One of the reasons I love working with a new tech startup is because it takes guts to start from the ground up. You don’t dive head first into a new venture unless you’ve got some serious drive, passion and hustle in your blood. And, of course, I always love learning about how it all began. So, I decided to do a little Q&A with Cara Stellato from the Lumi Agency, a fun tech startup located in Hartford, CT.
When Cara contacted me back in June, I was grateful for the opportunity to connect. Fast forward to December of 2016, I found myself driving to downtown Hartford to meet the team and kickoff a couple of projects (stay tuned for blog posts on those when the sites launch). Lumi’s office has an industrial, yet fresh, vibe, and the team’s passion and excitement were quite obvious — these are my kind of people! Work should never feel like work if you truly love what you’re doing, and that attitude is very prominent at Lumi.
The following is a Q&A with Cara:
You have a degree in American History and Political Science, but then switched gears to learn code, & now you own a tech startup. Tell me about this journey.
Well, I was always both a tech and American history nerd, so neither path was something out of the blue for me. My love for tech came from my stepfather, who owns a telecommunications company. From the ages of 10 until about 14 or 15, I would go with him on jobs to run cable and install networks and software with him. Then, when I got into middle school they had all of these electives to choose from and I couldn’t decide which one to take. So from about 7th grade up until senior year, I skipped lunch to take two electives per year. I ended up taking classes in Entrepreneurship, Accounting, Intro to Architecture, CAD I & II, and Web Design (where I learned HTML, CSS and FrontPage)! After that web design class, I was hooked and kept it in my back pocket as a hobby.
Although I always liked the tech stuff, I also had a huge passion for Early American History and Constitutional Law. In my mind, being a lawyer was the way to go, so that’s the path I took more seriously. When I entered college and went Pre-Law (majoring in American History and Political Science), I also interned/worked full-time at a law firm for about two and a half years. I swiftly realized the world of law is not all it is cracked up to be, so I left.
A friend approached me knowing I knew a bit of code and said his colleague was looking for someone to work on design and development for his own site and would pay me money to do it. Although I wasn’t able right then and there to do the coding he required, I agreed, said I knew what I was doing and then ran to my dorm to go figure it out. Thus, began my career as a developer—saying I knew what I was doing and then googling until I could do it. That one client started my freelance company! He landed me three more clients. Those three clients each got me three more clients, and so on. I ran that business full-time and then part-time—working at other startups and agencies in between—until I met Melissa, learned about the value of digital marketing, and started Lumi.
So, how did Lumi start & why the name?
Lumi started after Melissa and I started working together on a couple of mobile app projects. We became friends at an agency that we both worked at and she threw around this idea for an app she had one day when we were out drinking. A week later, I reached out to her and said if she was serious, I would like to work on the app with her. So we spent about 6 months working on that after regular work hours and on weekends. That eventually led into the conversation about launching a startup to help fund our product and app projects (this all happened in 2015). By January 2016, we were both very unhappy at our current jobs and both decided (with the blessing of her husband, Tim, and my boyfriend, Justin) to take the leap, quit our jobs and go all in to launch the startup.
Melissa came up with the name Lumi after listening to a Lumineers song on the radio. Her radio dashboard cut off the Lumineers name, so all that was visible was “Lumi.” She thought it was a neat name and did some research finding out that Lumi had deep roots in meaning “humanity” and “mankind,” which has strong ties to marketing. When we were discussing whether we should go with that name or come up with a new one, I liked it because it reminded me of the Luminaries that were our founding fathers. Thus, we stuck with the name.
How big is the team?
Our team right now consists of 10 team members, an office pup named Buddy, and about 15-20subcontractors. We are looking to hire a few interns and some more full-time people in the coming months and hope to double in size by the end of 2017.
Where do you see Lumi in 5 years?
After quitting our jobs and creating our LLC, and before starting any client work, we sat down and did three things:
1. We wrote our Mission Statement,
2. We wrote our Core Values, and
3. We created an organization chart for where we see the startup in 5 years.
Now that we’ve been around for one year, I am glad that we did this because it has steered us in multiple ways when it comes to hiring decisions and we actually reference it quite often. That being said, over the past year our ideas for what success looks like in 5 years has changed a bit, too. Now, just running Lumi is not our only goal. We have other projects and businesses that we have created to branch off of Lumi. We’d really like to see those begin to grow either before or at our 5-year mark.
In my nerdy mind, it would have to be Google—not only for the name and reputation, but for the fact that it would really feel like we are a part of something really big and grand, and not just some small startup agency in CT. Also, Google is what really helped me survive in college as I tried to navigate becoming a self-taught developer. It would be an interesting full-circle story for sure. Don’t ask me anymore about that, though, I don’t want to spoil anything… wink wink.
What’s one thing people may be surprised to learn about Lumi?
We actually created a social networking brand that will soon be a website, called weHartford. Melissa and I really wanted to be a strong piece of the Hartford community and we really like going out to happy hours, so we combined those two things and created weHartford. The goal was to be that hub for new eating and drinking spots, fun events, and to be an overall informational platform for the Hartford young professional scene. We have had a really great response from the events we have thrown and from other small businesses and startup agencies in the community, so we are hoping to continue in growing this brand through the social platforms we manage, as well as the website once that is launched. It’s also a great outlet for some of our team members—when client projects get to be too much or a bit redundant—we have this project that we can exercise our creativity with.