March Entrepreneur of the Month!

Chris Tingom Interview!On Sunday February 19th, I had the pleasure of having an impromptu interview with BrainFuel’s own Chris ‘Superman’ Tingom. For those of you who haven’t met Mr. Tingom, he’s the creative genius behind Tornado Design and Brainfuel.

When he’s not ‘Blueprinting’ websites for clients, he’s posting some of the most entertaining and quality blog content I’ve come across in a long time. So without further ado, I bring you the Closet Blog’s first interview and first Entrepreneur of the Month, so enjoy!

Chris Tingom, the early years…

I grew up in Phoenix and have lived here for 21 years; with the exception of the 5 years I lived in St Louis. I like it here in Arizona, except when we don’t have rain.

For a couple of years I managed an export business for my Grandfather. My main experience in the web industry was working at marchFIRST which was a web agency with 70 offices around the world. I was a web designer there for about a year, and then after that just continued with Tornado Design.

Chris on starting Tornado Design…

I started Tornado Design when I was 18 and just kept it up ever since then, it’s fun and it’s great.

I guess I just really got to use computers for a lot of years and I started dabbling in Photoshop and making websites, and kind of went from there. After I made a couple of websites for friends, I just decided “Hey, I’ll make this a business.”

I didn’t really have a grand vision for it. I knew I wanted to do it for a long time; I came up with the name Tornado out of the blue and just keeping at it is the real trick that’s made it something.

My first client was this home-to-home network where travelers could browse a directory of people who would open their homes to other travelers driving cross-country; they had like 500 members. People had their names on there and travelers would call them up and say “Hey, can I stay at your house?”

“Taking the guesswork out of great web sites”

A couple years ago I had a sales coach and was trying to figure out why it was so difficult to sell websites to people. We finally came to the conclusion that everybody was out there shopping around looking for companies to buy websites from, and we decided that putting a proposal together and just naming a price didn’t really make sense. We thought that everybody was guessing about what to make, so we’ve made our mantra no guessing. We take the guesswork out of making great websites; when we find ourselves guessing about what somebody needs, we stop and say “Hey, we’re actually guessing here, we should probably take a different approach to this.”

Every project is unique, we don’t ever do massive things that we roll out for a hundred people, it’s pretty much one-on-one.

The history of…

The name [Brainfuel] was actually coined by Ben Wood who used to work with me; I was calling it ‘coolsites’ before, which didn’t really bring anything to mind.

I originally started it because when I was working at marchFIRST, I kept on running across cool sites (back in 2000) and I thought it would be cool and fun to have a spot that you could just put them all up there as a big list and then reference them when you’re designing a site; kind of an inspiration sort of thing.

I think now we’re averaging like two or three thousand visits a day. Just today it looks like we got a Google page rank of 6.

You get your fair share of funny emails. A lot of overseas people send you messages in other languages, but mostly its people that want to self promote and send you a link to their portfolio.

Chris’ inspiration…

Everybody says I have a good smile so I guess I’m a happy person in general. I’m a Christian so that’s cool. I like to drink coffee and go to coffee shops. I guess I like to dabble in a lot of different things and that keeps me happy. My ultimate goal is to have all my projects out there doing well and keeping busy.

Chris’s other projects…

Toasters! Eventually, this year I want to start up my toaster site selling toasters and maybe espresso gear.

I found a company out of the East Coast that will drop-ship toasters from Dualit. And then I found out that they also drop ship espresso gear. I’m going to build two sites, one for espresso and one for toasters, and then take a different kind of approach to e-commerce than what most people do. I’m going to actually review the product in detail and provide all kinds of really good photos.

Chris on the joys of being a self-entrepreneur…

Being able to leave work at any time and just wreaking havoc, being able to go to a coffee shop in the middle of the day and chit-chat with a friend for a couple of hours – that’s flexibility there. At the same time, having Tornado does require a lot of time. If we sell one too many projects, somebody has to do the work.

Chris’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs…

The main thing you’ve got to do is just stick with it, give 110% to your customers, and go the next mile for them. Sometimes you might not make money on a project, but the goodwill that you generate if you actually finish the project and do a really good job will get you referrals and all the business you can imagine.

I would say the nice thing about this sort of business is that you can really get by with just having a computer and a monitor for even a few years. I mean, really that’s all you need – and the software. So you have your computer, you have your monitor, and you have your software; and then any general business expenses. Business expenses definitely go up but I think the main thing for starting out a business is just getting experience.

I’d say that towards getting clients and getting customers, the main thing to do is just be outgoing and go and meet people. Go to all the networking events, at parties you’ll meet people and if you just generally get to know people (even your friends and their acquaintances and their friends) they’ll eventually become your client.

I would say if you want to be successful, stick with it.

-Chris Tingom

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