Some people think it takes a boatload of cash to start a successful business, but Mary A. Spio knows better. “When it comes to building an enduring business, resourcefulness is more valuable than cash,” says this CEO and founder of New York-based TSG Consulting Inc. “You can be successful by having ‘just enough’ money and the commitment to pound the pavement.”
The strategy has worked well for 32-year-old Spio, whose 14-employee firm provides marketing and technology solutions to a variety of clients. Founded in 2001, the company’s recent projects range from building and marketing Websites, handling market research, designing consumer surveys, and even creating a reality TV show.
“We’ve designed first-rate Websites for as low as $500, placed products on major TV shows for as little as $2,500, and orchestrated a nationwide tour that cost $120,000 for the creators of ABC Television’s The Bachelor,” says Spio. “I especially enjoy utilizing creative technology and strategic promotional partnerships to extend brands—regardless of budget.”
But then again, Spio has never let budget constraints stand in her way. She started her company with a small amount of funding from her own bank account and a $75,000 U.S. Small Business Administration loan. When the well ran dry, she used personal possessions, selling everything from “my own inventions to my house and cars,” recalls Spio, who made $430,000 in 2004 and expects $3 million in sales this year.
TSG Consulting’s success is rooted in its founder’s experience as an engineer. A graduate of Syracuse University’s electrical engineering program, Spio, who spent four and a half years in the military, is a pioneer of digital cinema technology, and holds a patent for the innovation. Eager to sink her teeth into the business world, Spio came up with the idea for TSG Consulting while working for PanAmSat, a provider of commercial satellite and data services to the television industry.
“I saw a lot of viable, cost-effective alternatives that smaller companies could use to market via the Internet, cable, and satellite TV, but also realized that very few companies catered to small businesses that wanted access to this option,” says Spio. “I started a company that would assist those companies with their technology and marketing needs.”
Along the way, Spio says adversity has reared its ugly head on occasion, but has never been strong enough to slow her progress. “Being black and a woman, people initially assume that your ice is not as cold as the next person’s, or that you can’t offer services to the world at large,” Spio explains. “I just keep things in perspective—it’s not personal. Once you help people see how you can be of service, they get over it.”
Spio credits her penchant for alliances with helping TSG Consulting break down the doors to land clients like AOL and BMG Music. By acquiring over $1.5 million in promotional partnerships with various TV, radio, print, and online firms, she says her firm turned a corner that some startups never reach. “One of the things that many startups overlook is ways to