How to Turn a Teenager and a Used Limo into a Thriving Business

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How do you go from driving an old limo to doing graphic design work for Ferrari  & other international clients? Like this!

  1. Buy a used limo, look for people to drive around.
  2. Realize you need to make your limo look good, but… too expensive.
  3. Take $400 and found your own detail/graphics company.
  4. Make a company website using WordPress.
  5. Get hired to do work for Chase Bank and Ferrari.

There’s a few sub-steps missing in that overview, but that’s essentially how it all worked out for Brandon Stapper. Now the founder of 858 Graphics and CEO of Nonstop Signs, he started out as a bored high school kid with a big plan. That plan has paid dividends over the years, as his businesses have grown to serve tens of thousands of clients including some of the biggest names around the world. This is his story.

I always knew I wanted to start a company. I was like… I don’t know why they’re teaching me all these classes that I don’t care about when I know I want to run a business.

Let’s be honest, it’s a thought we’ve all had at some point as a teenager while sitting in a uncomfortable chair in a classroom we’d rather not be in. For some, our future doesn’t become clear for years (or yes, decades). For Brandon, he knew right out of the gates that he was going to be an entrepreneur. So what’d he do about it? He toughed out the classes, graduated, and bought a limo.

How to turn a used limo into a business that serves 10k+ clients a year. Seriously.

In his own words: “I started a Limo company. I bought a limo with a buddy. We were just driving this limo around, so I wouldn’t call it a well thought out business plan.”

We’ve all got to start somewhere, right? That not-so-well thought out business plan started the ball rolling on a very successful venture.

First things first, though… your limo has to look good, right? Not too many people want to go out for a night on the town in downtown San Diego in an iffy looking limo. Brandon Stapper and his partner started looking into detail work on the limo, and discovered it would be cheaper to buy a detail machine than to pay to have it done.

The rest, they say, is history.

We started as 858 Graphics, completely boot straps, from $400, kind of before it was sexy to be an entrepreneur.

It started as a way to save money with their limo business. Then it turned into a way to make money when they weren’t driving. Turns out, the detail work and sticker design business beat out the limo business by a long shot.

Soon the limo business was sunset as they tuned their focus solely to 858 Graphics. It wasn’t easy:

“We were just literally grinding door to door and working a hundred hours a week. Started the website, the website started taking off but we had to custom develop everything. It wasn’t like WordPress that you might have these days, so…”

This was in 2007. Matt Mullenweg had only filed to trademark the WordPress logo the year before. This was WordPress 2.x, no modern admin UI, no custom post types, taxonomies, backgrounds, header, menus… Fortunately, Brandon’s partner at the time had the skills to handle the technical side of the web business.

Turning the 2008 financial crisis into a windfall

In 2008, Washington Mutual, once known as the Walmart of banking, fell victim to the financial crisis. Their assets were assumed by JPMorgan Chase. That meant all of the Washington Mutual branding had to be changed over to Chase Bank branding. 858 Graphics won the contract for southern California. This was the “we’ve made it!” moment for Brandon Stapper and his team.

“That was huge for us. We actually were really small, still, at that time. We rented a bunch of vehicles and put our logo on the side of them. Then had a bunch of our friends kind of show up with t-shirts on to make it look like we were way bigger than we were. We ended up winning the contract. It lasted a couple years, but we ended up with over 500 Chase Banks.”

With a lot of long hours and hard work, 858 Graphics evolved over the next seven years into a very successful printing and signage company.

Acquiring NonStop Signs and working for Ferrari

In 2014, Brandon expanded by acquiring the company Nonstop Signs and migrating it into WordPress. By this time his partner had moved on to other ventures, leaving a non-technical Brandon to oversee the migration. His success in that endeavor is a testament to how far WordPress has come over those same years.

“It was crazy because we had a web developer that we let go probably two years ago because we just weren’t utilizing him as much for the web. So we started on WordPress. I had never used WordPress and I’m not really a technical guy, but I literally had two screens open on my monitor. I had YouTube open on one and WordPress open on the other.”

It worked, smashingly well.

“I would just type in like… How to do new data page on WordPress, how to do … what is a header? What is a title tag? What is Yoast? What is this? I looked into hiring agencies, I looked into hiring developers, I looked into doing all these things. I said, “I want to learn all this myself, because I think it will be such a terrific skill.”  I don’t want to do it forever myself, but at least learn the basics so I can then put the scope of work in place and hire somebody else to take over.

So I spent a few months kind of learning the basics of WordPress, and plugins, and Yoast, and Ninja Forms, and a handful of different things. Then, we started scaling the NonStop Signs website out, launching a pretty significant amount of content.”

Last year they landed a contract with Ferrari, another big-time moment for Brandon and his team, doing 3,000 decals on a 1,000 Ferraris in less than a week.

Something tells us there’s many more of these Chase Bank/Ferrari moments in their future.

Today Brandon Stapper and his team serve over 10,000 clients annually. They range from hometown San Diego to Italy and around the world. We’re delighted at the role both WordPress and Ninja Forms have played in their success.

It was really exciting to listen to Brandon relate how their Ninja Forms Slack integration is used to ping their marketing team the instant a new lead submits a quote request form. They turn those notifications into a less-than 30 second turn around time on reaching out to their new leads. It’s one thing knowing Ninja Forms can be used like this, and writing marketing copy saying as much… but to actually see it in action helping others is a beautiful thing.

Here’s to many more years of success, Brandon Stapper & team.

One used limo, $400, and WordPress. This is how you build a thriving business from virtually nothing at 19 years old.Click To Tweet
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