Now that we’ve introduced you to all of the members of our growing team, it’s time to get to know our founders, Nicole and Sean.
In my early days living in Los Angeles, I drove around aimlessly for hours picking up cereal, tequila, hats, and anything you could think of for celebrity talk show guests. To kill time while I was inching forward a foot every minute on La Brea, I’d call my friend Danielle to catch up and check in. I distinctly remember her telling me her sister was going to start a business with her boyfriend (not even fiance yet!) and how I thought that was a terrible idea because starting a business is hard and you shouldn’t start one with someone you’re dating.
Boy, was I wrong.
Three years, two interstate wedding celebrations, seven employees, and fifteen clients later, Nicole and Sean took their ideas for Lightning Media Partners and grew it into a full-fledged marketing agency, beyond even their grandest aspirations. I sat down with Nicole and Sean to talk about how they met, why they started LMP, and the differences between their home states of New Jersey and Utah.
Okay, first things first: How did you two meet?
Nicole & Sean: We actually told this story to Zety for a survey on office romances! We met on a business trip to Waltham, Massachusetts in 2017. We were both on the B2B content team at the same digital publishing company, but Sean was in the Utah office and Nicole was in the New York office, so we’d never met face-to-face.
We like to joke that it was “love at first handshake,” but we both felt an instant connection with each other and ended up spending every night of the trip chatting at the hotel bar. Nicole emailed Sean her phone number the second she got home; he emailed back with his number. She texted him the next day and in less than two weeks, we both admitted our mutual crushes on each other. We dated long-distance for about five months before Sean transferred to New York and turned us into the Jim and Pam of our office.
Sean, you’re from Utah; Nicole, you’re from New Jersey. What was the biggest culture shock you learned about your partner’s respective home?
Nicole: Wedding culture is a whole lot different in New Jersey than it is in Utah. Most Utah weddings are more like “meet and greets” — you show up, say hello to the newlyweds, drop off your gift, grab some appetizers, and leave within an hour. Jersey weddings are all-day affairs where you eat, drink, and dance the night away. This made for some interesting discussions when we were planning our own wedding. Ours fell squarely in the middle of these two extremes and it was pretty perfect.
Sean: The fact that you must avoid asking the following questions: Pork roll or Taylor Ham? Does Central Jersey exist? What’s a Benny? What’s your favorite diner? Is the Jersey Shore like the show? Have you ever thought about moving to the city? New York or Philly sports teams? What’s the difference between the Turnpike and the Parkway? What do you mean weddings last 8+ hours out here? (We really did find the perfect balance for our wedding).
What was the inspiration behind starting Lightning Media Partners?
Nicole & Sean: Both of our fathers are entrepreneurs, so we grew up seeing what life was like as a small business owner. Individually, we liked the idea of being our own bosses and building something from the ground up.
When we met, Nicole was doing freelance copywriting and editing work on the side, while Sean was just starting to dip his toes into the world of freelance SEO work. We realized we could combine our skills and talents to deliver well-written, search-optimized articles to businesses that needed help with content marketing. We formed our LLC in January of 2018 and the rest is history.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in starting your own business?
Nicole: Sean is a planner; I am a “doer.” You need both types to run a successful business, but you have to figure out the right time to lean on each. My desire to move forward quickly was sometimes at odds with Sean’s desire to think through every option before taking action (especially in the early days when I just wanted to “see results”), but I think we’ve gotten much better at finding a balance.
Sean: As it turns out, business owners have to wear many different hats and work behind the scenes to keep things going. While we both had a lot of experience in the world of journalism and digital marketing (and we both were damn good at balancing our personal budgets), we had little or no experience setting up payroll, contacting state departments of labor, generating P&L statements, establishing company-wide benefits packages, researching insurance providers that work across state lines …… the list goes on. Wearing many different hats can be, and often is, deeply rewarding, but it is also challenging.
What’s been the most rewarding part of founding Lightning Media Partners?
Nicole: Honestly, I have loved the “people management” side of running a business. I did not expect to discover a passion for HR and nurturing people’s professional lives. As a startup, we have a lot of flexibility in our team’s roles and we can help them grow in the direction they want. It’s amazing to be able to hire talented individuals and give them opportunities to shape their careers that they might not have gotten in the “corporate world.”
Sean: Aside from working with great people, which I also think is the most rewarding experience of running a business, I enjoy the challenge of developing creative solutions to help others overcome real problems. As a “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of guy, I get excited when we find that magical intersection between two different schools of thought that opens the door to new and exciting opportunities.
1. Dogs or Cats?
- Nicole: Dogs, 1000%. I love dogs more than I love most people.
- Sean: First, Nicole is serious about loving dogs more than most people. I’ve seen it happen. Second, while I love cats, I was raised around dogs, so they will always have a special place in my life.
2. If you could compete in any Olympic event, what would it be?
- Nicole: Figure skating. Not because I can actually do it, but because it’s the closest thing to ballet (which I can do).
- Sean: Snowboarding 100%.
3. Pizza or Tacos?
- Nicole: Pizza.
- Sean: Tacos. But somehow, Nicole and I make it work.
4. Should fruit be in salad?
- Nicole: It depends on what else is in the salad, but I do love a good berry + walnut + feta / gorgonzola salad.
- Sean: It’s your salad, you can put whatever you want in it.
5. Backstreet Boys or NSYNC?
- Nicole: NSYNC!
- Sean: Backstreet Boys. Again, we somehow make it work.
6. There are too many shapes of pasta. Which should we eliminate?
- Nicole: Ditalini. Too big for soups, too small to enjoy as a bowl of proper pasta.
- Sean: I refuse to respond to this offensive and confusing question.
7. Worst advice you’ve ever been given?
- Nicole: “Don’t start a business.”
- Sean: “Don’t take a pay cut to leave a job you hate.”
8. Do you believe in ghosts?
- Nicole: I don’t, but I wrote a 30-page thesis paper on paranormal phenomena my senior year of high school and looooove watching B.S. “ghost hunter” shows.
- Sean: No. Except when you abruptly wake up during the witching hour. Then, and only then, are ghosts real.
9. If you could operate LMP in another country, which would it be?
- Nicole: France, because our fantastic editorial assistant Emily lived there for two years and could be our official translator (my college French is rusty as hell).
- Sean: I’d probably go with the UK, but this is a tough one to answer. Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, France, and Australia are all second choices.
10. What job would you be doing if you never met the other person?
- Nicole: I’d probably still be a journalist, but maybe I would have gone to culinary school and done something with my Food Studies minor.
- Sean: According to Nicole, I would be the tech-savvy Ron Swanson, and I can’t say I disagree with her.
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