Every startup has a story of how its co-founders met. The team behind Warby Parker went to Wharton graduate school together. The founders of Airbnb were roommates. The creators of ZocDoc worked together at McKinsey & Co. Union Square Media's origin, however, is a little more offbeat.
Founded in 2010, the New York-based digital advertising agency is led by Joshua Keller and Nick Matzorkis — "Web Celebs" from the nascent days of YouTube. Together, they formed the ClipBandits, a musical group that played and recorded music without ever meeting or knowing each others’ real names.
Matzorkis was known by his YouTube account name ClipBandit. He was the lead guitar player and video producer while Keller, who Matzorkis knew only as J-Pe$o, served as frontman. Together with Valerie Lee and Aaron Jackson on bass and drums, respectively, the group became known as the first "Internet" band.
The group would go on to be featured virtually on various television programs, including ABC's Good Morning America. "[Matzorkis] took my video and projected it onto the wall in the music studio he had in his garage," Keller explained. "It was as if he was playing the lead solo on my rhythm track — as if we were playing together, but not in the same room."
The duo didn't meet in person until December 2006 when supermodel and talk show host Tyra Banks invited them to appear on her show to perform.
"[Keller] was just a random guy on YouTube," Matzorkis said. "When people ask 'how'd you guys meet?' it's not a quick answer. But once we hung out and I heard the kinds of things he was doing business-wise, I thought if we achieved success creating an online sensation — the world's first Internet band — it was an indication that there could be something more here."
Now, almost ten years since the duo met on "Tyra," the ClipBandits have more in common with Silicon Alley's crop of entrepreneurs than they do any garage band.
Before teaming up to create Union Square Media in 2010, Keller got involved with Matzorkis' paddle board company SUP ATX LLC. Based in Austin Texas, the paddle board manufacturer came to market at a rough time.
"The biggest challenge," Matzorkis said, "was that it was shortly before 2008 when there was the economic collapse."
Like everyone else, Matzorkis and Keller faced various challenges in the midst of a devastating time in the economy. Never mind the fact that SUP ATX marketing a concept that, at the time, hadn't quite caught on as a sport yet.
"What kind of companies are going to survive?" Matzorkis wondered. "Are manufacturing companies going away? No one really knew how far down it was going to go."
Today, SUP ATX claims to be the largest maker of paddle boards in the world.
Keller joined Matzorkis on the SUP ATX board of directors when it became part of the Global Agora group of companies. SUP ATX spurred the popularity and demand for stand up paddle boards utilizing online marketing methodologies they developed that they would eventually use for their clients at Union Square Media.
Among the company's notable clients are dating websites — Match.com, ChristianMingle, JDate — as well as big-name corporations, including ADT, AIG, Samsung, Proactiv (Guthy-Renker LLC) Lasik, Fidelity Life Insurance, Norton Security and Dish Network.
Union Square Media has grown from a bootstrap and self-funded startup, to generating $50 million in revenue in 2015, Keller said. The company has five offices and over 75 employees across the United States. For rock musicians, Keller said he and Matzorkis have remained fairly quiet about the company's accomplishments, adding that Union Square has been more of a "word of mouth, referral-type of business."
"We're projected to generate $100 million in revenue next year," Keller said. "The company's been growing so fast, it's a good time to let the world know we're here."