Matt Sullivan, an EO Charleston member, is the founder of BES Cleaning, an innovative, data-driven janitorial service that leverages apps for data transparency and revolutionary automation to achieve both customer and employee satisfaction. We asked Matt about his entrepreneurial journey and what it taught him. Here’s what he shared:
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
That quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, has served me well throughout my life. As the global pandemic has proven to every small-business owner, being agile and able to think creatively during times of change can mean the difference between success and failure, survival and — well, extinction.
As the owner of a commercial janitorial company, creativity has always been at the core of what I do. As a boss, I not only want my team members to feel valued, I also want them to think creatively and bring their ideas to the table. This is a direct result of the experience I had at a previous job — one that I held for nearly 11 years. You see, unlike many business leaders who got their MBAs and then started a company, my journey to entrepreneurship took a different, more circuitous route.
I began my career tearing tickets for Blue Man Group.
In 2003, while pursuing a career as an actor, I worked as a paid usher for the renowned performance art company. Eventually, I worked my way up through the ranks until I became the company’s head of props and special effects — managing the creative teams in Chicago, New York City, and Las Vegas. In retrospect, the time I spent at Blue Man prepared me perfectly for the work I do today running my own business — problem-solving, managing people, and innovating through technology.
Here are four important lessons I learned that would benefit anyone managing a team or running a business:
Being curious is critical to being creative. At Blue Man, we prided ourselves on innovation. We constantly tweaked the show and refined our processes to improve the audience experience — even while playing to sold-out crowds and standing ovations. I’ve adopted the same philosophy with my company, recently bringing in robots to assist with high-volume tasks. In business, you can’t learn or grow without experimentation and innovation. For a team, creativity is ignited when questions are asked and ideas are exchanged. In fact, research shows that leaders who listen effectively generate more trust, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase creativity within their teams.
Running a business can feel like you’re constantly operating in the eye of a storm. Performances at Blue Man Group were examples of controlled chaos, featuring physical tricks, flying marshmallows, and cutting-edge multimedia sequences. At any given moment, something could go wrong, but we were always ready to tackle those challenges together. In the theater, as in business, every mistake offers the opportunity to learn a lesson or refine a process. So get comfortable with discomfort — because even in business, the show must go on.
No big company starts out as a big company. Blue Man started as a single street performance in New York City. Today, it’s a global entertainment juggernaut operating in over 20 countries — the result of adaptability and embracing a growth mindset. Being able to adjust to new working environments is an essential requirement for today’s workers. Creativity directly correlates to adaptability. A report from the World Economic Forum listed creativity as one of the top three skills sought by potential employers. And research shows that when people try to think more creatively, they almost always can.
Any good boss understands that employees would rather work with you than for you. They want a seat at the table and want their voices to be heard. At Blue Man, we put a heavy emphasis on teamwork. To pull off such a complex, tech-heavy show night after night, everyone had to perform at their best. Every business owner wants to provide a fantastic experience for their clients. The best way to do that is by making sure your team members feel that their contributions matter and their efforts are making an impact.
As an entrepreneur, you’re building your team and company to last. Phil Stanton, one of Blue Man Group’s founders, says his ideal team member embodies a “combination of confidence and vulnerability, playfulness and reverence.” Remember this the next time you hire. Encourage your team members to contribute new ideas and challenge the status quo if they feel it no longer serves the organization. Everyone thrives on creativity, so give your team members the space and support they need to truly soar.