Just Get Started • Building a Creative Business with Matthew Swaggart

Here at Fundy, we know directly how hard work goes hand-in-hand with building a business of any kind. Matt Swaggart, creator of Holdfast Gear, sat down with us to share his journey and how his focus helped him to get where he is now.

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Fundy: Your motto is “There’s no luck in life, only strong faith and strong work ethics.” How does that describe your transition to entrepreneurship?

Matt: I think a lot of times people can tend to wait for certain things to line up before they get started; whether they have an idea or a dream or whatever, they tend to delay it until things are “perfect” as opposed to stepping out and fighting to make it happen. For me, I think it came down to just getting the ball moving. It’s all about just beginning something and allowing the subsequent moments to fall in place, but you’ve got to get started.

Religious or not, it’s key to have faith in something. Where is your attention, where is your focus placed? If you really study your movements and define your focal point, you might find that much of your efforts are wasted on unproductive things.

How did you get to where you are now?

…I was fed up with what was available to photographers gear-wise. I felt that if there aren’t products that can keep me looking and feeling good, then maybe I should make my own stuff. That is how it started.

I started shooting professionally in 2002, and weddings in 2004. As you may know, weddings are hard on the body. There are just long, grueling shoots. As a wedding photographer, you shoot 15 hours a day, and at the end of the day, you’re just really beat. By 2011, I noticed I was just becoming worn down physically shooting 30 weddings a year. On the same token, I like to present myself in a certain way, so I would show up in my black suit and gear, feeling like I looked like a member of a SWAT team. Everything on the market at that time was just black and neoprene and nylon and felt very military.

Those two things got me to the point where I was fed up with what was available to photographers gear-wise. I felt that if there aren’t products that can keep me looking and feeling good, then maybe I should make my own stuff. That is how it started. I just realized that there was something that I needed in my own gear, so I started making stuff that fit my look and my aesthetics.

How did you make the transition from shooting to doing Holdfast full time? Was there a defining moment or something for you that helped you to focus on one thing versus another?

I think at first I got stuck in that idea of available resources, thinking I can’t start a business unless I have a certain amount of money in the bank, or needing certain investors or investments. But then, I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere with that kind of mindset. So, I just started making stuff myself. I taught myself the leather work and the skills I needed. In the meantime, I started researching help for manufacturing in larger quantities. But the key was to just start small. I would sell one strap here, then take the money and reinvest it. Then sell ten straps, take that money and reinvest it.

I looked at the overall grand picture, which was very overwhelming, and I just backed it all the way down to as many small, easy decisions that I felt I could make, one at a time, all while keeping me on that path, moving towards my ultimate goal. Instead of creating 1,000 straps, I created one.

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At what point did you move from the small decisions to the bigger ones?

It was an organic, natural process, kind of like climbing a mountain in a way. You start with the path in front of you, and you just keep making that next step that feels right. The next thing you know, you look back and you’ve gone a few miles, and it feels pretty good.

It was an organic, natural process, kind of like climbing a mountain in a way. You start with the path in front of you, and you just keep making that next step that feels right. The next thing you know, you look back and you’ve gone a few miles, and it feels pretty good.

For me, it seemed like the decisions kept building on each other, and I got this certain level of momentum, and I just start rolling with it. I found there definitely were challenges, things I needed to stop and figure out, but after I had a few steps under my belt, the next decision, the next step, became a bit easier.

What was the next step for you with Holdfast?

As the camera straps became more popular, part of the growth I wanted to make over the next few years was in expanding beyond just the Money Maker. I really wanted to redefine all ways you carry your camera(s), so one of the main things I wanted to do was to start really moving into bags.

I’m really excited about the collaboration with Andrew [creator of Fundy Software] to create the Streetwise Bag. I wanted to make a bag that works for his system every single day. He just said: “Hey I shoot this way, I carry these items,” and I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea for a bag. How about we merge it?”

It really was as simple as that. I think we worked out the design over one in-person meeting, and then it took us like another six or eight months to really perfect it. I would build a prototype, send it to him, he would use it and make some notes on it. We are both so happy with how it came out, and I think other photographers will have that same experience when they use it.

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Do you have any other advice for photographers wanting to start their own photography business?

…it doesn’t have to be all at once. I think sometimes people tend to get stuck at the BIG and then don’t boil it down into a simple starting point.

I think people get caught up in the big picture. Maybe they have a dream for what they want to do and it just seems too big or they’re not sure where to start. I believe it comes down to first just getting started.

You do have to have an overall idea of what you want to achieve. Then your movements—your decisions, where you want to go—have to be in that direction in line with that, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. I think sometimes people tend to get stuck at the BIG and then don’t boil it down into a simple starting point.

Just take one step and see what happens!

Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to share your story! We can’t wait to see what you come up with next. You can find Holdfast Gear on their website and Facebook page.