Career Evolution Series: Terrence Murtagh
September 2, 2019
Career Evolution Series: Terrence Murtagh
This year, PHXDW is all about evolution — specifically, that which is fueled by design. Keeping in theme, we reached out to a few local creatives whose careers have been significantly influenced by design and asked them to share a bit of their story.
To kick off the series, we’d like to introduce you to Terrence Murtagh, a serial entrepreneur who found an organic way to combine his love of design with his passion for cycling — and that’s just the start.
We’ll let Terrence take it away from here.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Terrence Murtagh. I was raised by my single mother (my father passed when I was 7) and I grew up poor. I went through most of my life with a fixed mindset and thought because I was born into a poor family, I would remain poor and struggle throughout my entire life. Being placed in classes for “slow kids” didn’t help either. This is just to help give you a little background into my personal life — more to come regarding my design career below!
What was your first introduction to design?
I always drew letters as a kid as I was fascinated with graffiti art. In fact, I was a graffiti artist for many years but never felt as though I was able to make my creations look super nice. It was illegal, so it was typically rushed! But it wasn’t until someone saw me draw on a pizza box at a house party when I was growing up that I realized design could be a career choice. They had asked me if I was a graphic designer and I had no idea what they were talking about. After they explained it to me, I became fascinated that someone could actually get paid to do layouts and draw letters. Years later I would meet a friend who was a professional graphic designer and worked for himself. I took a look at his life and realized that I wanted something similar for myself.
How has your career continued to evolve?
Things began to take off when I was accepted to the Art Institute of Phoenix. Looking back, I think they accept anyone but I was stoked for the opportunity to learn this craft. During my enrollment at the Art Institute, my beloved mother passed away. Not only was this heartbreaking, but it also left me homeless. I am forever grateful for all the friends’ couches I was able to sleep on while I went through that trying time. I knew it was no way to live, so I had to make some moves.
While in design school I became influenced by the new (at the time) subculture of fixed gear bikes. Essentially, fixed gear means that when you pedal forward, you go forward, and when you pedal backward, you go backward. I researched them and rode them so much that I decided to start a blog about them called The Heavy Pedal. The blog took off. A classmate of mine, Victor Vasquez, said we should design some cycling swag to sell on the blog’s website. To our surprise, people ate it up!
As with any business, there’s highs and lows. One of our biggest hurdles came from an internal legal issue that zapped most of our time and resources. As a result, we were unable to make sales from our website. Instead of letting this bankrupt our company, I decided to get an online marketing job for a local company. In the year I worked there, I was able to take them from $3MM to $5MM in sales. I realized that I was not just good at making money for myself, I could also make it for others.
So I started Brand Overture, a business consulting, web design, and online marketing company. The company that hired me during Heavy Pedal’s legal troubles became my first client at Brand Overture. Not only is Brand Overture doing well, but The Heavy Pedal is now a full-blown cycling apparel brand that ships worldwide and does over $1MM in annual sales.
Because I love creating things and starting businesses, I find that I’m always evolving. My most recent venture is First Place Coffee, a specialty coffee truck that is operated by my fiance, Devon McConville. It was born out of her disenchantment with her career in finance. I pushed her to quit her job and find something she liked and she landed in coffee. After a year of working in coffee, we decided it was time for her to have her own company. Thus, First Place Coffee was born and the community absolutely loves it.
Why did you make the transition into design and what steps did you take to get where you are?
I made the transition because it fit my lifestyle. I liked letters and layouts and was blown away that I could make money as a byproduct of creating cool and useful stuff for myself and other people. The main step to getting where I am now was to go to school — which I did. But I still enjoy taking online courses so I can learn new things regularly. I believe you can always earn more if you always learn more.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Inspiration is everywhere for me. However, I get most inspired by traveling to new places, seeing their designs and witnessing how they use design to solve problems. I am also heavily inspired by marketing and copywriting. I try not to label myself as just a designer because I don’t want to be typecast in just one role. I love writing copy, designing layouts, editing photos, creating Facebook audiences, campaigns, ad sets, and ads. I also love digging into marketing automation tools and setting up funnels, flows and A/B testing to see what works and what doesn’t. All of that inspires me.
What do you hope people feel when they look at your work and what you’ve created?
I hope they will feel compelled to take a specific action. That is the purpose of design to me.
What would you say to someone who’s never been to PHXDW?
I am a huge fan of seminars and personal development. Phoenix Design Week is a great place to learn from design experts while hanging out with your peers and creating new connections. I never go to a seminar without taking notes –– I take notes like my arm is on fire. To get the most out of the event I would recommend you do the same. If you hear something you like, write it down. If you write it down, take it home. If you take it home, revisit it within the first week. If it is something you can implement into your life, do it! It’s all about taking massive action.