt was able to essentially pick up where he had left off with his freelance work, only this time with a different mindset.
FORGING HIS OWN PATH
In 2012, his shifting career trajectory took a backseat to make room for some big developments in his personal life. Matt was living with his fiance at the time (now his wife) when she received an offer from her job to attend grad school in Colorado. Wanting to support his soon-to-be wife’s pursuits however possible, Matt accompanied her in a cross-country move to the Rocky Mountain state. By 2013, he was a married man and permanent Colorado resident.
To Matt, supporting his wife while she attended grad school meant supporting both of them financially. Searching for a viable and reliable means by which to do so, he found himself at a crossroads trying to decide between applying to companies in Colorado or going all in with his freelance services. Already doing pretty well on his own and confident in his abilities thanks to the abundance of experience he had accrued up to this point, he ultimately chose the latter. He had, after all, grown quite fond of the freedom and flexibility that came from being his own boss and working remotely.
ONE MAN ARMY
With that, Matt set about making things happen for himself, by himself. This would be the first time he looked at his solo marketing services as a potential long-term career and not just a way to keep some money coming in between ‘real’ jobs. It would also be the first time he stopped to think about his potential for growth and expansion over time. This new mindset coupled with the added pressure of supporting a family would provide him with all the motivation he needed to get his new career path started in the right direction. As he put it in his own words, “you tend to put forth your best effort when there’s no alternative.”
Now putting all of his time and energy into his own operation, Matt was still a long way from where he is now. It would be a while before his operation felt like a legitimate business, and even longer before he had a single employee. But he was gung-ho about this lone venture nonetheless, happy to go it alone and able to function just as well for the time being. Despite being a one man army, he managed to continue learning and adding to his list of available services, not to mention networking to bring in new business whenever possible. His hustle paid off, turning four clients into eight clients within the first year and effectively doubling his business.
A COMPANY IS BORN
After getting married and settling into life in Colorado with his new wife, Matt’s love of martial arts would once again intersect with his professional life. While looking for martial arts schools in the area where he could train, Matt eventually found himself at an aikido school in Castle Rock, CO. It was here that Matt met a man named Sean Hannon – owner and operator of Castle Rock Aikido, martial arts expert and successful entrepreneur in his own right. After striking up a friendship based on their mutual affection for ancient fighting styles, Matt agreed to teach some karate classes at the school.
While he was more than happy to teach karate on the side, Matt’s main focus stayed on expanding his marketing services. Quickly realizing that they had more in common than martial arts, Hannon soon became somewhat of a business mentor to the young entrepreneur. Eventually, he showed Matt how to set up and register his business as an actual company, taking him through all the necessary paperwork, helping him set up his taxes, etc. He even offered advice on how to pick a name for the entity – Matt eventually landed on a catchier, more condensed version of the surname Apsokardu. And with that, Apsos LLC was officially born.
While the move to become an officially registered company didn’t change anything about the work itself. It did, however, have a rather significant psychological effect on the company’s founder. According to Matt, establishing his own LLC made him feel like a real small business owner for the first time, as opposed to a freelancer for hire. Making it official on paper made it all feel official in real life, giving Matt renewed motivation to keep moving forward with the operation full steam ahead.
ASSEMBLING THE TEAM
With his still independent operation steadily growing, Matt’s one-man operation was beginning to wear him thin. All of his client’s growing list of services and deliverables – marketing research, SEO services, blog writing, web design, graphic design, video content and more – was being handled exclusively by him at this point. Working 18+ hour days, he was quickly approaching a threshold beyond which he would no longer have time to sufficiently satisfy the needs of all his clients. Rather than slowing down, reducing his workload or halting new client acquisitions, Matt decided to do the opposite and continue expanding.
In order to do so, however, he was going to need some help. Another turning point in our company’s timeline, Matt decided it was time to bring some other people aboard and turn his one-man army into a team. Hesitant to bring on full-time employees right out of the gate, the new delegator eased into the hiring process by only outsourcing certain work to freelancers on a project-to-project basis. While this strategy had its advantages, it also made accountability and consistency hard to maintain, and more so the larger his client base became.
This eventually led to Matt bringing on permanent team members, as well as creating a constantly evolving set of standard operating procedures for them to follow. Wanting to build his company around the same location independent lifestyle he had come to love, he decided to hire almost all remote workers (except for a handful of photographers and videographers). This gave him the advantage of a much larger talent pool to choose from, as he could now recruit experts from virtually anywhere as opposed to only those within commuting distance. Before long, he had assembled a small but dedicated team of experts that he could depend on, giving his company the ability to continue expanding and adding more specialized services along the way.
A UNIQUE LEADER
Matt’s approach to being a boss was (and still is) unique for a number of reasons. Chief among them is his tendency to treat employees as equal collaborators and important contributors. Speaking from personal experience, it’s as if you’re working with him and not for him.
A testament to Matt’s management style and the company atmosphere he has fostered over the years, the Apsos team remains as connected and collaborative as any traditional businesses – and, in many ways, even more so – despite the distance between our members. In addition to working where, when and how they want, Matt encourages everyone he works with to take full advantage of this freedom in order to pursue their own passions outside of the work they do for the company.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
Today, Apsos has dozens of team members who work together from all over the world (some of whom you’ve already met if you’ve kept up with our Team Member Highlight series), and we’re still growing.
As for Matt, he’s still pursuing his own lifelong passions, in addition to a few new ones. When he’s not handling day-to-day functions, development of operations, or the continued growth and success of Apsos, you may find him climbing rocks or enjoying a scenic hike with his better half. Not to worry though – these new hobbies haven’t prevented him from continuing to study and practice martial arts.
Oh, and did we mention he’s a published author? Again combining his love of ancient fighting styles with his love of writing and content creation, Matt somehow managed to find the time to write a whole book, titled “Tales from the Western Generation: Untold Stories and Firsthand History from Karate’s Golden Age”. He even released and marketed said book himself through Apsos Publishing – an independent publishing entity he started in tandem with Apsos Media and now offered as a service for clients. To get a copy of his book or check out Matt’s martial arts blog (which he proudly still maintains and publishes on regularly) visit www.ikigaiway.com.
Matt currently still lives in Colorado with his wife, though he frequently returns to his home state of Pennsylvania to visit family and handle the needs of his many clients in the area. As for the future, he plans to enjoy the road ahead by continuing to do what he loves, from high kicks and hiking to building brands and creating content – not to mention seeing to the continued growth and improvement of Apsos and the clients we serve.
Thanks for reading! To read our other blogs and check out more of our Team Member Highlight series, visit www.apsosmedia.com/blog and keep an eye out for new posts coming soon!