Mat and Hege Phillips are turning the concept of small-business marketing upside down.
Their company, Blue Computer Solutions, performs computer tune-ups, overhauls, custom builds, and networking services to Kyle and neighboring communities. That’s what they do, and they’re quite good at it. But the real genius of their business is in the marketing.
I sat with Mat and Hege in the computer room of the Rocking Horse Academy in the neighborhood of Plum Creek. The day-care has dozens of computers all installed and set up by Mat, including at least four custom builds.
“Computer design is what we mainly do,” said Mat as he explained to me how the computer room had been set up. “I’ve worked as head of IT for several companies. It came to the point where I started building computers for those companies in-house because I could get a lot more performance with better pricing by doing it myself. We had a lot of fun. The employees would come and go, and they always remembered the service I gave them in IT. I started working on their personal computers after hours. I sort of naturally grew a private business, and eventually quit my day job to start Blue.”
Mat knew from the beginning he wanted to approach marketing unconventionally. In 2012 he asked Hege, his Norwegian wife, for help. “After working with children as a counselor for 20 years, when there was an opportunity to work with Mat, I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I do the marketing. But it’s more than that, really. What I do is more like general PR.”
“Hege,” I said. “C’mon. Everyone in town seems to know who you are and what you guys do. What’s your secret?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “We take marketing material from businesses we visit and pass them around as we go along. We just market other businesses, not ourselves. That’s our key.”
This idea first crystalized for Mat and Hege when they were repairing a computer for one of their oldest customers, The Texas Pie Company. They asked the owners if they could give away one of their pies to a new local business in town who was really making strides to promote Kyle. That business was Cross Plants & Produce, and that pie became Mat and Hege’s muse moving forward.
“We gave a pie to Jennifer Cross,” said Mat. “She took a selfie with Hege and the pie and posted it to her Facebook page with the following caption: ‘Our friends at Blue Computer Solutions brought us a pie from the Texas Pie Company. Local business saying thank you to another local business with a treat from another local business. That’s how it’s done!’ And that statement is what spawned our whole way of thinking. We started getting phone calls from people who’d seen the post and wanted to participate in supporting Kyle.”
The genius of this thinking cannot be overstated. And it didn’t stop with a pie. Mat, Hege, Jennifer and Nathan Cross, and a host of like-minded small business owners formed what they call the Kyle Think Tank. It’s a place where people come to collaborate and share ideas for how to promote each other. While other groups seek to help businesses promote themselves, the Kyle Think Tank is geared towards helping businesses promote other businesses. The synergy is infectious, and helped spawn the popular hashtag #KeepItKyle.
“We noticed from the moment we got to Kyle that lots of businesses didn’t have a marketing budget,” said Mat. “And we just thought, why don’t we campaign for these places as we go about our day. My dad always taught me to put other people first. So we just go out there and spread the word. It just works better than selling ourselves.”
At this point in our conversation, the inner-cynic in me came out and said, “C’mon guys, does that really work for you? Just selling for other businesses?”
In unison, and without the slightest hesitation, they both said “Yes.”
“We’re into the whole community being successful,” said Mat. “Because, obviously, if they aren’t successful, we aren’t successful. So in that way, it always comes back around.”
When I left, I walked down the hall at the Rocking Horse Academy. Hege introduced me to some of the staff. “Do you know Jane Terrell?” asked Mat. “She’s one of the founders of this place. It’s really great because they have large-scale resources but operate with tremendous love and care. You should really think about sending your kids here.”
Well played, guys. Well played.