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Transplant, Dot Com-er, Techie - Matt Mace Shares his Story

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Matt Mace

Matt Mace is a prime example of Kalamazoo's power of retention. He came here somewhat by chance and has since decided to call our fair city home personally and professionally.

Today, Mace is the founder and CEO of BlueGranite, a Kalamazoo-based business analytics consulting firm that helps clients use data to improve performance and uncover new insights. In 1995 he was a high school senior visiting his girlfriend in Kalamazoo on the weekends.

"My wife and I are from Nashville, Mich. Lisa was my high school sweetheart, and a year ahead of me. So, when she graduated high school and left to attend Western Michigan University, I came for visits on the weekend to watch her march in the WMU Bronco Marching Band and hang out around WMU and Kalamazoo," Mace said.

"I thought the marching band looked like a lot of fun, and I was really impressed by the Lee Honors College and Haworth College of Business. The next fall, after I graduated high school, I started at WMU. Lisa and I married a couple of years later, bought a house in Portage and we never left," he said.

"It's such a great place to live and work. Wherever we go we know someone, it's centrally located so, if you want to get to Chicago for a day trip, or go up north to ski or take a summer vacation, it's just a drive away."

Mace's path to becoming a business owner began on Western's campus.

"During those trips to WMU my senior year of high school to visit Lisa, we'd hang out in the Bernhard Center computer lab where she worked on homework. I'd sit in the lab and browse websites on Netscape and thought, 'This is awesome!'

"At the time, in 1994, we didn't have the Web yet in Nashville." Mace said. "Later, while attending WMU, I met Dan Blackledge who wanted to start a new website development company as a partner with AT&T."

"I told Dan I'd love to help him build the new company, but wanted to be an owner and help grow the business long-term. I started with 10 percent ownership with a $300 buy-in; best $300 I ever spent!"

When the company was founded in late 1996, Mace served as a self-proclaimed "techie," meeting with clients as the pre-sales technical lead and then designing and building the websites.

"Then, as we grew, I become the Project Manager, then eventually the President," Mace said. "In 2006 I wanted to take the company in a new direction and bought out two of the other founders. The company was rebuilt as a Microsoft partner focusing on business intelligence.

"By 1998 we were 100 percent focused on business intelligence, and had dropped all other website and custom application development projects. We've grown an average of 20 percent per year since, doubling in size from 2010 to 2013."

Mace said his day-to-day role now includes business development, building partner relationships, finding and retaining top team members, and supporting the team as needed.

"The company's main office is here in Kalamazoo and has a virtual staff of 31 people spread throughout 12 states, including Midwest, South, and Northeast regions," Mace said.

"I really enjoy bringing people from out-of-town to Kalamazoo, like those who work for BlueGranite, but live elsewhere. Last year, we hosted our annual employee retreat in Kalamazoo and brought everyone to the Chef's Table at Zazios. The team is still talking about how much fun they had, and what a unique experience it was," Mace said.

"Recently we took our kids to The Barn Theatre to see "Fiddler on the Roof" and it was great," Mace said. "We're also regular attendees at the local high school musicals, WMU's Miller Auditorium, WMU sporting events, Kalamazoo festivals, and all of our great locally owned restaurants. Those are just a few of the things I enjoy about the greater Kalamazoo area."

He cited the people and attitude in and around Kalamazoo giving him a connected feeling.

"We love the new micro-breweries in town and how active downtown Kalamazoo always feels. Lisa and I recently went out on a Sunday night to the Alamo Drafthouse and the theater was packed," Mace said.

"The fact that we have WMU and K-College as anchors keeps the city filled with young, bright minds. I love the way the local businesses have such an entrepreneurial spirit and whether it's a small or large company everyone seems to contribute and really care about the city.

"I travel a lot, so I really appreciate coming home to a place that is filled with genuinely kind, giving people and a city that has large town amenities."

In that spirit, Mace has a few words of advice for young professionals looking to start a business.

"Remember that cash is king; be carefully about relying too much on debt to make monthly payroll. Try to keep expenses and overhead extremely low, waiting to add overhead until there is genuine pain. And always remember to hire and retain the best people you can find, creating a culture of excellence that will keep the team engaged," Mace said.

"In the past, we were way in over our heads with debt. We signed a long-term lease in a brand new office building we helped build and were one of the anchor tenants. It actually was way more space than we needed, and the lease was killing us.

"I've learned it's better to be as debt free as possible. Forget about how fancy your offices look until you can afford it- it's what you're accomplishing with your customers that's important. Do what you love-what interests you the most-and then build a team that also loves what they do. If you're in it as an entrepreneur just for the money, you will be disappointed," he said.

Mace was named the "2011 WMU Business Information Systems Outstanding Alumni," where he served on the WMU BIS Advisory Board and Haworth College of Business Dean's Advisory Board, and now serves on the board of WMU Starting Gate. (See our previous coverage of Starting Gate in our archive).

When Mace isn't tending to his own business needs or helping the next generation to develop start-ups of their own, he can often be found taking part in family activities, visiting the lakeshore, golf courses, or one of our local ski resorts.

"Currently, we live in the Portage area and love the schools," he said. "My wife is very active in the school system and I'm a Portage Lightening soccer coach with my daughter's U9 team."

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