by Tim Jahn on January 28, 2011
Matt Cimaglia started his own production company in his mid 20s and works with clients like Allstate and Dateline NBC. In the past year, his company has doubled the business it did last year. Before that, he opened up an office on the backlot of Universal Studios and eventually enlisted Universal as a client.
How did he do all this as a young professional under 30? I interviewed Matt to find out. If you can’t see the video above, please click here to watch the video interview.
Tim Jahn: So tell me, how did you start Cimaglia Productions? Kind of walk me through how this all got started.
Matt Cimaglia: You know it’s funny because Cimaglia Productions, there was no real start date on Cimaglia Productions because I’ve been involved in production literally my whole life. When I was early in elementary school it was one of those things where we had the TV announcements on everyday. And instead of like your typical school announcements over the speaker, it was on TV. And I remember looking at it and watching it and being like, “God, I really want to get involved in that.”
And fourth grade was the first year that you were allowed to get involved in it. And then I really did, I totally took it on and it was interesting because that year is the year that I produced this little short film with some friends. And the media specialists liked it so much that they entered it into a competition. And we didn’t think really much of it, it was kind of a funny little video. And it ended up winning like a national award which was huge for me at the time and I remember we had to fly somewhere and –
Tim Jahn: In fourth grade?
Matt Cimaglia: In fourth grade. Yeah. And I had to accept this award. And it was really like the Oscars for me at the time. And the cool part about it was that’s when I really got hooked. And from there I always remember if there was like a news crew at the school or if I ever saw anyone filming something, I was always like the first person to run up to them and ask them what kind of camera they had or how they were going to edit it and you know, I was sort of involved in that process. And then in middle school the same thing.
And that’s when I sort of got into a little more of the nonlinear editing approach. You know, in elementary school it was like tape to tape. And a little bit also in middle school. And then in high school that’s when I bought my first edit system. And I was completely hooked. And it was funny because I used to edit the girls soccer videos at my high school.
And that’s really where I think I learned how to deal with a client and learn about deadlines because we had all these certain deadlines that we had to meet and then there was eventually a day where we would show this video and we rented out a movie theater that’s local here and we’d show the movie on this large screen. And again, that was another one of those moments in my life where I was completely hooked in the whole idea of television.
Tim Jahn: So you started, you actually took this for real in college and started your own production company?
Matt Cimaglia: Yeah. I mean in college it was one of those things where I mean my college life was very demanding at the time but at the same time I still sort of held on to a few clients that I had acquired in high school oddly enough. And before I had even graduated college, I already had a couple of jobs lined up with places in Orlando Florida at the time.
And I literally walked out of college and started editing for a post house. And I was doing stuff for Disney, Scholastic Book Fairs, and a couple of other really big companies, Verizon Wireless at the time.
Tim Jahn: And then I was reading in your pre-interview notes that you set up on the Universal backlot and then at one point you got Universal as your client?
Matt Cimaglia: Yeah. So it was really interesting. So the — I think that’s it’s a lesson for a lot of young people. It’s very hard. I mean, as you probably know being younger people don’t really take you seriously enough sometimes. And you sort of have to, you have to play the game because sometimes you can’t over assert yourself because there is a hierarchy. But I think that one of the things that I learned was I always had these ideas that I was trying to bring forth to people and sometimes they would listen and be cool with it.
And then sometimes it would sort of go off track. But the person that I was working with at the time, they weren’t that great of a person to work for. They’re leadership skills weren’t really there and I knew that I possessed a lot more things. So I ended up leaving that company and along with me were another producer and a camera guy. And we decided at the time, “Hey lets go out and let’s do something bigger and let’s do something for ourselves.” And that led to me getting a client was actually a very large client and I ended up taking that money from that project and we opened up our first office on the backlot at Universal Studios in Orlando.
And it was a really interesting time because I had bought this really expensive editing system and it was far more money that I could ever imagine at the time. And it was really cool because once we got onto the backlot we were able to prove ourselves. And then Universal in Orlando ended up hiring us to do pretty much all of their marketing and PR work for the actual resort and for the theme parks.
Tim Jahn: How did you set up shop on their backlot? Did you know someone?
Matt Cimaglia: No, it’s one of those things. They actually have a cool sort of flex space for production companies and they have an office that is really tailored towards creative’s. And so we were able to secure a position in there and that’s how we started our — built our office. Ned it was funny because we started out in this one office and we were all looking around and we were like, “Man, how are we ever going to fill this much space?”
And literally within like two months, that grew to two offices, and then a couple months after that, that grew into like three offices. And it was really interesting how you know, we started out and we were like, “Man this is crazy how much space this is” and then all of a sudden we started growing and growing. And then what happened was I was doing a lot of contract work for NBC Network News. So I was doing the Today’s Show, I was doing Nightly News with actually Tom Brokaw at the time and then Brian Williams ended up taking over.
And that really exposed me to a lot more of the news angle. So I was doing a little bit of production work and then I started doing a lot of NBC Network News stuff. And that ended up almost taking over, I would say almost 95% of my life at one point for a couple of years just because I was so heavy involved in that. I still had my own production company on the side but I was doing a lot of NBC. And that started, I started traveling a lot and that’s what eventually brought me to Chicago.
And at the time, it just made sense for me and the other people that I was involved with that we ended up dissolving my portion of the production company and I took that money and ended up reinvesting it into Cimaglia Productions and starting Cimaglia Productions to what it is today and having an office in Boca Raton and then also in Chicago.
Tim Jahn: Okay. So going back to the production company that you guys started on Universal backlot, how many clients did you guys have to start with that you were expanding that quickly?
Matt Cimaglia: There were quite a bit. I mean, it was — they brought in some clients I had some clients from the past that I was bringing in. At the time, politics were very heavy so I had a couple political clients that I did a lot of work for. So that brought in quite a bit of revenue as well.
Tim Jahn: Okay so you — the trio of you together aggregated had a ton of clients that all of a sudden just started snowballing?
Matt Cimaglia: Exactly.
Tim Jahn: Okay. And then, so you come to Chicago, your working for NBC Nightly News. And how did you — I was reading that you were one of the youngest editors ever for them. And again, going back to that being young thing. How did you even get in contact with them?
Matt Cimaglia: You know it’s sort of an unofficial title. I mean, I don’t know if I am the absolute youngest editor ever. But I know at the time I was definitely the youngest. And I was for years, I don’t know if anyone surpassed me at this point, I’m sure they have. Did I lose you or did I — are you still there?
Tim Jahn: Yep, I’m still here.
Matt Cimaglia: Okay sorry. I don’t know — are you going to edit this at all or how does that work?
Tim Jahn: No, we’re just going to keep it.
Matt Cimaglia: Oh really? Oh. Okay. Where were we, go ahead and start. Is there any way of you editing this or no not really?
Tim Jahn: Maybe. You were talking about NBC Nightly News and how you were one of the youngest editors.
Matt Cimaglia: Yeah, essentially with NBC Network News, it was one of those things where I don’t know if I was the official youngest editor ever. But I know at the time I was certainly the youngest editor. And somebody’s probably surpassed me at this point. But you know, it’s one of those things where I got in touch with them through a good friend of mine at the time and he was doing a lot of work for NBC and I actually started out on the field with them and I was doing field audio right when I started out.
And that exposed me to a lot of different things. And I learned so much very quickly. And it was really this amazing moment for me because this is sort of like what I had always wanted to do. I had always dreamt of actually working for like the Today’s Show I remember as a kid. So when I, when I was working with NBC, they ended up finding out that I was an editor actually by trade and I was doing this audio work on the side just because it was getting me more money. And there was a little bit of lag in edit work for a little while in Orlando. And so that led to them asking me, “Hey would you mind being our editor in the Miami Bureau or the Miami workspace?” And I ended up editing for them for years.
And ultimately they said, “Hey, well you’re this really great editor. We’re going to start traveling you around.” And I ended up literally traveling the world for them. And there was one year where I ended up living in hotels I think over like 200 nights or something ridiculous like that. I was literally gone so much. And one of the places that they kept traveling me to was Chicago. And Chicago, it was an interesting situation because the bureau was editing tape to tape still. And I mean, this was, we’re in 2005 I think it was. And it was sort of like really kind of crazy that it was that late in the game and they were still editing tape to tape.
And they wanted to integrate Avid which is a nonlinear editing system. And so I went and initially helped the bureau sort of do that integration process and teaching a lot of the producers and some of the other editors and camera people the whole workflow on non linear editing because it is quite a different workflow.
Tim Jahn: In your pre-interview notes, you said that you don’t need an army to move a mountain. I’m curious, what do you mean by that specifically for yourself?
Matt Cimaglia: You know it’s really interesting because I don’t think you need a huge amount of people. I think that as long as you have a lot of really great people, I think that that’s what’s key. And I found that out early on. And I think that the people that I surround myself are fantastic at what they do.
I mean, the people that are working with me on a day to day basis are literally at the top of their game. And I don’t think that you need a lot of waste and I think that that’s what that quote really, really hits upon is that you don’t need a huge entourage of people as long as you have one or two really great people, I think that speaks volumes.
Tim Jahn: How do you find people that are at the top of their game to surround yourself with? I mean, how do you find those absolute best?
Matt Cimaglia: You know, a lot of people that I work with now are people that I met at my time with NBC Network News. And a lot of the people that I work with today are all from there actually. So already, they sort of did that process of weeding out of some of those people for me so it was really easy to sort of just take them and a lot of the people in the production world are freelance.
So you just sort of get to know a lot of people and you sort of ask around and things like that. And you know, every once in a while you do a little bit of trial and error and you know, I’ve worked with some people that were absolutely impossible to work with and I’ve worked with some people that it was just the most amazing time ever.
Tim Jahn: So you have Cimaglia Productions. Am I — is it Cimaglia or Cimaglia?
Matt Cimaglia: Cimaglia.
Tim Jahn: Okay. I just felt like I was butchering it there. But I guess not.
Matt Cimaglia: That’s all right, you’re not the first, you’re not the first.
Tim Jahn: You also have — so you have your production company and then you also have these two other sites Genexpense.com and chefbites.tv. Do you want to just tell me what those are?
Matt Cimaglia: Yeah. I mean it’s one of those things where I — so I have this production company and I’m able to use these resources for other things for good. And essentially finance was always one of those areas where I was so interested in. And I was constantly reading Fortune Magazine or Forbes and the Wall Street Journal and things like that. And a lot of people my age weren’t reading it.
And I mean, this is years ago; I’m only 29 now. But it’s one of those things were a lot of people don’t understand the basics of finance. So at the time people were just graduating college and they were like, “Man, I have all this credit card debt, I don’t know what to do. I want to buy a house; I want to do, get a care.” And they didn’t understand the term “credit” and so I invented Genexpense.com to really help people understand the basics of finance through video. Because I felt that by doing it in a medium that people were already used to and like YouTube people were really comfortable watching videos on YouTube, things like that.
I felt that GenExpense would really be a huge tool for them to learn about these different areas of really furthering their life. Then about a year ago, I created chefbites.tv and that’s a total fun project. It was literally just hanging out and really being sort of a pseudo foodie. I looked around at a lot of these restaurants and not a lot of them had good websites. And if they did have a website, they didn’t have really great content. And I had read an article around the same time that said that, “52% of all people that see a video end up purchasing something or they stay on the site a lot longer.”
Tim Jahn: Yeah, I’ve heard that too.
Matt Cimaglia: And yeah, and it’s really interesting because you know if a chef could sort of show off his personality and bring a dish to life, instead of reading a review that some critic wrote, that might not necessarily go in line with what you’re thinking about a restaurant. By seeing a dish and it’s sort of a more interactive approach. You might be more likely to go to that restaurant. So that’s what, that’s how chefbites.tv got invented.
Tim Jahn: So chef bites is more of a fun project. So I assume you’re not trying to make any money off of it?
Matt Cimaglia: You know, it’s interesting because it started out as just sort of a fun project and I, it’s spiraled into this sort of entity on its own. And we eventually, ultimately do want to make some money off of it. But we’re looking to make some stellar return right now. It’s more so, hey lets get ourselves out there, let’s get people introduced to the whole concept of doing video.
And ultimately through Genexpense, that led me to a lot of other production work for Cimaglia Productions just by doing that site. And I kind of hope that Chef Bites will lead me to that same area where it’s really opened up a lot of doors for us.
Tim Jahn: How — so in a sense, these two sites are almost like a business development tool for your production company? So how do you find time for those two sites if you’re running your own production company too which I mean, is crazy busy.
Matt Cimaglia: You know, it’s interesting because Genexpense unfortunately sort of has been dormant for the last year or two just because of the fact that we’ve been incredibly busy with the production company. It was one of those points where at one point they were sort of going hand in hand with each other and then all of a sudden the production company just really skyrocketed. In fact, this year alone we’ve done double the business that we did last year.
Tim Jahn: How do you — that’s awesome by the way. How do you go about doing double the business unless you’re — was it a — were you guys just so awesome last year that more people found out about you or did you cold call more people this year or how did that happen?
Matt Cimaglia: You know it’s interesting; a lot of our clients are actually referred to us by friends or other companies. And we don’t really ever do any kind of direct marketing. We don’t really — we have never really done that up until a couple of months ago when we — we have a larger infrastructure now and I’m able to do more stuff like that. But it’s really all about relationships.
And I kind of said it earlier with getting these freelancers and these other people that work with me. Its building these bonds with people. And we have some really large clients. And even though they’re huge clients, I’m still very personal with them and I think that’s one of the strong suits of Cimaglia productions is you’re not going to hire us just to produce a production an then we’re going to be gone, and we’re going to be out of your life. It’s going to be sort of a journey together that we’ll be with you along it.
And I’m very honest with my clients, I’m very — I think that a lot of my clients are actually just friends or they’ve become friends over time. So that’s ultimately I think what lead to our success this year is and in the past years ifs that we had these great relationships with clients, they refer us to other people or they themselves see what the potential of video is and doing YouTube segments or things like that, and they see what a positive impact it is and they want to hire us and do more project.
Tim Jahn: What would you say that your number one piece of advice for a creative entrepreneur is from your experience, what piece of advice would you give?
Matt Cimaglia: I think be true. I think that by being true to you, yourself and true to your clients, it’s one of those things where we take on projects that we really care about and projects will pretty much make a difference. And we don’t really just take on anything. I’ve actually turned down some work just because I didn’t really believe in the persons message or I didn’t feel comfortable working with the person.
So it’s not always about the money. I think that some people sometimes say, see a job and they’re like, oh I got to take this job right away because it’s just money. And fortunately, we’ve been in a position where we don’t have to do that, we don’t have to chase after every single thing that comes our way.
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