STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

To be young, gifted and starting a successful business right out of high school

young man with video camera
Courtesy of Carbon Stories
Erik Lauchié is founder of the Grand Rapids marketing company Carbon Stories."

Erik Lauchié always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit in him. He says he got it from his dad. And it started young. He started his own group in elementary school called Young Entrepreneurs.

“When I was in second grade, I wrote a book called 'The Small Turtle,'” Lauchié  says. “When I started Young Entrepreneurs, that was another thing that I did was bind that book and get the illustrations done by my cousin and then sold the book at my church.”

By high school, he was still doing creative work, and occasionally getting paid making videos for people. It got to where he was really busy with it.

“I decided okay I think it needs to be something that’s greater than just myself,” he says. “And I also knew of other people who were doing the same thing.”

So he called up a few friends. One of them was Vincent McIntosh. They’ve known each other since they were 12.

“He was like, ‘I have an idea,’ and I was like, ‘Go ahead and shoot.’ And he’s like, ‘Carbon Stories.’"

Carbon Stories, the name of their new company, launched in 2015. They also brought on other friends including Matt Horling, who first met Erik in high school.

Credit Courtesy Carbon Stories
Vincent McIntosh on the left, Matt Horling behind the camera.

They started making a website, business cards, forming a company. It’s basically a marketing company that makes photos, videos and designs materials for companies or nonprofits. At first, it was just some friends sitting around at coffee shops talking about the idea of a business.

But one day Erik and Matt and Vincent were wandering around downtown Grand Rapids.

“I don’t even remember what we were doing down there,” Lauchié says. “We go into the building next to Hopcat and then we just walk in, so we’re like, ‘Hey we’re in here.’”

They find this business in there and decide randomly that they like its name. Erik says he and Matt try to convince Vincent to go in and pitch their new services. Mind you, they’re like 19 or 20 years old at this point. Vincent goes in, doesn’t see anyone. He comes right back out. But the others aren’t having it.

“And they wouldn’t let me get back in the elevator,” McIntosh says.

“So then he goes back in there,” Lauchié says.

And, it worked. It got them a client to make some videos.

“And now a year later, we have multiple projects with them,” Lauchié says. “And it’s an amazing client relationship that we have.”

That’s how they’ve gotten a lot of their business. Random walk-ins, cold calls to companies, even tweeting to corporate accounts. After a year and a half, they’re way beyond where they expected to be.

Erik is actually still in college. He drives to East Lansing twice a week for classes at Michigan State, but he and about three others work on Carbon Stories full-time now, with around 10 other people who jump in on certain projects. And they’re making real money at it. They can charge more for their services than they used to. They’re even looking to buy their own building very soon.

And, as they grow, there’s another angle to their story.

"We're good at what we do, first," Vincent McIntosh says. "We're a good business. We just happen to be black."

“I am also an African-American,” Lauchié says, “in a city where there’s not a lot of black owned businesses.”

The team for Carbon Stories is diverse, not through some elaborate plan, but simply because of their friend group.

Vincent McIntosh, who’s also black, says they don’t spend a lot of time marketing the minority ownership, or the diversity to their clients.

“Understand that, like, we’re good at what we do first,” McIntosh says. “We’re a good business. We just happen to be black.”

But he and Erik both say they have another responsibility, beyond their clients. As they grow, they have a responsibility to the community too.

“We have to make sure that as entrepreneurs, as business people that we show kids from the same city, 15 minute drive, that you can do this too,” he says.

That’s a mindset that they say isn’t always present in every neighborhood or every school building in their city. But it’s the mindset they had when they got together to launch their business. And it’s a mindset they hope to grow, along with their business. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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