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Meet Partners Matt Knox and Johnnie Munger

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Knox.

Matt, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My brother (Johnnie Munger) and I began our first startup, DiggersList.com, together in 2009. DiggersList is an online marketplace for reclaimed materials, architectural salvage, and excess materials (brick, tile, wood) after construction or DIY projects. We raised a small round of funding, and we were able to get significant traction, securing a partnership with hundreds of Habitat for Humanity ReStores, all over the country.

Unfortunately, we started to run out of cash…fast! With a mere two weeks until we wouldn’t be able to pay rent, we were offered a large investment, but we would have had to give up all control of the company and drastically dilute our first investment group. It would have paid the bills, but it just didn’t seem like the right deal for Diggerslist, our partners, or our investors. So, sitting my garage, in September 2012, with the bills stacking up, Johnnie and I decided to use our startup knowledge to create a specialized agency (Wonderful Collective) that focused on helping web and mobile app entrepreneurs/startups go from having an idea in their mind, to a product launched into the market. We meet with the entrepreneurs, help them whiteboard out their first version of the product, design it, develop it, and finally launch it. We also act as a sounding board or advisor to discuss early go-to-market strategies.

What started out as merely an idea to create a sustainable way to hire the development team we needed and the financial runway to finish DiggersList, has turned into an exciting, growing company that lets us use our experience and skills to help turn people’s big ideas into real working products. Over the last 12 months, early stage companies that we have worked with have received more than $35M in funding, and that’s fun to be a part of!

We never know what idea is going to walk through our doors, and our work has ranged from drones to sports, to social, to…. you name it! It’s always new, and that’s what fuels our engines. With each unique project comes a new potential technology stack that we can use to solve the problem, and that’s how Wonderful has attracted some of the most talented, purpose-driven developers in LA. We have also been able to work on special projects with some of the world’s largest brands like EA Sports, Pepsi, Lexus, and GMC.

We now have a great group of developers at Wonderful, a cool office space in El Segundo’s Smokey Hollow, and Wonderful is able to finance the growth of DiggersList (and any other wild ideas we come up with)!

Has it been a smooth road?
Ah, the journey… I wouldn’t call it a smooth one. I would call it a humbling and exciting adventure that has stretched us to become much better at what we do. The biggest challenge was starting a new business to fund another business. It made sense on paper, has worked out really well (and we love it!) …but actually doing it and starting from scratch was a bear! Running a development agency for startups does has some similarities to running your own startup. In other ways, it is also uniquely different, and we had to learn how to be good at it. The biggest difference is that with your own startup, you create what you have in your own mind, but when you’re working with a startup as a client, you have to have to understand what their idea is and then help them through the gut-wrenching process of reducing that idea to the M.V.P. (Minimum Viable Product), which is the first release they go to market with. It is a painful process, but the net effect is that it saves time and money, and more importantly, it allows the core of their idea to come out in a way that is easy for new users to understand… as they say, less is usually more when it comes to a new product. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t trade in the struggles, they have helped us become better at what we do and more helpful to our clients.

What are your plans for the future?
We have a lot of great plans going into 2017. First, The Wonderful Fund. Since we have a lot of cool new startups that come through Wonderful, and some that are becoming big successes, there have been a number of early stage investors that have asked if they could learn about these companies before anyone else, and make early stage investments in the ones they really like. We are looking into creating the Wonderful Fund, which would provide additional cash to match what the startup entrepreneur has been able to raise. The benefit for the startup is that they have more money to work with and some added early stage guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs and investors. For the investor, they know that we will be building the first product, so a lot of the initial technical risk is removed, and they know that we have vetted the founder and determined that he or she would be great evangelists for the product.

Next, we will be investing more time and money into incubating our own, internally grown startup ideas. It’s the core of who we are and the culture that we create and protect. The developers and designers that are attracted to working with us are the “purpose driven, I-live-to create” types, and together, we are excited to see what we come up with! If a few years down the road, our internal startups have become some of our biggest clients, I would say that’s pretty awesome!!

Oh yeah… and anything to do with the NHL and Hockey, we are big LA King fans, Go Kings Go!

Let’s dig a little deeper into your story. What was the hardest time you’ve had?
Definitely, it was back in 2012 when we realized that DiggersList was not going to go the way we planned, and if we were going to see it through to success, we were going to have to make a radical shift from the traditional “chasing down investors” route. Again, that’s where the Wonderful Collective idea came from. One of the very first clients we had was a company that provided the clean up services after suicides and murders(yes, there is a company for that!). I was so depressed talking to them that I resorted to searching for smiley faces on Google Images. I literally had a giant screen full of smiley faces to keep me from wanting to become one of THEIR clients! It got better when the startups starting coming our way; however, at first, it was a mental and emotional challenge to invest ourselves into making someone else’s dream idea come to life, while seemingly having to put your own on hold.

It’s funny how the greatest challenges can turn into the greatest blessings. We started working with more and more super bright entrepreneurs, who had great ideas. We were able to immerse ourselves in their idea, product, business model, and go-to-market strategies, right from the beginning… sharpening our skills along the way. We also started working with some of the world’s largest brands on special engineering projects and learned to engineer a product that was good enough to pass some of the industry’s most challenging standards.These experiences provided us with the greatest opportunities to grow in our knowledge, confidence, and abilities, and gave us the resources to hire like-minded people to join our team. We wouldn’t be doing this well or having this much fun if it wasn’t for the lessons learned when we threw ourselves into the deep end. We also learned probably the most important lesson about ourselves, we are not willing to give up…. And it’s amazing what can happen when you know you won’t quit!

Are there days when you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to, careerwise – the “I’ve made it” kind of moments?
There are a couple of landmark moments that really stand out for us.

#1) The first time one of our startup’s clients received immediate (and significant) VC funding from the product we just launched for them. We were pretty fired up to watch something crafted with our own hands take off, and in such a large way.

#2) The first time we booked out one of our developers to work on our own internal projects for a month…paid for by Wonderful. Again, that was the intention that we started with, but you go through the normal early-stage business lumps, and all of the sudden you’re like “Hey, we’re doing it, the plan is working!”

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