Matthew Muller is a Louisianan born and raised in New Orleans. He earned his undergraduate and his master’s degrees in American history from Louisiana State University before securing a job in the museum industry. While there, he quickly rose up from a volunteer position, to docent, to manager at the museum. Making full use of his degrees, he then found his way into education, becoming a teacher for several years.
However, much like his father and grandfather before him, he eventually found the allure of entrepreneurship too great to ignore. Combining an expert knowledge of American history with his family’s shared passion for construction and design Matthew partnered with his wife to found Tertiary Creations. This new construction design company combines Matthew’s extensive construction knowledge with his wife’s creativity and background in design to create something special, and to provide quality-first design and construction services for their clients.
Matthew Muller still resides in Louisiana, and is now the Owner/Operator of Tertiary Creations, where he handles accounting, sales, closings, and everything in-between.
Where did the idea for Tertiary Creations come from?
My wife came up with the idea. She has a design background, she’s a really creative and talented person, and she’s always looking for outlets for that creativity. Once she realized that we could combine her creativity with my practical skills, we were able to take ideas and bring them to fruition in a pragmatic and tangible way. We focus on things that you can touch, feel, see, and experience.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day always starts with waking up early, usually before the sun rises. If you’re looking to be productive, the first thing you’ve got to do is review your day. Look at the calendar – even if you’re just doing it mentally – and make sure you know what your daily goals are. You should have your goals set before the start of the day. It is often a good idea to set your goals maybe days or even a week before.
When setting your goals ahead of time you might not always get to all of your goals. But you’ve got to have them set before you wake up for the day. That way, when you wake up, they’re already sitting there waiting for you to review them. With your goals laid out in front of you, you can get more detailed about how you’re going to tackle them. The main thing is to have those goals ready, so you can wake up early and ready to rock and roll.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me, it helps a lot to write and sketch things down. Writing things down in a notebook or in a Word document by typing them out as bullet points helps a lot, but what really helps me is sketching things out. What we’re doing is creating things, and we’re often creating from scratch, so it’s really nice to sketch out even a simple idea. Whether we’re installing a new door, building a deck, or completely changing the entire layout of a house, it’s always good to get at least a rudimentary sort of image down on paper. From there, you can branch out and get more detailed, you can edit and you can organize. But getting something visual down, whether in words or in a sketch, is always my first step toward bringing ideas to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The current trend of customization. For a long time with construction a lot of things were just ‘cookie-cutter’, one size fits all options. Whether we’re talking about a house or an office building, they all just looked the same. A little bit bland, and a little bit uncreative. One of the trends I’m seeing more and more is a willingness among clients to take chances and customize things. That can be something as simple as customizing a kitchen or changing up your office layout, or something as big as building an entire home from scratch. I just like the idea that people are taking their spaces and making them their own through that customization, instead of just accepting whatever the previous builder had laid out for them.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Waking up early, and doing so on a regular basis. Not just a couple of days per week, but consistently. I mean, if it’s the weekend, sure, take a break and sleep in a little bit. But if it’s a workday and things need to get done, wake up early.
It’s never fun doing it, and I never get used to it. But every time I wake up early, I always end up glad that I did it, and I never regret it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stop being hesitant, and stop overthinking. Stop being cautious, and be bold in your decision making and planning. Just do it, and just make mistakes. When you make those mistakes, you’ll learn and you’ll get better.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It really comes back to my habit of waking up before dawn as often as I can. People usually think I’m being a little extreme by insisting on keeping such an early morning wake up schedule, but I really find it sets me up for success more often than not. I’m definitely not someone who feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I always seek feedback. It’s a practice that applies across the board, whether I’m dealing with a subcontractor, a supplier, or a client. I seek feedback from these people to make sure we’re always on the same page and that I’m delivering everything the client wants according to their specifications. I make sure that my work meets their needs, and that there are no issues.
Feedback lets you know everything. It lets you know if people are happy with you, and if people are dissatisfied or even disappointed with you or your work. Even neutral feedback is valuable. It is important to make sure you’re regularly checking in and getting the temperature read on everyone around you, so you understand how people think of you and your work, and how you can seek to improve it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The strategy that has helped the most has been to remain intensely focused on the job at hand. Jobs do pile up and it’s easy to get backed up and start feeling the need to rush through a job to get to the next one. It can get to the point where it starts to feel like you’re just racing to check off boxes.
I find that what has always helped me is to focus on the task at hand and the client at hand. Take the tasks one at a time, even if they start to pile up, and make sure you don’t move on to the next thing until that task is completely finished in the most efficient and quality-driven way possible. Once that’s done, you can put it away and move on without having to worry about it again, because if you really focus on the quality and on doing it right the first time, the job won’t come back to haunt you. Instead, it can come back to help you, whether as a reference or as something to add to your portfolio.
It can feel very slow at first, to approach a business that way. People get very impatient. But if you just focus on the quality of the work, especially in the very beginning, you will slowly but surely build that reputation for quality. Before you know it, you’ll have a long list of happy customers, references, and people willing to share your name as well as the very large and thorough portfolio you have produced through this detailed approach to tasks.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge, when you’re starting off, is just trying to figure out what you’re capable of. When you start something for the first time, it’s all new to you. So, sometimes you might encounter a client or customer asking you to do something that you’re not entirely sure you have the skills or the knowledge to do.
That’s the big thing I had trouble with when I started out. I had to figure out exactly what I was and wasn’t capable of doing. For the things I wasn’t capable of doing I had to consider how to go about solving that issue. Do I bring in an expert or a colleague? Do I hire someone else? As you get more practice and get more work, you get a lot more efficient and better at making these decisions. At the very beginning, it’s tough to find out just what your limits are, and the only way to find out is by doing it. Or by not doing it, and figuring that out the hard way.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would find something that is a recurring sort of task within the design and construction field. It’s an idea that I’ve toyed with myself, but haven’t quite hammered down yet.
In the design stage, people change their minds all the time. People are always looking for something new, something fresh. I get a lot of people that will ask me to repaint, for example, their entrance door. Some clients ask for that sort of thing more than once per year. So, turn that trend into a recurring service like, say, rotating the color of your door once per year, or rotating the styling on your shutters. I have a lot of clients that want to change things up, but don’t know exactly what they want or how they want to do it. Every time we deliver the product, they love it. But in a year, they’re often ready to change it up again because it gets old to them.
If someone can figure out how to make design and construction a recurring business, that would be a sure-fire roadmap to success. It’s something I haven’t quite worked out yet, so maybe one of the readers can figure it out and we can work on it together.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I’ve spent recently was on getting a custom set of business shirts made. Everyone has business cards and signs, but having apparel with your company’s name and logo on it adds an air of professionalism that you can’t get any other way. Whether it’s a t-shirt or a nice button-up shirt or maybe even a polo, it helps.
And of course, it’s free advertising. Whether you’re on the job or you’re just going to the store, everyone sees it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack, the project management software. Slack is very helpful for communicating with clients, and especially with my wife as we’re bouncing ideas off each other. It’s a really good way to have a creative space, but also have it be an organized space. In that way, it’s kind of the best of both worlds.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would recommend that anyone interested in entrepreneurship and business in general should read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It’s a very long book and very thorough, but it’s a wonderful and in-depth look at how people operate, specifically within the realms of business and entrepreneurship.
What is your favorite quote?
“It is not the critics who count. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena..” -Teddy Roosevelt
I like that a lot because it reinforces what I was talking about earlier, that the best way to go about starting a business or being an entrepreneur or making an idea come to life is to just get out there and do it. Don’t hesitate and don’t overthink it. Just get into the arena and see how it works.
- Take your tasks one at a time. Don’t pressure yourself into sacrificing quality to increase throughput. Your reputation for quality is far too valuable to waste.
- Strive to receive, consider, and act on feedback from clients and suppliers alike at every stage of the process.
- The best way to learn your limits is by doing until you reach them.
- Set yourself up for success by setting goals for your day ahead of time, so you can wake up and get on it right away.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.