CEOs of the Year: Matt Wisdom

Exec Ceo Matt Wisdom

Founder and CEO

While advances in 3D graphics technology in the later 1990s upgraded the quality of the various models that could be produced, getting those models into the hands of the game developers, news agencies, architects, visual effects studios, advertisers and creative professionals who might use them was close to impossible.

To address this problem, in 2000 Matt Wisdom assembled a team of 3D artists and founded TurboSquid. The group had to create not just the technology to circulate their graphics but also the business in which people could purchase and upload the graphics for their own commercial use.

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Since then, more than 2.5 million people have engaged with the company, from purchasers to contributing artists. New technologies and software developed by the company have revolutionized computer modeling and graphics, ultimately earning it the distinction of being the world’s largest 3D marketplace. TurboSquid’s products are probably seen by almost everyone who goes online every day; yet unlike most people in creative fields, the company’s artists remain largely anonymous, while their creations are themselves the canvasses for others across a broad spectrum of industries.

About the name: according to Wisdom, “We had the ‘Squid’ idea, with tentacles everywhere, then someone suggested ‘Turbo’ from a Porsche and it was kind of retro; in the ‘80s there was turbo-everything it seemed. It stuck. Nobody really ever forgot it.”

In early 2021, TurboSquid was acquired by stock image company Shutterstock for $74 million. The purchase came in the context of a general corporate trend of moving away from still images and towards motion and 3D. TurboSquid continues to operate largely as it did before the purchase, and Wisdom retains the title of CEO.

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On the past year: We were terrified we were going to see the economy collapse, like it did in 2009. Revenues went down, and it was looking grim. But the government backstopped a lot of businesses with the PPP loans, and everyone started buying. COVID-19 created a lot of winners and losers. It moved industries, changed the way growth happened. But a lot of local companies ended up on the positive side, and it ended up being a really prosperous year for us for a lot of unexpected reasons. The pandemic actually triggered the acquisition.

His advice to a new tech start-up: Talk to other people, to your peers. Being an entrepreneur is like getting on a crazy rollercoaster while wearing blinders and you don’t know where it’s going. Connect to the networks.

Solve a problem that you think is a real problem, something that fills something missing. Make something that gives people real value. You don’t have to be an expert right away, you’ll learn as you go along, as long as you have some instinct, some intuition. It’s a long, long journey, and you have to keep on figuring out why this problem is timely after five years, 10 years, 15 years.

On what concerns him about New Orleans: We are still not a wealthy city, and I worry that we can’t do things like raise the minimum wage. We’ve traded our companies for real money, but now people outside the city control a number of entities that are really important to the city, and I hope they will keep the jobs here. We need to grow some of our companies into something major, like Google, but instead, the buyouts are happening before our companies grow to that scale.


On what he is most proud of

I’m most proud of betting on this city as a place where you could live and still build a business and be world class. A lot of that has to do with the state capital investment program that we advocated for. The “small pond” effect was very helpful, it’s easier to build contacts and get press. Although the bill authorizing the digital media tax credits was signed the Monday before Katrina, and that set us back five years, they are still a better investment than film credits. They help build wealth in New Orleans and Louisiana, they helped build the tech economy here.

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On the biggest challenges during the pandemic

We have had to recruit engineers from odd places, because we lack real tech expertise here. We have so little infrastructure to support our industry, no education, no capital.

On what gives him optimism about New Orleans and the “Silicon Bayou”

A lot of people stood on the sidelines when we were trying to prove we could build world class companies in New Orleans. They could have gotten 50 times return on their investment. But we can do things well; we have it in us. We have to believe in us, believe in the entrepreneurs here. We can do tech, and that has recently been validated to the tune of billions of dollars.

On what is behind the recent flurry of purchases of New Orleans tech firms

New Orleans has gotten a good look because we have a lot of companies. We’ve built a lot of value. People are starting to try to buy up every cash-producing asset they can, there has been a major transition of ownership of businesses all around the world. We were actually contacted by two companies in the same week.

His big thought for 2022

Technology is moving even faster than it moved last year. More things will be different, and how we learn to cope with the speed of technology’s advancement is a major issue. Tech has improved so many things, but people aren’t always feeling them, getting the benefits of them.

On business leadership

The concept of the CEO in society is “I know everything”, some super-smooth salesman type. I’m not that type of person, I’m very self-critical, I’m not looking to impress people. I think most CEOs are really that way. If you just really try, really show up, you’ll get the confidence you need to succeed. Leadership is about managing terror, euphoria, fear and glory, from one day to the next. Your company is like a family, you are responsible for your staff. I think it’s more of a psychology than anything else.


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