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Successful Kearney business owners reflect on humble beginnings at UNK

This year, University of Nebraska at Kearney alums Travis and Angela Hollman will celebrate 12 years of marriage, 14 years of running their Kearney-based company – Hollman Media – and no longer living off of McDonald’s leftovers.

Over the last five years, Hollman Media has experienced significant growth and this year Travis said the company has already seen 70 percent more growth than last year. The Hollmans also received the University of Nebraska’s Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award earlier this year in recognition of its contributions to the community and collaboration with the university.

But in 2002, things weren’t looking so good for the Hollmans. The couple was holding down a combined five part-time jobs and knocking on doors to try to get their web design business off the ground.

Travis said he remembers his wife, Angela, working at McDonald’s and coming home from shifts with unsold food that they lived off of to save money.

“It was depressing,” Travis said. “But I don’t think that’s unique to us. That’s (the same for) a lot of entrepreneurs, especially when you decide to bootstrap, which is what we decided to do.”

Now, the Hollmans have two young children and a growing company. They can think back and smile when they reflect on their humble beginnings, but they know sharing their story is beneficial for themselves and other entrepreneurs.

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Travis and Angela met during their freshman year at UNK  – he an advertising major, she studying computer information systems.

The two decided to participate in an exchange program that allowed them to take classes at a different school in the U.S. for a semester. So, the Nebraska natives headed to Utah State University where they continued pursuing their degrees and got the opportunity to experience a new state.

It was there that Travis took a few web design and multimedia classes that piqued his interest in building websites. He said he remembers being inspired by a young instructor who had started her own web design business. Travis thought he could do the same.

He convinced Angela to lend some of her technical know-how to his plan and start a business with him.

“I always wanted to run my own business,” Travis said.

And while Angela wasn’t too keen on the risky idea, she agreed.

“I found out I don’t like taking financial risks. To me, running your own business and not having a steady income was kind of scary,” she said.

The couple started building websites with free software, borrowed computers and somewhere between $10 and $100. They didn’t have much, and they still remember how hard it was not to compare their lives with the paths of other friends who took more mainstream jobs after graduation.

The two spent their days working as the company’s salesmen, marketers, designers and CEOs. They both said it was difficult to juggle their personal and work lives because the two were constantly intertwined, but it also helped them grow.

Gradually, the Hollmans had knocked on enough doors to keep themselves afloat and in 2004, Angela received an offer to work at UNK.

“I’d say it’s more like a traditional couple now,” Travis said. “She can help me make day-to-day decisions, but not be overwhelmed with it all the time.”

While Travis said it’s sad not to have Angela at work with him, her job stability allowed them to quit their part-time jobs and focus on growing Hollman Media.

“Now, I feel like we have a really strong relationship as a business because I’m not so involved but I can still help make high-level decisions,” Angela said.

As the years went on, Hollman Media started getting more work based on references and working with bigger-name companies in Kearney. Travis also started exploring ways to integrate new technologies to the company’s services and found apps to be a good fit for the company.

“Recently we made a decision that as things got more mobile, we needed to explore what that meant for us, and the app seemed like a complementary technology that we were capable of doing,” Travis said.

Hollman Media has built an app for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various other groups and is currently working on developing the “Kearney App,” which will help attract more visitors and businesses to the Kearney area.

While Travis said keeping the business running isn’t easy, he’s thankful to have new challenges — like finding quality employees versus struggling to pay the bills.

But he doesn’t have to look too far for skilled employees. Travis said nearly 90 percent of his interns and employees are UNK students or graduates.

“Our relationship with UNK is so strong,” he said. “Strategically, they’re right next door, the quality of students is high, work ethic is high and the cultural fit is very good … there’s no reason for me to go much outside of that.”

Travis said if he’s not hiring a UNK student or grad he often finds himself speaking in a class about his and Angela’s entrepreneurial journey.

He said he likes to shed light on the misconceptions about being a business owner.

“Sometimes I think I scare some people away from being entrepreneurs,” he said with a laugh. “But I do it because when the public sees all these articles published about us they tend to focus on the good times.”

Emphasizing the positive elements isn’t a bad thing, he said, but he strives to give students a realistic perspective.

Being an entrepreneur has shaped Travis and Angela’s relationship as well as their life. They said they wouldn’t be who they are without the struggles and the triumphs they’ve experienced.

“We were fortunate, but there was a lot of struggle … I think people need to know that,” Travis said.