Get to know Taylor Cimala, Principal and Strategic Director of Digital Third Coast, and our EO Chicago member spotlight of the month. His company, Digital Third Coast, is a marketing agency that specializes in SEO, paid media, and digital PR solutions. Taylor attended Western Michigan University, where he studied Computer Information Systems. He’s also been an entrepreneur since the age of twelve! Learn more about his entrepreneurial journey from mowing lawns to founding a company.
EO Member: Taylor Cimala
Company: Digital Third Coast
Years in Business: 13
How long have you been a member of EO Chicago, and why did you join the organization?
My business partner George Zlatin and I joined EO three years ago. We actually qualified many years prior and just didn’t know it. We really liked the idea of having a network we could turn to for support. I had also initially hoped joining would provide potential leads and business opportunities, but I quickly realized that it’s more about what we each individually take out by working together and helping each other.
What was your very first job?
I ran a lawn care company when I was twelve. I was able to buy cars and even pay for college because of it. At the start, I mowed four different lots at an elderly home weekly. That number then grew to eight, and then to twelve, and at one point I was mowing 60 lawns on a weekly basis. I’ve probably mowed 10,000 lawns in my lifetime. It ended up being a sort of family business since, eventually, my brother took it over.
Is that where your entrepreneurial journey started?
I definitely have to credit the above as the start of becoming a business owner. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset because I like to look at how to make things better, faster, stronger, and see what can be done to improve the big picture. Usually, unless you’re running your own company, you don’t have the autonomy needed to execute these changes.
How did that lead you to Digital Third Coast?
My senior thesis was about starting your own online business, so I decided to try that. In 2003, I started a group-couponing website that I would sell local listings to—sort of like Yelp meets Groupon in today’s world. Then, I would pitch the coupon packages to restaurants and service providers for a monthly or annual fee. I liked doing that for a while but realized that I wanted to focus more on only certain aspects of the business, such as SEO. When I moved to Chicago, I realized that I could get paid to do SEO and related work, which was a huge relief. Ultimately, that led me along the path to starting Digital Third Coast with George.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I just find it exciting to be a part of keeping the wheels turning every day. And it’s always a great feeling when a client gets super excited about the work they’re paying us to do. Knowing that we’re helping their business grow and having a company built on helping others grow is exciting to me.
Right now, we’re working with a company that is rolling out testing kits for COVID-19. It’s great to be a part of an opportunity that’s positioned to make a measurable difference to the health and safety of the community, something that has always been a part of our mission.
Could you tell us about the daily challenges you face on the job?
This is a tough question right now. The challenge that I currently face is making sure that my team is taken care of and that we have a solid plan for the future. On a more day-to-day basis, I focus on making sure we have the right people in the right places.
What would you say is the best career advice or lesson you have ever received?
One of our values at Digital Third Coast is “Be willing to sweep the floors,” which is more about that no job is too above or beneath you. If there’s something that needs to be done, just do it. There’s no saying, “That’s not my job.”
I learned that while doing contract work with a Pizza Hut franchise in the early 2000s. The first time I met the owner of the franchise, who owned over 100 Pizza Huts, he was working with a maintenance man and moving things around in the warehouse. It was awesome and inspiring to see him doing the real grunt work of the job, chipping in and helping out wherever he could.
What are your goals for the future of your business?
My immediate goal for this year is to get back to a point where we can retain the whole team and previous revenue levels. Q1 of this year was our biggest quarter by far, which was helpful going into remote work, but we’re hoping to get back to where we were without taking some big steps backward.
My long-term goal is to double the overall size of the company and grow our areas of expertise. We wouldn’t want to be too big—about 30 to 35 people would be ideal so that you can still know everyone’s name and personal details about them.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
Definitely the project involving getting testing kits on the marketplace. As a small business owner, there’s nothing more important than working on something that will help get everyone the safety and security they need.
Who or what inspires you?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the Forum in EO. It’s cool when people share their passion projects and other things they’re working on.
I also find inspiration from my wife and kids. Everything I do is to support us as a family, so drawing from what they’re doing and excited about is important to me.
How do you find work-life balance, remotely or in general?
Currently, I don’t. In the past, Digital Third Coast was all remote. Once we got into a real office, it was easier to make a separation between work and life. Plus, when my daughter came around—she’s 5 ½ now—I made the intentional choice to try and leave work at work. That was going pretty well, until we closed the office on March 13. Now, I’m back to less separation and balance between work and life.
If you could go back in time five years and share advice with your past self, what advice would you share?
Make sure you focus on culture and don’t prioritize growth over culture. I think this is essential in building a successful business, and I wish I had realized it sooner.
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
Similar to my answer above—the greatest challenge at work that I’ve had to overcome was not focusing enough on culture and concentrating only on growth. Rebounding after resolving that has been a big hurdle.
Speaking of home life, let’s talk about you outside of work and your career. What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I play disc golf professionally and really enjoy doing that. Sometimes it’s difficult because I live in the city and have to travel just to go play at all. Plus, due to the global pandemic, it’s impossible to go right now. I also enjoy going to my outdoor cabin, trying new food, going to restaurants, and drinking bourbon.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
If I had to choose one, it would probably be The Publican in Fulton Market.
What’s your favorite Chicago activity to take people on when they come visit?
Definitely the Architectural Boat Tour and really any of the river and lake cruises.
What’s one thing still left on your bucket list?
There are still a number of disc golf tournaments I want to compete in. Traveling to new places is also a big one. My family and I were going to go to Finland this summer, but obviously that’s been postponed.
Where is your favorite place in the world to visit?
Japan—I’d love to go back someday!
Thank you to Taylor for sharing his story for our July member spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of more than 14,000 entrepreneurs in 195 chapters and 62 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.
If you’re interested in becoming an EO Chicago member, check our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.