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Meet Clay Ostrom of Map & Fire in Torrance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Clay Ostrom.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I think there are two basic obsessions that have driven my entire career: a desire to understand how things work and a desire to build new things.

As a kid growing up in Michigan, I loved taking apart anything mechanical and was always drawn to the logic of science and math. On the creative side, I was constantly writing stories, drawing, and eventually got to tinkering with writing code on my family’s original Macintosh 512K (for the nerds out there). That path led me to a degree in Computer Science at The University of Michigan and a job in software development.

Around 2002 as the web was really exploding, I decided to move out to the LA area for a change from the freezing Midwest. I also convinced my then-girlfriend (now-wife) to come and join me on the adventure. I shifted over to focusing strictly on web design and development and eventually started my own freelance consultancy. This path brought on a couple fun startup opportunities that taught me a lot about the fundamentals of running a business.

My wife and I got married in 2006 and then two years later had our son, so I decided to take a position at an ad agency to get some much needed stability. At the agency, I got to lead a team and work with some big brands in the entertainment, CPG, and digital space. This period taught me a lot about managing people and relationships. Another obsession of mine has always been listening to how other people see the world and discovering what they’re passionate about and why.

All of these different skills and passions finally merged together into creating my current business, Map & Fire. When I co-founded the company, the focus was initially on user experience and digital execution. Over time, we transitioned more to strategy as it was the area where our clients, both big and small, needed the most help and where we could provide the most unique value.

Map & Fire’s goal now is to apply strategic thinking to helping companies with innovation and marketing challenges. And specifically making the strategic processes behind those concepts easy to use and understand so that anyone can take advantage of them.

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t think any entrepreneur’s road is truly smooth. It’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re willing to take risks and try new things, there are always going to be struggles as you find your way. Even though I can summarize my journey along some general themes, it definitely hasn’t been a straight line.

I’ve earned a few notches in my belt for startups that I helped found but didn’t ultimately survive. And with Map & Fire there have been some lean stretches where it was hard to know what would come next. But having worked with countless businesses over the years, I know it’s par for the course.

Being aware of lots of common issues that startups face doesn’t make you immune from experiencing them yourself.

So, in one sense, I would say my career has been this twisting, turning, roller coaster. But in another sense, it’s been smooth given that I’ve been very lucky to have new opportunities propelling me as I’ve gone. The upside of being willing to try new things and take risks is that it opens up so many more opportunities for you. There’s no part of my career that I regret or that hasn’t contributed to my larger path in some meaningful way. I’m happy with what I get to do so it’s impossible to say where I’d be if any parts of the path were taken away — bumps and all.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Map & Fire – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Map & Fire’s goal is to provide products and services aimed to help founders and business leaders be successful.

When it comes to innovating a new product or marketing something that exists already, there are plenty of books, tools, and canvases that attack different pieces of what you do. What’s challenging is seeing how all of it relates to one another. When working on a business you need big picture vision, a deep understanding of what your customers need, and the ability to brand and market your offering.

It can be extremely hard to understand how changes in one area of your business affect another. It’s also hard to keep track of that information so that you can build and refine something without going in circles.

There are plenty of big strategy consultancies out there that provide great services and thinking too, but it’s not within reach for most companies.

Map & Fire aims to provide resources that any company, no matter the size, or experience level can take advantage of to make the best use of whatever time and money they have available.

In addition to the resources and services though, what I’m most proud of are the relationships with the clients. I get genuinely invested in the people I’ve met through this work. It’s impossible not to feel excited when you’re working with people who believe in what they’re doing and, in some cases, have put it all on the line to make it happen.

Helping people like that discover new ideas or insights about their businesses and then use them to be successful is incredibly rewarding. Building genuine relationships with people is something I hope will always set Map & Fire apart.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
There’s a lot to like. Diversity is a big one for sure. There’s such an incredible range of cultures represented here and it brings with it a level of open-mindedness that you don’t get in a lot of places. There’s also an endless amount of stuff to see and do in terms of music, art, museums, restaurants, theater. We’ve been here about 16 years and have still just barely scratched the surface. And then as outdoors people, it’s awesome being 1.5 mi. from the beach, 2.5 hours from Joshua Tree, 5 hours from Yosemite, and everything in between. It’s amazing to be able to surf and hike all year long.

The negatives are just the typical things. Traffic and cost of living. Coming from the Midwest, it’s still weird how rarely you might see a friend who only lives 20 miles away. And there’s no point going off on housing costs. Luckily, after your first decade here, you kind of get numb to it. 🙂

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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