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BizCast 35: Viterbo Grad Turns Singing Into Millions, Investing in La Crosse Businesses

Episode 35

Viterbo Grad Matt Curtis Turns Singing Into Millions, Investing in La Crosse Businesses

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between WIZMNews.com and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( GreaterLaCrosse.media ).

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

[00:00:01] Matt Curtis: so all of those profits that,that I sold at that time, I basically been reinvesting in my new businesses and my newer properties that I’ve purchased here locally.

[00:00:10]

[00:00:12] Vicki Markussen: BizCast Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from Biz News. We bring you news from the business community. I’m your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. And I have the pleasure of introducing Matt Curtis to you all. And I will tell you, it was like the tip of an iceberg when I asked you to come on to this podcast, because I thought I knew about three things you were doing.

[00:00:35] Vicki Markussen: And then it like the whole people are in for a treat because the mind that you have, you are a true entrepreneur, you can see three steps ahead of where you want your next business to be, where you want to take your businesses. But let’s start at the beginning because you’re a local guy.

[00:00:55] Matt Curtis: I am.

[00:00:55] Matt Curtis: So first of all, thank you for having me. It’s a great joy to be here. Yeah, I’m from La Crosse originally, graduated Aquinas 2004, Viterbo 2008, lived out in San Francisco for eight years after college, but then moved back to La Crosse in 2017. My wife and I, we live in Alaska, have two little kids, six years old and three years old, and we love being back in the area.

[00:01:19] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So I’m guessing, as you were going to Aquinas and then you went on to study music at Viterbo, you probably didn’t envision yourself being where you are today, did you? Or were you that visionary to say, music is a means to an end, so to speak?

[00:01:38] Matt Curtis: Yeah, I would say. This definitely wasn’t my plan at the beginning, although I would say, I grew up as you know, music was kind of my thing.

[00:01:45] Matt Curtis: It just always came really easily to me singing just music in general. So I was fully immersed in that all through grade school in the lacrosse boy choir. Singing at the Cathedral here in La Crosse, the gallery singers, the choir with under Brian Luckner’s he’s the organist there.

[00:01:59] Matt Curtis: So I was always immersed in choir music, but I always knew that I wanted something more in my life than just that. I remember hustling when I was a kid, I was big into buying and selling. trading cards, for example just to age me a little bit I think it was when eBay first launched when I was in like middle school, high school.

[00:02:18] Matt Curtis: I had a hustle of just buying and selling trading cards, lemonade stands, those kinds of things. And so business can always interested me in entrepreneurship. I was interested in me. I kind of grew up in a family of. lawyers and doctors. And so I was the odd one as far as music is concerned.

[00:02:34] Matt Curtis: So I always kept my mind open to something much more than, than just

[00:02:38] Vicki Markussen: that. Yeah. And so to properly introduce you. I know you from the Capella event center. I saw you by house and we’ll get into all of this now. And now you’ve bought a food truck and restaurant. But then there was this business that started long ago that actually was the foundation for all of this.

[00:02:56] Vicki Markussen: And so to bring people up to speed to go, okay what is the destination? And then to get them back on the path. So you have all of these businesses that you are, that you own, and it’s happening at hyperspeed from an outside perspective, but you have owned Choral Tracks, LLC. for quite a few years.

[00:03:14] Vicki Markussen: Where did so talk about that business and where that came from?

[00:03:19] Matt Curtis: Yeah, so that’s my primary company, Choral Tracks. Where we are today. First of all, we this year we’re going to do over 2 million in revenue for the first time. We have 15 employees. We create educational audio tracks that help choir singers learn their music much faster and much more efficiently than just having the sheet music in their hand.

[00:03:39] Matt Curtis: And so our primary customers are high school choirs, middle school choir programs mostly in the United States. But we also, of course, work with community choirs, we work with church choirs we do have international customers. Obviously, choir is really big in United Kingdom and Europe, so we have a good reach there.

[00:03:57] Matt Curtis: The way that the business got started Well, first of all, I’m the ultimate choir nerd. I got started singing in choir in the La Crosse boy choir here in town when I was seven years old. And so I’ve always been fully immersed in, in that space. And I learned through singing in in college, I sang in a barbershop.

[00:04:15] Matt Curtis: Quartet for fun. One of our professors at Viterbo Nancy Allen she started directing the local Barbershop Chorus here, the Lacrosse Coulee Chorus, and for a couple years, and she was, pulling some of us guys over and, you know, should come, you should come try this out. This is pretty cool.

[00:04:28] Matt Curtis: And it is. I, I love it. I still sing in a barbershop quartet today, but what I learned is that I would say, 90, 95% of guys and gals who sing in barbershop music have no musical training at all. Many of them can’t even read music at all. And barbershop music is pretty complex if you’ve ever heard or sung the style of harmony.

[00:04:47] Matt Curtis: And so how are all of these singers learning music? Well, there’s this guy, at that time just one guy, who was creating these learning tracks. for the entire barbershop community of the community. I would say is maybe 30 to 50, 000 people in the United States, something like that. And he was creating just an amazing product, really super high quality.

[00:05:06] Matt Curtis: He already had the business model. And so obviously me, someone who’s a barbershop is a very kind of niche, small market as far as choir is concerned but choir. In general, it’s huge. There are millions of people in the United States and around the world who sing in all different types of choirs.

[00:05:21] Matt Curtis: So I kind of, the light bulb moment went off there, that yes, this is an obvious advancement to the full kind of traditional choral market, that this will definitely take off and be a thing. And what I learned. Pretty shortly after I got started is that there were all kinds of choir directors and pianists, playing for choirs who are creating their own tracks and the common theme is they all hated doing it because it takes forever, and so the market was already there in a sense.

[00:05:50] Matt Curtis: And so for me, it was just figuring out a way of monetizing it properly and all of the copyright considerations around intellectual property is very complex and putting that all together and figuring out how to market it. And I, I got started actually when I was going to Viterbo, I think it was the summer after my junior year, you’re the school’s done it’s summertime.

[00:06:11] Matt Curtis: You’re trying to figure out what am I going to do for the summer? Where am I going to work? I was thinking I could go work at QuickJib, I could do some landscaping, stuff like that. What I decided to do is I got started with the concept learning and recording Gregorian chants.

[00:06:25] Matt Curtis: And basically what I did at at the diocesan center on the south side of town, I asked if I could sit in the chapel there and I had a microphone that was connected to my computer. And I think that summer I recorded 700 Gregorian chants. I’d sit down in a day and just knock out 20 or something of them and then did all of the audio mixing work in the background.

[00:06:46] Matt Curtis: I set up my own website at that time. It was called chanttracks.com I found all of the kind of nerdy Gregorian chant chat rooms on the Internet and of marketing and calling the right people, emailing the right people. And I think that summer I think I sold like 500 worth of audio files there.

[00:07:06] Matt Curtis: So not too bad, better than working at quick drift. No offense, quick trip.

[00:07:10] Vicki Markussen: I think you would have earned more than 2, 000. I’m just saying, but it was the law and type of business.

[00:07:16] Matt Curtis: So yeah, exactly. Yeah. So that’s where I learned the chops, if you will of the technology and the audio mixing process and building a website and a little bit of kind of word of mouth marketing and stuff like that.

[00:07:28] Matt Curtis: Just shortly. Over time, just building the business all by myself. I was, that would have been back when I was experimenting in 2007. I think from 2007, I didn’t hire any employees until 2019. So that entire time I was just hustling on my own, building the business myself. I own 100% of the business still today.

[00:07:47] Matt Curtis: So yeah, we just got started very slowly over time. I made sure that we wouldn’t be too overly strained from a. a volume demand standpoint where I would be forced to go out and hire some additional help just working super hard.

[00:08:00] Vicki Markussen: So let me recap a couple of things here. So you’re listening to Matt Curtis, everyone.

[00:08:06] Vicki Markussen: And so you got this idea from a guy who specialized in these Choral tracks for barbershop groups. And you said, Hey, there’s a bigger market out there. So you go to the to essentially a church because I’m assuming it’s the acoustics. And so you plug in and you start recording. So the big obvious question for me is Why would you pick Chatns Gregorian Chants?

[00:08:33] Matt Curtis: I grew up Catholic, and like I mentioned earlier, I sang at the cathedral here in town I, yeah, I’ve just figured that’d be a good place to start, and I knew a couple people who told me that there would be some, at least some interest in in purchasing some tracks.

[00:08:50] Matt Curtis: And so it was just a good place to start, yeah.

[00:08:52] Vicki Markussen: Okay. So that was the summer after your junior year, you said, right? Between 2007, something like that. And senior, but you were still so you knew that there was this business model, but you had your senior year to finish. And so you graduate and you, I assume, then get the job out in San

[00:09:08] Matt Curtis: Francisco.

[00:09:09] Matt Curtis: Yeah, I studied one year of a master’s degree at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, focusing primarily on opera and solo singing, actually. But this, yeah, this group out in San Francisco, they’re called Chanticleer, like the clear singing rooster from the Canterbury Tales. Yes. It’s 12 men, all a cappella group.

[00:09:29] Matt Curtis: So no instruments just singing. Men singing up super high, soprano, alto, tenor, bass. So a very unique group. They are, they’re still one of the, I think there’s only two or three full time performing choirs in the United States and Chanticleer is one of them. So ever since I in the boy choir.

[00:09:47] Matt Curtis: It was always a dream to sing with a group like that. So I started auditioning for them I think when I was like 19 years old. My, what, freshman or sophomore year of college and pretty early on they were interested in me, I could tell and so I knew it was inevitable.

[00:10:02] Matt Curtis: But it’s only, twelve men, and so you have to wait for a spot to open up, right? It, so yeah it took until the summer of 2009, and I was down singing in, Santa Fe, New Mexico, there’s a choir down there, a seasonal choir called the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. So they have just a summer term.

[00:10:19] Matt Curtis: And I was ready to, this was after my first year at University of Minnesota Twin Cities. I was ready to go back to my second year but I got a call from Chanticleer saying a spot just opened up out of nowhere. One of the guys decided to leave and go into teaching high school actually.

[00:10:33] Matt Curtis: And so basically I had to drop everything and Within, I think it was like three or four weeks, figure out how to move everything from where I was in St. Paul, Minnesota, out to San Francisco, and get started right away with Chanticleer. Yeah. So, college dropout.

[00:10:50] Vicki Markussen: Well, you have a college degree.

[00:10:52] Vicki Markussen: You just don’t have a master’s degree.

[00:10:53] Matt Curtis: Yes. Undergraduate degree. Yes. Master’s degree. I abandoned that and got into the workforce.

[00:10:57] Vicki Markussen: Well, I’m guessing you’ve never looked back. So because this opportunity is rare, as you were saying, this is full time benefits, you got to see the world.

[00:11:08] Vicki Markussen: What kind of places did you get

[00:11:10] Matt Curtis: to tour? Yeah we would sing about 120 concerts a year to give you an idea. So it’s very much a, we were maybe three weeks on the road, three weeks at home overall in a year, we were probably gone traveling about six months of the year. We were primarily.

[00:11:25] Matt Curtis: perform and travel in North America. Sometimes we would get to big cities and famous venues Lincoln Center in New York Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, really great venues like that. But mostly it was in, medium sized town America.

[00:11:40] Matt Curtis: we came here to lacrosse and performed, one year. so it was mostly seeing small town America for the most part. And then we travel over to Europe a few times a year. I got over to China once in Shanghai. when I started, it was in 2009, right after the great financial collapse.

[00:11:57] Matt Curtis: And we had to be a little bit more focused on where we would go. in my three years that I sang with the group, we didn’t quite venture out quite as far as they typically do now and did previous. Sure.

[00:12:08] Vicki Markussen: And so you’re doing this touring. What’s happening with

[00:12:12] Matt Curtis: choral tracks? Yeah. So I’m building choral tracks very slowly.

[00:12:16] Matt Curtis: I’m very much, always been a workaholic. we were on the road. I would always pack up my microphone, my computer, my entire recording set up with me wherever we went and. Whatever hotel room I would end up in if I needed to, I’d pull all that out and set it up and record,when we were home, we had a pretty nice work schedule.

[00:12:33] Matt Curtis: You can only sing for so long. So our rehearsals were when we were home, like Monday through Friday, 10 30 through 3 30, more or less. that was our work day when we were home. yeah, I remember, mornings I’d get up at 5 in the morning and record as much as I could and show up to rehearsal.

[00:12:49] Matt Curtis: And then by the end of the day, just vocal fatigue. I was just totally drained. Yeah. Um, yeah, I was It came to the point where I was more or less working two full time jobs at the same time, which was great. so then in 2012, I decided to leave the Chanticleer group and focus more on choral tracks full time.

[00:13:09] Matt Curtis: And I was still doing a lot of singing. freelance in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a really great job at the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, a union choir job there, a few really great churches, sang some, some church gigs. I was singing three or four masses at a Catholic church every single weekend.

[00:13:27] Matt Curtis: So what was great is, those jobs mostly. rehearsals are almost exclusively at nights and weekends for performances, right? And for the church job. So I would have the full day, at home just in my studio to focus on choral tracks and then,would drive into San Francisco for nights and weekends and do my thing there.

[00:13:45] Vicki Markussen: That you had to have the most amazing vocal cords for your voice to be able to do what you did back then. Like that is a lot of singing.

[00:13:55] Matt Curtis: Yeah. I still do a lot of. I think it’s something like, uh, like any sport. You just build up your sets of muscles for whatever, activities you’re doing and the more you work at it over time, the stronger you get, the more endurance you have.

[00:14:09] Matt Curtis: the good thing about the cool thing about the human voice is that it actually fully matures and strengthens depending what voice type you are, but in your early thirties, mid thirties. I’m 37 right now. I’m kind of in kind of the prime voice of my career, if you will, which is a little bit.

[00:14:24] Matt Curtis: different than if you’re an athlete where you’re peaking more probably in your 20s and kind of waning by the time you’re 37. so yeah, I’ve just built up a lot of strength over time, had some scary fatigue moments where maybe I felt like I, I damaged something, but I, you have those moments and You rest for a few days and then it comes back.

[00:14:41] Matt Curtis: I’ve a little bit of a cold right now with the change of seasons coming. I, even though I know it’s gonna be really hot this weekend, Labor Day weekend, but, yeah, it’s a little bit of a cold. So sometimes you, that happens and you just work through it. You just deal with it. yeah,

[00:14:53] Vicki Markussen: it’s a whole different business model.

[00:14:56] Vicki Markussen: And I like that you equate it to, to sports, right? So you have. You have a talent that you’re monetizing and keeping it in shape and strengthening it. It’s a whole fascinating, component. so let’s talk about Choral Tracks. So you decide to launch this and when did you start to really see this take off?

[00:15:19] Vicki Markussen: And what was the key to having it take off?

[00:15:21] Matt Curtis: Yeah, I would say, And there was a noticeable shift around 2012, but I was still working kind of two full time jobs. It wasn’t until my wife and I decided to move back to the lacrosse area in 2017 where we were all in, more or less. her background, we met in college at Viterbo.

[00:15:36] Matt Curtis: She has a music background as well. So she was teaching K through 8 music at a few schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, up in Marin County actually, north of San Francisco where we lived. And, but when she moved back to lacrosse, when we moved back to lacrosse, she was working for the business all in.

[00:15:53] Matt Curtis: So I guess that that’d be the first big monumental moment. And actually, interestingly enough, what really surged us, in, in, in revenue, if you will, is, during the pandemic, because, of course, that’s very odd to say, because so many businesses and so many of my singer friends just got obliterated during that time when everything was shut down.

[00:16:12] Matt Curtis: But for us, obviously our product is virtual, it is digital, and some of our customers weren’t getting together anymore. Think of like community choirs, church choirs, but our, very much our core customers are high school choirs, university choirs, middle school choirs in the United States. Their funding was still there, if not greatly increased to help bridge that gap to, switch everything to virtual.

[00:16:36] Matt Curtis: so those classes were still getting together virtually trying to figure out how to bridge that gap, and so we had a huge surge in business. We work, really great partnership with a big sheet music retailer based in Pennsylvania, who picked up our product in their store. And that really helped surge us.

[00:16:53] Matt Curtis: they’re like the, I guess you could say like the Walmart of sheet music sort of. so yeah, like 20, 2020 was our really big moment. And then, I had a lot of great singer friends who all of their work. just completely went away. So we had all this revenue coming in, all this increased business and demand coming in.

[00:17:09] Matt Curtis: So I was able to hire all of the, all of these musicians, to come in and help grow the business beyond just my own voice. And so that was really the moment where it fully took off. Yeah,

[00:17:20] Vicki Markussen: interesting. So you found, I don’t know if it was more of a, promotional partner or a distribution, so to speak.

[00:17:28] Vicki Markussen: It was a partnership that got you a lot of exposure. You created a lifeline for some talented artists. And in the pandemic, of course, people still want to keep singing. they want to continue to grow. And so you met a very unique need, which is fascinating. Okay. So you have this business that’s growing here in lacrosse.

[00:17:49] Vicki Markussen: You had just moved here, but you being you, you start to say, what else should I be investing in? So this is where it starts to get interesting of,it’s been interesting all along, but your brain starts going, how else can I be, growing financially? And so what did that, look like

[00:18:07] Matt Curtis: for you?

[00:18:08] Matt Curtis: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in investing in stocks and assets. some crypto more recently, Bitcoin primarily, not very much into the alt coins, if you will, and all those other kinds of weird ones. But yeah, things were, going really well, like I said, in, in 2020, lots of revenue and profit was coming in.

[00:18:24] Matt Curtis: and so obviously like in March, February, March went up 2020 when the stock market was tanking, I had a big chunk of cash. So sitting on the sidelines, just doing nothing basically back when savings accounts and such, you get almost. zero, 0 percent in interest, right? that was when I took a big plunge in investing in a few stocks, and,and crypto and things like that.

[00:18:46] Matt Curtis: And, obviously that, very much of a V shaped recovery throughout 2020, all this stimulus money that was liquidity, that was. those flooding all the different markets and such. so things were going really well. Um, 2021 I’ve always been interested in investing in real estate as well. So 2021 I started investing in properties.

[00:19:07] Matt Curtis: I own 11 properties here locally now, mostly residential, some a few commercial as well. And then just, just, I guess you could call it some luck skill there. There’s always some luck involved. I saw towards the end of 2021, things were slowing down. I was looking at all these big, huge corporate CEOs.

[00:19:25] Matt Curtis: The CEO of Microsoft is one that comes to mind who are selling all of his or her company shares. And so I’m saying, okay, something’s changing here. And so I think it was for tax purposes. I waited until early 2022, I think it was January. 4th, 2022. I think it was a Tuesday. I basically just sold everything, just completely got out, sold everything.

[00:19:47] Matt Curtis: And I think that right around that point, that was like the high of the S and P 500. And so all of those profits that,that I sold at that time, I basically been reinvesting in my new businesses and my newer properties that I’ve purchased here locally. Yeah.

[00:20:01] Vicki Markussen: So smart investment created some cash.

[00:20:04] Vicki Markussen: And of course you’re, you have the assets of the rental properties. And so then you see this big, beautiful church go empty and come on the market.

[00:20:15] Matt Curtis: Yeah, I saw it go on the market in 2019. That was actually buying real estate, but when I was the wheels returning in my mind, and of course my background is completely in music.

[00:20:25] Matt Curtis: And seeing that church space and seeing the pipe organ, go walking in there eventually later on and hearing the acoustic, like the idea of the Performing Arts Center. I started last fall, the Capella Performing Arts Center, a 501c3 nonprofit. That was immediately in my head, like, how cool would it be to own a pipe organ, right?

[00:20:42] Matt Curtis: and to curate our own, our own concert season and invite in great artists like Chanticlear who was here last year, to perform, and then also being fully immersed. into the nonprofit arts scene here in La Crosse, I just knew that there’s a need for a space like that. but then, how are you going to actually pay for it?

[00:21:01] Matt Curtis: Yeah. So that’s where the concept of Capella weddings and events. has come into play. my friend and interior designer, Trevor Duprey, he was the organist at the church. The church was formerly called the Wesley Methodist Church. at, king and eighth Streets across from the public library downtown.

[00:21:17] Matt Curtis: The cross, Trevor knew the ins and outs of the history of the property. the potential for everything. And so he planted the concept of the, weddings and events business in my mind. we still have a lot of work to do to prove the concept and we sold a lot of construction that we’re working on.

[00:21:33] Matt Curtis: But,we’re open for business. We have, two of our three venues up and ready to go. lots more work to do. Need to get the balance sheet in the right place. get lots more bookings, but, we’re just getting started. It’s really exciting.

[00:21:44] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, so I didn’t know about the Trevor connections.

[00:21:47] Vicki Markussen: I know Trevor. so the other thing that I love about what you’re doing, though, is you didn’t just see a performing arts. center, you saw other opportunities inside that building to make money. So explain about who else is in that building with you.

[00:22:05] Matt Curtis: Yeah, we have a few tenants in the building with us.

[00:22:08] Matt Curtis: it’s a big property, but, uh, is limited in space. if you’re running a performing arts center, you have to have like lots of furniture, for example. So you have tons of chairs. Where are you going to store all those chairs? we have some lounge furniture in there. So you gotta have rooms to store all that stuff.

[00:22:25] Matt Curtis: Um, same thing with the weddings business too. We got all the big round tables, the big rectangular tables, all that stuff. So we have two tenants currently who are utilizing the property. actually three. we have a commercial kitchen on the property upstairs. hunt and gather graze boards.

[00:22:39] Matt Curtis: Emily Boland she works out of that kitchen. And then,a company called, used to be called Sugar Coated LLC. see her. Nicole is the business owner. she works out of the space as well. Yeah.

[00:22:50] Vicki Markussen: Emily’s been on this podcast. she’s great. So yeah. And then I know you’re renting some of the rooms there too, for again, just it’s space that can be rented and you seem to find the places, the people that

[00:23:02] Matt Curtis: need the space.

[00:23:03] Matt Curtis: Yeah. We have a small church community about of about 30, 40 people who lease the space. So they’re in there on Sunday mornings for their church services. they’re Wednesday nights for Bible study kind of a thing. So it still gets, the property still gets utilized as a church itself. and and my, my, actually my choral tracks team, my local choral tracks team is actually, has been over there for the past several months just because my time is so needed over there.

[00:23:28] Matt Curtis: And we do a fair amount of kind of collaborative work where it’s best to be done in person. Yeah. so they’re over there as well.

[00:23:35] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And for anybody who loves to see, you’re not specifically doing building restoration because you’re more customizing it, but it is amazing to see what you are doing with that space.

[00:23:45] Matt Curtis: we’re only limited from a historical standpoint with the local historical society on the exterior of the property. Although I would say that pretty much everything that we’re doing, I would say 95 percent of the work is restoring it back to its original form. Yeah. there was a point in the church venue.

[00:24:03] Matt Curtis: in the mid 60s, where they installed a bunch of kind of dividing walls to divide up the room into sanctuary and then a smaller chapel. at some point, we’re going to remove those walls. We’re hoping in January, February, at some point, open up the space back to its original. There used to be a small balcony in the space, in the back chapel.

[00:24:20] Matt Curtis: At some point in the future, when funding is there, we’re going to build, I think, a much larger balcony in the back chapel to add seating for weddings and parties, but also for the Performing Arts Center. And then, in addition to the property that was added on in 1907, the church was built in 1886, 1907, where it used to be just one big wide open space, two floors high with a balcony like a big event space, a picture of a wedding reception.

[00:24:49] Matt Curtis: And in the early fifties, right after they added on the school on the property, they came into that. space and divided it up into two floors, into a bunch of different offices. And so if you walk through there now, it feels very closed and very functional, for what they needed in the fifties.

[00:25:07] Matt Curtis: But we’re going to remove all of that and bring that entire portion of the property. back to its original space. That’ll be our most premium venue when we’re done with that project. So yeah, I would say 95 percent we’re bringing the building back to its original form.

[00:25:21] Vicki Markussen: But the pictures online are amazing.

[00:25:23] Vicki Markussen: Like you reveal the floor and it’s beautiful. And so yeah. Okay. So you have that going on and as if that’s not enough, you I’m guessing see this. amazing house nearby that comes up for sale and you go, of course, I’m going to buy that because you’re you.

[00:25:42] Matt Curtis: Yeah, it’s the, the Cargill Pettibone Mansion.

[00:25:45] Matt Curtis: it’s a historic property built in 1877 by, Cargill. I forget his first name. He’s the gentleman who started the big Cargill International Company Cargill. Yep. So he only lived there for seven years. And then Pettibone bought the property in 1884 and lived there for over 30 years, I think, until his death.

[00:26:07] Matt Curtis: And then, property owners after that, I think there were only maybe two or three after Pettibone. And, and eventually the property was just. terrible shape and, and, and then, Ken and Jay, Ken Riley, Jay Lokken and Dick Record bought the property in 2015, I believe, or 2016 and fully restored it and customized the property to be functioning for Airbnb purposes.

[00:26:32] Matt Curtis: So there are four bedrooms upstairs, for example, and each bedroom has its own private bathroom. So a little bit unusual than a typical residential house. so they’re the ones who had just the great vision behind restoring that house, put in all the sweat equity, all the funds. I’m sure they put a lot more money into it than they perhaps got a return from.

[00:26:50] Matt Curtis: It’s still very much a labor of love for them. And,and they, I’m close with them. Obviously they’re very immersed in the art scene here locally. they have lots of different things going on and want to be doing. some newer things and running an Airbnb is very taxing and they do all the cleaning themselves and they have other Airbnbs in the area.

[00:27:09] Matt Curtis: So they love the vision for what I have across the street at Capella and they love my vision for Cargo Pettibone Mansion, just basically continuing all the great work that they put into it. And so our angle, we have it running as a As an Airbnb, customers can book up to a year in advance.

[00:27:28] Matt Curtis: So then our additional angle into it is obviously with the wedding business. Most weddings, couples are booking more than a year in advance, right? A year, a year and a half, two months, two years, even, even longer. that property is perfect for, as a big bridal suite. if the couples want to stay there, it’s like a honeymoon suite.

[00:27:46] Matt Curtis: You can have any type of private party there. get ready before the big day. it’s a really beautiful space to accommodate weddings and parties. so we’re, we’ve added that on as another one of our venues for Capella weddings and events for micro weddings and parties and things like bridal suites and things like that.

[00:28:07] Vicki Markussen: And providing a very intimate setting, very, there’s a warm feel to having it in a home as opposed to just a event center. So you’re actually providing, because you obviously have space in the former church and you have this, so you have a variety of options for people to choose from, which is interesting.

[00:28:26] Matt Curtis: Yeah, because, bigger… Premium wedding venues come with a premium price and a lot of people can’t afford that, so they maybe would have their wedding just in a park and then a party at their own house or in their backyard, so yeah, the cargo Pettibone venue for the wedding business provides a lower price point for those customers.

[00:28:46] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And then you decide, right? Now we need to provide food for some of these things, some of your endeavors. And so how did owning the Apothik come about?

[00:28:57] Matt Curtis: Yeah. one, one business model would be to just provide the venue. And then,you coordinate with all of different local partners, DJs, et cetera, everything that goes into a wedding, you just coordinate a third party out of house.

[00:29:12] Matt Curtis: think back to if you got married in the past, the biggest cost of weddings is probably the food. I think most people would agree. Right? Absolutely. The ability to bring that profit margin in house is very appealing. Obviously, we have a liquor license and we serve alcohol on the property as well.

[00:29:28] Matt Curtis: so having full control logistically also makes a lot of sense. and so When I started the wedding business, I have always been searching for opportunities that come up. And so immediately when Apothic went on the market for sale, that clicked in my mind, this is perfect, right?

[00:29:44] Matt Curtis: the timing perhaps wasn’t perfect. I was, I think the, I think where it was priced, it was a very attractive price. so I think the deal was also really good. Yeah. So I was hoping maybe it would sit on the market for a while and I could deal with this concept later. Yeah. But, uh, then I got a call from the seller’s realtor that someone is about to put an offer on it.

[00:30:05] Matt Curtis: And so, so if you want to put an offer, you need to now or it’s going to go away. So then I. put a clock on my head, do I let this deal go? Do I wait for other opportunities? Cause there, there always are opportunities that come up and I just learned more about the brand and the people working there and just, and did some due diligence and just understood and anyone who’s eaten Apothik I think understands how special the brand is.

[00:30:30] Matt Curtis: You know? Um. And so I, I just went for it and am now fully immersed in, in all the fun aspects of a brand new business and uh, fun, fun new challenges there.

[00:30:41] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So you have three projects all going at the same time and something tells me you have plans for. What comes next?

[00:30:49] Matt Curtis: I think, yeah, I guess what comes next is all these businesses are just all so new, and have moved so quickly that I need to get them on the right track and, right now a lot of my own personal time and sweat equity is going into them, which is great.

[00:31:07] Matt Curtis: That’s how I, any business needs to get started. But I would love to, in the future, have that become a little bit more passive for me, not fully passive, but, so I, so then I can have a little bit more clarity to figure out what’s next. I guess for now, I’m just fully immersed into what I have going on and in my plates, and I haven’t thought much about what’s next quite yet.

[00:31:27] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, understandably so, because you are. still a husband and a dad, and you have these, what is it, four businesses? Yeah, that would make four businesses, right, happening at the same time, and you are a self professed workaholic, you are, that is your fun. However, I also So I think we should delve into what we were talking about before, which is how you view all of these companies and how it’s intertwined with who you are.

[00:31:56] Vicki Markussen: It’s your

[00:31:56] Matt Curtis: brand. Yeah. a unique aspect of the Choral Tracks business is, It’s, it is local here in La Crosse. We have a couple high school choirs and community choirs who use our tracks, but it’s very much an international brand. Right. And so mine, it’s not just choral tracks, LLC as the brand, but it’s Matthew Curtis as an artist.

[00:32:17] Matt Curtis: Right. And so I from a brand standpoint, build those two brands right alongside each other. And so even though we do have. 15 employees now and lots of great singers working with us recording. My voice is still very much the foundation of our product, right, and my name is attached to it. And so, yeah, my goal here locally with all these businesses, it’s a pretty small community, is for me and my name to kind of be the face of everything.

[00:32:42] Matt Curtis: obviously. whether it’s concerts or weddings or corporate meetings and lunches, obviously, again, we live in a small community. So all of those are intertwined, cross pollinating, if you will. So people who walk into our space for a concert, we’re obviously showing them in front of their face that this is an event space and a wedding space regular content on social media, too.

[00:33:12] Matt Curtis: So I like, my own personal account and my face being attached to that as well. So I’m trying to get to a point where I’m not just posting, just photos and just text and obviously video is really nice, but actually, attaching my face to it as well. And then, yeah,Some of the things I do for fun as a hobby, I sing in a barbershop quartet with three other really amazing guys.

[00:33:33] Matt Curtis: we sing around here locally and do some shows in the upper Midwest. so yeah, that, that’s kind of one of my few hobbies and fun outlets, but even that is, is intertwined into everything I do in my larger brand as a whole. So whenever we rehearse, I capture video of that and I post that on my pages.

[00:33:49] Matt Curtis: and, If we’re, we have a, we performed last December, as a quartet on the lacrosse, symphony Orchestra, a holiday concert, so that’s obviously connected to to my brand here locally. yeah, I’m a workaholic. I love working. We’ve got, labor Day coming up. I love holidays because I’m, I go into work and I know that my competitors are probably not working and I’m getting ahead.

[00:34:10] Matt Curtis: So I, I work, I love working 90 hour weeks. typically seven days a week, even if I take a vacation, I’m still, putting in a more or less kind of full eight hour day or so. I obviously do spend time with my kids. I went fishing with them after work yesterday.

[00:34:24] Matt Curtis: And, but then when I put them down to bed, I sit down and I love YouTube and podcasts. so I’ll work emails on all the things where I can multitask. And I’m watching podcasts until 12, 1 o’clock in the morning and then wake up and do it all over again. Amazing. So it’s just, it’s weird. I didn’t, there was never any type of mentor growing up, but you know, my dad works really hard.

[00:34:51] Matt Curtis: People I know that work really hard, but there was never, or there was never that, I grew up, And kind of upper middle class homes, so there was never that, that poverty that was driving a work ethic, or there was never the kind of that immigrant spirit that some have, or they come to America and work super hard.

[00:35:05] Matt Curtis: It’s just something that’s just genetically is kind of in me, where I’ve just always been going and busy, and wanting to do more, and have risk on the table. Yeah. So my

[00:35:17] Vicki Markussen: common closing question is, what makes you passionate about what you do?

[00:35:25] Matt Curtis: Yeah, obviously, through the lens of music, it’s, it’s always been me. Like I said earlier on the podcast, ever since I was, I did not grow up in a musical household at all. But, uh, my parents recognized very early on that I was just singing all the time. I was actually very shy and quiet. I still am very much an introvert,

[00:35:44] Matt Curtis: so that’s definitely me. I remember when I was super young, I would, go to school and hardly ever even talk, or I’d be on the swim team at the YMCA and just not even talk very much, but singing was like my outlet, and that has always been true and still is today.

[00:35:57] Matt Curtis: So obviously like from a. Perspective of passion, the music that’s an easy question, but I would say for more kind of recent endeavors, the wedding business, I have zero experience in weddings at all. so that’s a bit odd, that it’s a very challenging business, making sure that, everything is perfect for a couple on their wedding day or, a corporate, an important corporate meeting or something like that, that everything runs smoothly.

[00:36:24] Matt Curtis: So there’s a lot of challenges. potential pitfalls there. and even now post COVID, the restaurant business is one of the worst businesses to get into. And I have there as well. I have zero experience. I don’t cook. I have no idea how to operate a restaurant. so for me to get into these kinds of things is.

[00:36:45] Matt Curtis: interesting. Most people wouldn’t. Yeah, I don’t have any type of a traditional business degree from college. I’ve never taken a business class ever. So for me, I think the passion more lies in playing the game and learning myself and growing myself. because ultimately,the act of getting up in the morning and going to work and It’s people’s livelihoods, but it’s also, it’s a game as well, and you’re in competition with other businesses, you’re in competition with other people.

[00:37:16] Matt Curtis: And I just, I love competing. I love working. I love competing. So I’d say, yeah, getting into these new businesses, it’s just the appeal of starting something completely new that I. No, very little about learning and growing my Choral Tracks. Business is very much. most entrepreneurial ideas are disruptive in nature.

[00:37:36] Matt Curtis: Yes. And my Choral Tracks. Business is very disruptive. Yes. So I feel like the fact that I have zero business class experience, zero business degree. The fact that I have zero restaurant experience or wedding experience almost gives me an advantage. because I can look at those businesses and grow them in a different type of way.

[00:37:59] Matt Curtis: and not be stuck in some kind of a Some kind of

[00:38:06] Vicki Markussen: a box. This is how you were describing it, I was envisioning it’s like a never ending chess match, right? if I move something here, what could possi It’s the strategy behind it, right? Like, how do I feel? figure out how to get what I’m trying to do, how to make it happen. And, but there’s, I’m just going to throw this out there.

[00:38:25] Vicki Markussen: There’s a very human component to everything that you’re doing to, you are serving the needs of individuals, whether it is through music or through life changing milestones. Stones or business milestones, or you have,in the latter case, high touch, right? Like you have to do a lot of touch points with weddings and whatnot, but all of those are serving people

[00:38:48] Matt Curtis: well, and I would say more intimately, I really do enjoy hiring great people.

[00:38:53] Matt Curtis: and,and getting to know them and, providing that livelihood for them and setting them up for success. , in all my businesses, we compensate. employees very well, um, give them lots of life freedoms. obviously everyone has families, people like now working remotely, all those different concepts we, I love working with the right people and setting them up for success.

[00:39:13] Matt Curtis: So I guess that’s another kind of passionate aspect of it is meeting. And growing with these new people through these businesses. Yeah, working

[00:39:22] Vicki Markussen: on it together. Fantastic. You have been listening to Matt Curtis. His main business is Choral Tracks LLC. He owns rental properties. He owns Capella Performing Arts.

[00:39:35] Vicki Markussen: center. He owns Apothik, and that’s not even the end of all of your endeavors. So looking forward to your path forward. You’ve been listening to BizCast Greater La Crosse. I’m your host, Vicki Markussen. We’ll catch you next week.

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