How This Family-Run Creative Agency Is Growing Through Word-of-Mouth

Startup Story: From Digital Products to Creative Agency

Brothers Mike and Matthew Moloney partnered to launch a successful digital marketplace while they were both teenagers. Throughout the past decade, they’ve grown FilterGrade to become one of the leading marketplaces for creatives like designers, photographers, and videographers.

In 2021, Mike and Matthew decided to launch a creative agency, along with their father, John Moloney. Through Moloney Creative Agency, they create videos and photos for a variety of clients, serving businesses of all sizes. As they put more of their time, energy, and focus into the creative agency, they’ve experienced considerable growth, mostly through word-of-mouth and networking.

In this interview, Mike Moloney shares the behind-the-scenes details.

Overview

Business Name: Moloney Creative Agency
Website URL: https://moloneycreativeagency.com/
Founders: Mike Moloney, Matthew Moloney, John Moloney
Business Location: Boston and NYC
Year Started: 2021
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 5

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 10 years now and in the last decade, I’ve really come to understand that it is my life’s work and my true passion. I got my start learning graphic design, UI/UX design, and internet marketing as a teenager.

I remember seeing The Social Network, and it changed my life forever. The excitement I felt about the potential of building and growing businesses online was immense and I haven’t stopped since.

And even before that, I was an entrepreneur from a young age. You know, the usual spiel, I was mowing lawns, shoveling driveways, and doing everything in between to make a buck. It all started when I read the book Lunch Money, around the age of 11 or 12. 

Anyways, fast forward to now, and I am working on a few businesses, with Moloney Creative Agency being the main focus at the moment. MCA is a video-first agency and we specialize in value-driven photography, video production, and marketing services. It’s truly a family business, and I started it with my dad, John Moloney, and brother, Matthew Moloney, in 2021.

We primarily work with startups, technology companies, other agencies, and individuals who need help telling their stories. We’re still in the early phases of this business, but it’s very exciting to be building an agency in 2023.

Prior to MCA, Matthew and I built up FilterGrade to be one of the largest marketplaces for creative digital products on the web, competing with goliaths like Etsy and Adobe. That business has had its ups and downs, but if you’d like to read more about it, check out this interview we did on Medium and learn even more about the journey on Starter Story.

How does your business make money?

Moloney Creative Agency makes money through services, retainers, and licensing deals. We typically work with clients on large projects, such as a video campaign, or photo campaign for a new product launch. But we also have some ongoing clients that we do marketing/SEO work for.

You can see our different focuses on this page, primarily we create photos and videos for technology businesses, musicians, and fashion brands.

Mike and Matthew Moloney
Matthew Moloney (left) and Mike Moloney (right)

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

My brother and I started this agency after doing video production and photo production for many years while working on FilterGrade and with individual clients. We felt the need to form an agency around this to make it a more serious brand and business.

It has not been an easy journey, but it’s been fun to explore larger ideas outside of freelance creative work.

How and when did you launch the business?

We launched the business in late 2021 by building an initial portfolio of our best work. We put together our top music videos, photo shoots, and corporate projects into a nice website format, and then we started selling. 

Tell us about your team.

MCA has an agile team of five people with a few additional contractors and production assistants that we bring on for larger shoots. Outside of myself, my brother, and my dad, we work with a few contractors for a lot of projects.

Darrius Jones is a talented lead video editor and filmmaker we connected with recently to work on some of our corporate projects. He works remotely with MCA, and is based in Charlotte, North Carolina where he runs Godbolt Productions

Fitz the Runaway is another talented creator we work with to help assist us on shoots and with documentary work. He is based in the Boston area and specializes in storytelling and creative infrastructure.

Martin Dluzansky is an expert at experiential marketing and strategic marketing for brands. Martin has worked at Bose, Harman International, and now freelances for a variety of other cool brands. He helps us at MCA with production, crafting the most interesting stories, and creative direction.

Moloney Creative Agency Session

How are you funded? 

MCA is fully bootstrapped, and we are self-funded. Being an agency, it’s less likely we will raise money to scale this business, but it’s a possibility down the road.

How did you acquire your first customers?

We got our initial customers through our networks and word of mouth. My dad, John Moloney, has helped us a lot in meeting and pitching to corporate clients and larger startups. He has an extensive background in the automotive industry and those connections were major in landing our first few customers. 

My brother and I also work with a lot of indie artists, and so that has helped us to build a network on the creative side, filming for musicians, painters, entrepreneurs, and others.

Tell us about your primary driver(s) for growth. What worked for you in the beginning? What’s working now?

Right now, we are still building the infrastructure for our business, so it isn’t super clear. But to sum it up, it really is our network and word of mouth. We’re working to build more sales channels and inbound leads, but mainly it’s just through meetings and pitches.

In the beginning, we worked with clients that we previously met through freelancing. Now, we are moving to larger clients and corporations that have larger needs.

What marketing strategies have been most effective for you so far?

I’m still learning and figuring out the best ways to grow a creative agency, but I’ve been taking a lot of notes from my friend Tim Hally. He’s the co-founder of Munq, which is an agency specializing in branding and compelling brand stories. He is an absolute expert at LinkedIn and networking, so I’ve been inspired by his strategies. Particularly his philosophies on building long-term connections, being genuinely interested in others and helping to solve their problems, and through empathy.

In a broader sense, I’ve always been a very big believer in SEO (search engine optimization) and generating organic traffic/leads through content marketing, social media, and PR/media. I have a lot of experience with this area after building a number of large websites, so it comes naturally to me. However, it doesn’t apply exactly the same way with a service-based business, so I’m still looking at ways to adjust this marketing strategy to help send us more qualified leads as opposed to just large amounts of traffic.

Moloney Creative Agency

What tools do you use and recommend?

I love using the simplest and most efficient tools when working. Primarily I use the Apple Notes app for to-do lists and keeping my ideas stored. I don’t wait. When an idea comes into my mind, I write it down immediately.

For MCA, we use Google Drive to keep track of a lot of documents, data, videos, and other information. It is really useful because of its sharing functionalities. 

With larger video edits that we need to collaborate on remotely, we utilize a variety of tools, including the Adobe Creative Suite, Frame.io, LucidLink, and some other plugins and presets from FilterGrade. 🙂 

We also use Squarespace for our website, and it’s a great platform for hosting a creative portfolio or portfolio of any kind.

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

This might sound random, but lately I’ve been really inspired by outdoors and travel YouTubers. To name a few: Fearless and Far, YBS Youngbloods, Miller Wilson, and Nick Fry.

All of these channels inspire me tremendously. Being a big fan of travel and adventure myself, I love to see the way they explore the world meeting new people, new cultures, and taking risks in the wilderness.

I love animals and nature, so that’s why channels like Miller Wilson and YBS Youngbloods especially inspire me. They are so knowledgeable about the environment, the creatures within it, and everything in between, and it’s such a fun way to learn. Adventure videos are my kind of entertainment for sure!

How do you handle work-life balance?

Work-life balance is something I’ve struggled with over the years, but I learned a lot about it when FilterGrade started to grow rapidly. It consumed my life, and I forgot about myself and my own passions outside of the business for a long time.

Luckily, I have been able to adapt and grow over the years, and now things are more balanced while working on MCA. I found that making time in my day for walks outside, the gym, cooking and healthier eating, reading and writing, and just relaxing and thinking have been important to me. I also try to leave the house more and visit friends, work in cafes, work on the road, etc. These things combined have helped me to feel more at peace. I don’t feel burnt out and overworked anymore. 

What are some trends in your industry that you’re excited about?

Video is growing rapidly and continues to expand into different formats, categories, and niches. I am extremely excited for the future of video as a whole. I believe it will become more and more significant to the world and the way we learn, grow, and communicate.

Using video as a way to grow a brand is becoming the norm, and I am excited for the opportunity that presents for us as a creative production agency. I want to keep telling stories and find better and better ways to inspire others.

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