Spreadsheets are a part of life for many people professionally. And while some may be very good at organizing the data that helps tell the story of their business, many others have difficulty with it.
Start Imagining—a Lockport, New York–based startup founded in 2018 by brothers Anthony and Alex Hussak—works with companies struggling to harness the power of their data. One way the company stands out from the IT pack in that they provide a service, rather than a product. Start Imagining essentially automates CRM and ERP report-formatting capabilities into Excel with the click of a button, saving clients time and money that they would spend on manual formatting while reducing (or eliminating) errors.
Anthony, 31, and Alex, 26, are both graduates of the University at Buffalo. After Anthony earned his BS in industrial engineering, he went to work at Glauber Equipment, where he found himself interacting company-wide with colleagues seeking help with database and spreadsheet-related work, a passion of his. And Alex, with his 2015 degree in marketing from UB’s School of Management was working as a warehouse manager at Buffalo’s iconic Landies Candies.
“It didn’t take long for Anthony to start thinking that there were other people and companies who could use his expertise with this type of service,” says Alex of their decision to launch their company. “And it wasn’t hard to convince me: since we are both brothers and great friends, I thought it was a great opportunity to go into business together.”
“We were formed on the idea of helping small to midsize businesses who use Excel to use it better—working with businesses that need to format raw data,” says Anthony, who now serves as the company’s president and CEO. “We automate the process of that formatting so at the click of a button, they can take their raw data and put it into a report.”
Alex, the company’s director of marketing, says he and his brother took inspiration from their childhood when coming up with the concept for their business.
“When Anthony and I were growing up, it was all about imagination—playing with toy cars, model trains; about creating something out of nothing…and dreaming bigger,” Alex says. “That’s the feeling we want companies to have when working with us: slowing down for a moment and dreaming bigger.”
One of Start Imagining’s clients is El Greco Woodworking Inc., a Jamestown, New York furniture manufacturer. Alexis Singleton, El Greco’s vice president and co-owner, asked Anthony to help improve workflow processes for the firm.
“Over the years, I’d created a production document that turns purchase orders into production sheets for the factory,” Singleton says. “With Start Imagining’s help, the method for creating those sheets has become perfectly accurate; more importantly, making changes to the document has become much faster and just plain easier.”
Singleton added that working with Anthony was easy and enjoyable. “I walked him through what I had built, and described the goal for increasing its functionality,” she says. “He got an estimate to me quickly, and it was very reasonable. Upon approval, he started figuring out how to make the spreadsheet do what I wanted. Within a few days, I had a working file that was doing just as I'd hoped—and it functioned with accuracy!”
While Singleton was happy with the service, the Hussak brothers struggled at first getting their message out to other potential customers because, as Alex iterated, they’re selling a service and not a product.
But the power of networking has helped him and Anthony make new connections to help Start Imagining succeed. They’ve now worked with approximately 10 companies, and are measuring success in the responses from those clients. “Seeing the relief on someone’s face who has been frustrated by an Excel process for months or even years makes it worth it. When we can get someone out of the office on time and back to their families, that’s what success means to us,” says Alex. “Additionally, we enjoy opening their eyes to other opportunities for improvement.”
They are always on the lookout for new clients, of course. “Networking, video demonstration—that’s where we’re finding some of our success; we’re able to deliver our message to the target audience,” Alex says. “It has generated ideas and support. Business is about relationships and you need to have those in place not only for your own business to succeed, but to then help others succeed as well.”
Having self-funded their company from the outset, the brothers noted there’s an upside to their business model. “We don’t have a physical product, so we didn’t need to invest money into a prototype that might have required capital investment,” Alex says.
Anthony adds, “A lot of what we’re hinging our model on is that everything is custom. Generally speaking, I can’t create a coded file in Excel that’s going to work for the masses—although they follow the same idea, each file is customized for each business."
Heading into 2020, both Anthony and Alex hope to build off the past year’s momentum. While it’s just the two of them so far, the duo envisions growing to a team of coders who will be able to assist businesses throughout the northeast.
One thing they don’t plan to change is their location; they’re happy to be based in Western New York, where they were raised.
“We’re from the region,” Anthony says. “We were always going to try and make this happen here. Our family is here, our friends. This is home. What’s going on here in Western New York is special and unique. We’re proud to be a part of it; we wouldn’t consider any other place.”
Their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to go after their goals. And also, don’t be afraid to seek support. Everyone needs it.
“If you’ve got an idea, don’t be afraid to pursue it,” Anthony says. “And ask for advice and feedback; in WNY there’s a sense of community and energy for what is going on. The area is built on relationships. It isn’t difficult to find others who are willing to offer their time to provide guidance or advice.”