Early career spotlight: Entrepreneur credits DSU for his successful startups, career
Tell us about yourself, including where you are from, why Dakota State University was the right fit for you, and what led you to pursue the major you selected at DSU.
My name is Matt Paulson. I grew up in Mitchell and was exposed to technology at an early age. My parents bought us a family computer when I was in 4th grade, and we were one of the first families to have cable internet in our community around 1997. I took all the technology classes available at Mitchell Middle School and Mitchell Senior High School. I helped build the first website for Mitchell Middle School, and I even built a little website about the video game SimCity 2000 that was generating $25.00 per month in advertising income while I was in middle school.
When it came time to pick out a university to attend, I knew I wanted to pursue a technology degree. Dakota State University was a natural fit. It had a strong reputation for its computer science and information systems programs even then and was much more affordable than other out-of-state options I had been considering. It was also an hour away from my hometown, which made selecting Dakota State an easy decision.
It wasn’t immediately clear to me what type of technology career I wanted to pursue, but Dakota State created many opportunities to try different aspects of technology so that students could figure out if they wanted to be a network security specialist, a programmer, a business IT manager or something else. I was able to get an internship doing IT and programming work with the South Dakota Unified Judicial System because of Dakota State. Professors Josh Pauli, Wayne Pauli and Tom Halverson were also able to help line me up with some website development and programming work through a business they were running called Logic Lizard at the time. These experiences helped me identify that web programming was the specialty I wanted to pursue, and I continue to use those formative skills at MarketBeat today.
Tell us about the companies and initiatives you’ve founded, including Startup Sioux Falls (now part of Zeal) and MarketBeat.
My primary business is MarketBeat, a financial technology and publishing company that sends personalized investment newsletters to approximately 1.25 million investors every morning. We currently have seven employees and anticipate generating about $9 million in total revenue this year. I am also a partner in a business called GoGo Photo Contest, which is an online fundraising platform that has helped animal shelters across the country raise $12.5 million since 2013. I serve as the chairman of Falls Angel Fund, which has raised more than $3.5 million to invest in early-stage, high-growth companies in South Dakota and the surrounding states.
Finally, I started Startup Sioux Falls earlier this year to connect small business owners and startup founders to one another and to the startup community. There’s been a lot of interest in Startup Sioux Falls, and we’ve had many early wins, including attracting more than 6,500 business owners to join our Facebook group, holding several in-person events, and creating a complete map of the city’s startup ecosystem. For Startup Sioux Falls to be successful in the long term, it really needs to be run by a full-time non-profit leader. Thankfully, we have a high-capacity, high-impact leader running the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, Brienne Maner, who will be able to carry the torch of entrepreneurship in our community forward through both Startup Sioux Falls and the Zeal Center.
What do your days as an entrepreneur look like, and how did your education prepare you for your career?
Dakota State’s computer science program taught me basic programming and database design skills, which were crucial to designing the early versions of MarketBeat. Dakota State University also had a short-lived initiative called the Center for Techno-Entrepreneurship that helped student business owners launch businesses and provided seed capital. It was through the Center for Techno-Entrepreneurship that I launched a network of personal finance blogs under the umbrella American Consumer News, which evolved into the business that is now MarketBeat.
In addition to my coursework, I juggled several on-campus jobs in an attempt to graduate from college debt-free. I wrote and then edited the student newspaper, the Trojan Times. I did technology work for the university through the state’s Technology Fellow program. I tutored in the Student Success Center. I had my summer internship with the state that extended throughout the entirety of my senior year in college. By learning to quickly switch contexts from one thing to another and to multi-task, I’ve been able to get involved with many different businesses and non-profits as a leader in the business community.
These days, my work in different organizations tends to blend into a mosaic of business development efforts and community service projects. I often have ten to fifteen meetings each week and will frequently put effort toward three or four different organizations each day. When I’m not in meetings, my work time is split between Queen City Bakery, my office on East 8th Street and the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship. Organizations and businesses that I am currently involved with include One Million Cups, Alex Jensen for Sioux Falls, Downtown Rotary, Faith Baptist Fellowship, Falls Angel Fund, GoGo Photo Contest, MarketBeat, the Sioux Falls Ministry Center, Sioux Falls Seminary and the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.
What intrigued you about studying at Dakota State University, and what do you think the future looks like for DSU graduates pursuing careers in computer science, e-commerce, and/or technology?
A neighbor who was a couple of years older than I was had attended Dakota State University for its Computer Information Systems program, which initially piqued my interest. I also had an opportunity to visit Dakota State University during debate tournaments in high school and really enjoyed the campus and the close-knit community that it had. Dakota State also had a great reputation for its technology programs and an excellent placement rate when I was a freshman in 2004.
Since I graduated in 2008, Dakota State’s programs have improved and scaled by an order of magnitude. Dr. Josh Pauli has done a fantastic job of building a relationship between DSU and the National Security Agency, and Dr. Jose-Marie Griffiths has an ability to cast vision and execute in a way that I have never seen in a university leader before. Every time I visit campus, I continue to be amazed at the opportunities that are available to current students. They are building world-class facilities including the new Mad Labs building, are working to build a dedicated e-sports team, and have internship opportunities that you can’t find anywhere else. If I were a senior in high school today, I would apply to Dakota State University again in a heartbeat.
What career goals do you hope to achieve in the future?
I plan on continue growing and building MarketBeat for the next several years, but my primary goals are no longer personal career goals, but rather, are goals for our community. First, I hope to build a true startup ecosystem organization (like Emerging Prairie in Fargo) located in downtown Sioux Falls. Through the partnership between the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship and Startup Sioux Falls, we have a true opportunity to build a world-class startup community and ecosystem if our business community supports these efforts in a significant way. Second, I hope to help my church (Faith Baptist Fellowship) find a permanent home on the west side of Sioux Falls. Finally, I am interested in city politics and hope to get more involved as my children get older. I don’t know if I will run for public office, but I will be advocating for both pro-growth and forward-looking policies and candidates.